By Dr. Lina Sakr
When you visit a primary care physician for an annual physical and diagnostic testing, the yearly check-up has a familiar ritual.
The doctor will measure your height and weight and order a blood sample to test basic, limited lab work as dictated by insurance coverage.
Those basic diagnostic tests allow health care providers to measure some important health indicators. If your physician’s annual review doesn’t go further, though, that snapshot of your health will be far from complete.
In functional medicine, by contrast, the physical examination will be preceded by a detailed compilation of a patient’s health history to better understand the role of familial, genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors.
Doctors specializing in functional medicine make a deep dive into your medical history and tailor treatment plan to individual needs. They also tap into an array of support and enhance the more familiar measures that most of us are familiar with.
Here are highlights of a few of those more advanced techniques.
Healthy-heart diagnostic tests
To complement standard hearth-health diagnostic testing done by cardiologists, such as stress tests and an echocardiogram, functional medicine looks to further predict risks for atherosclerosis (plaque build-up) by testing patient cholesterol through advanced lipid panel and inflammation markers.
Such additional screenings enable the provider to guide the patient to intervene by reducing the inflammation that leads to plaque formation, based on test results.
We also do cardiac genetic testing to detect the genetic markers that put the patient at increased risk for coronary artery disease, and will pursue personalized intervention pertaining to lifestyle, supplements and sometimes medication, if indicated.
Other tests, though, enable us to capture a more complete picture of heart health, including the carotid intima-media thickness (CIMT) test.
A CIMT test measures the thickness of the inner layers of your carotid artery, which transports blood from your heart to your brain, and helps detect possible thickening of your arteries from plaque build-up.
This enhanced cardiovascular evaluation involves lab work as stated above that includes advanced lipid panel elevation markers to check for insulin resistance, as well as insulin and glucose levels.
In some cases, patients with evidence of coronary artery disease or atherosclerosis will be referred for a detailed heart scan, known as a coronary computed tomography angiography (CCTA.
Images from that scan are then processed using a series of artificial intelligence-based algorithms that are translated into measurements and reports that provide details into the amount and types of plaque build-up in the arteries, as well as determine a potential narrowing of the arteries, known as stenosis.
Toxic load tests
Exposure to chemicals found in household cleaning products, our drinking water and elsewhere can adversely impact our health without our knowledge. One of those chemicals, glyphosate, is the world’s most widely produced herbicide, found in more than 700 different products, from agriculture and forestry to home use.
A 2022 CDC study found that the substance is common in our air, water and bodies, and research shows a strong correlation between glyphosate usage and several chronic illnesses, with the International Agency for Research on Cancer classifying it as a “probably carcinogenic to humans” in 2015.
Treatment of glyphosate toxicity should be centered on determining the route of introduction and avoiding future exposure. Eating organic non-GMO (genetically modified organism) foods and drinking filtered water are two of the best ways to avoid glyphosate.
A simple urine test can measure glyphosate exposure, with additional lab tests available to check water samples from drinking water supplies for possible contamination.
Diagnostic tests and tick-borne diseases
Patients beset by lethargy, fatigue, body aches and brain fog may have a mostly invisible enemy to blame: tiny ticks or other insects whose bites can cause pain, suffering and discomfort in far greater proportion compared to their miniscule size.
At Naples Center for Functional Medicine, we partner with IGeneX, which not only screens for Lyme disease but for a whole host of tick-borne pathogens.
Nearly one in four ticks infected with Lyme disease also carry multiple pathogens – meaning 25% of patients tested only for Lyme disease will not be properly diagnosed.
Further, that lab’s proprietary test for Lyme disease has a sensitivity greater than 93%, whereas the two-tier testing protocol recommended by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a sensitivity below 58%.
Stool testing and gut health
Medical conversations about gut health often revolve around diet and food intake – a natural starting point when it comes to a complex digestive system that requires coordination among the esophagus, stomach, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, and small and large intestines.
More broadly, gut health plays a prominent role in one’s overall health and wellness, with gut bacteria and other microbiomes impacting cardiovascular health, obesity levels, diabetes, cancer and other chronic conditions.
One way to take a deeper dive into gut health is through a gastrointestinal microbial assay (GI-MAP) or GI Effects stool test that measures commensal and pathogenic bacteria, parasites, fungi and more harmful organisms that could be adversely impacting your digestive, immune, metabolic and endocrine systems.
Such linkages should not be overlooked. A leaky gut, also known as increased intestinal permeability, can lead to more serious disorders like chronic fatigue, brain fog, arthritis and allergies. And a growing body of research into the “gut-brain axis” shows that digestive issues have been linked to mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression.
With a new year upon us, many will focus on resolutions aimed at improving our mental and physical health. Such resolutions often fall by the wayside – making it even more critical our annual check-ups do more than skim the surface.
As functional medicine specialists, we don’t promise to have all the answers – but you can guarantee that we will ask plenty of questions and go well beyond the status quo when it comes to your health.
As always, consult with your physician prior to making any substantial lifestyle, health or nutritional changes. For questions, please contact our office at 239-649-7400.
Connect with a functional medicine specialist today!
Call us at 239-649-7400 or complete the form below to learn more about diagnostic testing and how functional medicine can apply to your wellness journey.
About the author:
Dr. Lina Sakr is a board-certified internal medicine physician at Naples Center for Functional Medicine with nearly 40 years of experience. She specializes in metabolic and nutritional medicine, anti-aging medicine and women’s health.