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Preconception: What Blood Tests Will Help?
When done with purpose, blood tests can give you insight into things that will help you improve your fertility and give you specific goals to work towards. For example, if you have low folate status or low iron, you can make changes in your life that improve your folate or iron levels. These changes will ultimately increase your fertility. Everyone’s body is different, of course, there are general rules for good health to follow, but things will work better for some people and worse for others. Blood tests offer guidance on what is working for you and what isn’t. They can be a powerful tool for increasing your effectiveness along the road to pregnancy. With that said, there are blood tests I recommend for clients at my fertility clinic:
1. MTHFR Gene Test
This should come as no surprise. An MTHFR mutation can severely impact your fertility, especially if you are a bit older. The gene is responsible for making the enzyme that turns dietary folate into the active form of folate your body can use. Without adequate folate levels, your body struggles to methylate itself properly resulting in lower fertility and a wide variety of health problems. For more information, read our article on “How the MTHFR gene mutation affects fertility and pregnancy”.
Even if you do not have an MTHFR gene mutation, folate levels can easily fall to levels that impact your fertility if you are not getting enough folate through your diet (Here is a list of “What To Eat If You Are Low In Folate”), or you are having trouble absorbing folate through your gut. There are several ways you can test your folates levels through your blood. At my fertility clinic we recommend you take a Red Blood Cell Folate (RBC Folate) test that will give you an idea of how much folate you are getting into your body that can be used.
3. Full Blood Count (FBC) or Complete Blood Count (CBC)
Getting an FBC or CBC will give a broad assessment of your health by measuring the number of red blood cells and white blood cells are in your body. This test is a good place to start testing your blood. The results of the test will provide you with a better idea of what tests to do next. For example, you could receive your test back with a high platelet count, which would be an indicator of high inflammation; or you may have low hemoglobin, which could indicate you have low blood iron, folate or B12 that's making you anemic. An FPC will give you general information regarding the status of your red blood cells and white blood cells that will help narrow down what is going wrong and what is going right inside your body.
4. Full Biochemistry
Getting a full biochemistry test is another broad assessment of health. This test will give you an idea of how well your organs are functioning. It will tell you if you have the right amount of electrolytes, if your lipid levels are in balance (includes cholesterol), and if your body is producing proper amounts of important enzymes. A full biochemistry test can provide another broad assessment of the state the body. Broad tests allow you to narrow down what's going wrong before moving onto more specific tests. This will help determine the best course of action for improving fertility in the long run.
Having homocysteine levels that are not too low or too high is important for preventing unwanted pregnancy outcomes such as Recurrent Pregnancy Loss (RPL). High levels of homocysteine can lead to the formation of blood clots which can not only harm your fertility/pregnancy, but also can increase your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Low homocysteine levels can harm your nervous system, and the development of your child's nervous system during pregnancy. Having homocysteine levels tested should be a must for anyone looking to improve their fertility and become pregnant. Homocysteine levels are connected to folate and B12 primarily through the methylation pathway and can provide insight into how well your body is using available folate and B12.
If you are having fertility issues iron levels are a major concern. During pregnancy your body needs to create a lot of extra blood for the developing child. If you do not have enough iron, your developing baby is not going to have enough iron, and you and your baby will suffer the consequences of anemia. If you are not fighting back against low iron levels, especially during the first few months of pregnancy, you can increase the likelihood of giving birth to a baby prematurely with a low birth weight. Measuring iron levels will help ensure your body and baby have what they need for and during pregnancy. Iron levels also give an insight into your folate and B12 status which may actually be the cause of your anemia/low red blood cells.
When testing for zinc you need to test for the blood plasma levels zinc. This test will allow you to see if you are getting enough zinc into your body. Zinc is a crucial nutrient for your immune system, digestive system, neurotransmitter balance, and is important for several other processes of cellular metabolism. Zinc deficiency is quite common and can be easily addressed through standard supplementation.
Zinc and copper are connected during pregnancy. Copper levels within the body normally increase during pregnancy due to competition with zinc for absorption. Copper levels begin to build up within the body during pregnancy and this build-up has been linked with postnatal depression. To test copper levels it’s best to test for serum copper.
Iodine levels are measured in urine and not blood, but I have included it on my list anyway. It takes time to build up iodine levels if they are low, so catching low iodine levels during preconception is important. Iodine influences the development of a baby's brain during pregnancy and you want to make sure you have adequate amounts.
What Are The Next Steps?
Make an appointment with your doctor or health practitioner to discuss which blood tests will be best for you and work with them to improve your results. These blood tests can help keep you on the right track during preconception and can help guide you towards being effective in your approach to infertility. If you want to check if you have an MTHFR mutation, you can order one of our kits. We have two different kits that you can use to test for MTHFR gene mutations; our blood spot test kit and our buccal swab kit.