Let me start with a piece of disappointing news. You know that battery of blood tests ordered by your family doctor or internist during your dutiful check-up? That complete blood count (CBC), comprehensive metabolic profile (CMP), and so forth? All of them are pretty useless. Yes, they’re almost always covered by insurance, so they’re free, being part of the annual wellness exam your insurance company blesses you with.
Yes, these tests screen you for anemia (low blood count), diabetes (high glucose), kidney disease (high creatinine), or liver disease (high enzymes), but when it comes to being actually helpful in determining a path to a healthful longevity, they’re pretty ineffectual.
Most of the line items on these tests have been around for more than 50 years (some much longer) and were originally designed to follow the status of hospital patients. When machines were invented that could perform the 14 tests of a metabolic profile in a few seconds and at an incredibly low cost (about a dollar for all of them), insurance companies could never complain about forking over a buck for your “health.”
The labs themselves, usually owned under different names by hospital systems, charge a whole lot more than a dollar (current metabolic profile retail cost, $130) and reap scads of money from these cheap-o tests. And now you know how the CEO of Northwestern can be paid $9 million a year.
With just a dollar’s worth of these pathetic tests, you’ve been tricked into thinking you’re healthy. (“Honey, my tests are all normal. Let’s do KFC tonight!”)
Four tests worth considering
Today I discuss four tests whose results, if you act on them, can very likely make a positive difference in your longevity. These are the best of the anti-aging tests you may have been reading about. If the prices seem bit high, understand that 100% of your payment goes directly to the lab. WholeHealth Chicago (and most practices that order these functional tests) make no profit from them at all.
Your own doctor could order any of these tests for you, but if she’s an employee of one of the large healthcare systems (like Northwestern, Advocate, etc.), she’s limited to using the lab owned by that system and thus the cost will almost assuredly rise dramatically.
Test #1 DNA Genetic Tests by Nordic Labs of Copenhagen
For this test, we send a scraping of cells from the inside of your cheek via DHL overnight delivery to Denmark. In about two weeks, you receive a PDF printout of the status of your genes that are involved in detoxification, methylation, oxidative stress, bone-building, and fat metabolism.
If, for example, you have genetic issues with detoxification, you likely have increased cancer risks, and simply by avoiding toxins and performing regular detoxification you’ll reduce those risks. By toxins, I mean toxins from the environment–gas and diesel fumes, toxic metals like lead, and food toxins like pesticides.
The Nordic DNA results are very user friendly. You can interpret them on your own or schedule time with one of our practitioners to review the test results in detail. Nordic can also check your DNA for your ideal diet, the best physical activities for you, and your risks for brain deterioration. For privacy reasons, we do not receive a copy of your tests, although with your permission we can access your report.
Cost DNA Health, $319. All four (DNA Health, Diet, Sport, Mind) $585. Payment must accompany specimen.
Test #2 Micronutrient analysis with hormone profile by Vibrant America
This is a remarkably thorough test that measures vitamins, minerals, amino acids, fatty acids, and hormones. When the results come back from the lab (in two to three weeks), I strongly recommend sitting down with a clinical nutritionist to review them, though a proactive, nutrition-savvy patient could probably review the results herself and create her own food and supplement program.
If you have abnormal numbers, start your supplements and nutritional fixes and repeat the test in six to 12 months. Each time you have the tests repeated, accompanying graphs will show your progress (or lack thereof). Here’s a sample report.
Cost Micronutrient analysis with hormone profile, $400 (payment must accompany specimen).
Test #3 GI Effects by Genova Diagnostics (or Gut Zoomer 3.0 by VibrantWellness)
If you’ve been following the latest advances in health and longevity, you’ve been reading a lot about your gut microbiome, that five-pound blend of tens of trillions of bacteria representing three million genes (150 times more genes than a human has). It’s been compared to a “peripheral brain,” a body organ unto itself. Nineteenth-century naturopathic physicians tried to convince the medical establishment that good health starts in the gut. Not only were they correct, but now we know many diseases unrelated to digestion can have their origin in the gut. For example, this article from Science links fibromyalgia to alterations in the microbiome.
GI Effects and Gut Zoomer 3.0 measure multiple aspects of gut health: how well you’re digesting and absorbing food, the metabolism of the cells that line your gut, evidence of inflammation, and the presence (or absence) of disease-causing bacteria, parasites, and yeasts (including candida).
Cost GI Effects, $545; Gut Zoomer 3.0, $548. Note: Like other Genova tests, you can send 25% of the test price plus your insurance card. Genova will bill your insurance for a much higher charge than the self-pay price (the entire healthcare system does this). Genova has the right to then bill you for whatever is left unpaid by insurance, so you actually could end up paying more for a test when you use your insurance.
Test #4 Cardiometabolic Risk Profile by SpectraCell
Another astonishingly complete test for those who have a family history of heart disease or diabetes, are overweight, or have been informed they have metabolic syndrome or high cholesterol, triglycerides, or hemoglobin A1C. With one blood draw, you’re tested for 20 aspects of lipids, glucose, and inflammation.
Although you can review the tests with a clinical nutritionist, a careful read of the report will guide you to questions you’ll want to ask your physician. The best part of this test is its simplicity. At the bottom of your test result, you’ll see: Risk of Heart Disease: LOW (or MODERATE or HIGH), and ditto for Risk of Diabetes.
Cost Cardiometabolic Risk Profile, $150. Note: This is often covered by health insurance. As of this writing, if you do have insurance your maximum out-of-pocket expense is about $70.
All four tests come to $1,414 (or $1,680 if you order all four of the DNA tests). You definitely learn a lot of information about yourself for less than $1,500.
If you’re interested in any or all of these tests, call and schedule a lab-only. Some of the tests require preparation like an overnight fast or stopping supplements, including probiotics, in advance. You do not have to be a WholeHealth Chicago patient to take these tests, but you will need to complete some paperwork about your health history. This will expedite your return appointment should you want to review tests with a practitioner.
Of course, we all want our insurance to pick up these costs. After all, you’re already paying a fortune for health coverage. Diehards will spend hours on the phone trying to get these functional tests covered (raising their blood pressures in the process) and will get nowhere.
The main reason these tests are reasonably priced (and these charges are indeed reasonable, relatively speaking) is because the labs don’t have to push up prices to maximize insurance reimbursements. Billed as separate tests at Northwestern or Rush or Quest, the Vibrant micronutrient analysis with hormone profile would be close to $10,000.
If you have a health savings account through your employer, it will generally cover your costs nicely. Consider investing in yourself.