The United States spends the highest per capita on healthcare globally, yet the country ranks 37th in healthcare outcomes among developed nations. Despite this excessive expenditure, chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes continue to rise, accounting for 86% of healthcare costs. In fact, 50% of Americans have at least one chronic disease.
Traditional Western medicine has long focused on treating these diseases with pharmaceuticals and surgery. Thankfully, many medical professionals are now turning to functional medicine as a more effective and sustainable approach. Functional medicine takes a proactive approach to healthcare by focusing on the root causes of disease rather than just treating symptoms. This approach offers a more sustainable path to long-term health and prevention.
What is Functional Medicine?
Functional medicine seeks to identify and address the underlying factors contributing to disease instead of treating a patient's symptoms. This approach can be likened to a detective investigating a crime scene, looking for clues to uncover the root cause of the crime. By taking a more holistic approach that considers a patient's environment, lifestyle, and genetics, functional medicine practitioners aim to treat the whole person rather than just managing symptoms with medication.
Personalized care is at the heart of functional medicine, with treatments tailored to each patient's unique needs, circumstances, and goals. This may include assessing genetics, diet, stress levels, and environmental exposures. By addressing the root causes of disease and customizing treatments to suit each, functional medicine offers a more comprehensive and practical approach to healthcare.
Functional medicine practitioners also emphasize optimal lab values, which can reveal meaningful patterns and markers that indicate potential disease progression. These values are more specific than the standard lab values used in conventional medicine. By catching warning signs early, functional medicine practitioners can intervene before the disease progresses, potentially halting or reversing its course. This proactive approach to detecting and addressing disease sets functional medicine apart from traditional medical practices, making it a powerful tool for promoting long-term health and well-being.
Why More Medical Professionals Are Moving Towards Functional Medicine
Conventional medicine often focuses on treating symptoms rather than identifying and addressing the root causes of disease. This approach can effectively manage acute conditions but often falls short for chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and autoimmune disorders. On the other hand, functional medicine takes a root cause approach to healthcare. By understanding the underlying factors contributing to disease, such as environmental exposures, stress, and genetics, functional medicine practitioners can tailor treatments to each patient rather than just covering up symptoms with medication. This personalized approach can lead to better patient outcomes, fewer side effects, and a greater chance of long-term healing (4, 5).
Functional medicine is based on the understanding that the body is a complex system with many interconnected parts. When one part of the system is out of balance, it can also lead to dysfunction in other areas. Rather than treating each symptom as a separate problem, functional medicine seeks to identify and address the underlying imbalances in the body that contribute to disease. By taking a comprehensive approach that considers a patient's lifestyle, diet, environment, and genetics, functional medicine practitioners can provide a more individualized and practical approach to healthcare. This can lead to better patient outcomes and a more sustainable and cost-effective healthcare system overall.
What Types of Labs Do Functional Medicine Practitioners Commonly Use?
Functional medicine practitioners are able to order various tests to help assess the root cause of many conditions and symptoms. Here are the most commonly ordered testing categories:
Food and Chemical Sensitivity Testing
Food and chemical sensitivity testing is a crucial aspect of functional medicine. It involves testing individuals for specific foods and chemicals that may be causing inflammation in their bodies, leading to various chronic conditions such as autoimmune disorders, digestive issues, skin problems, and respiratory conditions. By identifying and addressing these sensitivities, functional medicine practitioners can help patients make targeted changes to their diets and environments, leading to improved health outcomes.
The testing process typically involves blood or skin tests, and results are used to develop personalized treatment plans tailored to each patient's needs. While conventional medicine may overlook food and chemical sensitivities, functional medicine recognizes their importance and aims to address them proactively. As chronic conditions are on the rise, food and chemical sensitivity testing is important in getting to the root cause of disease.
IgG Food MAP with Candida + Yeast
This test measures IgG antibodies to 190 foods common in Western, Asian, and Mediterranean diets, Candida, and yeast. It assists in diagnosing food allergies and sensitivities that may cause symptoms such as digestive issues, skin problems, headaches, fatigue, joint pain, and more. By identifying the foods that trigger IgG reactions, you can eliminate them from your diet and improve your health. You may want to use this test if you suspect you have food allergies or sensitivities not detected by IgE tests or if you have symptoms of yeast overgrowth, such as bloating, gas, and brain fog.
96 IgG Food Sensitivity Panel
This test by Alletess Medical Laboratory is a test that measures the IgG (delayed reaction) to 96 commonly consumed foods. Food sensitivities may arise anytime throughout one's life and may cause symptoms such as headache, fatigue, skin problems, digestive issues, joint pain, and more. You may want to use this test if you suspect you have food sensitivities not detected by IgE tests or if you have symptoms related to food intolerance.
Alcat Test: Platinum Plus Panel
This test by Cell Science Systems analyzes sensitivities to 370 substances, including foods, herbs, molds, food additives/colorings, antibiotics, and anti-inflammatory agents. It can help you identify which substances trigger your immune system and cause symptoms such as digestive issues, skin problems, headaches, fatigue, etc. You may want to take this test if you suspect you have food sensitivities or intolerances not detected by other tests or if you have chronic symptoms related to inflammation. This test can help you customize your diet and lifestyle to avoid or minimize your exposure to the substances that cause discomfort.
Micronutrient testing is vital to functional medicine, providing valuable insights into an individual's nutritional status. This testing process identifies deficiencies in essential micronutrients such as vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and antioxidants, which can lead to chronic conditions if left untreated.
By assessing these deficiencies, functional medicine practitioners can create personalized treatment plans that may include targeted supplementation, dietary changes, and lifestyle modifications to optimize their patients' health. Micronutrient testing typically involves blood or urine tests, and results are used to develop tailored treatment plans based on each patient's unique needs. Due to the prevalence of nutrient-poor diets and chronic conditions related to nutrient deficiencies, micronutrient testing is becoming an increasingly important tool.
This test by Vibrant America is designed to measure the levels of various nutrients within both blood cells and serum. This test aims to detect any nutrient deficiencies that may be affecting an individual's overall health. Patients who may experience symptoms or conditions related to aging, inflammation, heart health, mental health, blood sugar, digestion, or skin health may benefit from this test.
Cellular Micronutrient Assay
This test from Cell Science Systems is a test that measures the levels of various nutrients inside your immune cells. It can help you find out if you have any nutrient insufficiencies that may affect your cellular function and metabolism. This test is more reflective of your long-term nutrient status than serum tests because it measures the nutrients that are actually used by your cells. You may benefit from this test if you have any symptoms or conditions related to women's health, stress, sports nutrition, surgery, weight management, fatigue, mood, or chronic diseases.
This test from Genova measures the levels of various nutrients and metabolites in your urine, blood, and saliva. It can help you identify imbalances related to antioxidants, B vitamins, digestive support, minerals, amino acids, and fatty acids. This test can help you understand your diet and supplementation needs and improve your health outcomes. You may benefit from this test if you have any symptoms or conditions related to mood disorders, mitochondrial dysfunction, fatigue, chronic stress, inflammation, or other chronic diseases.
Comprehensive Stool Testing
Comprehensive stool testing is essential in functional medicine, providing valuable insights into an individual's digestive health. This testing process assesses the gut microbiome, identifying imbalances in bacterial diversity and the presence of harmful pathogens that can lead to a range of chronic conditions if left untreated. Functional medicine practitioners can develop personalized treatment plans to optimize their patient's health by evaluating digestive function, inflammation, and nutrient absorption.
Comprehensive stool testing typically involves a simple at-home sample collection, and results are used to create tailored treatment plans based on each patient's unique needs. With the prevalence of chronic conditions related to poor digestive health, comprehensive stool testing is becoming an increasingly important tool for functional medicine practitioners to promote long-term health and well-being.
This test from Diagnostic Solutions uses qPCR technology to identify the DNA of different microbes in your stool, such as bacteria, parasites, fungi, and viruses. It can help you detect infections, dysbiosis, and imbalances in your gut microbiome. It also measures markers of inflammation, digestion, and immune function. This test can help you optimize your gut health and support your overall wellness. You may benefit from this test if you have any symptoms or conditions related to gastrointestinal disorders, autoimmune diseases, food sensitivities, skin issues, or mental health issues.
GI Effects Comprehensive Profile
This test from Genova uses a combination of methods to assess your digestive function, intestinal inflammation, and microbiome. It measures organic acids, fatty acids, enzymes, calprotectin, secretory IgA, and more. It can help you evaluate your gut health and identify factors that may impair your digestion and absorption. It also provides insights into your gut flora composition and diversity. This test can help you personalize your diet and lifestyle interventions to improve your gastrointestinal function and quality of life. You may benefit from this test if you have any symptoms or conditions related to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), malabsorption, dysbiosis, or chronic infections.
Comprehensive Stool Analysis
This test from Access Medical Laboratories analyzes various biomarkers in your stool to help diagnose diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, malabsorption, dysbiosis, and infections. It measures pH, occult blood, fecal fat, elastase, lactoferrin, and more. It can help you detect inflammation, bleeding, enzyme deficiency, and bacterial overgrowth in your gut. It also provides a culture and sensitivity test for common pathogens. This test can help you identify the root cause of your gastrointestinal symptoms and guide your treatment options. You may benefit from this test if you have any signs or conditions related to abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, bloating, gas, or weight loss.
Organic Acids Testing
Organic acids testing is a valuable diagnostic tool used in functional medicine to assess metabolic function and identify potential nutrient deficiencies or imbalances. This testing process involves measuring specific organic acids produced by metabolic pathways in the body, providing insights into the cellular metabolism, energy production, and detoxification capacity.
By evaluating these metabolic markers, functional medicine practitioners can create personalized treatment plans that may include targeted supplementation, dietary changes, and lifestyle modifications to optimize their patients' health. Organic acids testing typically involves a simple urine sample collection, and results are used to develop tailored treatment plans based on each patient's unique needs.
This test from Vibrant Wellness analyzes various biomarkers in your urine to help assess your metabolic health and nutritional status. It measures parameters such as organic acids, amino acids, neurotransmitters, vitamins, minerals, and more. It can help you detect imbalances in energy production, detoxification, neurotransmission, and cellular function. It also comprehensively assesses your gut microbiome and its impact on your health. This test can help you identify the underlying causes of your chronic symptoms and guide your personalized interventions. You may benefit from this test if you have any symptoms or conditions related to mood disorders, fatigue, chronic stress, inflammation, or neurocognitive decline.
This test from Great Plains Laboratory analyzes various biomarkers in your urine to help evaluate your metabolic health and nutritional status. It measures parameters such as organic acids, amino acids, oxalates, and glycolysis intermediates. It can help detect imbalances in energy production, detoxification, neurotransmission, and cellular function. It also provides a yeast and bacteria culture test for common pathogens and a susceptibility panel for natural and pharmaceutical agents. This test can help identify the underlying causes of chronic symptoms and guide your personalized interventions. You may benefit from this test if you have any symptoms or conditions related to mood disorders, fatigue, chronic stress, inflammation, or neuro-cognitive decline.
Hormone panel testing is a critical tool in functional medicine, providing valuable insights into an individual's hormonal health and balance. This testing process assesses a wide range of hormones, including estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, thyroid, and adrenal hormones, to evaluate the hormonal function and identify potential imbalances.
By assessing these hormone levels, functional medicine practitioners can create personalized treatment plans that may include targeted supplementation, dietary changes, and lifestyle modifications to optimize their patients' health. Hormone panel testing typically involves a simple blood draw or saliva sample, and results are used to develop tailored treatment plans based on each patient's unique needs. (32, 33, 34).
This test from Vibrant America analyzes various biomarkers in your blood to help evaluate your hormonal health and wellness. It measures progesterone, testosterone, estrogen, DHEA-S, cortisol, SHBG, FSH, LH, and more. It can help you detect imbalances in reproductive function, adrenal function, bone health, and cardiovascular health. It also provides a comprehensive evaluation of your sex hormones and related biomarkers important in both men's and women's health. This test can help you identify the underlying causes of your chronic symptoms and guide your personalized interventions. You may benefit from this test if you have any symptoms or conditions related to your menstrual cycle, fertility, mood, stress response, libido, or aging.
Female Health Panel
This test from Access Medical Laboratories analyzes various biomarkers in your blood to help assess your female health and wellness. It measures parameters such as complete blood count, comprehensive metabolic panel, thyroid stimulating hormone, vitamin D, and more. It can help you detect imbalances in blood cells, electrolytes, liver and kidney function, thyroid health, and bone health. It also provides a general overview of your immune system and inflammation status. This test can help you identify the underlying causes of your chronic symptoms and guide your personalized interventions. You may benefit from this test if you have any symptoms or conditions related to fatigue, weakness, infection, anemia, or hormonal imbalance.
Complete Thyroid Panel
This test from Precision Point analyzes various biomarkers in your blood to help diagnose thyroid disorders and monitor thyroid hormone replacement therapy. It measures parameters such as TSH, T3 (free and total), T4 (free and total), reverse T3, and thyroglobulin and thyroid peroxidase antibodies. It can help you detect imbalances in thyroid function, such as hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, Hashimoto's thyroiditis, Graves' disease, and more. It also provides a comprehensive view of thyroid function by measuring both the active and inactive forms of thyroid hormones and the autoimmune markers for thyroid disease. This test can help you identify the root cause of your thyroid symptoms and guide your treatment options. You may benefit from this test if you have any symptoms or conditions related to weight gain or loss, cold or heat intolerance, hair loss or dry skin, fatigue, or insomnia (53, 54, 55, 56).
How You Can Start Using Functional Medicine in Your Conventional Medicine Clinic
If you are a medical practitioner looking to integrate functional medicine into your conventional medicine clinic, there are several steps you can take. One option is to obtain additional training in functional medicine through programs such as the Institute for Functional Medicine or the Integrative and Functional Nutrition Academy. These programs offer comprehensive training in functional medicine principles, which can help you integrate these approaches into your existing practice.
Furthermore, Rupa Health offers a large selection of bootcamp courses covering various topics and conditions. Additionally, you can partner with functional medicine practitioners to expand the services offered to patients or even hire a functional medicine practitioner to join your team.
Another consideration is the utilization of telemedicine technologies. Functional medicine practitioners increasingly use telemedicine to connect with patients remotely, allowing them to see patients across state lines and in areas where functional medicine may be less available. By incorporating telemedicine into your practice, you can expand your reach and offer functional medicine services to a wider range of patients. Additionally, platforms such as Rupa Health can assist you in integrating functional medicine services into your existing practice, providing access to laboratory testing, clinical support, and patient resources.
Common Functional Medicine Treatments
According to the National Institutes of Health, about 40% of adults in the United States use some form of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) to supplement their conventional medical treatments. Within functional medicine, CAM techniques are commonly used to address underlying causes of illness and promote overall wellness.
Nutrition is a crucial aspect of functional medicine, laying the foundation for optimal health. Anti-inflammatory diets play an important role in functional medicine by reducing chronic inflammation, a key factor in many chronic diseases. Nutritionists and functional medicine practitioners may collaborate to design personalized dietary plans for patients, taking into account individual needs, allergies, and sensitivities.
These plans may involve specific macronutrient ratios, such as the ketogenic or paleo diets, as well as the integration of whole, nutrient-dense foods and supplements known to reduce inflammation, such as omega-3 fatty acids and turmeric. By incorporating anti-inflammatory diets, functional medicine practitioners can effectively support their patients in reducing inflammation and promoting overall health.
Lifestyle modifications such as exercise, sleep, and stress management are also key components of functional medicine. Exercise can be used to improve cardiovascular health, build muscle mass, and increase bone density. Adequate sleep is crucial for maintaining overall health and may be used to improve mood, cognitive function, and immune system function. Stress management techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, and yoga can be used to reduce stress and improve mental health.
Acupuncture, Chiropractic Medicine, and Yoga
CAM techniques such as acupuncture, chiropractic medicine, and yoga have been used for centuries to promote health and wellness. Acupuncture involves the use of thin needles to stimulate specific points on the body and is often used to alleviate pain, promote relaxation, and improve energy levels. Chiropractic medicine involves the manipulation of the spine and other joints to alleviate pain and improve mobility. Yoga is a practice that involves physical postures, breathing exercises, and meditation and can be used to improve flexibility, reduce stress, and improve mental health.
Herbal remedies are another common CAM technique used in functional medicine. Herbal supplements and tinctures can be used to address a wide range of health issues, including inflammation, digestion, and immune system function. Some commonly used herbs in functional medicine include turmeric, ginger, echinacea, and St. John's Wort.
Functional medicine offers a comprehensive approach to healthcare that focuses on identifying and addressing the underlying factors that contribute to disease. By taking a root cause approach, functional medicine practitioners can tailor treatments to each patient, leading to better outcomes and improved long-term health.
From nutrition and lifestyle modifications to complementary and alternative therapies, functional medicine offers many tools and resources to support patients on their health journeys. As more medical professionals turn towards functional medicine, it's clear that this approach can revolutionize healthcare and provide patients with the personalized care and support they need to achieve optimal health and well-being.
Lab Tests in This Article