Natiya Guin, ND, is a naturopathic doctor who views health holistically. When we asked her what she wishes more patients knew about their health options, she told us that you can order your own lab work to share with your health care provider. We had no idea, but now we’re making appointments. Think it might help you? Here, Dr. Guin shares how ordering your own lab work may help you and your doctor uncover more clues about your overall health.
All too often, women come to me with a similar story: Their doctors tell them that their symptoms are normal, and that further investigation or labs aren’t necessary.
Has this happened to you or someone you care about, or many people you care about? Sure, you receive care and a treatment plan based on the expert opinion of your doctor, but your needs have not been fully met or even taken into consideration. This pattern can repeat for years. Meanwhile, you wonder why your stomach bloats every time you eat, your eczema and asthma continue to flare, or your hormones feel out of balance at the same interval month after month.
From experience, I know the value of testing for vitamin levels (especially vitamins D and B12, plus ferritin). When I was a medical student and pregnant with my second child, I was getting colds constantly and experiencing headaches every afternoon. My ob/gyn had no advice other than to rest more and stop drinking my 1/2 cup of coffee — easier said than done with my class and clinic load! I had been learning about methylation SNPs and reduced B12 and folate. It occurred to me that my doctors had never run my B12 in my entire life. I ordered my own nutrient panel and found out that I was severely low in B12 and had increased homocysteine (an inflammatory blood marker associated with low B12). I added methyl B12 supplement to my prenatal and my headaches stopped. I’ve also hardly gotten colds ever since.
This is why it’s important to ask your doctor what, exactly, your lab work involves. Hormone panels can reveal a lot about a person’s health, and that testing thyroid levels is often warranted depending on symptoms. Yet many doctors will often run only basic labs (CBC-complete blood count and CMP-comprehensive metabolic panel). If nothing is well out of range, you’re often told your labs are normal and that no further lab work is necessary.
The problem arises if a doctor believes your symptoms are “normal,” when often they are common.
The problem arises if a doctor believes your symptoms are “normal,” when often they are common. For instance, many people experience symptoms like GI bloating (gastrointestinal discomfort) and acid reflux, making them common—but it isn’t normal to be in pain after eating. A traditionally trained doctor may offer antacids or even a prescription medication like Omeprazole, or they may tell you to eat less-spicy food. But many people with these symptoms have a food sensitivity or a gut pathogen. If we ate safe and healthy food, took supportive herbs or nutrients, and addressed our unique systems with specialty lab testing when appropriate, we could potentially heal without the need of medications that may have adverse side effects. Too often, our medical system doesn’t allow doctors to take time to fully address individual medical needs, which leads to a band-aid approach instead of addressing the underlying cause.
Here’s the good news. You can order your own labs. To have insurance cover lab work, the tests do normally need to be ordered by a physician, but most specialty labs aren’t covered by insurance anyway. The prices on labs have come down as more consumer-based ordering options have become available. It’s imperative to work with reputable companies that yield highly accurate results. I work with Deep Living Labs to offer labs ranging from female hormones, food sensitivity, and GI pathogens to adrenal testing. In addition, traditional, leading lab companies offer consumer ordering options such as Quest Direct and Labcorp On Demand.
Once you have lab results from a reputable company, you can then take those results to your doctor for next steps. It’s very important to not take too much into your own hands. If you order and interpret your own labs, for instance, this leaves room for medical clues to be missed. If your results that actually show a “red flag” that needs to be addressed and you don’t share it with your doctor, this is risky—so make your doctor your partner in your health.
Ultimately, my advice is always this: Listen to your body. Labs are a wonderful detective tool for knowing more about your body and your current health picture. But while diagnostic hard data is important for optimizing nutrition and getting to the root of health concerns, I remind you to combine lab results with taking time to listen to your body and to feel empowered in your health choices. Your internal compass is the greatest healing tool of all. When you slow down and take time for self-care, your body tells you where it needs support—and now, I hope, you have one more way to get it.