So, we finally make it to Part II of this series and based on the comments I got in the last blog post most of you are very interested in this. The following list contains the most common self-testing links I know & use, from least advanced (at the top) to most advanced (at the bottom). Not all these tests are for everyone, but I hope it gives you a picture of what is possible. You can get basic testing for free, home testing for under $50, a comprehensive wellness blood-test for under $100…all the way to a full genetic download for $99. Lots of possibilities, lots of choices. Enjoy!

Just A Quick Disclaimer Message: I am not a doctor and these are my personal & completely unprofessional recommendations. I know you know this, and now everyone else does too. Do be sure to do your own research and make your own decisions :)

Health Fairs & Health Expos

CVS runs a nationwide program of free health screenings

CVS runs a nationwide program of free health screenings

One of the easiest and cheapest ways to get basic tests is by finding a Health Fair or Health Expo. There are many of these kinds of fairs held all across the country at various times of the year (pick up a local paper or google to see what’s on in your area) and they typically offer basic screenings for free or very close to free. Alternatively look for free screenings at your local Costco (see the list HERE), CVS (see the list HERE), Walgreens or Walmart. You won’t get a comprehensive exam here, but you can get basic cholesterol, glucose, blood pressure and bone density tests without a single $$ out of pocket. I don’t use these as my main health monitor, but if I happen across one on our travels I take advantage of it.

Extra Tip -> Blood Donations. Donating blood is an excellent gift to your fellow mankind, and as an added bonus you’ll get your blood-type & iron levels automatically tested. Some donation spots (e.g. United Blood Services) will also give you a total cholesterol number for free.

Home Testing

There is SO much home testing that can be done inexpensively and easily, but there are two in particular that I recommend to everyone:

I've been testing my blood sugar for years

I’ve been testing my blood sugar for years

  • Blood Pressure - You can buy an excellent blood pressure monitor for under $50 (such as THIS ONE) and test yourself however often you’d like. Our diet changes over the past years have brought down Paul’s lifetime borderline-high blood pressure to standard levels.
  • Blood Glucose - Blood glucose meters are inexpensive & easy to use. When you buy a meter don’t look at the meter price -> look at the test strip price. That’s where they get you long-term. We found the best value for money was offered by Reli-On Meters (only $15) and Reli-On Test Strips (~$35-$40 for 100). Plus you can buy these at any Walmart across the nation. Why measure blood glucose? If diabetes runs in your family understanding how you blood sugar reacts to various foods NOW can be a huge preventative long-term (it was eye-opening for me, I tell you). Also, there’s good evidence sugar-spikes do damage long-term by enabling glycation (= ageing) and overloading your pancreas (which can eventually lead to insulin resistance). Plus sugar spikes lead to mood swings (critically important for depression). Stabilizing my blood sugars was key to controlling my moods & food cravings and will hopefully protect me against developing Type II Diabetes down the line.

On-line Blood Tests

transparent logo2Regular blood tests are some of the simplest monitors you can do for your personal health. There are lots of companies who now offer comprehensive blood tests for less than $100 without the need to see a doctor. Just order the test on-line, print out the form and go to your nearest Labcorp for the blood draw. Two days later you’ll have the confidential results in your e-mail. logoThat’s how easy it is! I like to do a regular draw that includes lipids, CBC, liver & kidney values, minerals and thyroid. For Paul we do the same plus we always add PSA (for the prostrate). Most of the online companies offer this in a “General Wellness Test” or something similar to that.

  • Direct Labs -> comprehensive & easy to use. Check out their “Comprehensive Wellness Profile” for $97. This is the one we bought last week here in Palm Springs.
  • AnyLabTestNow -> we used these guys in Oregon last year. They’re a little more expensive than DirectLabs, but sometimes offer special discounts on their “Basic Check-Up”.
  • HealthOneLabs -> haven’t tried these guys but they offer a “Comprehensive Health Profile” for only $59. Cool stuff.
  • PrivateMDLabs -> haven’t used these guys either, but they offer an “Ultimate Blood Checkup” for $140-$180 that include some more advanced markers than the other guys.

Many, many more out there, but those are the ones I’ve put on my radar.

Vitamin D Testing

cartoon-sun-md

Not everyone processes Vitamin D the same way from the sun

There is lots of interesting research going on with Vitamin D which is really a hormone in the body. Although we naturally produce Vitamin D through our skin from the sun there is solid evidence that Vitamin D synthesis decreases as we age, plus some people may have genetic difficulty with this process. Paul and I both got our levels tested several years ago (I was chronically low -> likely a link to my issues with depression) and we supplemented to stabilize them to around 40. For Vitamin D testing consider joining the Grassroots Health Program, or look at the Vitamin D Council. You can also get the test at the on-line labs I mentioned above. It costs between $50-65 for a single result. If you buy the test on-line make sure you choose the 25(OH)D test, not the 1,25(OH)₂D test. Vitamin K2 & Vitamin A are co-factors for Vitamin D, so if you supplement D I recommend supplementing w/ a co-factor like Carlson’s Butter Oil/Fermented Cod. Or, eat a bunch of grass-fed dairy and Natto.

Advanced Cholesterol & Heart Testing

Basic Cholesterol tests are not enough!

Basic Cholesterol tests are not enough!

Although cholesterol numbers have become a mainstay in health-care, the basic cholesterol test you get at the doctor is really far behind the times. To make a simple analogy when you measure cholesterol you’re looking at a sub-set of the people on the bus, rather than the bus itself…and that number can vary by day, by time (even by hour!!), with weightloss etc. The fact that doctors regularly prescribe statins based on a number that is so variable and essentially outdated is astounding to me! Most of the advanced heart disease researchers today are looking waaay beyond simple cholesterol numbers to particle size, particle type and particle count (if you want to go insane on the details check out this 6-part series on cholesterol, or if you want a more relaxed version read this article and watch the video, then follow-up with this article). Anyone who’s worried about heart disease (or being advised to take a statin due to “high” cholesterol) should seriously look at an NMR Lipoprofile Test and, if further testing is needed, a Cardiac CT scan (which shows calcium build-up in the arteries) before going on meds (at least that’s my totally unprofessional personal opinion). The NMR Lipoprofile can be ordered on-line (e.g. DirectLabs offers it for $127) while a CT scan requires you to find a radiology lab (shop around and you should be able to get this for around $150-$250).

Thyroid Testing

Such a little organ, yet so much power!

Such a little organ, yet so powerful!

Thyroid function is a complicated matter. If you have any kind of thyroid issues then the regular TSH that you get in basic blood tests is not enough! Diagnosing thyroid function based on TSH alone is almost as bad as diagnosing heart disease based on cholesterol alone (yes, I’m rather passionate on this one). For thyroid analysis you need a complete test that includes (at a minimum) FREE T3 & T4, plus other tests should you decide (costs from $75-$200 depending on what you choose to get done). I had classic low-thyroid symptoms for years that never showed in my TSH levels. Finally I decided (against my doctors recommendations, by the way) to get a full thyroid panel on my own and also completed an iodine-loading test at home. There it was! I normalized my iodine levels by kelp supplementation and that (in turn) solved my thyroid problems. As a side-bonus it got rid of my cold feet (“ice tongs” as Paul used to call them). This is not a test for everyone, but if you’ve had years of undiagnosed thyroid issues, then read the website and get educated on your options.

Gut Biology Testing

The human gut is a fascinating topic!

The human gut is a fascinating topic!

Gut Biology is a fascinating subject. The human gut contains 3.3 million genes of microbes, vastly outnumbering our human genome. These microbes are the first line of defense (and passage) in the body so it stands to reason that anything which impedes the gut impedes your entire health. There is also a strong link between the gut and the brain to the point that it can influence our moods and well-being, plus it’s the core of our body’s immune system. There is amazing new (and ground-breaking) research taking place in this area including the use of fecal impants to cure serious gut infections, and it may be the future of weightloss, and even mental health! Probably the most interesting self-testing you can do here is to get involved in the American Gut Project ($99 for a home test kit). Not sure what to use this data for yet, but it’s fascinating stuff and in the meantime I’m rocking my gut flora with lots of fermented foods & natural probiotics.

Genetics Testing

genes

Genes -> the key to everything or just a part of the equation?

Affordable genetic testing is super-new stuff and it’s not for the faint of heart. Understanding genetics is still in it’s infancy. We aren’t even close to  understanding how all our various genes interact or even when/how they “express” into disease (the fascinating study of epigenetics == just coz you have the gene, doesn’t mean you’re fated to get the disease). So, if you take a DNA test you end up with alot of complicated raw data compressed together by correlations/assumptions into statistical (and maybe inaccurate) predictions. Plus there is the fear aspect (do you really want to know?). But, this is also potentially one of the most exciting areas of personal testing open to us, and can prompt us to monitor our health in very proactive ways. Various companies are offering this, but 23andme is probably the most affordable at only $99. This test isn’t for everyone, but if you’re ready to face your genes it’s the place to go.

Did I cover it all?? No way! These are the tests I use today and know about currently, but medical research is constantly evolving. If I learn of a test which provides groundbreaking knowledge, or (alternatively) find out one of my current tests is outdated you bet I’ll be updating my personal tracker.

POST EDIT/ I’m on a roll! I’ve decided to add one more post to this series which will cover how to get the most cost-efficient care in those rare cases where you DO need to see a professional and pay for it yourself. It’s a bear to negotiate cash-pay medical in the US, but I’m going to give you some easy tips that should hopefully help save some $$. Stay tuned….

54 Responses to Self-Medical Care Part II – Self-Testing Links

  1. maryb says:

    As usual Nina you’re right on target and so helpful to your readers. I’ve been reading your comments on diet also. I was wondering if you had done any research on the paleo diet. I’ve been eating that way for the last 3 months and have noticed a lot of peositive changes for myself.

    • libertatemamo says:

      I don’t like to characterize the way I eat into a particular group, but Paleo certainly comes closest to my view-point and has inspired many of my personal changes over the last 4 years. My diet is based on whole foods (lots of veggies, meats, eggs, some fruit, some nuts) and no grains. I do eat full-fat and fermented dairy too (which is not “classically” Paleo) and I like to experiment with bone broth and organs. Plus of course I’m liberal with fats.
      Nina

  2. Jan says:

    Thanks so much for all the info and the time you keep putting out there for us. I am now dealing with thyroid and Dr. wants me to start taking something for my cholesterol, of which I don’t want to do and am reading about it now and trying to absorb all that I’m reading, why does aging have to be so bad? :-) Thanks again..

    • libertatemamo says:

      I hope some of the links help to provide some clarity for you! I certainly go against “conventional wisdom” when it comes to cholesterol testing and cholesterol management, and I’ve been this way ever since I read “The Great Cholesterol Con” in 2008. Everything I’ve read since has only served to support my theories on this. There is even mounting evidence that higher cholesterol levels are protective especially for older people. I’m not a doctor, so I can’t tell you what to do, but I highly recommend reading the links, viewing the video and making your own decisions. Who knows…if you present the evidence to your doc, maybe he/she will even agree?
      Nina

  3. maryb says:

    Agreed. Run away from any food in a box!

  4. jil says:

    WOW I am impressed….although I have to admit I don’t understand most of this and how it works but I will do my due diligence and check it all out plus ask questions the next time we meet :)….so for a neophyte like me, is there one website you would recommend to start with to read up on self testing and how to go about it…did I miss that in your blogs?

    • libertatemamo says:

      I didn’t put a specific link in the post, but if you google “understanding blood tests” you should come up with quite a few hits. My recommendation is order one of the “general wellness” tests online and when you get the results, start working through the numbers to understand them. Learning about all this takes time.
      Nina

    • libertatemamo says:

      Here’s a general link on understanding blood-work.
      http://www.amarillomed.com/howto
      I disagree with their statement that “high cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease”, but other than that I like the easy way they present all the values and how to interpret them.

      Nina

      • maryb says:

        Exactly right. New studies and research show that inflammation is more likely the cause of atherosclerosis and heart disease and that the high cholesterol levels could be an anti-inflammatory response or symptom rather than cause.

        • libertatemamo says:

          Very true. One of the leading theories on plaque build-up is that it is a *response* to inflammation/damage to the arterial walls rather than anything to do w/ cholesterol levels. The plaque is actually the body’s way of trying to heal that inflammation. For this reason I also like to track C-reactive protein as a blood marker. It’s not a foolproof test, but generally C-reactive rises in the body as a result of inflammation. So, keeping this value low is very important.
          Nina

      • jil says:

        Thanks…I do have more questions but they can wait ….

  5. gayle says:

    Hi Nina – since you published the link to the Open Source program for American Gut Project – perhaps you would be willing to include the following similar link for Vitamin D testing/reporting. http://www.grassrootshealth.net/
    Carole Baggerly is a really interesting woman.

    If you have time I hope you’ll check it out.

    ~ gayle

    • libertatemamo says:

      Ah yes, of course! I know about that program, but totally forgot to link to it. I’ll update the post to add it when I get back on my main computer.
      Nina

  6. Janna says:

    Great post Nina–my cholesterol is high (226) and several years ago I was put on a statin–didn’t take the pills very long, hated the way they made me feel. We have a local health fair coming up next week and I am anxious to get mine checked–Mike’s went down by so much when we stopped eating as much red meat–I’m hoping mine has gone down too! You do such a fabulous job writing your posts–really!!

    • libertatemamo says:

      Well personally I wouldn’t worry about a number of 226 at all, especially if your HDL levels are high and your particles are large and fluffy (an NMR Lipoprofile test would tell you that), but then I don’t comply with the conventional view of cholesterol at all. Hope you get the results that you are looking for!
      Nina

      • Janna says:

        I too (even though I’m the nurse) have begun to doubt traditional cholesterol treatment and all these statins floating around–making the drug companies rich! I have absolutely NO heart disease or cancer in my family, I eat right, we exercise–I have no risk factors other than a “high” cholesterol–so I haven’t worried too much about it. I’m going to do some of your suggested reading–maybe an old nurse can learn new tricks! :)

  7. Nina,
    You’ve provided a treasure trove of information on self-testing. There was an article just out today about how the AMA standards are being re-evaluated regarding heart disease risk, etc. Thank you for sharing. You really have your readers’ well-being in mind.
    Not to nit-pick, but I noticed you mentioned Paul getting PSA tested. The last I read, that test had been pretty much dis-credited as being useful and is currently not even recommended screening. I had a prostate biopsy based on elevated PSA levels, and it’s not a pleasant experience! The results were negative.

    • libertatemamo says:

      Indeed, I’ve read those articles on PSA testing. Many organizations are no longer recommending the test and I know there is a definite risk of false-positives (and even false-negatives to some extent), but I’ve not heard of any sound alternatives to the PSA for early detection. Have you? I guess I have a personal attachment to the test since it was an elevated PSA result that first alerted us to my fathers prostate cancer. Without it we would never have known. Still, I concede the test has problems. It’s food for thought.

      Nina

      P.S. Very glad your biopsy results were negative. I can only imagine how horrible that was to go through.

  8. Bridgette says:

    Wow! Thanks for so much info. I’d wondered about doing some of these myself rather than waiting for my annual exam. The amount of info you have given us is wonderful.

    • libertatemamo says:

      Yup, very easy to do on your own. We ordered our tests a few days before we got to Palm Springs, made an appt at Labcorp online and then just showed up for the blood draw. Took mere minutes.
      Nina

  9. Ingrid says:

    Thanks Nina for all the great info. I totally agree with you on the cholesterol front. I believe some of those meds cause more problems than any fix.
    It is amazing how good nutrition is really the key to good health. On our return from Havasu we got lazy and stopped for fast food…..took 2 days for us to feel better from dull headaches and lack of energy. Thanks again for sharing.

    • libertatemamo says:

      I know exactly what you mean about that “food hangover”. I get that same feeling on the very rare occasion I eat sugar too. Just spins me right out of sorts.

      Just catching up on your blog again. I see you guys are in the desert already and (more importantly) fulltime! Who hoooo! Maybe we’ll see ya later this winter in AZ.

      Nina

  10. geogypsy2u says:

    Plus it pays to shop around for some tests as not all services charge the same. Great article and many good suggestions to take responsibility for our own health.

  11. Donna K says:

    I’m loving your posts! One thing folks need to understand about glucose levels is that they will fluctuate depending on when you test in relation to when you last ate – and what you ate. Some basic blood sugar self-education is in order if one wants to track blood sugar levels accurately. Plenty of info online. Interestingly enough, I had to pay to have my vitamin D levels checked ($89). I am on Medicare and they will pay for future tests now that I have been diagnosed with low vitamin D levels but they refused payment for the initial diagnostic test. Weird but true!

    • libertatemamo says:

      That’s a very important point Donna. For blood glucose I usually test first thing in the AM (fasting) and then (when I’m testing food response), 1 hour after eating and 2 hours after eating. Not everyone reaches their peak at the same time, so it’s worth experimenting with that 1 and 2 hour range. And as you pointed out, different foods (and different food combinations) will raise blood sugar differently in each person, so it takes some experimentation to figure out your responses to stuff.
      Thanks for bringing it up!
      Nina

    • libertatemamo says:

      This is one of the best sites I’ve found for learning about blood sugar testing (and diabetes). Great resource for anyone just getting into this:
      http://www.bloodsugar101.com
      Nina

  12. Diana says:

    Thank you soooooo much!

  13. Audrey Perry says:

    Great posts. I’m looking forward to the next one too. We are trying very hard to eat cleanly and for some reason (we are not by any means full-timers) we always feel like when we go off in our C class it’s time to go off our programs. Maybe someday when it doesn’t feel just like we’re on vacay we’ll figure out that we can eat healthy and travel too. Thanks for some very valuable information.

    • libertatemamo says:

      Keeping healthy on the road can definitely be a bigger challenge, especially if you’re only part-time. We’ve managed to control our eating & diet pretty well since we started RVing, but that’s also because we cook & eat mostly at “home”. If we were in vacation-mode we’d be eating out alot more. Totally understand the dilemma!
      Nina

  14. maryb says:

    “Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food.” – Hippocrates

  15. Sherry says:

    Mary B is astute. Old Hippocrates had it right way back then and the persons who “practice” medicine still take his oath but they don’t seem to be interested at all in the importance of nutrition, of what we eat, to dis-ease. Great posts Nina. Time for us all to stop putting all the control in the practioners’ hands and spend some time learning ourselves. It’s not easy but you’ve given us all the first steps. Really beneficial. Thank you.

  16. Deanna Tolliver says:

    Nina, will Labcorp send the results to you or do they have to go to an MD? Thanks SO much for this info. I was happy to find a Labcorp only 20 minutes away!
    Deanna Tolliver (a blog lurker for a very long time :)

    • libertatemamo says:

      You’ll get the results in your e-mail, or online. No doc needed & you don’t need to go anywhere. How exactly you get the results depends on where you order the tests. With DirectLabs the results were posted on a confidential portion of their website. SO, all I needed to do was login and download them.
      Nina

  17. jschexna says:

    What a great posting, both parts I and 2. I will be busy for some time reading and checking.

    Quick read and have joined American Gut to get the “What’s in My Poop”

    I’m also about to going in for a “Food Sensitivity” test. Not sure if you can do this without doctor however. Will send a note when know more.

    Thanks

    John Schexnaydre

    • libertatemamo says:

      Coooool!! There are quite a few self-tests you can do for food allergies and food sensitivities. Most of the online guys offer something to this effect without the need for a doc. I haven’t looked into them or researched them so I can’t recommend a specific test, but check around and see what you can find. I discovered most of my own food issues through an elimination diet (which is what finally convinced me of my gluten problems -> it was near life-changing I tell you) and can certainly recommend that as an approach to anyone who might think they have sensitivities.

      An entirely different approach to allergies and sensitives is energy-based healing. I realize this is waaaay beyond most people’s comfort levels, but I’ve actually used this specifically on my cat Rand. Two years ago she had such terrible problems that she lost all the hair on her belly & legs, her skin was raw and no amount of medication seemed to help. I completed NAET testing w/ a qualified vet (remotely) & did all the healing myself with her in the RV. Within a few weeks all was back to normal. Pretty darn amazing, This is not for everyone I do realize, but might be interesting to folks suffering from long-term sensitivities and looking for truly alternative paths:
      http://www.naet.com/Patients/patientshome.aspx

      Nina

    • libertatemamo says:

      By the way for those folks interested in learning more about the poop/gut/brain thing in more detail the following is an outstanding book on the whole subject:
      Gut and Psychology Syndrome: Natural Treatment for Autism, Dyspraxia, A.D.D., Dyslexia, A.D.H.D., Depression, Schizophrenia

      And she’s also written a book on how the gut relates to heart health:
      Put Your Heart In Your Mouth

      Nina

    • libertatemamo says:

      One more link for you! Chris Kesser just did a podcast interview with Jeff Leach, the founder of the American Gut Project. Cool stuff! LINK HERE.
      Nina

  18. Jim says:

    Wow! Thanks for all that medical info that I can understand. After years of ignoring my health, you have convinced me to take get off this couch and see why I feel so tired all the time. Thanks for caring about your faraway friend. Jim

  19. This is terrific! I’ve added a link to this post on my Healthcare page. I hope you don’t mind. Please say you don’t mind.

  20. jschexna says:

    For about $25 a year, you get a very nice review of supplements

    https://www.consumerlab.com/index.asp

    John

  21. A reminder for those who are a bit nervous to break the chain between themselves and the medical world and go for more self sufficiency: The MEDICAL MODEL promotes MEDICINE!!! I was trained in diagnosis and treatment of patients, as a Nurse Practitioner.Almost all the treatments I learned were MEDICAL,since I was in the MEDICAL community! Holistic health is not really a part of their paradigm. It’s a nice little “aside.”” like–remind your patients to take their multi vitamin! Duh!!

    You have to go outside the MEDICAL community if you wish to take care of your health non-medically. There are SO MANY resources! I love Dr. Andrew Weil’s earlier books..check ‘em out on amazon.He promotes TRUST in your awesome body and it’s own healing mechanisms.Dr. McDougall,Dr. Ornish, Christianne Northup,M.D. –all great resources for when you are ready to step away from medical care.

    Don’t let the media scare you in to thinking you are a disease waiting to happen. YOU are a miracle and your body has MULTIPLE systems for keeping you WELL!!!!

    • libertatemamo says:

      I’ve been interested & practiced holistic (and alternative) care for many years and totally agree that our bodies are pretty amazing. I use a combination of mainstream medicine (where I need it) and alternative medicine (where I can) and have found that to work for me. I do think exploring outside of the mainstream system is a positive idea for everyone. The more you can take charge & responsibility of your own health, the better.
      Nina

  22. Deborah Farris says:

    WOW I have been amazed at all the information – got lots of great reading materials. Thank you for sharing your secrets! :). Do you have any suggestion for hormones (therapy)? I’m starting to research if food could help, as I would like to get off the HRT and balance the hormones in a more natural way. Love your blog and share it with many :)). Happy trails to you….

  23. Dan says:

    I have followed your blog for some time, mostly for your campground reviews-very useful, BTW. But this health series is wonderful. Thanks for all your work on this.
    Dan
    part time RVer

  24. LuAnn says:

    I have been putting off getting to this post until I really had time to digest it (speaking of good gut health hehe). You have written such an amazingly comprehensive post Nina and I can’t thank you enough. You and I have discussed some of these issues so you know how passionate I am about this topic. Thanks so much for all the links. I cannot wait to read these articles and I will be doing more self-testing in the future, given the outlook on healthcare. Thanks again! :)

  25. Rob James III says:

    Great work on this subject. My wife have had the Alcats testing and found many foods on the subject list. Since she changed her diet she has been healthier than she has ever been. This testing is not covered by our self insurance policy but is more than worth it.

    Really like your new look.

    Rob

  26. Full time RVer w/ diabetes says:

    Thanks for sharing this comprehensive list. I have been using self blood sugar test for a long time after being diagnosed as a type 2 diabetic patient. You can also do self test for A1c as there is a A1c meter/strip kit for sale at Walmart. In addition, Walmart is selling an A1c test kit enable you to prepare sample yourself and mail to a lab to get result. As A1c is a much better prediction of diabetes or pre-diabetes, many people relies on this test instead of common blood sugar called Fast Plasma Glucose (FPS) test by the ReliOn test. However, I observed the results from the on line lab have been systematically a lot higher than my A1c done at the hospital lab for some reason. Thus, I would be careful in using this mail order lab.

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