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After consulting thousands of patients across the world in my telehealth functional medicine clinic, I have found one thing to be true: Every single person has a unique biochemistry that can’t be quantified through symptoms alone.
While symptoms can help us make a general assumption about a person’s health, true progress can’t start until we address the root cause. That’s where labs come in. But with so many labs to choose from, it can be overwhelming to know where to start.
These are the essential functional medicine labs I go to time and time again when working with patients. Whether you work directly with a functional medicine practitioner or not, consider this your lab shopping list for your journey to better health:
When it comes to inflammation, there are a few key labs that you can run. hsCRP is the most direct look at your inflammation levels as it determines how high two pro-inflammatory proteins are in your body: C-reactive protein and IL-6.
You can also look at inflammation indirectly through assessing your levels of the inflammatory amino acid, homocysteine and ferritin, both of which are a sign of chronic inflammation when elevated.
Unfortunately, inflammation is a problem for a lot of people, but these tests will help you see to what extent you need to bring in anti-inflammatory tools. They can also help you connect the dots to symptoms you might be having such as the case with high homocysteine and its correlation with autoimmune, heart, and brain health problems.
Since thyroid hormones are used by every area of your body, it’s important to get a full picture of what’s going on beneath the surface. However, many underlying thyroid problems don’t show up on standard labs because conventional labs only look at TSH and T4.
But in functional medicine, we run a full thyroid panel blood test that looks at TSH and T4, as well as T3 uptake, total T3, free T4, free T3, reverse T3, and thyroid antibodies.
In my experience, these types of tests give you the most accurate picture of your thyroid health and help rule out possible autoimmune thyroid problems.
Plus, we look at a narrower reference range in functional medicine. This allows us to see if you are trending toward thyroid dysfunction or not, sooner than a conventional medicine approach, which often waits until there is enough dysfunction to warrant a full-blown diagnosis—even if you’ve been struggling with symptoms for years.
By now, most of us know that practically everything—mood, weight, autoimmunity, inflammation, hormone health, brain function, and more—is influenced by your gut health. Stool tests assess the makeup of your microbiome to determine if there is any dysbiosis happening, and blood tests can show whether or not you have elevated proteins that indicate gut permeability.
In functional medicine, we believe all disease begins in the gut and is typically one of the first places you need to address when you start your healing journey. However, depending on what your specific issue is, you could be wasting your time with trendy gut health tools that aren’t actually taking care of your underlying problem. These results will act as a blueprint for restoring your gut, and overall, health.
Our world can be incredibly toxic. From the air we breathe to the products we use on a daily basis, there is no way to avoid chemicals and environmental toxins altogether. Urine and blood toxin panels look at levels of environmental toxins such as glyphosate and biotoxins like mold mycotoxins present in your body.
We all know that diet plays a role in how we feel. These tests give us insight into the other often overlooked aspect to health: lifestyle. By seeing if you are high in any toxins or mold, you’ll be able to make any lifestyle changes needed to address these issues including detoxing with food and supplements, avoiding a polluted work or home environment, and making the switch to nontoxic products.
Your body is a well-oiled machine relying on a specific ratio of nutrients in order to function properly. A blood nutrient panel will be able to identify any potential deficiencies to help you maximize your diet and determine any supplements necessary to help get your levels back on track. Some of the main nutrients I look at include:
By understanding your baseline, you’ll be able to accurately determine the right dosage of any supplements you may need so you can take enough to see long-term, sustainable results.
Additionally, many nutrient deficiencies are directly linked to specific health problems. For example, many people with chronic migraines are deficient in magnesium, and women low in iron can struggle with hair loss, fatigue, and other symptoms. This allows us to make connections between symptoms and any direct underlying causes.
We have a blood sugar problem in America as evidenced by our rising rates of diabetes and other metabolic health problems. A glucose HbA1c blood test looks at your average blood sugar levels over the past three or so months.
Since high blood sugar can affect inflammation levels, hormone balance, heart disease, and weight gain, this test can show you if you are trending toward metabolic health problems. If so, you’ll be able to make better choices surrounding food to bring your levels down to where they need to be. Or if your blood sugar is too low, it can indicate other issues that need to be looked into.
Urine saliva hormone labs can give us a complete overview of how well your hormones are functioning. This is especially important considering your hormones are like chemical messengers, directing the function of various areas of your body.
These labs look at sex hormones like estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone as well as cortisol levels and your HPA-axis function.
Men and women all need balanced sex hormones (in different amounts) and a healthy cortisol rhythm throughout the day to function optimally. Symptoms like irregular periods, fatigue, brain problems, weight loss resistance, blood sugar imbalances, low libido, and more can be traced back to hormone levels gone haywire.
In my experience working with patients in my telehealth functional medicine clinic, I’ve found these seven labs have been so helpful in unveiling crucial pieces of my patients’ well-being puzzle. Of course, it’s always important to work with a health care practitioner to determine what type of test and strategy might work best for you.
If you’re interested in telehealth as an option, my clinic offers consultations with a highly trained member of my functional diagnostic health practitioner team or even one-on-one consultations with me personally. In any case, getting a full picture of your health can be so powerful for taking steps forward on your health journey.