Self-Medical Care Part II – Self-Testing Links
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
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.
There is SO much home testing that can be done inexpensively and easily, but there are two in particular that I recommend to everyone:
- 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
Regular 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. That’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”.
- Health Labs -> haven’t tried these guys but they offer a “Essential Health Test” for $86.
- 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
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
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 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
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.
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….