Diagnostic Testing from Atlanta’s Progressive Medical Center
A Systems Based Approach to Wellness: Why the Diagnostics are Important
While most of medicine is concerned with putting a label on something or giving it a name and diagnosis, integrative medicine works to do more than that. Integrative medicine recognizes that a lack of health is more than just a diagnosis.
If we only focus on finding the diagnosis, we overlook the process that got a person there in the first place. Not only is there an end result, also called a diagnosis, but there is also a disease process that caused that condition. That process will cause the condition to continue unless it is recognized and addressed. Just as a seed needs soil to grow, pathology will only thrive in the right environment. By changing the environment, the pathology will remit.
Looking at underlying processes is often called a, “systems-based approach” because it recognizes the many interconnected systems in the body and treatments are designed with consideration of this complexity. However, the processes may be silent until the pathology arrives so by measuring parameters involved in the process we can uncover the roots of illness and prevent illness in the first place. That is why diagnostic testing is important.
Regardless of the condition, there are a handful of underlying processes that will fan the fire of pathology:
- Stress– Regardless of condition, most issues will be exacerbated and even caused by stress in one’s life. By managing stress appropriately we make the system more impervious to almost all we come in contact with. This is how we defend our bodies from the outside world.
- Inflammation– Inflammation drives heart disease, neurologic conditions and even cancer. If we can control inflammation we can control one of the major triggers that cause genetics to turn against us.
- Oxidation– Much like inflammation, oxidation or reactive oxygen species, a type of free radical, damage our mitochondria as well as other parts of the body. The mitochondria are the powerhouses of the cell. This is where all of our energy is made. If energy production is compromised than all healing is compromised. If energy production is compromised than we feel fatigued, worn down and all normal systems in the body are weakened.
- Nutritional Deficiencies– Nutrients drive thousands of metabolic reactions every minute in our body. Like a car, if we are nutritionally deficient then our engine cannot go as it should. A person that is nutritionally replete is a well-oiled machine. Pathology has less of a chance to grow when nutritional status is high.
- Toxicity– Toxins such as chemicals and metals are like a wrench in the workings of our body. The cleaner the system, the better able we are to achieve wellness. By removing chemicals and metals we will decrease damage to the mitochondria and decrease inflammation and oxidation that cause pathology in the first place. Toxicity is the key thing that damages our DNA and potentiates possible cancers.
In order to unravel the processes behind certain conditions we must order testing that addresses these key areas:
- The Gastrointestinal Tract and Immune System
- Hormone Balance
- Inflammation and Oxidation
The Gut as Our Window to Health:
- Food sensitivity– this food sensitivity test is different than a conventional allergy. Allergies create immediate reactions such as swelling or stuffy nose. Food sensitivities create ongoing inflammation that drives chronic symptoms such as fatigue, brain fog and pain. However, we do not always feel all types of inflammation. Inflammation can be a silent player, as it is in heart disease, and will eventually cause different pathologies and conditions. By reducing inflammation with dietary changes, we decrease weight gain and fatigue but also reduce the chances of getting many diseases and even decrease our rate of aging.
- Stool culture– The human GI tract houses 30,000 different beneficial flora that operate in conjunction with our own system. By examining this wealth of information we have the ability to reduce one of the major areas of inflammation. In the gut, the body decides whether it is tolerant to something or inflamed by something. By looking at a stool test, we make sure that the person is optimally absorbing nutrients and reducing the inflammatory load. This is the part of the body that houses 85% of our immune system and 95% of our neurotransmitters. Good gut health is critical to maintain wellness and prevent diseases such as auto-immune conditions, cancers, fatigue and much more.
- Zonulin/DAO– These are markers that allow us to measure leaky gut and allergic inflammation. Using this test, we can see how much improvement we have made in terms of calming down inflammation driven by histamine and food sensitivities. When these markers are abnormal, we are at more risk for diabetes, celiac disease, neurologic conditions, cancers, and anything driven by inflammation.
Hormones: The Complex Interactions That Drive Our Machine
- Adrenal Stress Testing– Stress drives every condition in our body. By starting with balancing adrenal function you balance the hormone cortisol, but you also improve reproductive hormones such as estrogen and testosterone. Reducing your stress makes you function optimally. Reducing stress is one of the key ways we will live longer and healthier.
- Thyroid Hormone Testing– A complete thyroid profile will uncover underlying issues of fatigue, brain fog, weight gain and pain. Improper thyroid function means we are metabolically worn down and can’t drive the thousands of metabolic reactions that take place every second in our body. Proper thyroid function makes us feel better and reduces our incidence of cancer.
- Hormone workup– A hormone work up is more than an estrogen level or testosterone level. A hormone work-up includes how our adrenals and thyroid are functioning because these are intimately related to the entire web of sex hormones. A comprehensive analysis of all hormones can help identify the need for bio-identical hormone replacement and also can tell a clinician to avoid that treatment when it isn’t necessary for that individual. A good hormone work-up will also include oxidative stress or free radical measurements because free radicals damage hormones and make them more dangerous in our body. Hormones are preferentially looked at in the saliva but can sometimes be looked at in the serum as well, depending on the person and the condition.
- Heavy Metal testing– Heavy metals are everywhere in our environment. From the lead in the exhaust that one breathes, to the mercury in fish that we eat- we all have potential for contamination. Heavy metals can cause neurological diseases and cardiovascular disease. By removing metals from the body, we improve the ability of the mitochondria to function which means more energy and increased longevity.
- Oxidative Stress Testing– Oxidative stress markers tells us about free radicals in our body. Free radicals can be thought of as the byproducts of a fire. Free radicals cause cancer, heart disease, contribute to neurologic conditions, and even weight gain. Free radicals damage the mitochondria which drive how long we live. Reducing free radicals is necessary to improve the quality of life and prevent pathology from occurring.
- Nutritional work-up– This profile will be ordered when we are looking for an overview of nutrient levels in the system. Low levels of Vitamin C can exacerbate stress and cause poor wound healing. Low levels of Vitamins A and D can compromise immune function and make us more susceptible to viral infections and other chronic diseases. High nutritional levels are necessary for optimal function.
- Amino Acids– Amino acids drive neurotransmitters, muscle development, immune function and mitochondrial production of energy. By measuring these levels we can nutritionally optimize to improve health from gut lining, brain chemistry and much more.
- Fatty Acids– The right balance of fats is critical for our brain, our nerves and the membrane of every single cell in our body. If fats are out of balance we are at more risk for heart disease, neurologic conditions, numbness and tingling and even depression. An imbalance of fats can promote inflammation and pain as well as contribute to infertility.
- Fat soluble nutrients– This profile looks at nutrients like A, E, D and K. These nutrients are known for being anti-cancer nutrients, helping our brain, and helping immune function. Optimal levels are necessary for every single process in the body.
Optimizing Systems in the Body
- Immune Function Profile– While it may not be possible to measure every infection out there, we can measure how our immune system is reacting to the environment. By looking at critical interleukins, which are signals sent by our immune system, we can discover causes of fatigue, weight gain, arthritis and many auto-immune conditions. Not only can we detect them, but these conditions, that may seem like something one is doomed to suffer with, can be reversed and moved to permanent remission.
- Cardio/Metabolic Profile– Cardiovascular disease is our number one killer today. Part of the problem is that routine biomarkers such as cholesterol are not very predictive. By measuring parameters such as oxidized LDL which is ten times more predictive of cardiovascular disease than LDL alone, we can catch the process before the disease takes hold. This will also measure adiponectin and leptin which tell the body to burn and store fat. These markers are early warning signs of diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Glycomark is also measured which tells us how the body handles sugar. This will also prevent diabetes and even dementia as the brain is very fragile in the presence of uncontrolled sugar.
- Neurotransmitter Profile– Neurotransmitters are important for cognitive function, depression, anxiety, insomnia or fatigue. Antidepressants often target neurotransmitter pathways but the body can synthesize these neurotransmitters naturally if it has all the amino acids, vitamins, and minerals necessary to do so. By measuring your neurotransmitter levels you know exactly where to intervene and you speed up the process of achieving wellness. When testing for neurotransmitters you may also consider looking at markers for oxidative stress. If there is high oxidative stress or free radical production then neurotransmitters will be blocked from working correctly in your body.
In summary, there are many tests that allow an integrative medical practitioner to look at the underlying processes of disease. The underlying cause- and not just the diagnosis- should be the focus of treatment for long-term resolution of symptoms. If the root causes are not addressed, then a pathology will continue to cause problems for the person, even if the symptoms subside temporarily.
Diagnostic testing of the GI tract, immune system, hormones, toxins, nutritional markers, and inflammation are important when developing a customized treatment plan. This approach helps to target treatments that will be effective for a given individual, treating the whole person, with the goal of optimum wellness without unwanted side effects.