Many of us have labs drawn every year, but don’t know what the numbers are telling us. It is important to ask questions, know what your doctor is looking for, and understand what your labs mean. The more you know about your body, the more you can see how food and lifestyle can change and improve it!
Labs screening for, and monitoring blood sugar:
1. Fasting (no food for 8 hours before the test) blood sugar: This lab tells you how much sugar is in your blood at that exact moment. Blood sugar varies, so this does not give an overall picture about blood sugar control; but, it can help doctors determine whether or not the body can manage blood sugar efficiently. A “normal” fasting glucose is 70-100 mg/dl.
2. Hemoglobin A1c: This lab tells about overall, long-term, blood sugar control. This is a 2-3 month average of blood sugar. Since sugar is the body’s energy, we always need some in the blood; but, when there is too much, sugar sticks to red blood cells. Once the sugar is on a red blood cell, it stays there until the cell dies (in about 2-3 months). If blood sugar control improves during those 2-3 months, fewer NEW red blood cells will stick to sugar, and the percentage goes down. “Normal” A1c range is 4-5.6%. If you have a high A1c and have made lifestyle changes, a 1-2% improvement over 2-3 months is great!
Labs monitoring heart health: “lipid panel/profile”, or cholesterol labs
1. Total cholesterol: This measures all cholesterol in the body, both good (yes, there is good cholesterol!) and bad. Cholesterol has important jobs in the body; but, when there is too much, plaque forms in the blood vessels making it hard for blood to flow.
2. LDL: This is sometimes labeled “bad cholesterol”. I mentioned earlier that the body always carries some cholesterol in the blood; however, LDL keeps the cholesterol circulating throughout the body (prevents it from leaving), and can clog the arteries. This is the cholesterol lab that the doctors pay closest attention to, because it is usually linked to heart disease.
3. HDL: This is the “good” cholesterol. While LDL keeps cholesterol in the body, HDL takes cholesterol to the liver to be removed from the body. Unlike the other lipids, as HDL increases, risk for heart disease decreases. When HDL is more than 60 mg/dl, it is thought to be protective against heart disease!
4. Triglycerides: This lab tells us more about the amount of food we are eating, rather than the type of food. When we eat more than our body needs, extra Calories are converted into triglycerides, which are stored as fat. A “normal” triglyceride is less than 150 mg/dl.
These labs all useful for preventing, diagnosing, and monitoring changes in health. Trending these labs over time is one of the best ways to see if changes you have made have been beneficial. There are lots of other labs that your doctor may be following, too! Always ask for a copy of your results, and if you, a friend, or a family member are concerned about lab values or have questions about what they are telling you, contact me!