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Most Essential Blood Test Vegans Should Get
What You Should Know

Last updated: March 7, 2021

You might think that just because you’re vegan, eat healthy, and exercise, you don’t need a blood test done. I’m sorry to tell you, but that’s just not true. I made an in-depth guide on vegan blood tests. Keep reading to discover all the details and see why blood tests are necessary.

Why Should Vegans Do Blood Tests?

man in stress

The vegan diet is believed to be one of the healthiest. You're practicing veganism, and that's great. But, you might be at risk of vitamin deficiencies.

Like it or not, it's a fact that animal products provide us with some essential nutrients.

In most cases, there are plant-based replacements, but sometimes your body might not absorb them as well as it would absorb the animal-based nutrients.

If you're enjoying a plant-based diet, it would be a smart decision to get the necessary blood test done and make sure your body is healthy.

What Nutrients Does a Vegan Diet Lack?

Excluding animal products from your diet is excellent for many reasons, but it can take a toll on your organism. A plant-based diet typically lacks nutrients that are accessible only through animal-based foods.

Here are some of the possible vitamin deficiencies that vegans have:

  • B12 deficiency
  • Iron/Ferritin deficiency
  • Alkaline Phosphatase (ALP)
  • Vitamin D deficiency
  • Folate deficiency, and
  • Calcium deficiency

If you want to improve your well-being and overall health, getting a blood test is an excellent place to start.

For those concerned about health & well-being while being on a vegan diet, read these:

Benefits of Vegan Blood Testing

The aim of the vegan blood test is the same as the regular blood test — to evaluate your body's state of health. Blood tests are the only 100% sure way to discover if your body works properly or needs some help.

Moreover, blood work can also prevent potential health issues or stop the existing ones from developing further.

It’s generally recommended you get a complete blood test done at least once a year. That way, you and your doctor can monitor your health over time for any possible developing issues.

This will help you understand your body and its changes better, which will further help you and your doctor make informed and fact-based decisions about your health.

Controlling vitamin deficiencies and preventing health issues from developing is just a speck of things blood work can do for you.

Blood tests are also useful in detecting infections and possible genetic issues you might be prone to. A complete blood test may discover if you’re at risk of heart disease, anemia, cancer, diabetes, liver, and kidney issues.

Because of the healthy plant-based diet we consume, vegans often feel overly confident about their health. I’m guilty of this, too. Sometimes I feel invincible and need a reminder to check my health and take care of myself.

Let this article be a reminder to everyone, vegan or not — you need to keep track of your health.

How Often Should You Do a Blood Test?

If you already know a couple of things on this topic, you may know there are many recommended blood tests for people practicing a plant-based diet.

All of that can seem overwhelming, in the least. But don't worry, even if you get all the blood work done, you won't have to obtain a blood test each month.

It’s recommended you get complete blood work at least once a year. Now, this may depend on your general health condition, but your doctor will give you the best recommendation.

Doing these tests at regular intervals will help you and your doctor keep track of all positive and negative changes.

However, if you've just switched to a vegan diet, you should do the tests three to six months into veganism. This is to assess your health and understand your fitness better.

These early tests will also help you understand your nutrition needs early on and prevent fully-developed deficiencies. That way, you can carefully plan your diet and supplementation. This advice is actually for all new vegans and vegetarians.

15 Most Common Vegan Blood Tests

doctor holding an injection

Medical professionals recommend both newbies and seasoned vegans get these tests done.

Here are the 15 most common and essential tests anyone who's practicing a vegan diet should get done.

1. CBD — Complete Blood Count with Differential and Platelets

The complete blood count test is one of the best-known and most crucial vegan blood tests. It provides a detailed analysis and count of both white and red blood cells in your body.

Moreover, the CBD test can detect disorders like leukemia. It can also spot anemia in people who practice an inadequate plant-based diet.

As you might know, anemia is the most common blood condition. It occurs when the number of red blood cells in your body decreases [1].

The main symptoms include:

  • Frequent headaches
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath

Like any other condition, anemia can affect anyone regardless of their dietary choices. But, studies reveal that it's most common in people who practice a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle.

Anemia is mostly caused by vitamin B12 deficiency, which is very common in the vegan diet.

Vitamin B12 is also essential for normal brain functioning. So, if you're practicing a plant-based diet but don't take any supplements, the CBD test is the first one you should request.

2. CMP — Comprehensive Metabolic Panel

The comprehensive metabolic panel blood test is also known as the “chemistry screen”. This one is meant to assess your overall health condition. It’ll allow your physician to diagnose or monitor health issues, such as:

  • Liver disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Diabetes, or
  • High blood pressure

Your kidneys and liver are essential for processing nutrients, detoxing your organism, and digesting — meaning, they’re the first organs affected by your plant-based diet.

As its name suggests, this is the most comprehensive blood test you can do. The test comprises 14 different tests that will help you tweak your diet and get perfect results the next time you get the test.

These tests will tell you the levels of:

  • Glucose — blood sugar
  • Sodium (Na) — an electrolyte that keeps your body in balance
  • Potassium (K) — mineral and an electrolyte
  • Chloride (Cl) — an electrolyte
  • Carbon dioxide (CO2) — gas our metabolism produces
  • BUN (blood urea nitrogen) — a waste product that forms in the liver and travels to the kidneys, gets filtered out of the blood and is discharged through urine
  • Creatinine — muscle metabolism-produced chemical waste
  • BUN/Creatinine ratio
  • Calcium (Ca) — a mineral stored in our bones
  • Magnesium (Mg) — an electrolyte
  • Protein (total) — amino acid chains essential for cell growth and repair
  • Albumin — a protein that prevents fluids from leaking out of our blood vessels. It also nourishes tissues and moves nutrients through our body
  • Globulin — alpha, beta, and gamma proteins produced by the immune system and the liver
  • Bilirubin (direct/total) — liver-produced digestive fluid, a pigment in the bile
  • Alkaline phosphatase (ALP) — bone and liver enzyme
  • Alanine amino-transferase (ALT) — a liver enzyme
  • Aspartate amino-transferase (AST) — an enzyme found in the tissues, liver, and muscles
  • Glomerular filtration rate (GFR) —  estimates how much blood the kidneys filter each minute and check how well they’re working

3. Lipid Panel

woman looking through microscope

This one is also known as the “lipid profile” and is useful in detecting risk factors for developing dangerous cardiovascular diseases.

The lipid profile does this by showing you the triglycerides and total cholesterol in your blood.

Cholesterol is essential for building your endocrine system. You've probably heard of good cholesterol and bad cholesterol.

While the "bad" LDL cholesterol clogs your arteries and raises your risk of heart disease, the "good" HDL cholesterol enhances regular hormonal function.

It lowers your risk of developing coronary diseases and suffering from a stroke.

Practicing a plant-based diet already lowers your chances of coronary diseases [2]. However, consuming too little bad cholesterol can also lead to consuming too little good cholesterol resulting in low total cholesterol levels.

Getting a lipid panel done will give you an insight into your cardiovascular and hormonal health.

4. Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 deficiency is another widespread deficiency in people who practice a plant-based diet. However, even meat eaters can have low B12 levels. Inadequate vitamin B12 intake can go unnoticed until it's too late to do something about it. The main reason for this is that this vitamin can be stored in your liver for up to five years.

Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin responsible for aiding your metabolism, red blood cell formation, and the nervous system's proper functioning.

The most common B12 deficiency symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Lethargy
  • Brain fog
  • Memory problems
  • Irritability, and
  • Moodiness

Deficiency or even low levels of this vitamin can cause severe nerve damage if not treated in time. This is the most widespread vitamin deficiency that can affect anyone regardless of their diet. Many medical professionals recommend supplementation, especially for pregnant and elderly women.

"There is a danger of young people going vegan, not having B12, and it could tip the balance to them getting a serious neuropathy, or nerve damage.  I'm concerned that many people think it is a myth."

 

Tom Sanders, professor emeritus of nutrition and dietetics at King's College London

5. 25-Hydroxy Vitamin D Test

The "sunshine vitamin" is another vitamin hard to absorb through a plant-based diet. However, vitamin D deficiencies can affect anyone, regardless of vegan diets. Our bodies most commonly make it after exposure to the sun. However, people who don't live in mainly sunny places don't get enough sunshine to activate this process, resulting in a vitamin deficiency.

Vitamin D, mostly D3, supplementation is essential, as it enhances calcium absorption. Even if you're taking large quantities of calcium through food, your bones won't benefit from it if you lack vitamin D to help its absorption. Vitamin D deficiency can cause:

  • Fatigue
  • Muscle weakness
  • Bone pain, and
  • Depression [3]

6. Omega–3 Index

The Omega-3 index measures the DHA and EPA Omega-3 fatty acids in your body. Omega-3 fatty acids deficiency can cause poor concentration, insomnia, fatigue, nail and skin problems.

The Omega-3 fatty acids are very rare in foods, so this deficiency is pretty widespread. It doesn't affect vegans exclusively.

However, it does have a more significant impact on vegans because the only source of the ALA acids is seaweed and some seeds, such as flax, chia, and hemp. Getting enough DHA and EPA Omega-3 fatty acids from these foods is incredibly hard.

So, your doctor may recommend supplementation if your test results show worrying numbers.

7. HS-CRP — High Sensitivity C-Reactive Protein

Most simply put — this test shows the levels of systemic inflammation in your body. However, inflammation is a too broad term, so your doctor will probably run more tests to get more precise information.

8. TSH — Thyroid-Stimulating Hormone

The thyroid-stimulating hormone comes from the pituitary gland. It is responsible for stimulating the thyroid gland to release two hormones essential for enhancing metabolism in every tissue of your body.

If the pituitary gland isn't working correctly, you can develop other severe health issues. So, if you're new to the plant-based diet, get your TSH hormone checked.

blood samples in a vial

9. Hemoglobin A1C

High blood sugar can take a toll on your entire body — every organ and tissue can be affected by high blood sugar levels. The hemoglobin A1C test will give you an insight into your blood sugar levels over 2–3 months. On the other hand, the more common blood glucose testing gives you only point-in-time info.

10. MMA — Methylmalonic Acid, Serum Test

The MMA and homocysteine test, which I'll touch upon next, are typically used to detect the B12 deficiency. Suppose the levels are elevated in both the MMA and homocysteine tests. In that case, it's a surefire sign that your body probably lacks B12 [4].

These tests also help differentiate between two vitamin deficiencies — B12 and folic acid. If the tests show normal MMA levels but high homocysteine levels, then your body probably lacks folic acid.

11. Homocysteine

Higher levels on the homocysteine test may also be indicators of atherosclerosis. This condition causes your blood vessels to harden because of plaque, cholesterol, and other substance deposits.

Narrowing of the arteries can cause Alzheimer’s, heart disease, blood clots, etc.

12. Zinc, Selenium, Iodine

Unlike B12, vitamin D, and DHA/EPA fatty acids that are mostly available from animal products, zinc, selenium, and iodine are available from plant-based foods. Unfortunately, for some reason, these are very hard to absorb and require supplementation.

13. Vitamin K2

“K2 is essential for proper calcium management, helping to move calcium away from soft tissues, like heart and brain, and towards hard tissues, like bone and teeth. And unless you’re eating a Japanese dish called natto, you’re natto getting enough K2.”

Matt Tullman, managing partner at No Meat Athlete

14. Iron TIBC and Ferritin Test

Vegans are at a very high risk of iron deficiency.

“There are two types of absorbable dietary iron: heme and non-heme iron.

 

-Heme iron, derived from hemoglobin and myoglobin of animal food sources (meat, seafood, poultry), is the most easily absorbable form (15% to 35%) and contributes 10% or more of our total absorbed iron.

- Non-heme iron is derived from plants and iron-fortified foods and is less-well absorbed.”

 

Thomas Ems; Kayla St Lucia; Martin R. Huecker, Biochemistry, Iron Absorption [5]

Simply put — iron deficiency can cause anemia, so make sure you get this test done.

15. Folate

Folate is the umbrella term covering a couple of vitamin B9 forms: folic acid, dihydrofolate (DHF), tetrahydrofolate (THF), 5, 10-methylenetetrahydrofolate (5, 10-MTHF), and 5-methyltetrahydrofolate (5-MTHF) [6].

The plant-based diet is packed with this nutrient, so vitamin B9 deficiencies are extremely rare in vegans. However, a high dosage of supplements, intestinal surgery, digestive disorder, or pernicious anemia may cause your folate levels to go high or low, so make sure to get this test if you suspect you've got folate deficiency.

Talk to Your Doctor About Blood Work

doctor stethoscope

As soon as you mention your plant-based diet, lack of animal products, and vegan lifestyle, your doctor will probably recommend these tests.

If you bring up the possibility of any deficiencies, your doctor will probably insist on getting these tests ASAP.

It would be best if you always wrote down any questions and concerns you might have before seeing your physician, so you don't forget something important.

Mention all your physical activities and diet details so they can have a clear picture of your lifestyle.

Finally, if you have any conditions, don't hide them from your doctor. Disclose everything and ask for micronutrient tests if you suspect you might have some specific deficiencies.

Interpret the Blood Test Results

The results usually come in the form of a list that shows you where you stand compared to the normal ranges. Your doctor may recommend taking supplementation or changing an aspect of your lifestyle, depending on the results you get.

You'll typically repeat the tests after eight weeks to see if the results are better.

FAQs

Do vegans have higher protein levels?

No, vegans don’t have higher protein levels. The plant-based diet isn't as rich in proteins as the meat-based. However, this doesn't mean that vegans can't get enough protein from plants. They just need to eat about 10% more protein than meat-eaters.

Do vegans have low white cells?

Yes, vegans have a lower white blood cell count than omnivores. White blood cells are responsible for fighting off bacteria, infections, viruses, and cancer cells. However, even though vegans have a lower white blood cell count, it's still in the normal range and doesn't cause any health issues.

Which Vegan Blood Test You Plan to Get First?

I hope this in-depth research has shown you how necessary testing is. Becoming a vegan is an admirable decision and a noble thing to do.

We're contributing to saving the animals and the planet. But we mustn't forget to take care of our health. Take time to test yourself, make your health a priority.

Which tests are you taking first? Leave a reply and share your experience if you’ve already done the testing.

References:

  1. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/anemia/symptoms-causes/syc-20351360
  2. https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/JAHA.119.012865
  3. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/vitamin-d-deficiency-symptoms
  4. https://www.healthline.com/health/methylmalonic-acid-test
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK448204/
  6. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/folicacid/faqs/faqs-general-info.html

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