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Can I Be Tested for Nutritional Deficiencies?

This is a fairly common question in our office and the short answer is yes. It’s easy to understand the curiosity. You’ve cleaned up your eating habits, buying all those fruits and veggies. Whole grains, even. And more fish (oh, those omegas!) than you ever dreamed of eating when you were a kid.

On your kitchen counter sits a row of supplements you dutifully swallow each morning, maybe twice a day if the bottle tells you to. Is all that nutrition’s really getting into you? Are your efforts worthwhile?

With these investments, your nutritional status is likely solid, all the effort paying off. But keeping in mind that each of us is metabolically unique, know that some of us absorb nutrients better than others, have individual nutritional needs, or burn through certain vitamins more quickly.

If you’d like to see some hard data, a comprehensive test is available that measures your levels of an impressive array of micronutrients. The bad news is that you’ll have to pay for this test out-of-pocket, though you can always submit an insurance claim yourself and try your luck at reimbursement. The same holds true if you have a Health Savings Account where you work. You should be paid back…but nothing is predictable in health care these days.

It’s worth noting that the price of this test has dropped dramatically since it was first developed. And while you personally may prefer to spend its $373 test price tag on a meal at Charlie Trotter’s, this is one case in which you’re getting a lot of test for your health care dollar.

Spectra Cell Laboratories has been performing micronutrient testing for years using a patented technique called Functional Intracellular Analysis, which measures how an individual nutrient is being processed inside a cell. The test is performed on your lymphocytes, one type of white blood cell. Some researchers believe cellular analysis is superior to measuring levels of nutrients in serum or plasma because testing these latter two doesn’t determine if the nutrient accomplishing anything.

Here’s a list of what’s measured in the Spectra Cell test (pour yourself another coffee–it’s lengthy):

Vitamin A

B complex vitamins
B-1 (thiamine)
B-2 (riboflavin)
B-3 (niacinamide)
B-6 (pyridoxine)
B-12 (cobalamin)
Folic acid

Vitamin C

Vitamin D

Vitamin E

Vitamin K

Amino acids and metabolites

Fatty acids
Oleic acid


Coenzyme Q-10
Alpha lipoic acid

The test also measures these specific cellular functions:

Carbohydrate metabolism (abnormalities point to increased diabetes risks)
Glucose-insulin interaction
Fructose sensitivity

Total antioxidant function  

Low levels of antioxidants are linked to increased susceptibility to chronic degenerative diseases.

Cellular immunity function
This measures your cell-mediated immune system performance (T-cell proliferation), a systemic measure of your general health (higher = better).

When the results are returned (we send them by email with the test attached, followed by a hard copy), SpectraCell also provides a list of recommended supplements and dosing levels. If you have a lot of deficiencies, I generally encourage you to schedule a visit with one of our nutritionists, Marla Feingold or Seanna Tully. If you have just one or two low results, you can purchase the supplements in our apothecary or at your local health food store.

Anticipating your next question: why doesn’t health insurance cover this? The quick answer is that everyone with health insurance would want to have this test and health insurance companies want to keep your money for themselves. The longer answer is that your health insurance has very specific guidelines on what they’ll allow for screening tests (generally covered are those that everyone should have, like cholesterol levels) and diagnostic tests, those needed in the diagnosis of a specific illness.

Your insurance would cover one or two of these nutrient tests if I were using them to diagnose a specific illness, but they draw the line at my ordering them all. They also add some interesting roadblocks. If, for example, I were to order the five antioxidant tests (separately, about $450), they’d likely request a letter from me with an explanation—what exactly was I trying to diagnose?

If you’re interested in having the micronutrient test, call WholeHealth Chicago and schedule a “lab only.” One of our assistants will call you to verify that we have a SpectraCell test kit in stock. Overnight fasting (no food after midnight) is recommended to improve accuracy. You’ll come in, we’ll draw some blood, and you’ll receive documentation for submission to your insurance carrier or Health Savings Account.

Be well,

David Edelberg, MD

Posted in Blog, C, Knowledge Base, N Tagged with: , , ,
27 comments on “Can I Be Tested for Nutritional Deficiencies?
  1. Michele Salustro-Doll says:

    I paid for this test, my cardiologist read the results they sent me and said it was a hoax, that if my B12 were as low as this test claimed that I would be dead. I paid $400. for the test, bought all the supplements and none of it made any difference in how I feel.

  2. Patricia Schulze says:

    Thank you so much! Plain talk with specific information. That is so rare.
    I live in Connecticut but heard about your practice from my younger sister, so I signed up for your newsletter.

    Best Regards,

  3. Mark Evans says:

    So how often do you encounter a patient with a pathologically low level of something that you didn’t already suspect?

  4. Dr E says:

    Hi Michele
    I frequently encounter comments like your cardiologist’s when something is introduced that is beyond a doctors area of expertise. Similar comments occur when it comes to food sensitivity testing, salivary hormone testing, and urinary measurements of neurotransmitters. The attitude “if I didn’t learn it in medical school, it can’t be real” is really not a helpful stance for any physician to take. SpectraCell is a CLIA certified lab, meaning it meets very strict govenment standards about how a lab should operate and tests run. I strongly doubt if your cardiologist has actually sat down and read how the technique was developed, the standards they follow, etc., etc. Being an authority figure, you’re accepting his opinions as “facts” (as he does himself)

  5. Judy Kayser says:

    This sounds like a very good test, especially for those like me who have serveral serious health conditions. I have seen so many doctors, before I became Doctor E’s patient, who simply dismiss that which is not evident through a test or taught in med school. Specialist are so focused on their specialty they never stop to realize thier area of expertise makes up only one part of a very complicated system. It is seldom that any of my different specialist, although very good in their areas, stop to consider my overall health and how everything in my body plays off each other. I am lucky to have Dr. E who understands this. This is a test I will gladly pay for and thanks for letting us know it’s out there.

  6. Anne says:

    Hi Dr. E,

    This topic leads me to ask another question about testing for metabolic efficiency. Is this something that can be tested (either by blood, breath, etc.)? I think nutrient testing is probably very useful but I personally am also interested in getting a baseline to understand my metabolism and become more effective in weight loss (assuming good diet and exercise). I noticed that this nutrient testing looks at carb metabolism but is that the only piece of it?

    Thanks — Anne

  7. Kathleen says:

    Is there a way to get this test done when you don’t live in the Chicago area?
    I would be willing to get the test done and then go to Chicago for nutritional evaluation once the results are complete. I’m located 80 minutes from New York City.

  8. Dr. R says:

    You might check with SpectraCell laboratory for a referral of a doctor in your area that runs this test. http://www.spectracell.com/

  9. Teddy bear says:

    I have MS. I have dramatically improved my eating habits, and have started a vitamin regimen( on my own). Still feel tired and wore out 3/4 of the time. Would this be a helpful test? Or do I chalk the tiredness to the disease?

  10. Dr E says:

    I think either this or the Individual Optimal Nutritional test (by Genova) would be worthwhile. You should also be tested for borderline hypothyroidism and adrenal fatigue, two frequently overlooked causes of tiredness in MS patients

  11. Sarah says:

    I came across this website when I decided to research how to get tested for nutritional deficiency and that’s how I found you – praise GOD!

    I live in Scotland and wondered if there is similar tests I could do here? I suffer from lack of motivation which is mainly due to a diagnosed BPD (borderline Personality Disorder, not because I’m lazy), anxiety which is brought on by stress and lower back pain which has a knock on effect on my whole body by causing my nervous muscles to contract which makes my entire body tense. It’s a never-ending battle and trying to get my psychiatrists to understand that I’d prefer supplements rather than what they are prescribing which is ‘Sertraline’, and instead treat my condition naturally through an organic supplement yet can’t find anyone that would support nutritional supplements to aid the deficiency instead of treating the deficiency with chemicals which could infect and make things worse especially with it not being monitired given that I attend an outpatient clinic. Can you point me in the right direction? I’m willing to travel?

    Thank you for reading!

  12. Dr E says:

    Hi Sarah
    When patients tell me of back pain and ‘entire body is tense’ sort of phrasing, I think of fibromyalgia with chronic fatigue. Psychiatrists virtually never check for this and treat patients for years with antidepressants. Ask your GP about fibromyalgia (which may go by a different name in Scotland, myalgic encepahlomyelitis
    Dr E

  13. Nikki says:

    Hi Dr E,

    I have been really physically sick for 9 weeks because of what seems to be Thyroid related.

    The diagnosis is likely to be Hyperthyroidism or Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.

    I’m on a Vegan diet, however, I’m very malnourished and I haven’t eaten properly for a long time. I’m losing weight rapidly and very worried. I’m probably deficient in everything.

    This is mostly because of money problems and staying as an In-patient in several Hospitals over the past weeks where I was fed very inadequately.

    I’m very Anemic, and on 80 mg Iron supplements as well as 1000 mcg B12 both daily.

    Very worried if I will be OK? Is an omnivore diet necessary?

    I will do whatever it takes to survive. I hope that there’s help for me.

    I feel that I need to have a test such as what is offered by Whole Health Chicago for the above reasons. I’m doubt that my declining physical health allows any more blood to be taken, and this is the same reason why I don’t have a confirmed diagnosis on my Thyroid, however I seriously need it because this is possibly contributing to my Anemia.

    What do I do?

    I’m living in Australia.

    Please help me. I don’t want to die. Please help me.

  14. Dr E says:

    Hi Nikki
    Sorry to hear abut your health challenges. Thyroid disorders (overactive or underactive) can be diagnosed with a simple blood test that requires very little blood. Likewise, key vitamin levels can be tested and you don’t need the SpectraCell test for these. Since you are already in the hospital, your doctors can order these tests for you. Good luck!

  15. lee wilson says:

    I had to beg my Doctors to test me for Magnesium and finally they did, i was below minimum requirements. my heart skips disappeared after a few weeks of mag supplement, i had to deal with heart skips for 6 months and going to doctors and the ER. i later discovered that the ER and docs just use a basic blood testing that overlooks dozens of other blood test that can or should be performed.

  16. Matthew says:

    Hello Dr E,

    I hail from Nairobi Kenya. I developed ellergic sinusitis in 2003 which later turned to be nasal polypsis. I’ve been on oral antihistamines and inhalational steroids. In 2007 I was operated twice Turbinoplasty and FESS. The condition cleared but later it occurred making me anosmic again. last year 2014 the condition worsened and I was operated again for the same. As a pharmaceutical technologist and a nutritionist researcher, I’ve been reading and looking for ways to end this menace. Somebody was telling me about stem cell therapy but met this site of yours. Please advise.

  17. Dr E says:

    Hi Matthew
    You are developing the polyps in response to something you’re very allergic to. Your best bet is to get a thorough evaluation of inhalant allergies (pollen, mold, etc) and begin desensitization (allergy shots or homeopathy.) The most recent patient I saw with this developed polyps after working in a very moldy environment

  18. Alex says:

    How do you know of any providers in south Florida that perform this type of testing? I live in Ft Lauderdale and not sure where to look?

  19. Dr E says:

    Hi Alex
    Just click here for the SpectraCell Lab “Find a Doctor” and you’ll be able to locate one near you

  20. IK says:

    Hello. I’ve been recently diagnosed with Lupus. Are there tests you would recommend I complete? Thank you!

  21. cliffmaurer says:

    Hi there – After a diagnosis like Lupus, it would be best to be seen by a qualified provider to discuss the most appropriate tests. At WholeHealth Chicago, Drs. Donigan, Edelberg and Kelley would be the most appropriate first points of contact if you’re in the Chicago area, or if you are able to travel for consultation. If not, I’d recommend checking out the ACAM (American College for the Advancement of Medicine) to search for a health care provider near you if you live in the United States. Their provider search tool can be found here: http://acam.site-ym.com/search/custom.asp?id=1758

    All the best,
    Dr M

  22. Robert Pilling says:

    What is the out of pocket cost for the testing?



  23. Dr. R says:

    Robert. It really depends upon the type and detail of testing; I’m sorry I can’t be more specific. If you suspect nutritional deficiencies, it might be wise to schedule an appointment with one of our nutritionists to discuss your particular situation and appropriate testing if necessary. An hour consultation is $180.

  24. Ellie Wolford says:

    To: Teddy Bear
    my mom, brother had ms, my aunt had als. my feet and calves have been numb, burning, pins and needles for 8 years…….. please watch youtube video: from bedridden to walking.
    also I have been taking 4000mg of B1 for 30 days and my feet have to burning, very little pins and needles and still some numbness (decreased 75%)
    vitamin info: doctoryourself.com. just type in ms into the search window. I wish you the best.

  25. Samantha says:

    Hi Could I ask your advice? I’m in my late 20s and I’ve been dealing with fatigue, muscle pain and severe migraines since my early teens- seems to only gets worse as the years go on. No one seems to want to address the issue despite my request for info. I currently am on vitamin d meds of 50,000units a wk for a deficiency (level-12ng/ml) which is the second time its come back that low in two yrs. I was curious if other vitamins may play a role, if maybe they can shed some light into the health issues I’ve been dealing with over the last few yrs or at least rule them out.. as it seems every time i try to research whats been going- a vitamin is being mentioned. I have a lot of environmental, food, chemical and drug allergies which I’m still learning to navigate.. the older i get the more they pop up. A few years ago I came down with a cold that I could not get rid of, a few months later I got a severe skin infection (impetigo followed by fungal) due to an allergic dermatitis which brought on a whole new set of allergies and skin issues. I ended up dealing with the infection for nearly 12 months- repeatedly trying antibiotics after antibiotic only to find out I was allergic to it (at least 7 times that I can remember). Two nearly killed me. By the time I found something that I wasn’t allergic to, by round 6 or 7 my doctor told me I was now showing signs of an allergic response to it (swirly like skin rash- of course more skin issues) and I couldn’t take it anymore despite still having the infection. I now have severe dry skin, its itchy, I can’t tolerate heat (causes burning sensations). I’m pretty much house bound in a/c half the year and I can’t use any of the store bought bathing products I previously use- allergist supplied products only. After a recent visit to my family physician whose been questioning a hormone imbalance since 2014- when I brought to her concerns over recurring canker sores and two 1.9×1.9×2.3cm breast tumors (that were thankfully benign)- is finally made up her mind- when I came to her after dealing with my 8th menstruation in 4 months. ‘I have a hormone imbalance.’ But she doesn’t want to put me on hormone meds due to my age. Says, if I am interested in birth control in the future, “we’ll talk” but from the little I’ve read that can make things worse depending on which hormone is off and the cause? I dont even know whats off? But I did see yet again vitamins mentioned. Is there something I’m missing here that could be the culprit, a vitamin connection with all this that could explain it? Something I can do myself to make things better? Any suggestion even on what I could bring to the discussion at my next doctor visit? Any help would be so greatly appreciated. Thanks.

  26. Jan pepper says:

    I have fibromyalgia , fatigue , for many years poor sleep depression anxiety was in bed 80% of my life couldnt do simple chores without pain all over my body , started taking magnesium plus ionic fizz by pure essence labs , after 1st dose that nigh , i woke up the next day a new person it is truly miraculous , i was so magnesium deficient and didnt relize it , i also bought the book “the magnesium miracle” by carolyn dean m.d. , n.d. been such a miracle

  27. Molie says:

    One can also use a device called Vitastiq as mentioned here > http://www.giftick.com/raj/80/. This device can help to measure the level of essential nutrients in the body and will send data to your smartphone. You can use this device on your own at your home and no need to go to doctors for the testings.

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