Can I Be Tested for Nutritional Deficiencies?

Health Tips / Can I Be Tested for Nutritional Deficiencies?

This is a fairly common question in our office and the short answer is yes. It’s easy to understand the curiosity. You’ve cleaned up your eating habits, buying all those fruits and veggies. Whole grains, even. And more fish (oh, those omegas!) than you ever dreamed of eating when you were a kid.

On your kitchen counter sits a row of supplements you dutifully swallow each morning, maybe twice a day if the bottle tells you to. Is all that nutrition’s really getting into you? Are your efforts worthwhile?

With these investments, your nutritional status is likely solid, all the effort paying off. But keeping in mind that each of us is metabolically unique, know that some of us absorb nutrients better than others, have individual nutritional needs, or burn through certain vitamins more quickly.

If you’d like to see some hard data, a comprehensive test is available that measures your levels of an impressive array of micronutrients. The bad news is that you’ll have to pay for this test out-of-pocket, though you can always submit an insurance claim yourself and try your luck at reimbursement. The same holds true if you have a Health Savings Account where you work. You should be paid back…but nothing is predictable in health care these days.

It’s worth noting that the price of this test has dropped dramatically since it was first developed. And while you personally may prefer to spend its $373 test price tag on a meal at Charlie Trotter’s, this is one case in which you’re getting a lot of test for your health care dollar.

Spectra Cell Laboratories has been performing micronutrient testing for years using a patented technique called Functional Intracellular Analysis, which measures how an individual nutrient is being processed inside a cell. The test is performed on your lymphocytes, one type of white blood cell. Some researchers believe cellular analysis is superior to measuring levels of nutrients in serum or plasma because testing these latter two doesn’t determine if the nutrient accomplishing anything.

Here’s a list of what’s measured in the Spectra Cell test (pour yourself another coffee–it’s lengthy):

Vitamin A

B complex vitamins
B-1 (thiamine)
B-2 (riboflavin)
B-3 (niacinamide)
B-6 (pyridoxine)
B-12 (cobalamin)
Folic acid

Vitamin C

Vitamin D

Vitamin E

Vitamin K

Amino acids and metabolites

Fatty acids
Oleic acid


Coenzyme Q-10
Alpha lipoic acid

The test also measures these specific cellular functions:

Carbohydrate metabolism (abnormalities point to increased diabetes risks)
Glucose-insulin interaction
Fructose sensitivity

Total antioxidant function  

Low levels of antioxidants are linked to increased susceptibility to chronic degenerative diseases.

Cellular immunity function

This measures your cell-mediated immune system performance (T-cell proliferation), a systemic measure of your general health (higher = better).

When the results are returned (we send them by email with the test attached, followed by a hard copy), SpectraCell also provides a list of recommended supplements and dosing levels. If you have a lot of deficiencies, I generally encourage you to schedule a visit with one of our nutritionists, Marla Feingold or Seanna Tully. If you have just one or two low results, you can purchase the supplements in our apothecary or at your local health food store.

Anticipating your next question: why doesn’t health insurance cover this? The quick answer is that everyone with health insurance would want to have this test and health insurance companies want to keep your money for themselves. The longer answer is that your health insurance has very specific guidelines on what they’ll allow for screening tests (generally covered are those that everyone should have, like cholesterol levels) and diagnostic tests, those needed in the diagnosis of a specific illness.

Your insurance would cover one or two of these nutrient tests if I were using them to diagnose a specific illness, but they draw the line at my ordering them all. They also add some interesting roadblocks. If, for example, I were to order the five antioxidant tests (separately, about $450), they’d likely request a letter from me with an explanation—what exactly was I trying to diagnose?

If you’re interested in having the micronutrient test, call WholeHealth Chicago and schedule a “lab only.” One of our assistants will call you to verify that we have a SpectraCell test kit in stock. Overnight fasting (no food after midnight) is recommended to improve accuracy. You’ll come in, we’ll draw some blood, and you’ll receive documentation for submission to your insurance carrier or Health Savings Account.

Be well,

David Edelberg, MD