Doctors often rely on one tool that’s usually the first choice when trying to get to the bottom of any health symptom, and that’s ordering the right tests. Functional lab testing helps identify hormone imbalances, metabolic issues, thyroid problems, autoimmune dysfunction, and so much more. But is a ‘normal’ lab result all your doctor is looking for? Here are the important tests your integrative medicine doctor may run, and why it’s important you work with an open-minded practitioner who will take the time to properly explain your results.
Integrative Medicine Lab Tests
In any doctor’s office, running diagnostic testing allows your provider to determine the specific problems that are causing your symptoms.
Each kind of lab result helps determine treatment methods that are unique to you. And because each person is a completely unique mix of genetics, chemistry, and individual lifestyles, these lab tests provide invaluable data to get to the bottom of your symptoms. That’s why they’re often the first choice of action for most doctors.
- Functional lab testing commonly involves:
- Gut function analysis
- Hormone testing
- Inflammatory markers
- Food sensitivity or allergy testing
- Genetic tests
- Nutrient deficiency testing
These tests are performed using blood, urine, or saliva. Depending on which test your doctor has requested, the time of day, time of last meal, or day of menstrual cycle may be important.
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Interpreting Your Results
Functional testing provides data about your body which then often needs to be interpreted by a qualified provider. The way your doctor interprets this information can make all the difference between prevention and treatment for individual patients.
There are some integrative medicine lab tests that conventional doctors may be hesitant to order, and they may not have time to carefully discuss the results with you. In the conventional setting, lab testing is part of a rigid protocol that helps doctors match symptoms and lab values with the proper pharmaceuticals.
Unfortunately, this process often doesn’t involve treating the underlying issue. It can also feel more complicated if a patient’s symptoms (or testing results) don’t match the conventional definition for a certain diagnosis. If this is the case, your doctor may tell you certain tests aren’t justified, which can delay care and worsen your condition.
Conventional methods look for disease after it’s already occurred
Your annual physical typically involves a set of tests that look for various disease markers. These tests mainly look at your liver, kidneys, blood sugar regulation, lipids (cholesterol), and sometimes cancer.
This also means many conventional testing methods only flag problems after they’ve already become a disease. The conventional paradigm doesn’t always intervene before there’s a problem.
For this reason, it’s important to work with a qualified integrative or functional medicine doctor who will evaluate your results from a holistic perspective.
‘Normal’ vs Optimal Results
In many of the lab tests available, the range of ‘normal’ values is set to detect established disease. This means that well before this, there may have likely been a detectable imbalance in your body–just not one that fit the established criteria.
But wait, if we could detect the early warning signs of disease before it progressed, wouldn’t that help prevent a full-fledged disease state?
Yes. This is the difference between a ‘normal’ value and an ‘optimal’ value for many clinical lab tests. Many of these ranges could be narrowed, (based on new research and clinical evidence) to detect health issues before they are established diseases.
Let’s take a look at two important examples:
Doctors commonly run a TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) to detect hypothyroidism. The higher this measurement is, the more likely the thyroid isn’t making enough thyroid hormone. The normal range in conventional practice is considered 0.5 – 5.0 mIU/L (1).
However, research shows that some people may experience significant negative side effects when TSH is as low as 2.5. For example, a study published in 2010 showed that the rate of miscarriage in a woman’s 1st trimester was almost double when TSH was over 2.5 (2).
If the initial thyroid test comes back within the ‘normal’ range of 2.5, this can be misleading for some people. If hypothyroidism is otherwise suspected from symptoms, integrative medicine doctors will run a complete thyroid panel, including the thyroid hormones T4 and T3 (total and free) and T3 uptake. They may also request other blood tests.
Read more: Hashimoto’s Symptoms, Causes, Treatment
Blood Glucose and Hemoglobin A1c
Many patients are told by their doctor that their climbing blood sugar isn’t a problem until it gets within the prediabetes or diabetes range. However, a measurement of blood glucose (sugar) and hemoglobin A1c in the high-normal or even pre-diabetes range reveals there’s already an issue with blood sugar regulation that will likely progress to diabetes if not addressed.
7 Important Integrative Medicine Tests
If you’re seeking optimal wellness, it’s important to have an internal picture of how your body is functioning. This includes how it digests food, processes toxins, and reacts to environmental substances. If these systems aren’t functionally their best, you may begin to feel negative symptoms. When these symptoms are broad, like weight gain, fatigue, or difficulty sleeping, lab testing helps get to the bottom of the underlying cause.
These types of tests can help you and your integrative doctor have a better picture of your overall health.
The most current research shows that some of the modern societies’ biggest health concerns are closely linked with gut health (3). These include cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, depression, and Alzheimer’s disease.
If your gut is damaged as a result of poor diet, stress, medication, or genetic factors, it can create systemic inflammation that raises your risk of many chronic diseases, but that goes undetected by traditional tests. A plethora of broad symptoms may present which are difficult to pin down. As a result, malabsorption, bacterial overgrowth, or irritable bowel may occur.
Integrative medicine relies on the following tests to examine gut function.
- Stool analysis. This test looks for markers of malabsorption which is essential for those with inflammatory bowel issues, Crohn’s disease, diabetes, autoimmune conditions, and heart disease.
- SIBO breath test. Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) occurs when bacteria migrate from the colon to the small intestine. It can cause a variety of common gastrointestinal symptoms. This breath test measures the release of hydrogen and methane expelled in the breath to determine the presence of SIBO (4).
- Zonulin antibodies. This protein regulates the permeability of the gut lining which allows nutrients through but keeps harmful pathogens out of the bloodstream. If this test detects antibodies to this protein, it’s a sign that you may be experiencing intestinal hyperpermeability (leaky gut) (5).
Sex hormones, plus cortisol and thyroid hormones, regulate your overall health, as well as how you think and feel–both for men and women. When any of these hormones fall out of balance, it’s likely to affect the others, as well as cause an array of symptoms like weight gain, fatigue, acne, mood swings, depression, and so many others.
Hormones testing reveals key biomarkers involving the function of the HPA axis, as well as your adrenal glands, thyroid, and reproductive function.
- Saliva and blood tests, such as a DUTCH test. These look at the production of hormones, as well as their metabolites to examine how the body is using various hormones. Hormones commonly measured are cortisol, DHEA, estrogen, progesterone, testosterone.
What’s the best way to find out your hormone levels? Get them tested.
Inflammatory markers are almost never checked at a regular primary care visit, but they’re an important warning sign of a health imbalance in the body.
- C-reactive protein (CRP) or a high-sensitivity CRP allows your doctor to examine the general inflammatory status of a person. Even slight increases in hs-CRP in an otherwise healthy person are associated with an increased risk of serious health consequences like heart problems or depression (6).
- Homocysteine. Homocysteine is an amino acid that requires methylated vitamin B12 and folate to be cleared. Elevations in this level are indicative of increased risk for stroke, heart disease, and may indicate reduced detox pathway function.
- Ferritin measures the storage of iron within the body, but when it’s elevated, it’s a sign of inflammation within the body.
Repeated exposure to foods that aggravate your digestive system can irritate your gut lining and negatively impact digestion. Often, individuals don’t recognize the signs of a food sensitivity, especially if they don’t fit the conventional model of digestive upset or bowel irritation.
Food sensitivity testing allows your doctor to see which foods are creating an inflammatory response. After this, your doctor may recommend you avoid these foods, or make other dietary and lifestyle recommendations.
We live in a world where we’re constantly exposed to toxins, heavy metals, pesticides, and other harmful compounds. Our immune system fights hard to rid the body of unwanted substances. An overload of these compounds can lead to autoimmune disease, digestive problems, and contribute to various disease processes.
Methylation is one major process by which toxins and other elements are transported out of the body. Think of methylation as your body’s main biochemical travel hub. Methylation is a very complex process that’s influenced by your body’s genetics and environment to help keep your detox pathways, brain, lungs, and hormones functioning optimally.
Genetic changes–called variants–can impact the way methylation works in the body and can slow down some of these important processes.
- MTHFR genetic testing. This tests for the genetic variation which can impact methylation.
- Heavy metal test. Exposure to heavy metals such as lead, arsenic, nickel, cadmium, and others contributes to various diseases. If you have an MTHFR variant, your body may be less efficient at removing these heavy metals from circulation.
Related: What’s the Deal with MTHFR?
Nutrient Status + Deficiency
Nutrient status is another category not usually checked at a routine primary care visit. Lifestyle factors, diet, stress, and medications can deplete different nutrient stores, or your body’s ability to absorb them from food. If low in certain vitamins and minerals, you can experience symptoms like brain fog, fatigue, autoimmune flares, and a risk for more serious disease.
Helpful nutrient status checks include:
It’s important that your integrative medicine doctor discusses your results with you to determine optimal ranges. For example, conventional recommendations for vitamin D consider normal ranges to be between 20 – 100 ng/ml, but an in-depth review urges that anything below 30 ng/ml should be considered insufficiency (7).
Deliver nutrients directly to the cells that need them with IV drip therapy.
A basic metabolic panel will normally be covered at your yearly physical or at a primary care visit. It’s important you work with a qualified integrative medicine doctor who will look at your results holistically and follow through with recommendations if anything isn’t within an optimal range.
A metabolic panel includes
- Fasting glucose
- Lipid panel
These tests measure how your body is regulating blood sugar, cholesterol, and insulin. This tells your doctor how your body is metabolizing foods you eat, as well as your risk for certain diseases if these values are less than optimal.
Know Your Numbers with Integrative Medicine Testing
Lab testing is the first way you and your functional physician have insight into connecting your symptoms to an underlying cause. Lab testing helps evaluate your gut microbiome, inflammation, nutrient status, stress, toxins, and hormone balance. Even if you’re not experiencing symptoms of imbalance, functional lab testing is an important piece of the puzzle to track your overall health and identify imbalances before they progress to the point of disease.
Work with a qualified doctor at CentreSpringMD to determine which functional lab tests are right for your individual situation, and how we can help you transform your healthcare and maximize holistic prevention strategies.
Categories: Holistic Health