We all know that our blood can tell us a lot about our overall health. We go for a blood test when we want to know about nutritional deficiencies, markers of autoimmune disease, hormonal imbalances, etc. The list goes on.
What might shock you is how much we can learn about our health from a single finger prick.
First things first: what is blood?
Most of us know that its main job is to circulate oxygen and fuel to our body’s cells and to carry away carbon dioxide and metabolic waste. But blood is so much more than that. It is a complex “organ” that is critical to so many aspects of our physiology. For example, the specialized cells in our blood form a crucial part of our immune system, our defense against disease.
But did you know that blood is also our internal information superhighway? An incredibly complex spectrum of chemical messengers – such as hormones – travel through our body in the blood. They convey biological information about the performance of various organs and body systems, as well as data about the external environment. This information keeps us alive by coordinating our body’s finely tuned response to internal challenges and changes in the outside world.
So how do blood tests work?
These chemical messengers are often present in tiny amounts, but advances in technology mean we can see even the most subtle changes in just a drop of blood. In this context, the chemical messengers are called biomarkers, and changes in the levels of these biomarkers can tell us a lot about our health and well-being.
Biomarkers are a window into our metabolism, immune system, hormonal status, etc., and how these systems respond to changes in our lifestyle, environment, or health status over time. The complex relationship between our genetics, the environment, and everyday choices affects the circulating levels of a number of established biomarkers known to respond to changes in our sleep, stress, energy levels, diet and nutrition, exercise, inflammation, and alcohol consumption.
By tapping into our biological information superhighway, we can better understand these connections. Measuring how biomarkers respond to changes in our lifestyle helps make a connection between how you feel and what is actually happening inside your body. It offers new opportunities to change our behavior and decision-making for better health and well-being.
And what can you tell us?
For example, when there is stress and low blood sugar levels, the hormone cortisol is released. Cortisol has a number of effects including increasing blood pressure, blood sugar levels and suppressing the immune response. Altered cortisol metabolism may play a role in obesity, high blood pressure and insulin resistance. Other blood proteins called interleukins can indicate inflammation and responses to exercise.
The real power of this approach lies in the simultaneous measurement of a panel of multiple biomarkers, capturing a range of biological insights. The sensitivity of doing this in a drop of blood from a simple finger prick makes this approach accessible to many.