Tests to Assess Your Risk for Disease

Your biochemistry can tell you when it's time to act—before disease stikes
By Joseph Mercola
Joseph Mercola
Joseph Mercola
Dr. Joseph Mercola is the founder of Mercola.com. An osteopathic physician, best-selling author, and recipient of multiple awards in the field of natural health, his primary vision is to change the modern health paradigm by providing people with a valuable resource to help them take control of their health. This article was originally published on Mercola.com
December 31, 2020 Updated: December 31, 2020

Allopathic medicine, the common form of medicine most people use today, moves into gear when a person reaches a state of illness.

But most illness comes on gradually, from a host of factors often connected to diet and lifestyle. For many of these forms of illness, early testing can reveal nutritional and biochemical markers that researchers have linked to various diseases.

One of the most accessible ways to immediately assess aspects of your inner health is through the eye, which is uniquely transparent and available for cheap, effective visual inspection.

Thomas Lewis, author of “The End of Alzheimer’s: The Brain and Beyond,” is a microbiologist with a Ph.D. from MIT. He’s done a lot of work on diagnostic testing and how retinal assessment and other laboratory tests can be used to classify your risk factors for chronic disease and COVID-19.

The Eye-Brain Connection

As just one example, glaucoma and Alzheimer’s disease are often linked together, with glaucoma occurring first, as they did in Lewis’ father’s case. His dad developed glaucoma several years before he developed Alzheimer’s.

Lewis goes so far as to refer to glaucoma as “Alzheimer’s disease of the eye,” and Alzheimer’s as “glaucoma of the brain.” Similarly, cataracts are a manifestation of your innate immune response against acute and chronic infection. If you are, say, 50 years old and you have early nuclear cataracts, it’s a bad sign, as it indicates chronic infection.

The infection is what’s causing this unfolded protein response to slowly matriculate in the lens of the eye. According to Lewis, “If you have an early cataract, that’s a bad sign for longevity. Most people with cataracts die of some vascular event fairly young.”

A Window Into Your Overall Health

Lewis explains the general theory for using the eye as a biomarker for systemic disease:

“When you look at disease, in the allopathic system, you’re either healthy or you’re sick. But we really lie on a continuum of health. I say we live on four different continuums, determinants of health, lifestyle, risks, things like that. For physiological health, we measure blood, stool, and urine …”

“For pathology, which is largely ignored, we do ultrasounds, MRIs and CT scans that assess tissue changes. The eye happens to be particularly good at that because the eye is transparent, and the methodology used to measure the eye is low-cost and noninvasive but highly precise and accurate.

For example, optical coherence tomography (OCT) is much more precise at looking at microvessels, capillaries, compared to MRI because the wavelength of light they use to create the interference is a much shorter wave length. In other words, it gives much more detail than an MRI.”

OCT is a type of tomography that uses safe, nonionizing light waves. At a cash price of about $50, it’s also an affordable diagnostic tool that can tell you a lot about what’s going on in your body.

Because the eye is transparent, OCT allows you to see all the microvessels, and whatever is happening in this carotid tissue—the vasculature in your eye—is also happening in the rest of your body, as the carotid is the most vascular tissue in your entire body.

“Whereas the brain uses 10 times more oxygen than most tissue on a per mass basis, the retina, which is constantly converting photons to electrons, uses even more oxygen on a per mass basis. If you’re vulnerable, the eye is potentially a canary for that vulnerability,” Lewis explains.

“That’s why we use this test. It’s so simple to see if there are life risks that are translating into physiological risk and then changing into pathological risks. When you’re changing into pathological risk, a bad ending is getting closer because you have tissue damage, basically.”

The COVID Connection

Many common lab tests can also tell you a lot about your health and the state of your immune system. When COVID-19 broke out, Chinese researchers reported patients had elevated ferritin and erythrocyte sedimentation (SED) rate, among other things. Lewis compared the COVID-19 lab panels with the work he’d been doing for the past 15 years, and found they matched up nicely.

“It’s not about treating COVID-19, it’s about measuring how full your vessel is toward these markers that create the cytokine storm, high inflammation, and kill you, and try to modulate that,” Lewis says.

“Why does the Z-Pak treat COVID-19? It doesn’t. It treats bacterial infection, but we all have a subclinical bacterial infectious burden, and that burden is taking up immune system bandwidth, which makes you less able to fight something as virial as COVID-19. That’s why Z-Pak works.”

“There’s nothing really special about COVID-19 and our immune response because our immune response is innate and adaptive. It’s [about] being able to more accurately measure your immune compromised status. And almost everything we measure is reversible through very simple processes, supplementation, lifestyle activities, treating the infection, treating the pre-existing virus.”

Understanding Cytokines

One of the most lethal aspects of COVID-19 is the cytokine or bradykinin storm that can develop. A cytokine is a short-lived signaling protein that has regulatory properties on nearby cells. It could be beneficial or it could be detrimental. It could be proinflammatory, or it could be anti-inflammatory.

So, it’s not so much that cytokines are bad—they’re absolutely necessary and you’d be dead in a few heartbeats without them—but when they get out of control, they can kill you. That’s what’s known as a cytokine storm. It is one of the reasons why vitamin D works so well; it aborts most cytokine storms by modulating your immune response.

Risk Score Versus Diagnosis

What the retinal assessment and various lab assays can do is identify a brewing problem, which can then be addressed using strategies such as nutritional supplementation and lifestyle changes.

“For the average person, knowing where you are on that continuum would be extraordinarily valuable,” Lewis says, “and that’s the testing we’re doing and trying to promote more broadly.”

The key, however, is not to be within the “normal” reference ranges for disease markers, examples of which include fibrinogen, D-dimer, SED rate, or C-reactive protein. What Lewis focuses on is the point at which there’s a statistical increase in early mortality.

“That sets a completely different set of normal ranges for biomarkers, which is what we use. These ranges are much tighter compared to normal reference ranges, so you are amplifying the signal your body is projecting about your health. We’re not diagnosing people, we’re risk scoring people,” he explains.

Helpful Lab Tests

Screening tests that can help assess the state of your health and immune system include:

1-25 Dihydroxy vitamin D: This is the activated form of vitamin D. Vitamin D increases antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) and improves the activity of neutrophils (white blood cells that fight bacteria).

RBC magnesium: Magnesium is an important cofactor for the activation of vitamin D. Taking magnesium can actually reduce the amount of oral vitamin D you require to optimize your vitamin D level.

Neutrophil to lymphocyte ratio (NLR): This marker alone determines prognosis in most solid tumor cancers. Neutrophils go up when there’s a bacterial infection, while lymphocytes are suppressed by viruses. As explained by Lewis, “The NLR is sort of an amplified barometer for your stealth infectious burden. The absolute count should be 1.5 or below.” Anything above 55 percent neutrophils is indicative of a chronic, likely bacterial, infection.

Red blood cell distribution width (RDW): Red blood cells are born small and die large. If your RDW is wide, you likely have plaques and inflamed carotid arteries. Above 16 or 17, RDW could be a sign of anemia, but between 12.5 and 16, it’s a pure sign of inflammation.

C-reactive protein: A marker of inflammation. This should be 0.6 or below.

Fibrinogen: As a signaling molecule for tissue repair, fibrinogen is a good marker for how well your body is able to repair itself. If your fibrinogen is between 150 and 285, your repair and recovery is probably meeting or outpacing wear and tear, allowing you to properly heal and recover.

Above 285, you are probably deteriorating more rapidly than you’re repairing. Fibrinogen is also a clotting factor marker, so in COVID-19 and sepsis, for example, high fibrinogen is indicative of a cytokine storm. Pre-cytokine storm levels are also indicative of several chronic diseases, including heart attack and cancer.

Ferritin: Ferritin is an iron transport protein that becomes elevated in COVID-19 and other serious illnesses. Iron catalyzes growth of bacterial pathogens. Typically, when your blood cells are under attack by a pathogen, your body responds by hiding the iron from the antigen (the infection) in the ferritin protein, thereby resulting in anemia (low iron) and high ferritin.

If you have elevated ferritin, the iron may not be available to the pathogen, but it is still available to the cells of your body. Iron is a powerful oxidant stressor that will radically increase oxidized species, reactive oxygen species, and reactive nitrogen species, which activates the NRLP3 inflammasome and radically increases inflammatory mediators and cytokines. The solution for high ferritin is to donate blood. If your ferritin is above 100, consider giving blood periodically.

Fasting insulin: Insulin resistance is a foundational contributor to most chronic diseases and significantly increases your risk of complications and death from SARS-CoV-2 infection. Fasting glucose is also a useful test that you can easily do at home.

Uric acid: Uric acid is a multifactorial inflammatory marker. It also helps protect against hypoxia.

Homocysteine: Homocysteine is a vascular toxin associated with heart disease that is influenced by your vitamin B levels. “LabCorp keeps changing their reference normals, and now they’re as high as 17. But the Framingham’s study shows that with a baseline of 9, every five points higher homocysteine leads to a 40 percent increase in dementia because it’s vascular toxicity,” explains Lewis.

SED rate: The SED rate is a measurement of how fast your red blood cells settle in a test tube. Red blood cells have a repulsive charge on the outside of their membranes (zeta potential) that allows them to remain buoyant. When this repulsive charge is lacking, they settle faster.

As explained by Lewis:“SED rate is a surrogate for how good your electrical system is working, which I then use as a surrogate for your gut and how well it’s doing at digesting and making minerals bioavailable, because it’s the sodium potassium pump that drives the electric potential of cells, among other minerals.”

Ideally, if your zeta potential is good and high, your SED rate should be close to zero. The lower, the better. The higher your SED rate, the worse off you are, as this means the “battery” of your red blood cells are discharged, which will result in systemic problems and overall low energy levels. Typically, your SED rate will improve once you start to heal and rebalance your gut.

Managing Your Expectations

Your primary care doctor can order any and all of these lab tests for you. However, they may not be able to thoroughly guide your treatment based on your results, which is what Lewis and his team specialize in.

While most health problems can be successfully addressed with nutritional and other lifestyle changes, it’s important to manage your expectations of how long it’s going to take.

“I have a very simple explanation to set expectations up,” explains Lewis. “If it took you 10 years to get into something chronic, it’s going to take you at least 10 months to get out of it. And that’s with diligence, consistency, and the proper treatment.” Lewis notes that society has taught us instant gratification, but treating disease doesn’t work that way. Illness often incubates in the body for a very long time before suddenly manifesting. Recovering from a disease state is a similar process. “It takes you a long time to move the needle and start feeling better. Then all of a sudden, you reach that inflection point and you feel better.”

“Everything in nature, including health, it’s a long linear relationship to get to where you want to be … When people understand that and buy into that concept, then they can stay the course and we can actually make them better. It’s not an overnight thing.”

More Information

You can connect with Lewis and his team at HealthRevivalPartners.com and sign up for a biomarker panel or get the guidance you need to address whatever problems you may be having. For more information about the eye-brain connection and what your eye health can tell you about your Alzheimer’s risk, which we touched on at the beginning of this interview, see RealHealthClinics.com.

Dr. Joseph Mercola is the founder of Mercola.com. An osteopathic physician, best-selling author, and recipient of multiple awards in the field of natural health, his primary vision is to change the modern health paradigm by providing people with a valuable resource to help them take control of their health. This article was originally published on Mercola.com, visit for article sources.  

Joseph Mercola
Joseph Mercola
Dr. Joseph Mercola is the founder of Mercola.com. An osteopathic physician, best-selling author, and recipient of multiple awards in the field of natural health, his primary vision is to change the modern health paradigm by providing people with a valuable resource to help them take control of their health. This article was originally published on Mercola.com