According to the Centers for Disease Control, nearly 10% of Americans lack at least one nutrient in their diet, with some populations registering as high as one-third. While the human body is capable of creating a number of substances needed for survival, the 12 major systems rely on over 30 vitamins and minerals to function properly. These nutrients must be obtained through diet alone and are needed to regulate certain chemical reactions. When these levels become imbalanced, a nutritional deficiency occurs. In order to determine precisely which vitamins and minerals the body is lacking, nutritional testing may be done.
Micronutrient Testing—How It Works
Micronutrients are essential chemicals necessary for proper growth and development of the body. These differ from macronutrients, which include carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. In order to test for nutrient deficiencies, a medical practitioner may order blood work to determine which nutrients are within the normal range for your body. Common tests include screening for folate, vitamin B12, vitamin D, and vitamin A. Results may be used to diagnose certain conditions such as anemia, and calcium deficiency. Physicians may also order nutritional testing to determine if gluten levels are normal. Some patients develop toxic levels of vitamins and minerals that can also lead to serious health consequences.
Tests for nutrient deficiency in the United States may measure levels of:
- 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
Interpreting Results—Reference Ranges
A “reference range”, or expected value for a particular test is determined based on the age and gender of a healthy population. Different labs in different regions may vary as well. Numbers that fall either above or below the reference range provide valuable diagnostic information to the healthcare provider. Nutritional testing may either be done by determining the concentration of vitamins and minerals within a particular measure of plasma, on lymphocytes, (white blood cells) or by examining protein levels in the bloodstream that fluctuate based on nutrient values. The latter method may be used to identify nutrient deficiencies among entire populations of individuals, such as children in undernourished environments.
Lab values vary slightly for individuals and must be evaluated in relation to other factors.
Variances may occur based on:
- The time of year
- Positioning or posture of an individual
- Fluid or food intake
- Stress level
- Use of medication or natural supplements
- Alcohol consumption
- Physical activity or exercise
- General/specific types of tests
Methods for obtaining blood samples may differ as well. Collection for testing may include:
- Capillary skin puncture (finger prick)
- Blood samples that have dried
- Arterial blood draw
- Blood taken from a vein
- Aspiration of bone marrow
Where Can I Go For Testing?
Many patients request nutrient deficiency testing from healthcare providers. Unfortunately, unless there is specific symptomology, most insurance companies will not pay for comprehensive blood work. While screening for high cholesterol, triglycerides, and sugar are standard healthcare protocol, micronutrient testing is not. Individuals who suspect they may have vitamin and mineral deficiencies may opt to purchase a home test kit at their own expense, however. Test results can then be discussed with a physician to determine if dietary changes or natural supplements are needed.