The difference between “normal” and “optimal” blood test results
Ah “normal”. In the world we live in today we’ve got to ask – what is normal?
Normal for you may be different to my normal.
And, who wants to just be “normal” anyway?!
Because the truth is, “normal” is not necessarily synonymous with healthy. With obesity, diabetes and other chronic diseases becoming ever more prevalent, I don’t really think I want to stick with the norm. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather be optimal – at least when it comes to my health!
And this applies to your test results too.
Yep, you might think that when it comes to something that’s used to evaluate our health that “normal” or “within range” would mean “nothing to worry about. Sadly, that’s not the case. Read on to find out why.
How “normal” reference ranges are devised:
If you’ve ever had a blood test you’ll know that alongside your individual result, you’ll see a reference range with an upper and lower limit. Take this example of an iron test result:
These ranges are based somewhat on lab testing methods, and so might vary slightly depending on which lab processes your results, but mostly they’re based on the general population’s levels. They’re set so that 95% of the population fall within these ranges.
Problems with “normal” ranges
With obesity, diabetes, nutrient deficiencies and other chronic conditions become ever more prevalent, sadly, 95% of the population aren’t in optimal health, which means that these reference ranges also incorporate data from various “unhealthy” subsets of people.
In addition, these ranges don’t take into account individual health factors such as genetics, health conditions or other components which may impact the levels that are best for each individual.
Finally, they usually don’t take into account how a value links to your risk of developing a disease or your life expectancy.
In a pessimistic view, normal reference ranges simply may be telling you that you’re just as unhealthy as the rest of the population! Woop…pop the champagne (not!).
In short: Even if your blood test results show that you’re in the normal range, they still might not fall in the range that’s optimal for your health and wellbeing, and therefore may still be experiencing undesired outcomes from that — which is where optimal ranges come in. Optimal ranges are associated with the lowest risk of disease and mortality.
What are optimal ranges?
On a much brighter note, experts around the world have dedicated time to discovering the “optimal” ranges for various test markers. This means the actual amount the body needs to function optimally and the levels which are related to more positive health outcomes such as lower disease risk, greater longevity and lower mortality rates.
Here’s an example:
A good example of this is vitamin D. Standard vitamin D guidelines say that if your levels are:
- less than 25 nmol/L you’re deficient
- greater than 50 nmol/L you’re sufficient
But, this range was devised based on the relationship between vitamin D, your bone health, and your risk of osteoporosis.
However, we know that vitamin D is important for many other things, like your muscle health, immune health, your mood and your brain function.
When taking that into account, evidence suggests that the optimal range for vitamin D is actually between 75 nmol/L and 100 nmol/L (this is associated with the lowest risk of death from all causes) and for optimal brain health and avoiding cognitive decline this is sometimes stated as up to 200 by some experts such as Dr Dale Bredesen.
So, who wants to be normal when you can be optimal? If you’ve had blood test results come back “normal” but you’re still not feeling 100%, it might be worth taking these to a more functional health practitioner to look at through a slightly different lens and determine whether you’re truly meeting the needs of your body for optimal health.