Vitamin Testing – Legit or Pseudo-Science?

If you are dealing with unexplained symptoms, you are probably looking for answers outside the box.  This makes sense.  When standard options don’t provide a solution, you have to turn elsewhere.  Frequently, trying a vitamin or supplement is a first step.  With this in mind, several labs have started to offer vitamin testing.  Clinicians promote this as a way to dial in your true needs.  This should leave one asking, does this actually help me better define my nutritional needs, or just help someone sell me supplements.

Are You Vitamin Deficient?

As with any new entry into the marketplace, questioning the legitimacy of the product is a prudent first step.  But before we can tackle this, let’s first ask if you have a vitamin deficiency.  After all, there is no reason to test for vitamins if you are not prone to becoming deficient.

The earliest indications of vitamin deficiency were linked to diseases.  Sailors used to develop a condition called scurvy.  It was found to be a vitamin C deficiency.  Long periods at sea with no or minimal vitamin C containing foods caused excessive bruising, bleeding gums, fatigue and rashes.  But no one suffers from scurvy today.  Not even sailors.  But could this be an extreme example?

Recently the understanding of vitamin deficiencies has changed.  If you have a disease, there is a high chance you have a deficiency.  Yet being disease-free does not equal adequate vitamin status.  So now we are forced to look deeper.  It turns out that having an insufficient amount of a vitamin, or mineral, can create symptoms and show up as signs on the body.  For example, lack of adequate B1 (thiamine) can lead to changes in the brain.

So it would appear that if inadequate levels of a vitamin can have such a significant effect, defining your personal levels would only make sense.

What You Must Know Before Vitamin Testing

Before taking a vitamin test, you have to know one important detail.  Otherwise, you are going to be wasting time and money.  In fact, this one key fact is one of the core reasons vitamin testing is questioned.  It boils down to this.  Not all vitamin testing is the same.  When I say they are not all the same, what I specifically mean is that the technology used to perform the test differs between labs.  Don’t worry, you don’t have to be a laboratory scientist to know how to get the right test.  I am going to help you with that.

But before I differentiate the tests, it is critical you know why they are not all the same.  This part is simple.  Some tests only look for the amount of a vitamin, or other nutrient,  at the moment you took the test.  Other tests look at how a nutrient is being used in the body.  Knowing which option you are getting can be a difference maker.

The Options

Standard Blood Tests

The easiest way to test for a vitamin is to request from your conventional doctor.  You will sometimes hear this referred to as a serum test.  If you are considering this route, whether for convenience or lack of knowledge about another option, let me caution you.  While this test does have some merit, it also has some short falls.  It is also one of the reasons that vitamin testing is labeled as inaccurate.  However, undergoing this testing knowing its limitations can make it a useful option.

If I am reviewing this type of testing for a patient, I always keep in mind that this is only providing me the level of the nutrient at the time that the patient took the test.  It is a snapshot.  It does not provide information about the previous week or month.  Nor can I make reasonable assumptions of what the needs of that patient are going forward.  If you are obviously deficient, there is a chance this test can show that.  Earlier I stated that even an insufficiency can be a problem, not just an overt deficiency.  So looking beyond standard (serum) testing is a must.

Step It Up a Level and Become Functional

Moving from the “moment in time” testing, the first option to consider on the list of functional tests is organic acids.  Don’t let the name side track you.  This form of vitamin testing is based on levels of chemicals called organic acids that you excrete.  Before you conclude that organic acids are a bad, let me provide confidence that they are normal.  What is not normal is when certain ones become elevated.  When this happens, it is a strong indicator that one of the bodily systems could be in need a one or more vitamins.

I want to take us back to the original question, “Is vitamin testing legit, or fake science?”  Looking for organic acids is nothing new.  It has been around for decades.  Its original use was to look for genetic diseases, a task it still does very well.  But it can do more, which is why it can be used for vitamin testing.  I think the credibility of vitamin testing just took a big leap forward knowing that the way in which vitamins are tested has long been a way of testing for disease.

Are You Sick?

“Are you sick?”  You may wonder why I am asking you about being sick when we are talking about vitamin testing.  Good question and it has to do with the immune system.  The immune system must stay on guard 24-7.  It cannot take a break.  If it did, you run the risk of getting sick.  As you might imagine, for a system that never rests, the energy requirements are high.  This can be to your advantage when it comes to vitamin testing.

If the immune system is missing a vitamin, it functions at a lower level.  Researchers and labs are using the highly responsive nature of the immune system to provide a lot of insight about how it works and how we respond to our environment.  When you consider that you can assess vitamins, for an extended period of time (up to 6 months) the same way researchers and doctors tell patients about the most intricate details of their immune system, you just reached the pinnacle of legitimate.

More importantly, knowing exactly what vitamins you need with this level of detail can not only tell you what you need to take, but what you don’t.  I still enjoy sharing with a patient that they have restored their vitamins and other nutrients and no longer need to take therapeutic levels of their supplements.

What’s The Verdict?

It appears easy to see that vitamin testing has evolved.  It is real science that you can use to your advantage to feel your best.  Someone taking a critical look at the options for testing based on genetic disease assessment and immune system activity would be hard pressed to claim these valuable tools pseudo-science.

 

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