Can Blood Tests Tell You What Supplements You Should be Taking?

To many consumers all supplements appear about the same, so how do you tell which is better? Sadly often there is little difference between the products and often they buy standard supplements from large manufactures.  So how does a company try to differentiate themselves from another? One common ploy is hype and marketing. A few cleaver company has come up with a marketing twist – Blood, hair, urine, or DNA testing.
The marketing sounds great – Have a blood test done (for a high price) and they will do an analysis of your nutritional status and deliver to you a customized supplement to restore your nutritional deficiencies. Sounds great, but there are some problems with this marketing:

First lets look at DNA testing. You’re DNA is virtually unchanged from birth till death excepting a very few minor mutations. There is nothing in your DNA which would determine which supplements you may need. There may be clues there someplace, but there is no research which supports any of these claims.

Blood, Urine, or Hair testing: There are a number of problems to the feasibility of this marketing tact.

  • There is no single simple test (blood, urine, hair, etc.) that can accurately determine a persons nutritional status. Some nutrients are tested more accurately with urine (magnesium), while others require very sensitive blood tests (vitamin C).  Some circulate freely in your blood, others are stored in your liver and released as needed. It would require a dozen or more separate, and some very expensive, tests to accurately assess your nutrient status.
  • Your nutrient status at any moment is the results of what you’ve eaten and done in the preceding hours or days. Most water soluble vitamins are very rapidly metabolized and excreted. So did you have a glass of OJ this morning or not? Was the blood test an hour after you ate or 8 hours? What did you have for breakfast? How about dinner the night before? They will all affect your results.
  • What you do. If you eat the exact same diet and one day and just sit at the desk, you’ll probably have too much of several vitamins/minerals and will excrete them. But if instead you go out and run 10 miles you’ll burn up a ton of antioxidants and other nutrients used in energy production. So what you’ve done in the hours or days before the test will affect the results.
  • Finally no company can make a truly customized supplement. The cost would be prohibitive plus a number of nutrients can’t be in the same delivery system (pill, liquid, capsule, etc) as the ingredients will react with each other over time. 

For the reasons above it isn’t practical to use these sorts of tests to determine what you should be taking. If you really wanted to accurately assess your nutrient status you’d need to take multiple tests in multiple scenarios to see what your ranges are over a number of days/weeks, different meals, different activity levels to see what your high and low levels are. But again, those would be only at the time you take the tests. You probably wouldn’t be having blood drawn at 2:00am when you need higher minerals to support repair.

Another tool some companies use is to take biometric data (height, weight, etc) general lifestyle, stress, activity levels, family history, etc. to come up with some recommendations.  This is a better method. If you’re knees and hips hurt, then it would make sense to suggest a product for joint health. If you’re on statin drugs, CoQ10 makes sense. If you’re a man, then saw palmetto. If you’re stressed, very active, exposed to toxins, etc, then extra antioxidants.  Like your car – If you live in Minneapolis and have a daily commute, then it is a good recommendation to equip your car with snow tires. You may not need them most days, but chances are you’ll need them from time to time.

Again with the companies which use a survey, they can suggest lifestyle changes and which supplement to use, but no company will make a customized supplement just for you. I went to one well known company, which claimed to make a customized package based on a survey. I did it once as myself, once as a pregnant 18 year old, and once as a 80 year old with diabetes, heart disease, etc. Guess what. I got exactly the same recommendation for each person.

So what do you do? Take a multivitamin/multi-mineral product which has optimal levels of all the essential nutrients and micronutrients and anti-oxidants necessary for most every adult. Not RDA levels, but often far above RDA levels. This way if you eat lots of organic, low glycemic foods, drink filtered water, and sit at your desk breathing purified air and out of the sunlight, then you may have too many of some antioxidants and nutrients and pee them out. No problems. Like going to a buffet when you aren’t that hungry.  But If you hop in the car with the top down drive on the freeway for 20 miles to Boulder and run up boulder canyon 20 miles, then you will burn up lots of antioxidants and vitamins and will consume more minerals at night when you rebuild – Like going to the buffet when you’re starving, you’ll eat much more, you just don’t want to run out of anything. So with a high quality product having optimal amounts for normal adults you’ll always have enough of every nutrient. If you don’t need it today, then it goes down the drain. If you do need it, then they are there, so your cells never go hungry.

Then for specific individual needs there are the optimizers. For example a saw palmetto product for us boys and PhytoEstryn for the women. Fish oil for those who don’t eat much fish. a Glucosamine/Turmeric product for those of us who tear up our joints. For extra antioxidant protection and to help aid heart health there is a grape-seed/Vitamin-C product. etc.