Why lab testing is important in functional medicine

Taken by Tom Mallinson

Lab testing is foundational to functional medicine, and for good reason. It can show you what is causing your symptoms, if you are headed toward a disease (even if you don’t have symptoms), track the progress of your protocol, and motivate you to stick with your protocol.

Lab testing includes many different tests. Some examples of testing used in functional medicine include:

Food sensitivity testing. If a food you eat regularly causes inflammation, this contributes to chronic health disorders.

Gut testing. Gut problems contribute to chronic health issues. Tests can screen for leaky gut, gut function, parasites, bacterial overgrowth, and autoimmune reactions.

Blood chemistry panel. This is an excellent starting point in functional medicine testing and includes the use of functional medicine ranges (versus lab ranges). Blood testing screens for some diseases and can catch a trend toward a disease while there’s still time to reverse it.

Chemical and metal sensitivity testing. As with foods, an immune reaction to chemicals or metals can trigger chronic inflammatory health disorders.

Adrenal testing. Adrenal testing reveals the relationship between your health and stress handling. The most important test is the second one because it shows if your protocol is working. If not, you need to dig deeper.

Hormone testing. Hormone imbalances profoundly affect health. Testing screens for excesses, deficiencies, feedback loops, and how well you metabolize hormones.

DNA genetic testing. Genetic testing delivers insight into disease risk and genetic metabolic variations that affect health. An example is the MTHFR variance.

These are just a few examples of the types of testing used in functional medicine. What type of testing you need depends on your symptoms and health history.

Why lab testing is important in functional medicine

Functional medicine is based on peer-reviewed science and finds the root cause of your symptoms. There are a variety of factors that can lead to depression, fatigue, chronic pain, poor function, and other chronic health disorders.

Functional lab testing shows a trend toward disease

In conventional medicine, doctors use labs to screen for disease. Once a condition has become a disease, such as diabetes or autoimmune disease, the damage is significant.

Functional medicine uses lab testing to catch a health trend that is on the way to disease but that can still be slowed, halted, or reversed. For instance, lab markers that show elevated blood sugar, inflammation, and poor liver function allow you to easily reverse the march towards diabetes.

Another example is autoimmunity. A significant amount of tissue must be destroyed before conventional medicine can diagnose autoimmune disease. However, by testing for antibodies against tissue, the autoimmune progression can be slowed or stopped in its early stages.

Functional lab testing tracks progress

Although the first test is important for identifying health problems, subsequent testing is also crucial to let you know whether your protocol is working. If there is no improvement, it means you have not hit on the right protocol or discovered all the underlying causes.

Lab testing improves compliance and social support

Seeing the results of a lab test makes it easier to stick with a protocol. It also can encourage a disbelieving spouse, family member, or friend to support you. Many people think gluten sensitivity is just a fad, or that your symptoms aren’t real and you simply complain too much. Your lab results validate your symptoms and can help others be more supportive.

Ask my office about functional lab testing to help you get to the bottom of your chronic health condition.

What is functional medicine? Look for the root cause

what is functional medicine copy

You may have noticed the term “functional medicine” becoming more popular. What is functional medicine and how is it different from regular medicine? Functional medicine addresses health disorders by looking at their root causes rather than masking symptoms with drugs or surgery.

By looking at root causes, you improve your energy, sleep, vitality, and even libido. This is why seeing a functional medicine doctor for a gut problem can also improve your brain function and hormone issues. Everything in the body works together.

Root causes: Address engine, not engine light

If the engine light of your car comes on, do you find a way to turn off the engine light, or do you investigate under the hood?

That analogy works for functional medicine.

Functional medicine is not about giving you a drug for a symptom, but instead investigating why you have that symptom and working on that instead.

For example, suppose 10 different people have the same complaint, whether it is depression, fatigue, digestive problems, or persistent skin rashes.

Each of those 10 people can have the same symptom, but for 10 very different reasons.

An overgrowth of gut bacteria may be causing depression in one person, while it is a gluten intolerance in another.

Fatigue can be the result of low blood sugar in one person, and autoimmune B12 anemia disease in another.

You must know why you have a health problem

Until you understand why you are suffering from a health problem, chasing after drugs or therapies can keep landing you at dead ends.

Functional medicine relies on published, peer-reviewed science to help us understand how the body works and where breakdowns occur.

Lab tests, questionnaires, in-office exams, and a discussion about your case history help the functional medicine practitioner learn where the root cause lies.

Five common functional medicine root causes

Although different people can have the same symptom for different reasons, functional medicine often finds common root causes. Some of them are:

  • Food intolerances, especially to gluten and dairy
  • Low blood sugar
  • High blood sugar (insulin resistance, or pre-diabetes)
  • Intestinal bacterial and yeast overgrowths
  • Autoimmunity (when the immune system attacks and destroys body tissue)

Addressing one or all of these factors, depending on the person, can relieve not only the symptom that brought you to the office, but a number of other symptoms as well.

There are no specialties in the human body

The body is a highly complex web in which all systems and parts are related.

The body does not have specialties in the way medicine does. The digestive system — or any other system in the body — does not function independently of the rest of the body.

For instance, if autoimmune disease is destroying the thyroid gland, it’s not just the thyroid you address, but also the immune system. If the gallbladder is acting up, addressing a gluten intolerance and chronic inflammation can sometimes prevent gallbladder surgery.

Functional medicine is about reversing or stopping the progression of disease as much as possible without the use of drugs or surgery (although medication and surgery should not be avoided when needed).

It’s also about feeling as good as you should feel. For more information, please contact my office.

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