The problems with normal

Specifically I mean the problems with medical tests that have a range which defines normal and how that misses the conditions that are significantly affecting people’s health.  This issue came up in a talk I saw recently by Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum and again in the book “Adrenal Fatigue” by Dr. James L. Wilson.  I’ve also talked with a number of people who have reported that when going to doctors to address their health concerns all of their tests came back “normal”.  So I wanted to try and state what I see as being problematic with what normal means with regard to medical testing.

Normal is not necessarily optimal

So the first thing to understand is where the normal ranges come from for many tests.  When determining the normal levels a random pool of people is selected.  The people with diagnosed diseases are excluded from this pool.  A test is given to all of them and the range is determined statistically by defining normal as everything within 2 standard deviations away from the mean and abnormal to anything beyond 2 standard deviations from the mean.  This range may include people whose health is not optimal but are not at the stage where it is recognized as a disease.  This may cause the normal range to be overly broad and miss lower levels of dysfunction in individuals.

What is normal for you?

When seeing a medical professional for a problem a baseline for a given tests are usually not on file.  I think this speaks to the lack of focus on preventative health which might include establishing baselines for a number of tests when a person feels healthy for use when they are feeling ill.  So the medical probationer has to rely on what is defined as normal.  The problem is that for some tests, like a cortisol blood test an individual could be at double or half their optimal level and still fall within the range of normal. When any hormone is off by any significant amount from what is optimal the individual may experience symptoms reflecting that dysfunction.

What to do when you test normal?

A good health practitioner will not rely solely on tests.  If an individual feels there is something wrong with them and their doctor dismisses their complaints by stating their tests are normal it might be good to find a new doctor.  Diagnosing based on symptoms is still the best way to help people.  I’m not dismissing the usefulness of medical testing.  They can provide useful indications and can be used to track an individual’s progress, including from a state of worse health to a state of better health.  I think it’s important that people trust what their body is telling them and that their health care practitioners listen to their clients even if their tests come back “normal”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *