- Heather Wheeler L.Ac.
Conventional vs Functional Lab Testing: Know the Difference
Every successful journey needs a good map, so your road to good health needs the data to ensure you will reach your destination. Think of it this way: If you don’t know the root cause of a problem, you don’t know the best starting point and route to follow. A thorough evaluation of your overall health is essential to plot your road to success.
Conventional medicine typically focuses on just one aspect of that journey. Testing is narrow in scope and focuses on a specific symptom, so any treatment plan lacks the complete data necessary for a holistic approach to healing.
In contrast, functional lab testing has the ability to look at the entire body. That’s because our health isn’t a collection of siloed processes, but rather a complex network. Examining your overall health allows your healthcare provider - and yourself - to take a step back and look at the big picture. A treatment plan is therefore comprehensive instead of merely focusing on getting rid of one symptom.
What Is Functional Lab Testing?
Just as the name implies, functional lab testing aims to determine how your body is functioning as a unit. Most common tests could involve:
● Blood tests
● Saliva tests
● Stool samples
● Urine samples
The data gathered through these tests helps determine the impact of nutrition, stress, environment, hormones, genetics and more on your body. It can also assess the state of your microbiome - the bacteria in your gut. As a result, you have more information to determine the underlying causes of any health issue.
Key Functional Tests
An integrative healthcare practitioner will determine the best tests for you, since there’s no set formula for testing. Some of the most common and informative tests include:
The impact of your hormone levels on your overall health - both physical and mental - is far-reaching and often underestimated. Unbalanced levels of cortisol, DHEA, progesterone, testosterone, estrogen, androgens, insulin and thyroid hormones can all impact your wellbeing in ways that can be difficult to diagnose through standard tests. Debilitating symptoms like weight problems, mood issues, and fatigue can continue unnecessarily without targeted hormone testing.
It’s often important to have a complete panel, instead of focusing on one, since you want to see the balance of different hormones, like estrogen and progesterone. Hormone testing can be done by blood tests or saliva tests.
Gut health assessments
This is another frequently overlooked function with broad implications on your health. In fact, science is only now starting to recognize that your gut health greatly impacts a broad range of common health issues, including depression, obesity, and diabetes. Even your cardiovascular health is impacted by the microbiome. Modern lifestyles and diets harm your gut by disturbing the delicate balance of bacteria, leading to inflammation and malabsorption of essential nutrients. Tests to gage your gut health include:
● Stool analysis: These tests can uncover issues with malabsorption, which could be caused by damage to the intestine, or conditions like celiac, Crohn’s disease, or autoimmune disorders.
● SIBO breath test: SIBO stands for small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. By measuring the amount of hydrogen in your breath after consuming sugar, it can gage the amount of bacteria in your small intestine, and your ability to digest certain sugars, such as lactose.
● Zonulin antibody testing: Zonulin is a protein that helps maintain the correct degree of permeability in your gut. Testing for zonulin antibodies can help diagnose leaky gut syndrome. Testing for antibodies generally gives more accurate results than testing zonulin levels.
Food sensitivity assessments
Sensitivities to certain foods can have a profound impact on your overall health, but they’re notoriously difficult to diagnose on your own, in part because there is a wide range of possible reactions. It’s best to work with a healthcare practitioner. Tests that can hone in on possible sensitivities include elimination diets with careful records and blood tests evaluating factors such as immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibodies.
Tests for inflammation markers
Inflammation is often a sign that something is amiss in your body, but most standard checkups don’t evaluate for signs of inflammation. Markets to test include:
● C-reactive protein
Elevated inflammation markers don’t necessarily tell you what’s causing problems, but they are definitely a sign to do more testing - and that information can be invaluable. One study found that people with elevated levels of c-reactive protein have an increased risk of heart attack, by as much as three times.
Exposure to toxic substances such as heavy metals, molds or pesticides is another impact to our health, particularly with regards to autoimmune disorders and digestive issues. But, despite the risks, testing for exposure is often overlooked. Methylation is the complex process that removes toxins from your body, and some people have a genetic variation that impacts this process, putting them at greater risk for high levels of toxins. MTHFR genetic testing is one test that can indicate if your body’s detox processes are working as they should.
In addition, heavy metal testing examines the levels of possibly toxic substances like mercury, lead, and cadmium.
Mold has also been a hidden cause of many “mystery illnesses” but is rarely checked in conventional medicine. Symptoms of mold exposure are not always the obvious ones like sneezing or itchy and watery eyes, they can include cognitive impairment, depression, sleep disturbance, brain fog, digestive complaints and more!
Deficiencies in essential nutrients can lead to many health issues. Common symptoms include unexplained fatigue, brain fog, mood disorders, and more. It’s important to check your levels regularly, since they can change easily depending on what else is going on in your life - even if your diet remains the same, stress can affect levels of many nutrients, including magnesium and iron. It’s important to review your results with a qualified practitioner, as many holistic practitioners use different standards than conventional medicine does.
No matter how good your diet is, a problem with how you metabolize nutrients can lead to health issues.
● Fasting glucose
● Lipid panel
One important factor in these tests is that they can spot potential issues before they become problems. For example, monitoring HgA1c and glucose levels can help diagnose insulin sensitivity before you develop prediabetes or diabetes. A holistic practice will watch for trends in order to suggest changes before a problem develops.
Numbers can tell a story, but they need to be interpreted properly. Just looking at the numbers from testing and only reacting if they fall out of “normal” range can lead to missing the point of the story. After all, the goal for testing should be to determine all of the factors influencing your health, and to determine if you can improve any aspect for optimum health. Aiming for so-called normal ranges will detect the presence of disease, but may not prevent disease from developing. Looking at optimal levels, and using functional tests, can help ensure optimal wellbeing and help prevent disease.
Functional testing helps determine the underlying cause of health problems and will help you develop a roadmap to a healthier you. Contact us to get started!
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