The information that we can learn from functional lab testing is incredible, but the price tag can also be a lot. What do we do when we want to relieve symptoms and feel our best but not go broke in the process?
First off, what is functional lab testing?
Functional lab testing helps us see exactly what is going on in the body. They involve testing blood, urine, saliva, poop, hair, or interstitial fluids. They help us get curious around what might be driving symptoms (root cause), even if there is not a disease to diagnose. We look for optimal values, not just diseased states that require medical intervention. We use these results to support the a person and their body to function better so symptoms resolve, health goals are met, and balance is restored for health today and health in the future (even reducing risk of diseases associated with aging such as Alzheimer’s, Cardiovascular disease, cancer, etc). Often people go to these when everything appears normal with their physician but they know something is off.
In my opinion these labs can be incredibly valuable but most often are not the first step and are often over used at the expense of patients/clients. Yes, there is a lot of value to the information but some basic cleanup helps first.
I encourage the people I work with to establish a few foundations before digging into specialty labs. These foundations include-
- working on stress and the hpa axis,
- improving sleep and circadian rhythm,
- getting appropriate movement,
- balancing blood sugar and energy,
- optimizing digestion and gut health,
- targeting detox pathways,
- getting any nutrient deficiencies to sufficiency,
- building a plate with balanced macros and loads of micronutrients,
- cleaning up products/environment
- reducing inflammatory foods, and
- taking the time to learn about the body and how it works/changes so we understand what is normal and what is not (especially at midlife when so many things start to go haywire and what we used to do no longer works).
Working on the foundations create the environment for health to take root. It then becomes more clear what labs might be most beneficial, if they are even still needed at all.
There are endless Functional Labs these days but the ones I find most helpful and use the most are
- Functional blood work (blood)- There is a lot of valuable information here when you look beyond standard values and biomarkers that your physician runs and when you understand how the values relate to one another and body systems. This is my favorite place to start. Functionally we look at a narrow value range to see where slight imbalances might be driving dysfunction and preventing health. We also look at biomarkers that tell us about inflammation, how our body is using nutrients, genetic factors, antibody values, and more. There is a lot we can do to turn the dial towards health when we review labs through a functional lens. This is a relatively affordable way to track and monitor body systems over time.
- Dutch Hormone Test (saliva and urine)- This lab is incredible for seeing what is going on with many hormones and systems including- stress throughout the day (cortisol and DHEA), ovarian hormones and how we are metabolizing hormones (estrogens, progesterone, testosterone and all the symptoms that might arise when these are off), sleep (melatonin and cortisol), and even some neurotransmitters, etc. (If you are planning to use bioidentical hormone, bHRT, I definitely recommend this lab first)
- Vibrant gut health test (poop)- I love this lab to see how digestion is functioning (enzymes, bile, stomach acid- how food is breaking down), if there are any microbiome imbalances (this can impact so much including cravings, headaches, weight gain, mood issues, hormones, energy, and more), how is gut inflammation (again, this can impact every part of our body), gut immune activation (food sensitivities, etc), leaky gut (the integrity of the barrier function of the small intestine which plays a role in so many chronic symptoms and drives inflammation), etc. Even if we are eating a wonderful diet of whole foods, if there are gut imbalances, we will likely struggle to reach health goals.
- Nutrient Panel (blood)-We can look at current nutrient levels as well as genetics that might influence how we utilize certain nutrients. We can look at vitamins, minerals, amino acids, fatty acids, etc. Often times there are gaps that we need to fill to reach our health goals.
- Continuous Glucose Monitor (interstitial fluids)- This is definitely another favorite, especially for women as our hormones change in perimenopause/menopause. This tells us exactly how we are responding to stress, foods, sleep, movement, etc all day and night. We can see how the changes we are making impact our metabolism and is one of the greatest ways to find motivation to make change.
- Other labs with value, only if needed after initial clean up or if necessary- Organic Acids Test, Heavy Metals, Mold Testing, Food Sensitivities, Allergy Tests, Genetic testing
I recommend not making the mistake of running a ton of expensive labs before you work on the foundations. I have so many clients that come to me with thousands of dollars in fancy lab work but who still are not sleeping well, pooping everyday, getting enough protein, digesting their food well, or understanding their body and how it works/changes, etc.
In midlife, with so much changing with hormones, and those changes impacting every single part of our life and body, often women are interested in running labs to see what is going on. Again, they can be helpful but most helpful is first learning exactly how hormones change, what is normal, what is not normal, how to impact them, and how to make changes to food, lifestyle, nutrients, herbs, etc to support each of the stages of hormonal changes in midlife.
Women are often surprised to learn how many years hormones change before menopause and how there is a methodical process to it all that when we understand is quite empowering. It is often surprising to learn how much these changes impact including- sleep, mood, weight, cravings, energy, drive, motivation, relationships, endurance, immune function, skin, libido, and more. It is also often surprising when we learn how much we can impact this process and how we feel.
Have you had any functional lab work done? Was it helpful? Explained well? Are you interested in any? Have you addressed the Foundations first?
So are they worth it? I would say Yes, but…
Yes Functional Lab Test can give us incredible insight but you want to make sure you work with someone who can explain them clearly, give you solid action steps to turn the dial towards health, that you address the foundations first and learn about the hormone changes that happen in midlife.
Join me in The Hormone Club if you are a women 40+ who wants to understand her body better, how it is changing, and how to impact symptoms and health in midlife. 6 week course, recorded lessons, 3 week cleanse, live group meetings, optional lab work available.
Lookout for new and affordable health bundles coming soon from Mountain Rebalance!
Janel Ferrin Anderson FNLP, NC, DNM
It is my mission to help people understand their body better, how it works, how it changes, how it is impacted by our world and how we can improve symptoms and function while preventing future health issues. I use science, education, food, lifestyle, herbs, and nutrients, to shift the body towards better function. I focus on midlife mountain women but am happy to work with anyone.