How To Incorporate Functional Medicine Labs into a TCM Diagnosis

by 
Dr. Shawn Greenan
How To Incorporate Functional Medicine Labs into a TCM Diagnosis

Acupuncturists are known for their diagnosing technique based on pulse, tongue, smell, touch, and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) questionnaire. It's a medical skill set that dates back to 100 BCE and works very well!

During the past 40 years, TCM has evolved into one of the most utilized forms of complementary and integrative medicine interventions in the United States. In fact, more than 10 million acupuncture treatments are administered annually in the United States alone.(1)

TCM diagnosing is a beautiful art that picks up on excess and deficiencies in the body quite well. So, you may be asking yourself, if TCM is so popular and effective the way it is, why would I need to incorporate functional medicine labs into my practice? The answer; the way we live today is a far cry from our ancestors in 100 BCE, and our diagnosing techniques could use a little help to keep up with the times.

Today's standard diet and lifestyle are the complete opposite of what was even 100 years ago. Grocery shelves are filled with processed, chemical-laden foods. Fast food has become the norm. We overwork ourselves to pull ourselves out of never-ending debt. We are exposed to toxins and fake foods that didn't exist back when the first documentation of acupuncture, The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine, was written.(1) Think of functional medicine labs as a new diagnosing tool to help pin point where these modern day excess and deficiencies are coming from.

This article will give you some general guidance on the top functional medicine labs I run alongside the 3 most common TCM diagnoses I see in my clinic.

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Qi Deficiency and its Relation to Gut Health

Gut health is the core of Functional and Eastern Medicine, and Spleen-Qi deficiency is the most common pattern encountered in clinical practice. (2) When it comes to helping your patients with overall health, it just makes sense always to take a look at the gut.

A diagnosis of Spleen Qi deficiency thousands of years ago most likely came from lack of food and overwork. Today, a patient could be suffering from Spleen Qi Deficiency due to our hectic modern lifestyle, inflammatory diet, food sensitivities, exposure to toxins, and autoimmune disease. While a typical Spleen Qi Deficiency herbal formula, food therapy, and acupuncture treatment may have worked very quickly to resolve this diagnosis in the past, today's Spleen Qi deficiency diagnosis seems to be a longer-lasting chronic ailment.

Lucky for us functional medicine loves GI health, and many tests go to great lengths to help us understand what is going on at the cellular level. Imagine being able to give your patients physical proof of the foods and toxins affecting their health as well as markers of infections, inflammation, and gut dysbiosis patterns. Once I started adding in functional medicine labs and combining those results with my TCM diagnosis, I started seeing my patients rebound at a much quicker pace.

Best Functional Medicine Labs For Qi Deficiency

There are a variety of functional medicine tests that help you look for Qi deficiency. Each provide a different lens to look at the illness and interpret the root cause of what is happening. Below are the most common labs we see practitioners ordering for their patients on Rupa.

GI Stool Interpretation

Most Functional Medicine GI stool interpretations will give you an overview of intestinal permeability, inflammatory markers, digestion and absorption, and a microbiome analysis. Some even show possible autoimmune antibodies as well as bacterial, viral, and parasitic infections.

Rupa Health's top 3 most ordered GI Stool Interpretation Test:

Food Sensitivity Test

As digestive disorders are increasing, it's becoming more critical to become aware of any food sensitivities you're patients may be dealing with that might be contributing to their Spleen Qi deficiency symptoms. Food sensitivities symptoms can show up as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), nausea, skin disorders, fatigue, foggy head, and anxiety. The inflammation caused by food sensitives can also create a leaky gut and hinder the body's ability to absorb vital nutrients.

Rupa Health's top 3 most ordered Food Sensitivity Test:

SIBO

IBS is a very common condition plaguing many patients, which may alternatively include bouts of bloating, cramping, constipation, or diarrhea. Many do not know that the cause of IBS may be SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth). One of the most common symptoms of SIBO is bloating, especially bloating that is worse at the end of the day. Patients with SIBO can also have trouble absorbing vital nutrients, leading to fatigue, foggy head, and anxiety.

Rupa Health's top ordered SIBO Test:

Blood Deficiency

A deficiency of blood is one of the most common TCM patterns seen in women. It has many different manifestations and is often at the root of many other patterns. When we say "Blood deficiency" in TCM, in most cases, we mean "Liver-Blood deficiency" because the Liver houses the Blood. However, the Heart governs Blood, and Heart-Blood deficiency is also common.(3)

Common signs and symptoms associated with blood deficiency are irregular menstrual cycles, dry skin, brittle nails, constipation, anxiety, insomnia, and fatigue. If you group these symptoms, they very much overlap with possible anemia and hypothyroidism. Most women rebound from blood deficiency very easily with proper TCM protocols. But if you wanted to give your patients that extra edge on their treatment plan, monitoring their blood count and thyroid could help keep your patients off pharmaceuticals long term or reduce the dosage over time.

Functional Medicine Labs for Blood Deficiency

Complete Blood Count + Anemia

While a CBC isn't your typical functional medicine lab, it is still an essential one to keep in mind. Symptoms of fatigue, insomnia, dry skin, and scanty cycles could be a sign of anemia. A CBC + anemia panel can give you a lot of information about what is going on at the cellular level for a relatively low cost.

Rupa Health's top 3 most ordered CBC and Anemia Profile:

Complete Thyroid Panel

Hypothyroidism is a result of the thyroid gland failing to produce enough hormones. This may be due to several factors, including low iodine levels, autoimmune disease, over-response to hyperthyroidism treatment, medications, pituitary disorder, and sometimes pregnancy. Common overlapping symptoms of hypothyroid and blood deficiency are lower body temperature, constipation, dry skin and nails, insomnia, fatigue, and irregular menstruation. Functional medicine practitioners typically start assessing thyroid health by ordering TSH, Free T4, Free T3, and Reverse T3. (4)

Rupa Health's top 3 most ordered Thyroid Panels:

Yin Deficiency

Yin deficiency symptoms vary according to the organ involved, but generally, they will include night sweats, hot flashes, and signs of dryness such as dry throat, dry cough, dry lips, dry eyes, dry mouth, and thirst. (5) Yin declines for many reasons but it especially declines with age from the late 30s on. For patients who's yin is depleting rapidly, I highly suggest keeping an eye on hormones. Estrogen imbalance can mimic yin deficiency in women, and low testosterone can mimic yin deficiency in men.

Functional Medicine Labs for Yin Deficiency

Female Hormones  

Common overlapping signs and symptoms of yin deficiency and hormonal imbalances can include insomnia, anxiety, fatigue, hot flashes, night sweats, and vaginal dryness. (6)

Rupa Health's top 3 most ordered Female Hormonal Imbalance Panels

Male Hormones

Sexuality and hormone function fall under the kidney system in TCM, and as such, kidney yin deficiency can also affect men. Testosterone Deficiency Syndrome, or Hypogonadism, is a condition in which a man's body does not produce sufficient testosterone, the primary male hormone. This condition generally affects older men, but younger patients can also be affected for various reasons. Common signs of hypogonadism are hot flashes, night sweats, feeling tired but wired, anxiousness, hot hands and feet, and difficulty sleeping. (7)

Rupa Health's top 3 most ordered Male Hormonal Imbalance Panels

Summary

Our bodies are a complex system, and we are exposed to an environment that didn't exist thousands of years ago. Functional Medicine labs can be an easy tool to add to your patients' holistic healthcare plan.

Have a question? Always feel free to reach out!

Want to learn more about functional medicine labs? Jump over to our magazine to access a ton of free articles or reach out to one of our amazing onboarding managers to get signed up with Rupa Health. Rupa Health is free for practitioners and comes with many perks, including free live functional medicine classes, 1-1 support, and access to 20+ specialist labs, all under one portal.

References

(1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4104560/

(2) https://giovanni-maciocia.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Spleen-Deficiency_Qi_Herbal_Tonics_Formulae.pdf

(3) https://giovanni-maciocia.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/EJOM_Blood_Deficiency.pdf

(4) https://www.rupahealth.com/post/a-functional-medicine-approach-to-thyroid-hormone-labs

(5) https://giovanni-maciocia.com/yin-deficiency-and-empty-hea/

(6) https://www.webmd.com/women/ss/slideshow-hormone-imbalance

(7) https://www.healthline.com/health/low-testosterone/night-sweats#outlook

Dr. Shawn Greenan
Website
Acupuncture Physician
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