Welcome back to the Be Well Weekly for edition 1.1. I hope you enjoyed last week’s look into detoxification. For today, I want to take a look at a word that we use frequently and casually in our culture, and that word is “normal.” “I don’t know, I guess she is normal,” “He is not at all normal,” “I’m just feeling normal,” or “I have my normal aches and pains” are all just a few of the examples of the way we throw this word around. It does beg the question, though, “What is Normal Anyhow?” Who decides what is normal, how is it based, when it is appropriate, and why in the world am I talking about this on a health blog?

Okay, this is just a brief blog here so my intention is not to really open Pandora’s box on this word and apply it to every last element of pop culture, but I do think it is a fair discussion to have in the context of functional medicine and health. Let’s take a look at it from two perspectives, the first of which is how normal is typically identified by the medical world as it relates to lab values. Let’s set the scene for a typical scenario where a medical provider orders a blood panel for a client. If you are like most people, you wait for a call from the nurse or the doctor to say, “Mr. or Mrs. So and So, your blood came back and it is all normal.” A big sigh let’s out, and on you go with your life thankful that no pathology was found. You got a “clean bill of health.” You never saw the lab, the doctor neither shared it, reviewed it, and if you even had it in hand you may have been convinced you were actually looking at an accounting spreadsheet instead of milligrams per deciliter in your small intestine of some chemical called globulin, or something like that. You may very well not feel well, but your doctor has indicated that everything was “normal,” and for you maybe that is good enough!

This is not to say your doctor did anything wrong or unethical. He/she did their job. Your results were “normal” as no pathology was found. After this blog, however, it may make you think, what in the heck is normal anyhow, and what normal am I being compared to? Fair question, right? This raises a little quandary for the medical profession. There has to be some standard for “normal” or how do we know what to evaluate anything against. After all, what is “left” if there is no “right,” or what is “up” if there is no “down?” Okay let’s not open that door, but you get the point. Let’s ease this discussion of blood values for the sake of argument and use a simple range from 1-10. Let’s say for any particular blood marker, 3-8 is considered “normal.” In this case, a finding of 1-2 may be considered low function, and yes you guessed it, 9-10 elevated function. In other words, the outliers of 1, 2, 9, and 10 may indicate real pathology, whereas the range of 3-8 indicates normal function. Following me?

There are two potential problems, however, with this approach. The first is that labs determine values based on other people being tested. Data is gathered and a “normal” is established, and it may vary slightly from state to state and lab to lab. The issue here is that you are being evaluated against by-and-large an unhealthy population of people. It is a population of people that are falling prey to a myriad of chronic health problems including autoimmune disease, diabetes, heart disease, cancers, and beyond. You may think if my “normal” is judged against the general population of todays normal, maybe all “normal” is not quite good enough.

Potential issue two: Is every normal the same? In the medical world, a 3 or 8 may be considered every bit as “normal” as a 5, but is it? Isn’t 3 and 8 a whole lot closer to the disease ranges of 1-2 or 9-10? Well of course they are, so common sense would indicate that a 3 or 8 might indicate at the very least a problematic trend. In fact, every 1 step on that scale indicates a tremendous shift in the health of a particular tissue. If you had seen your lab work, understood what it even meant, you may have intuitively known that to be true, but in the current model it so rarely is made available to us. They are seen simply as normal, and most often ignored to continue to progress in the wrong direction.

Fortunately, functional medicine provides some real solutions to this problem. Very often functional practitioners will sit with you, review specific findings on a blood or any lab report, and show you specific shifts and tendencies away from normal. Yes, your doctor may sit down to share your labs with you line by line! They will tell you that not all normal is ideal, and better yet, with the right therapeutic intervention of diet and nutritional supplementation, you can work to move those 3s and 8s back to 4s and 5s into a more ideal zone. In so doing, you get a win-win-win. You will feel better, your body will function more optimally, and you will now feel empowered with your own health. The tag line that accompanies my practice, Rosenberg Natural Health, is to “Do more than feel well. Be well.” A fresh new look at functional laboratory analysis helps clients to do just that!

Have a great and healthy week ahead, and I hope you are the very best “normal” that you can be!

Dr. Jeff