We all have had blood work done and received a report that to a layperson makes little or no sense. A blood test, sometimes referred to as a blood panel, is used to check for a variety of things, including the functioning of certain organs (such as the liver, kidneys, thyroid and heart), infections and certain genetic disorders, as well as to assess an individual’s general health.
The numbers of your lab results can show evidence of abnormal metabolic function beyond your history and physical exam. It is important to keep in mind that the blood test are reflective of only the moment that the blood is drawn. Many results can vary widely according to time of day testing was done and whether or not you fasted. Your doctor will usually compare these numbers to a baseline.
The results do not usually provide a diagnosis. Nor can they tell the doctor the origin of the elevation or deficiency. For example, the doctor cannot tell if the deviation is genetic or environmental.
Each lab uses a reference range which is developed from its patient population. Therefore, each lab’s reference ranges might differ although they will usually be very similar. If the lab is local, its ranges will be representative of the local population. If the lab tests nationally, the population from which it draws will be more broadly representative. These reference ranges do NOT always reflect optimal values, only average ones.
- Standard reference ranges represent “average” populations which can be too broad. For example, the standard range for fasting blood sugar is 70-110 mg/dl. This is used by more traditional MDs.
- Optimal ranges represent what is required to maintain good health. The optimal range for fasting blood sugar is 70-90 mg/dl. This is used by naturopaths and functional doctors.
Iron, vitamin D, vitamin B12, and magnesium are important for optimal bodily function, but they’re usually not checked at a routine primary care visit. Many people are deficient in these nutrients for various reasons, so ask your doctor to include these levels.
A blood test is typically composed of three main tests: a Complete Blood Count, a Metabolic Panel and a Lipid Panel.
There are some subtest within the Complete Blood Count.
- White blood cell (WBC) count: Also known as leukocytes, white blood cells are a major component of the body’s immune system. A high white blood cell count can indicate the presence of infection, while a low count can point towards various conditions, including HIV/AIDS and lupus.
- Differential white blood cell count:The lab tests the five main components of white blood cells and their proportion to each other. If the components are out of balance, this could indicate an infection, as well as a variety of medical conditions. Healthy proportions for each are: Neutrophils: 40 to 60 percent of the total; Lymphocytes: 20 to 40 percent; Monocytes: 2 to 8 percent; Eosinophiles: 1 to 4 percent; Basophils: 0.5 to 1 percent
- Red blood cell (RBC) count:Red blood cells (RBCs) carry oxygen to tissues throughout the body. A red blood cell count estimates the volume of RBCs within an individual and if the results show a count above or below normal levels this can indicate various medical conditions to a doctor. This form of testing is unable to pinpoint the root causes of any irregularities, meaning, if this is the case, further tests will be necessary.
- Hematocrit (Hct) test: Tests what proportion of the blood is made up of RBCs. It is useful in diagnosing anemia, among other medical conditions.
- Hemoglobin (Hgb) test Hemoglobin is a protein contained within red RBCs that sends oxygen from the lungs to the body’s tissues. The hemoglobin test is also useful in diagnosing anemia, with many practitioners preferring this test over the hematocrit test.
- Mean corpuscular volume (MCV) test The average volume of RBCs, or the space each red blood cell fills, is measured through this test. Results outside of the normal range can be a sign of anemia or chronic fatigue syndrome, among other medical conditions.
- Mean corpuscular hemoglobin (MCH) test The lab tests the average amount of hemoglobin present in each red blood cell. High levels are a possible indicator of anemia and low levels a possible sign of malnutrition.
- Red cell distribution width (RDW or RCDW) test Tests the distribution of RBCs, not their actual size. Levels outside of the normal range can indicate conditions such as anemia, malnutrition and liver disease.
- Platelet count Platelets are small cells that help the blood to clot. This test measures the amount of platelets present in the blood. If testing highlights a high count, this can indicate anemia, cancer or infection, while a low count can prevent wounds from healing and result in severe bleeding.
- Mean platelet volume (MPV) Tests the volume of platelets in the blood. A low platelet volume can cause irregularities with bleeding, while a high platelet volume can increase an individual’s risk of heart attack or stroke.
Comprehensive metabolic panel (CMP) The comprehensive metabolic panel test, also known as a chemistry panel, measures the body’s glucose levels, fluid and electrolyte balance, as well as liver and kidney function. The tests that make up the basic metabolic panel are blood (serum) tests for:
- BUN (blood urea nitrogen), which measures the amount of nitrogen in the blood in order to determine your kidney function
- Creatinine, which can tell your doctor how your kidneys are functioning
- Glucose, which checks your blood sugar levels and abnormally high or low glucose levels could indicate a range of issues
- Albumin, which is a protein that can change with kidney and liver disease
- CO2 (carbon dioxide or bicarbonate), which references lung and kidney function
- Calcium, which can help determine if there is a kidney, bone or parathyroid problem (a gland in the neck)
- Sodium, one of the salts in the body that reflects more the body’s water balance than salt
- Potassium, another salt in the body
- Chloride, which detects abnormal blood chloride levels for your doctor to diagnose alkalosis, which happens when your blood is either too alkaline or basic, and acidosis, which happens when your blood is too acidic.
The lipid panel consists of various tests used to measure the different types of triglycerides (fats) and cholesterol in the blood.
- Total cholesterol test This test measures the overall levels of LDL and HDL cholesterol in the blood.
- Triglycerides test Tests for triglycerides, a fat found in the blood. Irregularities are a possible risk factor for heart disease and other medical conditions.
- HDL cholesterol test HDL cholesterol, also known as high-density lipoprotein (or good cholesterol), is useful in protecting against heart disease. Low levels can increase the risk of heart problems.
- LDL cholesterol test LDL cholesterol, also known as low-density lipoprotein (or bad cholesterol), is linked to heart disease and clogged arteries.
- Total cholesterol to HDL ratio test Calculating this ratio can help determine an individual’s risk of developing a heart disease. It is worked out by dividing HDL cholesterol into total cholesterol. High levels are a possible indicator of heart problems.
A thyroid panel tests for the presence of thyroid hormone, such as thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), in the blood. Other measurements include T3 uptake, thyroxine (T4), and free-T4 index, also known as T7. A doctor would order this test to determine if a person has a medical condition affecting their thyroid, such as hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism.
Finally, one of the most confusing parts of your test report will be the abbreviations. Blood test results generally use the metric system of measurement and various abbreviations. For example:
- cmm: cells per cubic millimeter
- fL (femtoliter): fraction of one-millionth of a liter
- g/dL: grams per deciliter
- IU/L: international units per liter
- mEq/L: milliequivalent per liter
- mg/dL: milligrams per deciliter
- mL: milliliter
- mmol/L: millimoles per liter
- ng/mL: nanograms per milliliter
- pg (picograms): one-trillionth of a gram
Regular blood testing is one of the most important ways to keep track of your overall physical well-being.
Getting tested at routine intervals can allow you to see the way your body changes over time and empower you to make informed decisions about your health.
Leeks/ Wild Ramps
Leeks are a long, green vegetable which belong to the allium family with garlic, onions, chives and shallots. Unlike the other family members, leeks don’t form a bulb. They look like a giant green onion but have a much milder, somewhat sweet flavor and a creamier texture when cooked. Leeks are usually cultivated, but wild varieties, such as the North American wild leek, also known as ramps, can be harvested in the spring.
Leeks are low in calories but high in vitamins and minerals. One 3.5-ounce serving of cooked leeks has only 31 calories. Leeks are high in provitamin A carotenoids, including beta carotene. Your body converts these carotenoids into vitamin A, which is important for vision, immune function, reproduction, and cell communication.
Leeks contain lutein and zeaxanthin, two substances that protect the eyes. These carotenoids, reduce the risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.
Leeks are also a good source of vitamin K1, which is necessary for blood clotting and heart health. Vitamin K may reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Some studies show a relationship between a higher intake of Vitamin K and denser bones. In some parts of the world, health authorities have approved the use of Vitamin K for osteoporosis.
Eating plants from the allium family may lower risk of certain cancers. Cancers of the prostate, stomach, colon, and esophagus are rarer in those who consume a lot of garlic, shallots, chives, onions, and leeks. Researchers think that the antioxidants in allium vegetables repair damaged DNA.
The antioxidant kaempferol found in leeks may fight cancer by reducing inflammation, killing cancer cells, and preventing these cells from spreading. This polyphenol antioxidant is also thought to protect against heart disease.
Animal studies reveal that ramps grown in selenium-enriched soil may help lower cancer rates in rats. And, human studies demonstrate that those who regularly consume alliums, including leeks, may have up to a 46% lower risk of gastric cancer than those who rarely eat them.
Leeks are also a good source of the antioxidants polyphenols and sulfur compounds. Antioxidants fight oxidation, which damages your cells and contributes to illnesses like diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.
Wild ramps are rich in thiosulfinates and cepaenes, two sulfur compounds needed for blood clotting and thought to protect against certain types of cancer. These compounds in leeks may benefit heart health by reducing cholesterol, blood pressure, and the formation of blood clots.
Wild ramps are particularly rich in vitamin C, which aids immune health, tissue repair, iron absorption, and collagen production. In fact, they offer around twice as much vitamin C as the same quantity of oranges.
Leeks are also a good source of manganese, which may help reduce premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms and promote thyroid health. They also provide small amounts of copper, vitamin B6, iron, and folate
They also provide soluble fiber, which forms a gel in your gut and is particularly effective at reducing hunger and appetite. This soluble fiber is a prebiotics, which will keep your gut healthy. These bacteria then produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), such as acetate, propionate, and butyrate. SCFAs can reduce inflammation and strengthen your gut health.
How to Buy
Leeks are usually sold in bunches, generally about four leeks to a bunch. They have a longer life when sold unpackaged with the roots and dark green leaves intact, as plastic promotes rot. Leeks are available year-round in most markets, but the prime time is from September through the end of April.
Select leeks with a clean white slender bulb, at least 2 to 3 inches of white, and firm, tightly-rolled dark green tops. The base should be at least 1/2 inch in diameter, although most are much larger, between 1 and 2 1/2 inches. Look for the slim, cylindrical ones rather than those that are large and bulbous.
Check the center of the leek for a hard seed stalk by giving it a gentle squeeze. Avoid any that have even the slightest start of one because it will be tough and woody. If the leek is limp at all, pass it up.
How to Store
Farmers grow leeks in trenches that they fill with dirt as the plant matures. This practice keeps the bulb white, but it also causes dirt to collect between the layers of the plant. As a result, you must clean leeks carefully to avoid getting dirt in your food. One method is to cut off the root, slice the leek vertically, and hold it under running water.
The odor of the leeks in the fridge might be overwhelming, so to prevent that from happening, do not trim or wash leeks before storing. Lightly wrap them in a tea towel or paper towels to contain the odor and moisture. Store them in the vegetable drawer of your refrigerator. Depending on their freshness, leeks will last anywhere from five days to two weeks.
How to Cook
To prepare leeks, cut the roots and dark green ends off, keeping only the white and light green parts.
Then, slice them lengthwise and rinse under running water, scrubbing away the dirt and sand that may have accumulated between their layers.
Leeks can be eaten raw, but you can also poach, fry, roast, braise, boil, or pickle them.
They make a great addition to soups, dips, stews, taco fillings, salads, quiches, stir-fries, and potato dishes.
Unlike cultivated leeks, wild ramps are incredibly pungent. Just a small amount of ramps can add a burst of strong, garlic-like flavor to your favorite dish.
Baked Rice With White Beans, Leeks and Lemon
Ali Slagle/ Photo Credit: Jenny Huang for the New York Times, Food Stylist: Barrett Washburne
- 4 leeks (about 2 pounds), trimmed, white and pale green parts sliced 1/4-inch thick
- 1 lemon
- ¼ cup raw almonds
- ½ teaspoon red-pepper flakes
- 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- 1 ½ cups uncooked basmati rice
- 1 (15-ounce) can white beans (such as cannellini or great Northern), rinsed
- 2 ½ cups boiling water
- ½ cup dairy-free Parmesan, plus more for serving
- ¼ cup thinly sliced or chopped basil, chives, mint or fennel fronds, plus more for serving
- Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Rinse the leeks until they’re clean, then shake or pat dry. Using a vegetable peeler, peel 1-inch-thick strips of lemon zest, then cut the lemon in half. Cut one half into four wedges and reserve the other half.
- In a 9-by-13-inch baking pan, combine the leeks, lemon zest strips, almonds, red-pepper flakes and olive oil. Season generously with salt and pepper, and arrange in an even layer. Roast until the leeks start to caramelize, about 20 minutes.
- Finely chop the lemon zest strips, then stir it back into the leek mixture and arrange in an even layer. Sprinkle the rice evenly over the leeks, then top with the beans and 1 teaspoon salt. Add the boiling water, then seal the pan tightly with foil. Bake until the rice is tender, 20 to 22 minutes.
- Remove from the oven, and let sit, covered, for 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork. Squeeze the lemon half over the rice, then stir in dairy-free Parmesan and herbs. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with lemon wedges, and more Parmesan and herbs, as desired.