Want to keep track of your health but aren’t sure where to start? Feeling tired, overwhelmed, or just not as healthy as you should be? These essential blood tests will give you and your doctor a good idea of where you stand with your overall health and where you can improve. And even if you are feeling healthy, these tests will let you peek under the hood and make sure everything is running well. Read on to find out which 10 essential blood tests everyone should be getting.
Everyone wants to be healthy. When you are healthy, you feel great! And you want to make sure you feel great most of the time – which is probably why you are reading this article. An important way to make sure you stay healthy is to get regular lab tests. That’s because, without lab tests, it is hard to know exactly what is going on in our bodies.
When we are not feeling well, there is only so much the doctor can conclude based on the symptoms we have. More importantly, many serious health problems can be without any symptoms for years before they become recognizable. That is why doctors rely on blood tests to find out what’s going on in our bodies. And so should you!
Taking blood tests on a yearly basis is one of the best steps adults (those of us over 25) can take to maximize well-being and prevent serious diseases. Blood tests can warn you before your health takes a turn for the worse. You can identify and address many issues before they become more serious, such as diabetes, metabolic syndrome, heart disease, or other chronic illnesses that plague our modern society. This proactive approach to health could add years to your life, even decades in some cases.
Regular lab testing can also take you a step further than just disease prevention. Taking these tests annually can help you stay on top of your game and maximize the quality of your life. You can use them to improve your mood, libido, cognitive function, and overall energy levels.
Is your doctor already ordering these as a part of your annual check-up? Great – you are on track! For those of us who aren’t as lucky, let this article serve as a little nudge to incorporate regular lab tests into our busy lives. And if you have chronic health issues, these lab tests are a great place to start looking for their root causes.
Complete blood count (CBC) is one of the most commonly ordered tests, and for good reason. Your blood cells can tell a lot about your health. CBC lets you and your doctor know when you have issues with infections or inflammation, but it will also signal when your diet is not balanced. When you are missing certain micronutrients, your body won’t be able to produce blood cells normally.
It is important to keep track of your CBC values because many of them have a strong impact on your quality of life and longevity. A low hemoglobin level, for example, may be why you are feeling fatigued and low in energy, while a low white blood cell count could make you an easy target for infections.
As the title suggests, a comprehensive metabolic panel (CMP) is a group of blood tests. A CMP lets you and your doctor know how healthy your liver and kidneys are. It will also alert you if there are disturbances in your blood sugar levels, protein levels, and the overall acid/base balance in your body.
You may know this panel well if you have chronic health issues such as diabetes, high blood pressure, liver, or kidney damage. Doctors often use CMP to monitor disease progression.
If you don’t have these tests available as a panel (some labs and countries don’t) you can also take them individually. A CMP is comprised of 14 biomarkers: glucose, calcium, albumin, protein, sodium, potassium, chloride, bicarbonate (carbon dioxide), AST, ALT, ALP, bilirubin, BUN (urea), and creatinine.
A lipid panel measures your cholesterol and triglyceride levels. These markers are strongly linked to heart disease. To keep things simple, you want to make sure that your good cholesterol (HDL) is high and your bad cholesterol (LDL) and triglycerides are low.
These tests are a bit controversial, and if you are at a higher risk of heart disease, your doctor will probably want to keep track of more than just these markers (check tests such as ApoB, Lp(a), and LDL particles). But for most, a routine lipid panel is a great place to start taking care of your heart health!
While a blood glucose test shows your current glucose levels, HbA1c will tell you your average blood sugar levels over the past 3 months. If you are healthy, you should check it at least once a year, while people with diabetes may want to do it as often as 4 times a year.
Apart from being a risk factor for diabetes, high HbA1c levels (even when still in the normal range) can increase a person’s risk of heart disease and all-cause mortality. This is one of those markers that you definitely want to keep in the optimal range.
C-reactive protein (CRP) is a protein that fights bacteria and viruses and increases in response to infection. But it also increases in response to chronic stress. You will have higher CRP levels if you are overweight, have high blood pressure, have diabetes, smoke, have periodontal (gum) disease, don’t exercise, and/or are exposed to emotional stress.
CRP can also help predict your risk of heart disease. When both CRP and cholesterol levels are high, your overall risk of heart disease can increase up to 9-fold ! The good news is that there are many things you can do to lower your CRP levels, which is why this is one of the lab tests worth keeping track of.
Why test your vitamin D levels? Well, because vitamin D deficiency is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies in the world, and it’s especially common in the US. Vitamin D can get depleted if you haven’t been leading the healthiest lifestyle or you are suffering from chronic health issues. Do you experience fatigue, low back pain, muscle aches, digestive problems, obesity, mood swings, and weakened immunity? These are all symptoms of vitamin D deficiency.
You can get vitamin D from sun exposure, certain foods, or supplements. But be careful when supplementing, as too much will cause vitamin D toxicity. For these reasons, you should always consult your doctor before supplementing.
Iron deficiency is another common nutritional deficiency and the leading cause of anemia. According to both the WHO and CDC, iron deficiency affects up to 60 – 80% of the world’s population. On the other hand, some chronic diseases can cause iron overload, which is extremely toxic to our bodies.
That’s why you should occasionally test your iron levels, whether it’s blood iron or ferritin (which reflects your body’s iron stores).
GGT is an enzyme doctors often use to assess liver function. However, it’s not a part of the CMP. A growing body of evidence has established the link between higher GGT levels and inflammation and oxidative stress, showing that this test is useful beyond estimating liver health.
Research has linked higher GGT, even within the normal range, with an increased risk of diabetes and heart and kidney disease. Therefore it’s a good idea to check your levels once in a while.
Uric acid is a tricky one. Too much uric acid causes kidney stones and gout and can increase an individual’s risk of heart disease and diabetes. So the lower the better, right? Not quite. Uric acid is also a natural antioxidant – it makes up to 60% of the blood’s antioxidant capacity. Also, studies show it may protect the brain from diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. That’s why you want to keep uric acid in a narrow optimal range.
Thyroid hormones control the rate of your metabolism. They affect your cholesterol levels and insulin sensitivity. An underactive or overactive thyroid can cause issues with weight, energy levels, and mood.
TSH is one of the most commonly tested markers to check thyroid function. A higher-than-normal level of TSH could mean your thyroid is underactive (hypothyroidism), while a lower-than-normal level could mean it’s overactive (hyperthyroidism).
Alternatively, you can take a whole thyroid panel, containing a combination of these biomarkers: TSH, total or free T4, total or free T3, T3 uptake, and free T4 Index. Work with your doctor to find out what makes the most sense in your particular case.