What comes to mind when you think of ways to be proactive about your health? If things like a healthy diet, exercise, and getting plenty of sleep pop into your head, you’re certainly not wrong.
But there’s one often overlooked step that, as a Functional Medicine Doctor, I always recommend as one of the most powerful ways to be proactive when it comes to your health. This often overlooked step I’m referring to is running some essential lab tests that give us some insight as to what’s really going on inside your body.
Today, we’re going to go over why lab tests are so important and 15 lab tests everyone should consider by the time they’re 30 (although there’s never a bad time to be proactive about your health regardless of your age!). Let’s dive in.
Lab Tests: What Are They and Why Are They So Important?
In simplest terms, a lab test is a procedure that analyzes a sample obtained from your body. First, a sample of your bodily fluids or tissues – like your blood, urine, saliva, tissue, or hair – is extracted. This sample is then processed and analyzed to measure levels of chemical components.
By taking precise measurements of different chemical components found within your tissues or bodily fluids, we are able to get a glimpse of what is going on within your body and between the different organs and systems within your body. Think of each lab test like a piece of a puzzle. By taking different measurements and collecting clues and insight as to what’s going on beneath the surface, we can begin putting the pieces of the puzzle together.1
As these puzzle pieces come together we can get a more accurate picture of anything that is off-kilter – allowing us to detect and diagnose disease states, imbalances, deficiencies, and more. The ability to run laboratory tests and gain this insight is hands down one of the most valuable and crucial components of modern-day healthcare. So let’s dive into some of the most essential lab tests that, when combined, can give you a good idea of where your overall health is at.
15 Lab Tests You Should Consider By the Time You’re 30
The truth is, many conventional doctors don’t routinely run many laboratory tests unless there is a clear indication that something is askew. But prevention is the best medicine. And proactively getting a glimpse of what’s going on internally can give you a major edge in addressing any imbalances or abnormalities before they snowball into something more serious.
For that reason, I recommend anyone approaching 30 consider the following tests. If you’re over 30 – by a little or a lot – not to worry! These lab tests are highly useful at any age to “put the pieces of the puzzle together” when it comes to the not-so-obvious nuances of what’s going on within the intricate and complex network that makes up your body and your health.
So let’s zoom in on each of these 15 essential lab tests.
Complete Metabolic Profile (CMP)
Also sometimes referred to as a chemistry panel or a chemistry screen, a complete metabolic profile is a blood test that gives us a snapshot of your liver and kidney function, your electrolytes, overall chemical balance, and metabolism. More specifically, a complete metabolic profile evaluates your:2,3
- Albumin: Albumin is a protein produced by your liver that helps transport substances through your bloodstream.
- Bilirubin: Bilirubin is a waste product created when your red blood cells are broken down. Your liver is responsible for the breakdown and removal of this compound.
- BUN (blood urea nitrogen): Urea nitrogen is a waste product that’s filtered out and removed by your kidneys.
- Calcium: An abundant and essential mineral that is important for proper nerve, muscle, and heart function.
- Creatinine: Creatinine is a natural byproduct of muscle activity that’s processed and removed via your kidneys.
- Electrolytes: A CMP also assesses four of your most crucial electrolyte levels – sodium, potassium, bicarbonate, and chloride.
- Glucose: Also known as your blood sugar.
- Liver enzymes: Enzymes are specialized proteins that facilitate and speed up chemical reactions within your body. Your liver relies on various enzymes to carry out its duties and a CMP assesses some of the most critical ones – alkaline phosphatase (ALP), alanine transaminase (ALT), and aspartate aminotransferase (AST).
- Total protein: The total amount of proteins floating around in your bloodstream.
Because a CMP includes multiple measurements, it offers a broad look at multiple functions within your body – making it an essential baseline test.
Complete Blood Count with Differential (CBC)
A complete blood count or CBC is a blood test that does exactly what its name implies – counts and analyzes your various blood cells. A CBC with a differential means that it also breaks down and examines not just your overall white blood cell count, but how many of each specific type you have. A CBC is able to give us an idea of:4,5
- How many new blood cells you’re producing and how well they’re functioning
- The oxygen-carrying capacity of your red blood cells by assessing hemoglobin levels (specialized proteins that bind to oxygen molecules)
- Your hematocrit levels – or the concentration of red blood cells within your bloodstream
- How well your blood is able to clot based on platelet count
- How well your immune system is functioning by evaluating how many of each type of white blood cell you’re producing
Because your blood serves as one of the primary transportation channels throughout your body, an imbalance in your CBC can clue us into deeper imbalances and help steer the direction of further diagnostic testing.
Advanced Lipid Panel with APoB and Lp(a)
You’re likely familiar with the idea of standard lipid profile tests – more commonly referred to as testing your cholesterol levels. And while knowing your basic cholesterol levels can be helpful, it doesn’t really give us a clear picture of what’s going on when it comes to the details of your lipid levels.
You see, lipids are a broad group of naturally-occurring molecules that includes things like fats, waxes, sterols, and fat-soluble vitamins. And each specific type of lipid plays a specific and crucial role in our health – with each one having a unique interplay with each other and other molecules within your body. Because of this delicate interplay, it’s crucial to get a more detailed look at your lipid levels via an advanced lipid panel.
An advanced lipid panel evaluates the levels of numerous lipids – including total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and triglycerides. But it also measures two specific lipids known as apolipoprotein B (apoB) and lipoprotein(a) or Lp(a) – both of which can directly correlate with your cardiac health.6,7 As they say – the devil is in the details – and getting accurate details regarding your lipid levels and cardiac health can go a long way when it comes to prevention, management, and healing.
Inflammation is your body’s natural response to infection, injury, trauma, toxicity, or some form of stress – meaning a spike in inflammation is one of the primary indicators that something is askew within your body. If the source of inflammation persists and your inflammatory response becomes chronically activated, it can spell trouble for your health. In fact, just about every chronic disease known to man can be traced back to chronic inflammation.8
For this reason, it can be highly useful to obtain lab tests that evaluate your blood for the presence of these inflammation-stoking signaling molecules, also known as inflammatory markers. While there are a variety of inflammatory markers, the most important and most helpful tests to obtain include:
- High-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP)
- Lipoprotein-Associated Phospholipase A2/PLAC
- Myeloperoxidase (MPO)
- Oxidized low-density lipoprotein
- Trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO)
Elevated inflammatory markers can be a huge indicator of something brewing beneath the surface which can clue us into the need to dive deeper into identifying the source of inflammation.
Heavy Metal Testing
Heavy metals can make their way into your body and accumulate over time – slowly exerting their toxic effects and wreaking havoc on your health. Some of the most common toxic heavy metals include:9
A heavy metal panel will determine if you’ve been exposed to certain metals, and just how much of each metal is in your system.
Complete Thyroid Panel
Your thyroid is the small gland found at the front of your neck. While this organ may be tiny, its role in your health is anything but small. This little powerhouse is responsible for secreting vital hormones that regulate how your body processes and uses energy. And the cascade of hormones it secretes are intricately connected to the function of just about every cell in your body – meaning if your thyroid isn’t functioning optimally, it can have serious consequences for your health.
So it’s crucial to ensure this mighty gland is working properly by conducting a complete thyroid panel that assesses the amount of thyroid hormones you’re producing. It’s vital to ensure it’s a complete panel that checks all of the following:10,11
- Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH): The hormone that prompts your thyroid to produce and secrete thyroid hormones
- Free thyroxine (T4) and free triiodothyronine (T3): The two major hormones secreted by your thyroid gland
- Thyroid peroxidase antibodies (TPO) and thyroglobulin antibodies (TgAb): These tests detect the presence of antibodies that might indicate the development of autoimmunity – meaning your immune system mistakenly begins attacking and damaging your thyroid
- Reverse T3: Reverse T3 is a metabolically inactive form of thyroid hormone generated as a byproduct of T4 degradation
Many thyroid tests do not evaluate all of these markers, so be sure to ask your provider to run a test for each of these markers to get an accurate picture of your thyroid function.
Complete Hormone Panel
Hormones are the chemical messengers that your body uses to coordinate nearly every function within your body. If any single hormone gets thrown out of whack it can have a domino effect – disrupting the balance of numerous hormones and impacting everything from your health to your mood and from your appearance to your performance.
You’ll certainly want to assess your sex hormones (like estrogen, testosterone, progesterone, and sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG). And I highly recommend evaluating your cortisol levels with a 4-point cortisol test which measures how your cortisol levels fluctuate throughout the day.
Getting a complete hormone panel to identify and address any hormonal imbalances can have a monumental impact on your life. In fact, many people who have addressed underlying hormonal imbalances report the transformation as nothing less than life-changing.
Autoimmunity occurs when your immune system essentially goes haywire and becomes confused – mistakenly identifying your own tissues as an imminent threat and launching an immune attack against your own healthy cells. The underlying causes of autoimmunity are not always entirely clear and can usually be linked back to a multitude of factors. You can read more about the underlying causes of autoimmunity in my article A Fascinating Look at the Hidden Triggers That Can Cause Autoimmunity.
Autoimmunity can be insidious, gradually developing over time – so running some lab tests to catch it early can go a long way. In addition to the inflammatory markers listed earlier in this article, it can be a good idea to check for the following specific autoimmunity markers:12,13
- Antinuclear antibody (ANA): Antinuclear antibodies derived their name from the fact that they are indeed “anti” nuclear – targeting and attacking the nucleus of your own cells. This test determines whether or not you have elevated levels of these autoimmune antibodies.
- Extractable nuclear antigen panel: This is another test designed to detect the presence of “autoantibodies” in the blood that negatively react with proteins in your cell nucleus.
Today’s stress-filled, nutrient-deficient, and toxin-laden world means autoimmunity is on the rise – making it more important than ever to test for these autoimmune markers.
Immunoglobulins are more commonly known as antibodies – the tiny proteins secreted by specialized immune cells that help you fight off invading pathogens. These microscopic proteins play a pivotal role in our survival and ability to ward off harmful microbes. There are different types of immunoglobulins that each play slightly different roles which include:
- IgM: These antibodies are like your first line of defense, as they’re the initial proteins your body makes in response to exposure to invading pathogens to provide short-term protection while your body works on producing additional antibodies.
- IgG: IgG proteins are the primary antibodies found within your blood and body fluids. Your body keeps a record or “blueprint” of all the IgG antibodies you’ve ever made so that your immune system can more rapidly and more precisely respond if/when you’re exposed to the same pathogen again.
- IgA: These antibodies are mainly found within tissues that come into contact with the environment – like your respiratory tract and digestive system – to protect you from the microbes you frequently come into contact with.
- IgE: IgE is a type of antibody typically produced in response to an irritant that creates some type of allergy response.
Testing all of these different immunoglobulin levels together can give us a glimpse into how well (or how not-so-well) your immune system is functioning and clue us in if there is perhaps an undetected underlying infection lurking within your cells.14
Fasting Glucose, Insulin, Hemoglobin, A1C, and Uric Acid
Your body utilizes energy from certain sugars and carbohydrates in a process that goes something like this:15,16
- When you ingest certain sugars and carbohydrates, your body breaks them down into a simple sugar known as glucose – the main type of sugar found in your blood and your body’s main source of energy
- Once broken down, these glucose molecules enter your bloodstream and attach themselves to a type of protein on your red blood cells known as hemoglobin
- Glucose molecules will remain “stuck” to red blood cells for as long as the cells survive – which is typically about 3 months
- This process of glucose attaching to hemoglobin results in the hemoglobin becoming “glycated”
- The percentage of hemoglobin that has been glycated can be measured in a test known as hemoglobin A1C
- Meanwhile, free-floating glucose is shuttled into your cells to be utilized as energy via a hormone called insulin
- The higher your fasting blood glucose, insulin levels, and A1C are, the less efficiently your body is able to properly process and utilize sugar
- Research has also found a direct link between elevated glucose, insulin, and A1C and elevated uric acid levels – which can lead to conditions like gout and painful kidney stones
Testing all of these different factors in conjunction can give us some excellent insight as to just how well your body is able to utilize glucose and give us an edge in combating metabolic disorders like insulin resistance, diabetes, and obesity.
Serum Vitamin D
Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that you absorb from the food you eat and synthesize on your own when your skin comes into contact with sunlight. This little nutrient plays a pivotal role in everything from your immune system to your mood and from nutrient absorption to bone growth.17
And unfortunately, thanks to our mostly indoor way of living, nutrient-diminished food sources, and vitamin D-depleting modern-day lifestyles, the vast majority of us are majorly lacking in vitamin D. Testing your vitamin D levels can help identify any deficiency and help you appropriately supplement as needed.
To learn more about the fascinating role of vitamin D and how you can get more of this mighty nutrient, head over and read my article Vitamin D’s Essential Role in a Healthy Immune System – and How to Get More of It.
We’ve all heard about macronutrients – proteins, fats, and carbohydrates – and how important they are. Micronutrients on the other hand are often overlooked despite their equal importance. Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals found in food sources along with other health-boosting compounds like antioxidants.
Due to modern-day agricultural practices, the abundance of ultra-processed food, an influx of environmental toxins, and nutrient-depleting lifestyles that most of us lead, it can be easy to become deficient in any number of micronutrients. Testing for specific micronutrient deficiencies can help you more precisely and accurately address them.
Replenishing and rebalancing your micronutrient levels can have a massive impact on your health, happiness, and well-being. And fortunately, restoring optimal micronutrient levels can often be accomplished with a well-rounded, intentional diet and some strategic supplementation.
Celiac Disease and Gluten Sensitivity Markers
Gluten is a naturally-occurring protein found in certain grains like wheat, rye, and barley as well as in a variety of processed foods. While some people can ingest gluten without any side effects whatsoever, for others, it can be disastrous. A growing number of people are developing a sensitivity to ingesting gluten – resulting in things like compromised gut health, skin issues, allergies, and more.
And for others, ingesting gluten can lead to a full-blown immune response – spiraling into a condition known as celiac disease. And because gluten is so prevalent in many everyday foods, oftentimes, people can go for extended periods of time struggling with ongoing, unexplained symptoms – not realizing that gluten is the culprit causing them so much distress.
Because this intolerance to gluten is on the rise and can create a cascade of health issues, it can be immensely valuable to rule in or rule out a sensitivity to this tiny protein.
Fatty Acid Testing
Fatty acids are the building blocks of the fats within our bodies. We rely on these tiny fatty acid chains for our very survival as they make up an integral part of the membrane that encases each and every one of our trillions of cells. They also provide the raw ingredients for critical hormones, influence how our genes are expressed, and much more.18
There are a handful of fatty acids that are particularly important when it comes to our health and well-being which include:
- Arachidonic acid (AA)
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
- Docosapentaenoic acid (DPA)
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
- Linoleic acid (LA)
And similar to micronutrients, it can be easy to become deficient in these indispensable nutrients. So I always recommend testing fatty acid levels to get a clear picture of any nutritional gaps or imbalances since correcting the levels of these basic building blocks is essential for healing and optimal well-being.
Iron is a mineral that plays an irreplaceable role in red blood cell metabolism and oxygen transport. Your body is designed to maintain a delicate balance of iron – meaning a deficiency or an overload can both spell trouble. An iron study is a test that analyzes your iron levels and evaluates:19
- Serum iron: This measures the amount of iron in your blood
- Ferritin: A measurement of how much iron is stored in your body and tissues
- Transferrin: Transferrin is a protein that moves iron throughout your body
- Total iron-binding capacity (TIBC): This measures how well iron is able to attach to transferrin and other proteins in the blood
It’s important to complete a complete iron study that evaluates all of these components rather than a simple serum iron test to get an accurate representation of your overall iron levels.
Are Lab Tests Really That Important?
The answer to that question is – absolutely! You see, when something within your body is thrown off-kilter, your body begins communicating this imbalance in a very soft whisper – “talking” to you in subtle ways like small shifts in the levels of different chemicals and compounds within your body. If left unaddressed that whisper slowly grows louder and louder until your body is essentially screaming at you – with the initial imbalance snowballing into unpleasant symptoms, illness, or a full-blown chronic disease.
Proactively taking a peek at what’s happening beneath the surface by routinely running these essential lab tests can allow us to tune into our body when it’s whispering to us – allowing us to take action and make adjustments before it escalates into something more serious. If I could go back in time and talk to my younger self, this is hands down one of the first pieces of advice I would give to my past self.
If I had been able to tune into that little whisper and been able to listen to what my body was trying to tell me, it would have saved me so much grief and struggle – both physically and emotionally. This is why I’m so passionate about what I do as a Functional Medicine Doctor – because I’ve been on the other side and experienced life-altering symptoms, debilitating illness, and crushing heartbreak. And I know that if I can overcome all of the obstacles that I’ve faced and still create a life full of love, resilience, and purpose – that you can too.
I peel back all the layers and dive deep into my own journey of finding resilience through functional medicine, science, and a whole lot of faith in my upcoming book Unexpected: Finding Resilience Through Functional Medicine, Science, and Faith. I wrote this book as a way to connect with you, my patients and my readers, as a way to offer a sense of connection and encouragement on your own path to profound transformational healing – whatever that may look like for you. To grab your own copy of my book and claim your exclusive pre-order bonuses, be sure to click right here!
Has there ever been a time in your life when you’ve felt alone or unsure where to turn for answers?
In Unexpected: Finding Resilience through Functional Medicine, Science, and Faith, Dr. Jill Carnahan shares her story of facing life-altering illness, fighting for her health, and overcoming sickness using both science and faith so that others can learn to live their own transformative stories.
Dr. Jill’s riveting and compassionate exploration of healing through functional medicine demonstrates how to replace darkness and fear with hope and find profound healing, unconditional love, and unexpected miracles in the process.
- Enhancing the Clinical Value of Medical Laboratory Testing (nih.gov)
- Comprehensive Metabolic Panel (CMP): What It Is & Results (clevelandclinic.org)
- Comprehensive Metabolic Panel: Purpose, Procedure, Results (webmd.com)
- Understanding the complete blood count with differential – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Complete Blood Count: Normal Ranges & Test Details (clevelandclinic.org)
- The Role of Advanced Lipid Testing in the Prediction of Cardiovascular Disease (nih.gov)
- Advanced Lipid Testing – Are You Ready to Know Your Numbers? (accesalabs.com)
- What are Inflammatory Markers? | IBD and Inflammatory Markers (crohnsandcolitisdietitians.com)
- Heavy Metal Blood Test: MedlinePlus Medical Test
- Thyroid Blood Tests (clevelandclinic.org)
- Reverse Triiodothyronine – an overview | ScienceDirect Topics
- ANA (Antinuclear Antibody) Test: MedlinePlus Medical Test
- Extractable Nuclear Antigen Antibodies (ENA) Panel – Testing.com
- Immunoglobulin Test: High vs Low vs Normal Levels of (Ig) Antibodies (webmd.com)
- Hemoglobin A1C (HbA1c) Test: MedlinePlus Medical Test
- Gout and Diabetes: How Are They Related? (webmd.com)
- Vitamin D – Health Professional Fact Sheet (nih.gov)
- Functional Roles of Fatty Acids and Their Effects on Human Health – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Iron Tests: MedlinePlus Medical Test
* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The product mentioned in this article are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information in this article is not intended to replace any recommendations or relationship with your physician. Please review references sited at end of article for scientific support of any claims made.