Those crazy-looking abbreviations and jumbles of numbers reveal a lot about your health – if you know how to assess the test.
“Everything looks fine.” It’s a phrase countless women hear from their doctors after receiving routine blood-test results. Reassuring, sure. Illuminating? Not so much. And while you should listen to your M.D.’s analysis, learning to decipher these mysterious printouts can yield surprising insights into your well-being and can help you spot – and work to nix – potential problems. So illuminating are the findings, this test should be number one on every woman’s get-healthy to-do list.
- Glucose. The carbs you chow down are converted into glucose, a type of sugar your body uses as fuel. It’s essential for life, but too much of the stuff long-term can indicate diabetes or lead to heart or kidney disease. (It may even increase for brain shrinkage!) Stress and lack of sleep can mess with glucose, but a diet full of sugar and refined carbs is often the worst offender. Anything within the range of 70 to 100 mg/dL is considered normal, but mid 80s is ideal, says preventive health expert.
- Creatinine with GFR. While there are two main kidneys tests – creatinine and urea nitrogen – pay closer attention to this extra sensitive one. It measures a muscle waste product that is typically handled by the kidneys. A low GFR (or, in science-speak, glomerular filtration rate) suggests that the kidneys aren’t functioning as well as they should be. Stick within your range by never touching cigarettes and not taking excessive anti-inflammatory drugs.
- Alkaline Phosphatase, Ast, Alt. The liver keeps your blood clean and helps turn food into energy. These tests measure how well it does both, and it is crucial to stay in range: There are more than 100 liver diseases, and even less-serious problems can still prompt nausea or abdominal pain. If your numbers are slightly high, you could be overdoing it with alcohol. Stick to a one-drink-per-day limit. And eat plenty of liver protectors such as avocado and ginger.
- Cholesterol. These six lines paint a clear picture of your cholesterol, a fatlike substance that can build up and clog arteries or eventually trigger heart disease or a stroke. But the stuff isn’t all bad news. HDL (or “good” cholesterol) helps slay LDL (or “bad” cholesterol), meaning you can never have too much HDL (aim for at least 60mg/dL). Confused? Focus on your cholesterol/HDL ratio. Simply put: The lover your risk for the heart disease (a three or below is ideal). Help lower yours by getting regular aerobic exercise, avoiding saturated fats, eating fiber-rich food likes lentils and almonds, and swallowing plenty of omega-3 fatty acids via salmon and flaxseeds.
- C-Reactive Protein (CRP). Elevated CRP is an indicator of inflammation in the body, but since inflammation is part of how the immune system fights off infection, short-term CRP spikes can be totally normal. However, if you have consistently high levels, something could be seriously amiss: A study found that CRP is a better predictor of heart problems than cholesterol levels is. Keep your CRP levels minimal by eating anti-inflammatory foods like cherries, oatmeal, and shrimp. Soothing yoga and meditation can also help ward off CRP.
- Iron, Serum. Low energy? You might be iron-deficient. The mineral helps shuttle oxygen to your brain, which uses than O2 to produce mood-regulating neurotransmitters. Below-normal levels are common in young women, who lose iron when they menstruate. Foods like eggs and spinach can help replace what Aunt Flo steals. If your iron serum level is below 70 ug/dL, ask your doctor to run a more sensitive test called serum ferritin; it measures how much iron is stored in your body’s tissues, not just in your blood. If adjusting your diet doesn’t help you hit the normal range, ask your M.D. about a supplement just be careful: Too much iron can be toxic.
- Complete Blood Count (CBC). It’s the familiar TV medical drama cry: “I need a CBC, stat!” Taken as a whole with Differential, this test – comprising 10 to 15 separate readings – affords physicians a peek at your overall health. Broken down, it can hint at more specific dilemmas. For example, low RBC, or red blood cells, could indicate anemia. High WBC, or white blood cells, can mean you’re suffering from serious stress. And low platelet levels might explain why you bleed more than normal or bruise easily (platelets are blood – clotting agents). The best way to score a solid CBC is to exercise regularly, eat well, never smoke, and get plenty of shut-eye.
- Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH). TSH helps regulate your thyroid, which in turn, keeps your metabolism moving (that’s crucial for weight control and energy). Experts disagree about the ideal TSH level, though suggests that between 0.35 and 3 ulU/mL is healthiest. Low levels can translate into anxiety or weight loss; high levels can lead to fatigue, depression, or weight gain. When ID’d early, either condition (hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism, respectively) is usually treatable with meds. Foods that contain iodine – like sea vegetables, lima beans, and shellfish – may help boost thyroid function.
- Vitamin D. This screen isn’t always included on a routine blood test, but it should be. Too-high D levels are toxic (though very rare). Too-low D levels can leave you feeling sluggish and achy; they could be related to more serious conditions like osteoporosis. Deficiency isn’t uncommon, but the only way to know of you need more D – via foods, supplements, or limited sun exposure – is by getting this test.
* Ranges can vary depending on your age, gender, race and the lab that runs your tests. Any abnormal results should be discussed with your physician.