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Men’s Health: Labs That Matter

chemistryHere at Restore/Thrive, you’ll notice when you fill out your New Patient Intake Paperwork before your first appointment that we ask some pretty unusual questions for a therapy practice and gym: How do you rate your stress level? How are you sleeping? Do you take any nutritional supplements? Are you willing to make lifestyle changes?

This is what some would call a “holistic” approach, others an “integrative” approach, to healthcare. The point is this: our bodies are a system of systems. Just because you wake up every morning with an aching back doesn’t mean you have an actual back injury. If you fall asleep in front of a  TV every night and your 6-pack abs have become a 1-pack, there’s a good bet there’s a lot more to that pain in your back.

If we simply looked at every patient intake form that said back pain and proceeded to treat said patients as “backs” instead of whole persons, we’d help maybe a quarter of the folks who walked through our doors. As it stands, most of our patients are noticeably better within 4 to 6 visits. And by better we mean the problem is fixed, not covered over by a pill, patch, brace, or medication. You can only get those kinds of results when you treat the person as a whole: your stress level, physical practices, sleep quality, nutrition, hydration, and connection with your community create a successful aggregate that endows lasting change for the better.

So today, we’re going to take a dive into the men’s end of the pool and talk lab tests. What tests do you need to take every 6 to 12 months to make sure your body is functioning optimally? The technology is there (and is getting cheaper by the day) to assess yourself to a degree that you can know exactly what your body needs to look, feel, and perform its best.

There are several tests that every adult male should be testing with at least yearly regularity. The following lab tests and reference ranges for men are based on the recommendations of Dr. Richard Lee, Adjunct Professor of Medicine at Standford University and the University of Southern California:

Thyroid

The Thyroid Gland is fairly important for normal human existence. It influences breathing, heart rate, the Central and Peripheral nervous systems, body weight, muscle strength, body temperature, and cholesterol levels, to name a few vital features.

In order of importance, T4, T3, and Reverse T3, as well as TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) should be tested when assessing Thyroid function. You should be in the upper quartile in all 4 for the given reference ranges.

DHEA

A naturally occurring hormone in the body, DHEA has effects on both cholesterol and testosterone production. It does not exist in isolation, however, and supplementing with DHEA to improve testosterone levels (as it is commonly prescribed) can goose your cholesterol levels simultaneously. Ideal range for DHEA is 400-500 µg/dL

Testosterone

Male readers, you should have a fairly good idea why this one is important: physical energy, sex drive, muscle mass and strength, bone mass, even resistance to depression. When assessing testosterone levels, you need 3 numbers: Albumin, Total Testosterone and Sex Hormone Binding Globulin (SHBG). With these three values you can calculate your Free (or “Bio Available”) Testosterone on this handy online calculator. Optimal Total Testosterone range should be between 680-900 ng/dL, while SHBG should fall between 13-30 nmol/L if in optimal range.

Vitamin D3

This one’s pretty straight forward and is normally found on your standard lab panel (while most of these other ones you may find you have to ask specifically for).  D3  influences male and female sex hormones and is critical to incorporating calcium into the bones. Optimal range for D3 falls between 50-80 ng/mL.

Folicle Stimulating Hormone

Folicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) is a primary hormone that effects physical maturation, regulates growth and reproductive processes in the body. While the reference range for FSH is a broad 1-11.1mIU/mL, several recent studies suggest a tighter range of 2-7mIU/mL.

Cortisol

The last “must test” on our list for men. This one is the only test that is not a blood test, rather a 24-hour, 4 test saliva collection. Cortisol should be 7x higher in the morning than the evening and is important for exercise recovery. High evening cortisol contributes to increased trunk fat. Without looking at the entire 24-hour window of your cortisol output, our ability to assess your overall health is limited.

We recommend the Adrenal Stress Index Test. It’s a simple spit test that produces solid insight into how your body is holding up to the stress in your life.

Wrapping It Up

While I’m sure many of you are thoroughly overwhelmed at this point, remember you’ve now got this guide to help you navigate your way to looking, feeling and performing better.

There’s a few other quick tips I have for all of you that should make it easier to get your ship pointed in the right direction.

  1. Not sure if you need to be tested? Sign number one that you do is if you’re failing the “Morning Wood” Test. It’s a simple “yes” or “no”, fellas. If it’s not a consistent “yes”, something is awry.
  2. Where do you get tested? For the blood tests, we highly recommend Spectracell Labs. If you’re paying out of pocket, the hormone panel will run you $150. If you have insurance, it could be significantly less.
  3. Who do you consult with afterwards? Your primary care doc may be up to speed on all these tests. If not, or if they are for some reason opposed to you taking these tests, you need to find another healthcare practitioner who can walk you through the process of interpreting your lab results and finding solutions to the problems you have. You can contact us if you’d like our list of preferred practitioners.

It’s no longer o.k. to rely on the standard blood panel you get at your once-a-year check up with your primary care doc. You can do better. Your health care providers can do better. Get after it, men.


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