The 10 Most Important Blood Tests To Take Yearly
The year is almost out and its sad to say that a lot of you have not even taken a single medical test this year. Not even malaria. It’s popular knowledge that everybody wants to live forever (even though we all know we will not but then we don’t pay for our dreams now do we?) Med-express receives hundreds of calls weekly from people who ask, “What can I do to improve my health and longevity?” Our response? “Take a comprehensive blood test and we’ll answer part of that question for you!” (for the other part, you’ll have to do other non-blood tests….oops, i digress!!!)
The truth is, unless we know what your blood looks like under a microscope, there is no way for us to identify what steps you should take to protect your health and enhance your well-being as a ‘specific, special’ individual. Generally, Medexpress can make general suggestions but what happens if you have an underlying health problem that needs to be targeted and treated specifically?
Annual blood testing is the most important step aging adults (and by that I mean 25yr olds and above) can take to prevent life-threatening diseases. With blood test results in hand, you can catch critical changes in your body before they manifest as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, or worse. Having the proper blood tests can empower you to enact a science-based disease-prevention program that could add decades to your healthy life.
Sadly though, most annual medical check-ups involve the physician ordering only routine blood tests, if blood tests are ordered at all. Far too often, this blood work does not even test for important markers of disease risk. The consequences of failing to analyze blood for proven markers of disease risk are needless disability and death.
Blood tests have benefits that go far beyond disease prevention. For example, by monitoring levels of sex hormones, you can take decisive steps to enhance your quality of life, perhaps by correcting a depressive mental state, erectile dysfunction, abdominal obesity, or by improving your memory and energy levels.
The Chemistry Panel and Complete Blood Count (CBC) test is the best place to begin your disease-prevention program. This low-cost panel will give you and your doctor a quick snapshot of your overall health. This test provides a broad range of diagnostic information to assess your vascular, liver, kidney, and blood cell status. The Complete Blood Count measures the number, variety, percentage, concentration, and quality of platelets, red blood cells, and white blood cells, and thus is useful in screening for infections, anemias, and other hematological abnormalities, while the Chemistry Panel provides information on the status of your cardiovascular system by testing for total cholesterol, HDL (high-density lipoprotein), LDL (low-density lipo-protein), triglycerides, and the total cholesterol/HDL ratio.
The Chemistry Panel also measures blood glucose, which is critically important for detecting early-stage metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and coronary artery disease. Seeing as the endemic of diabetes has grown fast and is here to stay with its relatives called metabolic syndromes, monitoring your fasting glucose levels is as important as knowing your cholesterol level.
An important contributor to blood clotting, fibrinogen levels increase in response to tissue inflammation. Since the development of atherosclerosis and heart disease are essentially inflammatory processes, increased fibrinogen levels can help predict the risk of heart disease and stroke, rheumatoid arthritis and glomerulonephritis (inflammation of the kidney).
A combination of lifestyle and behavioral changes—such as quitting smoking (I keep saying this!!!), losing weight, and becoming more physically active—may help to lower fibrinogen levels to the optimal range. Nutritional interventions may also help to optimize fibrinogen levels.
One of the best ways to assess your glucose status is testing for hemoglobin A1C (HbA1c). This test measures a person’s blood sugar control over the last two to three months and is an independent predictor of heart disease risk in persons with or without diabetes. Maintaining healthy hemoglobin A1C levels may also help patients with diabetes to prevent some of the complications of the disease.
Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), a hormone produced by the adrenal glands, is a precursor to the sex hormones estrogen and testosterone. Blood levels of DHEA peak in one’s twenties and then decline dramatically with age, decreasing to 20-30% of peak youthful levels between the ages of 70 and 80. DHEA is frequently referred to as an “anti-aging” hormone. Recently, researchers in Turkey found that DHEA levels were significantly lower in men with symptoms associated with aging, including erectile dysfunction. Healthy levels of DHEA may support immune function, bone density, mood, libido, and healthy body composition.
Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) is a protein manufactured by the prostate gland in men. Elevated levels may suggest an enlarged prostate, prostate inflammation, or prostate cancer. PSA levels may also be used to monitor the efficacy of therapeutic regimens for prostate conditions.
Elevated levels of PSA may not necessarily signal prostate cancer, and prostate cancer may not always be accompanied by expression of PSA. Levels can be elevated in the presence of a urinary tract infection or an inflamed prostate. A PSA level over 2.5 ng/mL, or a PSA doubling time (the time required for PSA value to double) of less than 12 years, may be a cause for concern.
The amino acid homocysteine is formed in the body during the metabolism of methionine. High homocysteine levels have been associated with increased risk of heart attack, bone fracture, and poor cognitive function. Incremental increases in the level of homocysteine correlate with an increased risk for coronary artery disease. Data from the Physicians’ Health Study, which tracked 14,916 healthy male physicians with no previous history of heart disease, showed that highly elevated homocysteine levels were associated with a more than threefold increase in the risk of heart attack over a five-year period.
Homocysteine has also become recognized as an independent risk factor for bone fractures, age-related macular degeneration, prolonged lower cognitive performance.
Increasingly, medical science is discovering that inflammation within the body can lead to a range of life-threatening degenerative diseases such as coronary heart disease, diabetes, macular degeneration, and cognitive decline. By measuring your body’s level of inflammation through regular C-reactive protein testing, you can devise a strategy of diet, exercise, and supplementation to halt many of these conditions.
C-reactive protein (CRP) is a sensitive marker of systemic inflammation that has emerged as a powerful predictor of coronary heart disease and other diseases of the cardiovascular system. The highly sensitive cardiac CRP test measures C-reactive protein in the blood at very early stages of vascular disease, allowing for appropriate intervention with diet, supplements, or anti-inflammatory therapy. The cardiac CRP test detects much smaller levels of inflammation than the basic CRP test, so is therefore able to identify at-risk patients earlier, even among apparently healthy persons.
Secreted by the pituitary gland, the thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) controls thyroid hormone secretion in the thyroid. When blood levels fall below normal, this indicates hyperthyroidism (increased thyroid activity), and when values are above normal, this suggests hypothyroidism (low thyroid activity). Because the symptoms of thyroid imbalance may be nonspecific or absent and may progress slowly, and since many doctors do not routinely screen for thyroid function, people with mild hyper- or hypothyroidism can go undiagnosed for some time. Undiagnosed mild disease can progress to clinical disease states. This is a dangerous scenario, since people with hypothyroidism and elevated serum cholesterol and LDL have an increased risk of atherosclerosis.
Mild hypothyroidism (low thyroid gland function) may be associated with reversible hypercholesterolemia (high blood cholesterol) and cognitive dysfunction, as well as such nonspecific symptoms as fatigue, depression, cold intolerance, dry skin, constipation, and weight gain. Mild hyperthyroidism is often associated with atrial fibrillation (a disturbance of heart rhythm), reduced bone mineral density, and nonspecific symptoms such as fatigue, weight loss, heat intolerance, nervousness, insomnia, muscle weakness, shortness of breath, and heart palpitations.
Testosterone is produced in the testes in men, in the ovaries in women, and in the adrenal glands of both men and women. Men and women alike can be dramatically affected by the decline in testosterone levels that occurs with aging.
In the serum of both men and women, less than 2% of testosterone typically is found in the free (uncomplexed) state. Unlike bound testosterone, the free form of the hormone can circulate in the brain and affect nerve cells. Testosterone plays different roles in men and women, including the regulation of fertility, libido, and muscle mass. In men, free testosterone levels may be used to evaluate whether sufficient bioactive testosterone is available to protect against abdominal obesity, mental depression, osteoporosis, and heart disease. In women, low levels of testosterone have been associated with decreased libido and well-being, while high levels of free testosterone may indicate hirsuitism (a condition of excessive hair growth on the face and chest) or polycystic ovarian syndrome. Increased testosterone in women may also indicate low estrogen levels.
Like testosterone, both men and women need estrogen for numerous physiological functions. Estradiol is the primary circulating form of estrogen in men and women, and is an indicator of hypothalamic and pituitary function. Men produce estradiol in much smaller amounts than do women; most estradiol is produced from testosterone and adrenal steroid hormones, and a fraction is produced directly by the testes. In women, estradiol is produced in the ovaries, adrenal glands, and peripheral tissues. Levels of estradiol vary throughout the menstrual cycle, and drop to low but constant levels after menopause.
In women, blood estradiol levels help to evaluate menopausal status and sexual maturity. Increased levels in women may indicate an increased risk for breast or endometrial cancer. Estradiol plays a role in supporting healthy bone density in men and women. Low levels are associated with an increased risk of osteoporosis and bone fracture in men and women as well. Elevated levels of estradiol in men may accompany gynecomastia (breast enlargement), diminished sex drive, and difficulty with urination.
In summary, I would like to say that yearly blood testing is a simple yet powerful strategy to help you proactively take charge of your current and future health. A well-chosen complement of blood tests can thoroughly assess your overall state of health, as well as detect the silent warning signals that precede the development of serious diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.
Many diseases and disorders are treatable when caught early, but can severely impair the quality and length of your life if left unattended. Identifying these hidden risk factors will enable you to implement powerful strategies such as proper nutrition, weight loss, exercise, supplements, and medications in order to prevent progression to full-blown, life-threatening diseases. Blood testing can also detect biochemical changes that threaten well-being and quality of life, such as declining levels of sex hormones. Armed with information on important health biomarkers, you and your physician can plan and execute a strategy to help you achieve and maintain vibrant health so go and get your test done.