Has your doctor ever come back with a stack of lab results and told you everything was fine and your labs were “normal,” yet you didnt’t feel fine? Did you assume your doctor was right and you just had to deal with it? Maybe you should have turned around and run instead!
Medical professionals have almost always held that symptoms like fatigue, poor sleep, sluggish recovery from exercise and lackluster libido are “normal” parts of aging. Lab tests that measure hormone levels seem to back up those claims that you’re “normal” and “healthy.” They seem to forget an important thing: Health is not merely the absence of disease!
So doctors tell us everything looks “normal.” But the problem is that you don’t feel great. You may feel tired, dull and listless. You may have a low libido or poor sexual function. Your sleep may be poor. You may be having a hard time losing weight or building muscle. But if you’re “normal,” why?
Much of the answer depends on how you define normal.
Most doctors define normal by what they see on a lab result – literally. Laboratories usually report their findings in numerical values, and there is a normal range assigned to those numbers. Many clinicians only glance to see if test results are abnormally high or abnormally low, and ignore everything within normal range. Meaning they only look for the red marks on your lab report.
Let’s take testosterone levels, for example. The normal range for testosterone for an adult male is usually somewhere between 300 to 1200 ng/dL. If your testosterone falls anywhere within this range, your doctor might just brush off the complaints by saying that everything is “fine.”
But you still don’t feel fine. Sure, the numbers on the lab results are within the normal range, but you don’t feel like the strong, energetic, focused and virile person you used to be.
There are three big problems with relying solely on normal laboratory ranges to define “normal.”
Problem 1: The Gap
To begin, 300 to 1200 ng/dL is a huge range! It is basically saying that someone with a 300 ng/dL testosterone level is the same as someone with four times as much testosterone. That’s a massive difference!
It also ignores what the normal range is for YOU. What’s normal for you might not be what’s normal for the guy sitting next to you.
You might be having symptoms because your levels are at 400 ng/dL and they were 1100 ng/dL a year ago. But your doctor doesn’t recognize this because your test result came back within the normal range and unfortunately most physicians don’t take the time to look back to see what your level was in the past. And even if they did, they’re unlikely to address it unless it’s outside the “normal” lab range.
Problem 2: Generic definition of “normal”
Labs determine the normal range for testosterone by measuring it in a large number of men ranging in age from about 19 to 90 who had their testosterone level tested at that lab. The researchers noticed that 19 year-olds had higher testosterone levels than did older men, so they concluded that it is “normal” for older men to have much lower testosterone levels than younger men.
However, if you think about it, who typically goes to a lab to have their blood taken? More often it’s men with a problem going on or who have disease states. So the pool of men these levels are derived from is skewed toward a sicker sampling of men, Since robustly healthy men are less likely to be at the lab having their testosterone (or other hormone) levels checked.
I don’t want my hormone levels compared to someone with a health problem or who is twice my age – or even half my age – and I’m sure you don’t either. I want my hormone levels compared with healthy men operating at peak performance. And overall we have a less than optimally healthy population…so your “normal” is set against a standard of “normal” for our less than healthy population.
More importantly, optimal hormone levels are those that provide the highest quality of life, offer maximum relief from symptoms, and are associated the lowest risk of degenerative disease and the best health outcomes possible. That’s where I want my “normal” levels to be.
Problem 3: Checking the wrong hormones
Checking the right hormones is essential, yet many doctors order the wrong tests. For example, most general practitioners (GPs) who check testosterone look at total testosterone, which is not reflective of the testosterone at work in your body. Doctors should be ordering free testosterone, which is the form of testosterone that is actually bioavailable to do the work you want testosterone to do. Even if you have a high testosterone level, if your free testosterone level is low then testosterone can’t do its job. The same goes for measuring TSH to determine thyroid function, or DHEA alone to look for DHEA deficiency or HGH to look for HGH deficiency…they are the wrong tests.
For the most accurate assessment and therefore receive the best treatment, I encourage you to see a physician who specializes in Age Management and Hormone Optimization. These clinicians know which labs to check in relation to your symptoms and know best how to optimize your hormone levels. Age Management specialists take the time to develop a comprehensive treatment plan that fits the needs of every patient they see.
If your doctor tells you that fatigue, low sex drive, increased body fat, loss of muscle mass and poor quality sleep are “normal” for your age, you know what to do:
If you’re interested in learning more about our comprehensive Age Management & Hormone Optimization program, contact us through this form to schedule your free consultation, or call us at 323-874-9355.