Something I notice in clinic is how many people say to me “I just don’t feel quite right. I’ve been to the GP and they have even run some blood tests, but everything came back normal and says I’m fine. I tell my friends and they tell me it is nothing to worry about, I’ve probably just been working too hard or not eating well enough. But I just don’t feel like myself.”
I actually see this A LOT in clinic. Many of my clients don’t feel that their health concerns are taken seriously by those around them.
The symptoms vary, but the result is the same: you don’t feel well, and just can’t quite pinpoint the cause.
These symptoms can manifest as:
Something that makes naturopathy, functional medicine and integrative healthcare a more holistic approach is the inclusion of a range of laboratory testing methods know as Functional Pathology. These tests often take a deeper look than the standard blood tests available under Medicare, and are performed along with the practitioner taking a very comprehensive case history of the client, which looks at medical history, symptoms, environmental and genetic factors, lifestyle, work, social and family support, diet and mind health. Combined with Functional Pathology testing (if appropriate), this helps the practitioner to get a very detailed picture of what is going on.
What is Functional Pathology?
A range of Functional Pathology tests are now available to the naturopath to check nutritional status, hormone balance, toxicity, microbiome, DNA, food intolerances, digestive function, or even the ability to metabolise certain substances. These are often cutting edge, science-based evaluation tests, and not always available through conventional laboratories. These tests investigate the underlying cause of what is going on.
Just like conventional pathology, Functional Pathology requires urine, blood or a plasma sample, with some tests also using newer methods to analyse saliva and hair.
An example of a functional pathology test is an Adrenal Profile, which will look at the levels of certain hormones (in this case cortisol and DHEA) present in saliva at several times during the day to determine whether the adrenal glands may be working too hard in an individual (due to ongoing stress) which may be causing mood changes, weight gain around the tummy, depression, fatigue, brain fog, insomnia or poor memory.
How much do the tests cost?
The cost varies – depending on the particular test, complexity and laboratory testing methods used, they are priced between $50 - $600. A simple nutritional test looking at blood levels of a certain nutrient is generally low cost, while more comprehensive DNA analysis (which looks at over 100 gene SNPs) may be $400. A food intolerance test will cost between about $270 - $400 depending on the number of foods and allergens investigated.
If you are on a budget and can’t stretch to getting tests done, a good naturopath can also assess your health by taking a good case history – in fact many of these tests were not around when I did my training, which meant our study was focused on taking a comprehensive medical history to determine the underlying cause of symptoms. So while Functional Pathology is a fantastic tool available to us, a good case history is the most important part of working with you to address your health.
An important note here – I have seen recently quite a few coupon deals for food intolerance tests and DNA or microbiome analysis. Often these tests originate from an overseas laboratory which may not have the same standards as Australian labs. I’ve researched these and have found that they are either not clinically relevant or comprehensive enough to provide any real insight. They also don’t take into account your individual health needs, or provide you with a realistic and effective treatment plan.
If you are ever in doubt, feel free to get in touch with me to discuss further.
How can I access Functional Pathology testing?
The first step is to book in to an appointment with a naturopath (like me!), integrative (holistic) GP or functional medicine practitioner. They will assess your health and work with you to determine the most appropriate test for you, and then will help to come up with a treatment plan to address the test results. This might involve dietary changes, supplements and lifestyle advice.
Ask for a healthcare practitioner that regularly undertakes further education and training in Functional Pathology to keep up to date with the newer tests which are becoming available each year.
Would you like a Naturopathy consultation? Book an appointment for an online or phone consultation with Josie here.
Learn more about Naturopathy here.
Learn more about the different Functional Pathology tests available here.
Bianca* aged 37, came to see me about her insomnia and subsequent fatigue. She also wanted to quit smoking and reduce her drinking - she was enjoying 3-4 glasses of wine every evening.
She described herself as always being an anxious person, and also had been diagnosed with depression previously. Bianca had seen psychologists and psychiatrists frequently in the past, and at times had been on various antidepressants.
In her 20's, she had been, in her own words, " a bit rock and roll" - binge drinking and regularly taking recreational drugs - which she now felt she had been using to deal with her anxiety and depression.
She never felt completely well. Always tired and she had trouble thinking clearly.
Most nights she had trouble getting to sleep - sometimes she didn't fall asleep until about 3am, and then struggled to get up in the morning. As a result, she was often late for work, and on weekends wouldn't get up until the afternoon.
Bianca was worried about her current mood swings. She noticed that recently she had started lashing out with anger - "explosive rage" she called it. And her libido was low.
After taking her case history, I suspected that she may have Pyrrole disorder -the main biochemical features of this disorder are a severe zinc and B6 deficiency (amongst other nutrients).
A urine test to detect the disorder was organised, and 2 weeks later we had indeed confirmation from the laboratory that Bianca likely had Pyrrole disorder, which meant here body had trouble storing zinc, B6 and other nutrients - vital for mental health and hormonal health.
The next step was to supplement. When dealing with mineral and vitamin deficiencies, it is important to supplement very carefully, as reintroducing too much can cause side effects. So, an individual supplement regime was put together, gently introducing vitamins and minerals to Bianca over a period of time.
In addition to this, I also put together a herbal mix to support the nervous system.
After a month, Bianca came in to my clinic to tell me that she was able to fall asleep more easily, and sleep soundly. She felt better able to manage her mood and angry feelings during the day. What's more she had started to reduce the number of cigarettes she had daily - she noticed that she just didn't think about smoking as much anymore (addictive behaviour has been linked to Pyrrole disorders).
Two months later she reported her energy had improved significantly, and she has the motivation and energy to move from part time to full time work. She was sleeping really well, and found it easier to get up in the morning.
She also noticed that her skin had improved (she suffered from eczema) and her menstrual cycles were more regular and with less incidence of PMS - an example of how when we address the root cause of one thing, we end up improving other health conditions.
Three months later, and Bianca now feels that her energy has gone from 3/10 to 9/10 on average. She has given up smoking, and now only drinks on weekends, just having one drink at a dinner out.
This is a great example of how correcting a nutrient deficiency can have effects in many parts of the mind and body.
Naturopath, Nutritionist and Herbalist