Benefits of L-CitrullineJuly 4, 2022
The Problem with Nutrient PanelsJuly 18, 2022
Thankfully more and more practitioners offer nutrient tests. Yet they can be tricky. Not all tests are helpful and not all results can be taken at face value.
Here are 5 common tests that can be highly misleading and how you can make better sense of them.
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Serum calcium is part of a chemistry profile which is on nearly every lab order. There are two misleading parts about calcium. First is that calcium in the blood does not relate to nutritional status. Low blood calcium does not mean one needs to consume more calcium and high blood calcium does not mean that one is consuming too much.
Serum calcium is critical. If it cannot be kept in a narrow window, nothing works in the body including cardiac function. That is why it is carefully regulated by many mechanisms including intestinal absorption, parathyroid hormones, renal function, and bone metabolism.
When serum calcium is high or low, it means the regulation is not working correctly. The solution will not come from adjusting calcium intake.
The second big problem with calcium is that it can be excessive even when in the normal range. Most lab resorts consider it normal up to 10.4 or 10.6 mg/dL, yet once it reaches 9.8 mg/dL or above, something might be wrong. Anyone with calcium above range or consistently over 9.8 should be evaluated for hypercalcemia. The main causes of it include abnormal parathyroid function and malignancy.
I have seen far too many patients with high calcium who were told they need to consume less calcium. I have also seen many more who had high-normal calcium and were told they were fine when, in fact, they were suffering from hyperparathyroidism.
There are many ways to measure iron including red blood cell (RBC) levels, serum iron, total iron binding capacity (TIBC), ferritin, and % saturation. One problem with iron is that many of the markers only show a deficiency when it is severe. Most experts agree that, of the commonly available markers, ferritin is the earliest to show a deficit.
Another big problem is that inflammation can skew iron. One of the most common things that happen is that chronic inflammation causes the body to move iron into storage. This makes ferritin higher, even if the overall iron levels are low.
Iron can look elevated even when it is not.
Many people who monitor their own labs pay attention to their ferritin. It is important to remember that an accurate analysis does require the context of all iron markers.
I have seen many patients who were told their iron levels were fine when they were, in fact, deficient. I have seen many others told they have too much iron when, in fact, they had too little but had false elevations from fatty liver disease.
Manganese is part of several comprehensive nutrient panels. When people are measured for manganese, some will have higher levels than others. By definition, a small number of people will have levels that are much lower than anyone else.
Yet true deficiencies of manganese have never occurred. I have seen people develop thyroid problems secondary to high dose manganese which was prescribed based on nutrient tests. More on this one later.
Vitamin D has two main problems. First is that it is reported in two different units, ng/mL or nmol/L. The latter is more common in research articles and in international lab results. The former (ng/mL) is most commonly used in lab results in the US.
The conversion is that nmol/L are 2.5 times higher than ng/mL.
What has happened is that many health experts have read studies written in nmol/L and used these numbers to make recommendations for blood levels in ng/mL. I kid you not. A study might suggest that optimal vitamin D levels range from 75-125 (nmol/L). Health experts have then told their readers that their blood levels should be in the 75-125 range WITHOUT mentioning that their blood results will likely be in ng/mL.
75-125 nmol/L = 30-50 ng/mL.
The other problem with Vitamin D is that it is a negative acute phase reactant. That means that when someone is sick, their vitamin D levels drop. People have lower vitamin D if their immune systems are weaker, if they have thyroid disease, fatty liver, or autoimmunity. That does not mean that low vitamin D caused these problems or that vitamin D supplementation can help them.
Let’s use fatigue as an analogy. When someone is sick for whatever reason, they are likely to walk fewer steps in a day than a healthy person.
If you took a group of 500 people with nearly any disease imaginable, they would likely walk fewer steps per day than 500 similar people without that disease. You could imagine that might be true for ovarian cancer, chronic lung disease, or acute COVID. Let’s say that people with these diseases walked, on average, 300 fewer steps per day than people the same age and gender who did not have the condition. It would be no surprise if a clinical trial was done to see if walking an extra 300 steps per day cured ovarian cancer.
That’s about where we are with vitamin D.
The truth is that we do need vitamin D and that many people are too low in it. It is also true that in nearly any illness you can imagine, vitamin D levels run lower. Yet countless studies have shown that high dose vitamin D supplementation does not cure much of anything.
Iodine tests have several issues as well. The main problems are that they are not precise, they are not clinically relevant, and that they are not measuring what is expected.
Nearly all of the misuses of and misunderstandings about iodine can be traced back to the incorrect use of iodine tests. I’ve seen countless people have their health ruined because a practitioner used iodine tests that they did not understand.
The most commonly used iodine tests are serum iodine and urinary iodine. Serum iodine does not measure the amount of iodine in the thyroid. It measures how much is left after the kidneys eliminate it. Serum iodine is only useful to evaluate someone for severe iodine toxicity. A healthy person may have normal or low serum iodine. If someone is exposed to toxic amounts that are so high they damage the kidneys, then serum iodine might elevate. I’ve seen countless times where practitioners use serum iodine as a basis for iodine supplements.
The problem is that they keep putting their patients on higher and higher doses and can’t figure out why their serum levels don’t rise. They assume the problem is that the person must be badly deficient when the problem is that they are misusing the test.
Urinary iodine is an accurate test for nutritional status, but only when looking at a population. Any given person has a large amount of random variation in the iodine in their urine from one moment to the next. There are some things measured in the urine that rise and fall throughout the day. In these cases, a 24-hour urine test can be more accurate than a random urine test. Iodine tests are barely improved by 24-hour collections. It requires several hundred samples to be within 90% accuracy for a random or a 24-hour urine test.
The last problem is clinical relevance. It would be logical to think that people whose tests showed high levels of iodine would be the ones most likely to benefit from low iodine diets. But this is not the case. In some of the studies in which low iodine diets reversed thyroid disease, there was no clear relationship between urinary iodine levels before the diet and who improved after the diet.
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Dr. Alan Glen Christianson (Dr. C) is a Naturopathic Endocrinologist and the author of The NY Times bestselling Adrenal Reset Diet, The Metabolism Reset Diet and The Thyroid Reset Diet.
Dr. C’s gift for figuring out what really works has helped hundreds of thousands of people reverse thyroid disease, lose weight, diabetes, and regain energy. Learn more about the surprising story that started his quest.