Top 5 Functional Medicine Lab Tests You Should Know About
Our last article gave an introduction to the holistic way the functional medicine model works to identify the root cause of disease.This article highlights the 5 most commonly ordered Functional Medicine Lab tests patients should know about to discover how their body is working as a whole.
The aim of functional lab testing is to discover how your body is working as a whole. The results help determine the impact of nutrition, stress, environment, hormones, genetics and more on the body.
There’s no set list of tests you need to take in functional medicine, so your practitioner will determine the best ones during your appointments to help get to the root cause of any health problems you’re currently experiencing or might be prone to in the future.
1. Comprehensive Stool Test
This is usually the first lab test to be ordered in every case, even if the patient isn’t displaying any obvious gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms.
Modern lifestyles and diets harm your gut by disturbing the delicate balance of bacteria, leading to inflammation and malabsorption of essential nutrients, so assessing gut health is crucial in functional medicine.
In recent years, research has shown the role of the gut microbiome in chronic diseases. Gut health greatly impacts a broad range of chronic conditions, from mild to severe. IBS, inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, autoimmune issues, obesity, depression, fatigue, headaches, food sensitivities, and even cardiovascular disease can all often be traced back to the gut.
Comprehensive stool tests look for levels of biomarkers, including those indicating:
Digestion and absorption levels
Bacteria, including H. pylori and C. difficile
Presence of parasites or worms
GI Map is thought to be the gold standard version of the test because it utilizes unique quantitative PCR technology to screen for low-level microbes, including the presence of 50+ bacteria, parasites, fungi, yeasts, and viruses.
It also tests levels of immunologic markers, including secretory IgA and calprotectin, which will indicate an inflammatory response from the gut mucosa, and elastase and steatocrit, which are involved in pancreatic digestive function and fat digestion.
2. Organic Acids Test (OAT)
This is usually ordered for patients after their initial appointment as it gives a good snapshot of their overall health.
The test involves analysis of a urine sample to look at the organic acids produced during metabolism, and provides an accurate evaluation of intestinal yeast and bacteria. High levels of these can cause or worsen mood disorders, fatigue, hyperactivity, digestive complaints, immune function or weight issues.
Many OAT tests also include markers for vitamin and mineral levels, oxidative stress, neurotransmitter levels and oxalates, all of which are implicated in many chronic conditions.
If abnormalities are detected during the test, simple treatments such as vitamins and antioxidant supplements or dietary changes can quickly yield positive results, such as decreased fatigue and abdominal pain, regular bowel function, and increased energy and concentration.
3. DUTCH Plus
This test uses a combination of urine and saliva samples collected throughout the day to measure levels of sex and stress hormones, metabolites, and organic acids in order to gain a complete overview of hormonal health.
The impact of hormone levels on physical and mental health can be profound. Unbalanced levels of cortisol, DHEA, estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, androgens, insulin, and thyroid hormones can cause debilitating symptoms, such as weight problems, mood issues, and fatigue.
The DUTCH Plus test is recommended for patients who have difficulty sleeping or waking, or have experienced high stress levels over a long period of time. It’s also recommended for anyone with a chronic condition related to a hormonal imbalance, such as endometriosis, irregular menstrual cycle, premenstrual syndrome, polycystic ovary syndrome, fibroids, fertility problems, acne, enlarged prostate, osteoporosis, or a hormone-sensitive cancer.
The test includes measurement of:
Estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone levels
Estrogen metabolism – important for bone health, reproductive function, and cancer prevention
Androgen metabolism – can be a factor in conditions such as acne, male pattern baldness, and prostate enlargement
Cortisol and DHEA levels – co-ordinate the sleep-wake cycle and ability to respond to stress
Melatonin levels – responsible for inducing sleep
Dopamine, noradrenaline and serotonin levels – involved in mood and motivation
Vitamins B6 and B12 levels – important for the production and metabolism of hormones and neurotransmitters
4. SIBO Breath Test
SIBO stands for Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth. A SIBO breath test is simple and non-invasive. An initial breath sample is taken to give a baseline reading. Then, after drinking a glass of water containing either glucose or lactulose, breath samples are taken every 15 minutes for just over two hours in order to measure hydrogen and methane levels.
By measuring the amount of hydrogen and methane in your breath after consuming sugar, the test is able to gauge the number of bacteria in your small intestine, and your ability to digest certain sugars, such as lactose.
Many patients come to functional medicine after failing to discover what’s causing their GI symptoms through the conventional medicine route. In this case, a SIBO test is one of the first tests a functional medicine practitioner will order.
5. IgG Food Sensitivity Test
Sensitivities to certain foods can have a profound impact on overall health, but they’re notoriously difficult to diagnose because of the wide range of possible reactions.
This blood test looks at immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibodies to specific foods that are present in your blood. Elevated IgG levels to a certain food could indicate intolerance to that food.
This approach acts as a starting point for an elimination diet.
The wide range of specialized lab tests used in functional medicine help gain a deep understanding of the whole body, including any imbalances or dysfunction, so a truly effective, patient-centered treatment plan can be established.
It can be very challenging for patients to get in front of a doctor who will prescribe these fundamental functional medicine tests. Not all primary care workflows support holistic approaches and the extra touchpoints that are required with more specialized testing, so patients are seeking out other types of providers to help them get the answers they need.
At Vital, we’re excited to power the next generation of Functional, root-cause medicine companies using wearables and lab tests to design personalized treatment plans for patients.
Vital’s Lab Testing API has enabled the fastest growing digital health companies to orchestrate and automate lab testing end-to-end across three modalities of testing (test kits, at-home phlebotomy, and in-person labs) across the U.S.
If you’re looking to run any of the tests above, book a demo with our team to learn more about our speciality testing!