More often than not, coaches and clinicians exploring Full Body Systems, our 10-month training in the science and art of the Functional Nutrition practice, want to know if I’m going to teach them how to read labs inside the program. 

The short answer is yes. But the long answer is yes, but…

Reading Labs As A Health Practitioner

Here’s the deal: Many practitioners – even the ones who are not doctors or licenced in some other way – are wandering around with a misconception that they’re supposed to know all about lab results. They may even feel like a “fake” or a failure, or that they’re losing their cutting edge if they can’t order or understand lab work. But that’s just not the case. 

Labs Are Not The Full Story In Understanding Your Clients Health

In fact, if the problems we’re seeing in healthcare, either at an individual or population level, were solved by seeing the whole picture identified in a set of labs, then we wouldn’t have so many people who are sick and not getting better! 

Furthermore, in our clinic at the Functional Nutrition Alliance, 90% of our clients come to us with a huge stack of labs that not only did not identify a singular problem, but ultimately led to little or no resolution. 

Labs Don’t Fill the GAPs in Healthcare

The hard truth (and I’m going to be frank here), is that those compare and despair feelings about not being able to order or interpret labs, are just an obstacle you construct for yourself. Seriously, your ability to order or understand labs need not be an issue in your success as a Functional Nutrition Counselor. 

Labs can be great, sure. But for the most part they don’t give us answers. Instead they provide more CLUES. And your ability to recognize those clues depends on your understanding of the full body systems more than it does on your ability to read lab results. 

The clues that we get from labs are true, but partial.

Those clues are add-ons (or sprinkles) to the evidence that we’ve already collected from the deep assessment tools and practices we share inside Full Body Systems. Our abilities to Assess, Recommend, and Track are the real differentiator between you and other practitioners. As a Functional Nutrition Counselor, you spend time on what matters most instead of those blind promises.

Labs are Informants Not Determinants

All that said, I’ll admit that I do like labs! In fact, I actually kinda love them. I love looking for those clues and seeing through a lens that so many others overlook. It’s like those pictures that reveal a whole other image when you squint your eyes just so. And in my practice, those labs are a next level layer as I peel the onion to better understand “what’s going on in there?” Labs, rarely (if ever) are a first step.

The “Key” to Understanding Lab Results

Reminder: The First Thing a Functional Nutrition Counselor Does is Assess

When it comes to labs, I prefer the standard serum labs more than the fancy “functional” testing, at least in the early stages of care. They allow us to uncover and address any “gross” imbalances so that we can establish a more solid physiological foundation. 

It’s hard for the body to heal when it’s in a sympathetic (fight or flight) response vs. a parasympathetic (rest and digest) state. It’s difficult to create a terrain for sustainable health when there are imbalances in the major functions of the immune system – (think red blood cell deficiencies, blood sugar imbalances, or even cellular regulation). 

Learn About Key Serum Markers in Full Body Systems

Not only does looking at standard serum labs help us to stay in scope as Functional Nutrition Counselors, but it costs a lot less for our clients too. (Their primary care doc may actually order them and have them covered by insurance, if that’s an option.) 

This is why I focus on teaching the meaning behind those key serum markers. By this I mean:

  • a CBC with differential
  • a CMP
  • a full lipid panel
  • a full thyroid panel 
  • and more

(And if you don’t know what those mean, don’t worry. I’ll teach you all about them in Full Body Systems!)

Serum labs allow us to do course correction before money is spent on anything too fancy, expensive, or at a deeper layer of the onion that we’re trying to access too soon. And guess where saved money can be spent…on your services, on better quality food, and on the other recommendations you are making! 

Perhaps most importantly, serum labs can, when we understand them, empower us to address foundational imbalances in the body and determine what’s actually needed next. That may be a recommendation as simple as better hydration, and then again, it may very well be one of those fancy lab tests, depending on the case.

Are Comprehensive Lab Tests Needed?

Do we need hormone testing, food sensitivity testing, Organic Acid testing (OATs) and SIBO testing all at once or from the get-go? Probably not! We can first focus on physiological regulation and determine what’s still outstanding that needs our attention (if anything!)

If I’m honest, I believe labs are incorrectly used by so many seemingly functional practitioners — and I don’t want that to be you too. (Believe me… there are enough practitioners out there incorrectly using labs in their practices!)

On top of that, looking at labs is more of an art than a science. When you learn to embrace that, you have another tool in your detective tool kit. But when you don’t embrace labs as a source of clues and instead look to them as the be-all-end-all, or as a determinant (instead of an informant), you just fall into another trap that contributes to some of the failings of our current healthcare system.

Click here to learn more about the biggest traps that many coaches and clinicians fall into.

Today I’m here to reveal some of my secrets for looking at labs. First let’s start with the key principles:

  • it’s not a prescriptive practice
  • it’s art, not science
  • it will take practice

I know we all like a prescription, and that’s why those promises of reading labs seem so appealing. It reeks of the potential to see X, and do Y. Yet it rarely (if ever) works like that. When we’re thinking functionally, it’s more about seeing the whole than it is about assigning meaning to one lab marker alone, or searching for a set protocol indicated by one number or graph on a piece of paper.

One Lab Test Will Not Provide the Full Picture

The reality is that one marker rarely means anything alone – especially when we’re looking through a functional lens. 

Here are the 3 key distinctions for becoming a master when reviewing labs:

  1. functional not pathological
  2. trends not determinants
  3. constellation not singular elements

Over the coming months, we’ll dive into each of those principles so that you can begin to consider labs from a more Functional perspective. For now, remember it’s more important to understand how the body should function than what a singular marker is or is not telling you for the ideal outcome for your clients or patients.

Enroll in the Full Body Systems Program

Throughout the  Full Body Systems curriculum, and in a very special ‘Reading Labs’ bonus, you’ll gain insight into reading labs and better understand how these clues support your clinical outcomes. So, yes! Full Body Systems does offer tools, resources and worksheets to better assist you with requesting labs and utilizing them in a truly Functional way… which means in the context of the whole.