Why "Normal" May Not be YOUR Normal


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I hear people say often that they can't really explain what's wrong- they just don't feel "normal". Because of this I have been thinking a lot about exactly what defines this word, especially since many times these same indivuals have had tons of labs run in an attempt to determine the cause and are told that everything is, in fact, NORMAL. They are obviously frustrated to hear that things are fine when they obviously are feeling anything but fine. I remember a lecture where the presenter stated that he had asked a lab he works with how they determine the normal range for their labs. Do you know what he was told? The sample used was one hundred medical students. Huh... let's think about this.

Now, of course this was a logical idea since they are there and willing, plus maybe they get a check-off for phlebotomy class if they draw on each other, but here's the thing... medical students are rarely truly healthy. They are stressed, overworked, over-caffienated, often living on vending machines, and their adrenal glands are all but begging them to become a florist. This is normal?! Furthermore, 100 is a fairly small n-value when looking at the general population and determining the outcomes of treatment plans for milliions of patients. Even a difference of 0.1 in some labs may be the deciding factor for a physician to prescribe or not prescribe. Wouldn't it be great if these were accurate?

The second part of this issue is what is "normal" for YOU. We are all unique and have our own baselines. For many labs the range can be wide- perhaps 3-200. Well, If you are normally running at 5 and suddenly are at 100, then you just increased (or decreased) function by 20 times! I think that is quite an important fact, even if the lab values aren't flagged as being outside the normal range. What's normal for you is truly important!

Perfect example:when I decided I was ready to try and start a family I got a bunch of labs done and they all looked great and were very similar to those I had done a few years prior. Around the time both my children turned one (yes, this has happened twice...) I began gaining weight, having gut issues, and was TIRED. Turns out, both times my thyroid had gone a bit off. Now, technically my thyroid hormone levels were in the normal range (barely) but they were significantly off from where they were. The funny thing is that even though the truly important thyroid hormones (that many doctors don't actually test during thyroid screenings) of T3 and T4 are too low, meaning my thyroid isn't functioning optimally, the one that is still the standard for screening the thyroid (TSH-thyroid stimuating hormone) is still technically "normal". Well, since it was always around 1.0 and is now at 3.5 (normal range goes up to around 4 or 5, depending on the lab) I would certainly say that it isn't normal for me. My tight pants also beg to differ. I got the levels back the first time and am confident it will happen again with my current treatment plan, but knowing where I had been and where I am now was very good information to have.

So, that's what it comes down to- what is normal for YOU? If you are having symptoms and your labs all look "fine", ask for a copy. Look at them closely. I know a lot of it will look like greek, but look for anything that is just on the verge of not being in the normal range. A good physician will look at ratios and averages and the relationship of one reading to another. It's not always as simple as falling within what the masses deem as normal based on who knows what population. Furthermore, keep pushing. Keep all your records so you can compare new and old. Request old records now if you don't have them and start a health folder. Do your research or find a doctor who will take time to explain what each test means.

Being average can be boring, I agree, but figuring out what your not-so-normal normal is can be important when taking control of your health.

Hi, I'm Dr Strong and I live a fairly normal (for me) life with my husband and daughters in Hilo, HI. I practice naturopathic medicine both in-office and online and always urge patients to take control of their health, to ask questions, and to look at the big picture. I believe that our bodies are amazing, complex, and fascinating machines and I love helping people connect the dots and figure out how to solve their medical mysteries.


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