Both conventional medicine and functional medicine doctors rely on laboratory test results to better understand what is going on inside the body. There are limits, of course, to what these tests reveal. How do you know if you need to take a closer look under your hood?
Ask the Doctor about Advanced Laboratory Testing
If your annual blood work comes back “normal” year after year, yet your numbers are starting to creep up, or you just don’t feel well for no apparent reason, you may want to ask a functional medicine doctor to dig deeper. With so many patients having chronic health problems, from obesity to diabetes to high blood pressure, your slightly elevated numbers or general fatigue might not sound an alarm with your doctor.
As a functional medicine doctor, Vincent Leonti, MD, makes a point of looking at the whole picture and asks his patients such questions as, “Are you more stressed than usual?” or “Do you feel fatigued?” or “Are you having any tummy troubles?” If you aren’t feeling as good as you could be, he wants to know why.
“One of the guiding principles of functional medicine is that health is more than the absence of disease,” says Dr. Leonti, a conventionally and functionally trained MD and Medical Director at Princeton Integrative Health (PIH). “Just because you don’t have diabetes or heart disease or cancer today doesn’t mean you are truly healthy or not at risk for future complications.”
This is why you see your doctor every year for a physical. It’s also why your doctor will likely order standard blood work, such as a Complete Blood Count (CBC) and a Complete Metabolic Panel (CMP).
“The word ‘complete’ may be reassuring, but it is not entirely accurate. Results outside what is considered the normal range may require additional testing,” adds Jenna Richardson, Clinical Director at PIH. “Further, sometimes results within the normal range are misleading; they don’t tell the whole story.”
You're More Than Your Numbers
Functional medicine doctors look at the whole person, not just their numbers. They also consider more narrowly defined “optimal” ranges when evaluating a person’s health to further reduce the risk of disease and dysfunction.
Micronutrient testing is a good example of a test that looks at optimal ranges over a period of several months to provide a more comprehensive view of the way your body is functioning. Micronutrient testing measures your levels of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, fatty acids, and metabolites, as well as your carbohydrate metabolism, identifying areas where you might be deficient. We know that these deficiencies are common in people with chronic fatigue and gastrointestinal troubles, and they may suppress immune function, among other ailments.
Conventional testing looks at many of the important markers that provide a clinical correlation between a patient’s health and his or her lifestyle, such as blood pressure, body mass index (BMI) and total cholesterol. Yet they are still just one piece of the puzzle. How else can we explain that 50 percent of people who are hospitalized for a heart attack have “normal” LDL (“lousy” cholesterol) levels? Stress, insulin levels, smoking, obesity, genetics and a host of other issues can increase a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease. We also need to dissect the components of total cholesterol (HDL, LDL and triglycerides) and look at specific ratios to truly interpret readings.
PIH Takes a Closer Look Under Your Hood
“At PIH, we look at these numbers as indicators that we need to dig deeper,” says Jenna. “I compare them to your car’s check engine light. When it goes on, it reminds you to look under the hood to see what is really happening. It could be time for maintenance, or it could be time for a new engine.
“Laboratory testing is an essential part of the evaluation process at Princeton Integrative Health. It helps us to establish our treatment plans. We start with the same foundational health assessment that conventional doctors use; blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, BMI—they are all vital indicators of the state of your physical self. We then identify additional tests to help us get to the root cause of a patient’s medical condition,” she says.
Some of the functional medicine tests Princeton Integrative Health may recommend include a GI-MAP gut health test, an organic acids test, advanced hormone testing, micronutrient testing, a leaky gut assessment and an advanced lipid test from Boston Heart.
Click here for more information about the functional medicine tests offered at PIH.
To schedule a consultation, call 609.512.1468.
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The information on this website is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Princeton Integrative Health advises that you use this information in consultation with your functional medicine doctor or other healthcare professional.