What if I told you there are laboratory tests so technologically advanced that they can tell you and your doctor about the state of your health years before disease develops. Conventional lab tests detect current illness, but they miss the subtle nuances of pre-disease conditions like leaky gut syndrome. Nor do they usually indicate your susceptibility to particular ailments.
I spoke to representatives from three different laboratories around the country about the latest in laboratory technology. We discussed various trail-blazing tests, and what symptoms or situations were indicated for each. Ask your doctor about these eight lab tests so you can truly practice preventative health care.
Looking for Osteoporosis
Once you hit 35, gradual bone loss is inevitable. This trend is accelerated by smoking, poor diet, lack of exercise, genetics or race and may eventually result in osteoporosis. Full-blown osteoporosis is painful; losing bone is not. While we should all take steps to prevent or slow bone thinning, you may want to take extra precautions if you’re an unusually fast bone loser.
Special X-rays are usually used to detect brittle bones. However, this pricey test isn’t sensitive enough to see if or how rapidly you’re losing bone. By the time bone loss is noticed it may be too late.
Fortunately, labs like Meridian Valley Clinical Laboratories in Kent, Washington now offer a simple, inexpensive (around $70.00) urine test that measures a bone loss protein called Type I collagen. The higher your levels, the faster you’re losing bone.
Bone is continually breaking down and rebuilding itself, says Karen Wissinger, Meridian Lab’s Administrative Director. In 10 days, the osteoporosis or NTx test tells your doctor how fast you lose bone, not merely how much is gone. Prevention against further bone thinning can then be taken.
The NTx test should be performed on women (or men) 30 years and older who are at high risk of developing osteoporosis. This establishes a baseline reading. The test can be repeated every year or two to see if bone loss rate has changed. Treatment effectiveness can also be assessed by repeating this osteoporosis test six to eight weeks–the time it takes for bone loss patterns to change–after the initial NTx.
The Parasite Test
About five to 10 percent of the general population have parasites, estimates Dan Lukaczer, ND, Assistant Director of Educational Services at Great Smokies Diagnostic Laboratory in Ashville, North Carolina. This is much higher than what most conventional doctors report.
Increased world travel and a rise in immigration to this country may explain why pinworms, giardia, disentamoeba and other protozoan parasites or worms are more common. “Or it might be parasites have been prevalent for a long time but not detected before,” suggests Lukaczer. Unlike conventional doctors, inquiring about parasite-like symptoms is standard protocol among many natural health physicians.
Diarrhea, cough, itching, skin rash, bloody stools, unexplained fever and abdominal pain all strongly suggest an intestinal parasitic infection. However, these bugs can launch symptoms like headaches, chronic fatigue and joint pain too. Food allergies and autoimmune disease may stem from parasites. You can also be infected and feel nothing unusual.
Most laboratories offer parasite testing. But at Great Smokies, specialists in digestive lab tests, searching for parasites is a passion. “Our lab techs are well trained and well versed in these bugs,” says Lukaczer. “We do around 500 parasite tests per week, much more than the average lab. In addition, we run extra specialized tests that the normal reference lab doesn’t. So we pick up infections not normally detected.”
One to three stool samples are required to check for parasites. The cost varies from $55.00 to over $200.00 depending on many samples are submitted and whether other analyses are made. Parasite results are available within one week.
Nutrient Function Test
Numerous studies have confirmed the relationship between nutrient deficiencies and disease. For instance low zinc levels may play a role in diabetes (1) and insufficient body reserves of vitamin E can increase your risk of angina (2). Laboratory tests designed to find vitamin and mineral deficiencies are essential to prevent or delay nutritionally-related ailments.
“The typical serum test looks for the amount of nutrients in your blood,” says Cyrene Vacanti, Marketing Manager of SpectraCell Laboratories, Inc. in Houston, Texas. “We use a test called the Essential Metabolics Analysis (EMA) to measure how well nutrients work in the cells. That’s what matters, not vitamin and mineral blood levels.”
The EMA test begins with a blood collection. At SpectaCell’s lab, white blood cells called lymphocytes are removed from the blood sample and grown in a series of special dishes whose contents varies depending on which nutrient is being tested. An assortment of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and fatty acids can be tested for. “Normal results (available within two weeks) are different for each nutrient,” explains Vacanti. Cost ranges from $70 to $465 depending on how many nutrients are tested.
Comprehensive Digestive Stool Analysis
Good nutrition is vital for good health. However, a great diet is useless if your body can’t digest, absorb or utilize the food you eat. First developed by Meridian Labs, the Comprehensive Digestive Stool Analysis (CDSA) employs a series of tests to evaluate digestion.
Meat and vegetable fibers are measured in your stool as are fats to gauge absorption. Lab technicians look for blood and mucus in your stool (both should be absent), and record stool color. Stomach acid is measured along with enzyme levels and bile. Even a predisposition to colon cancer can be detected.
The healthy intestine houses over 400 bacteria and other bugs. A simple stool sample reveals what and how many yeast, bacteria and parasites live inside you, and whether this population coexists in a healthy balance. An abnormally high ratio of pathogenic bacteria and other microbes creates an unhealthy state called dysbiosis.
A CDSA is certainly warranted if you suffer from chronic diarrhea, indigestion or other gastric complaints, or if you spot undigested food in your stools. However, poor intestinal health doesn’t stop with indigestion. The CDSA provides helpful information for a variety of health concerns ranging from asthma to arthritis. Also offered by Great Smokies and other labs, a CDSA panel takes one week to complete and costs around $300.
Intestinal Permeability Test
“The Intestinal Permeability test is performed when a doctor suspects the small intestine has problems, but there are no or few gut symptoms,” says Lukaczer. Often performed along side the CDSA, this $85.00 test evaluates how permeable or “leaky” your small intestine is.
A healthy small intestine permits mostly small fully-digested food particles to pass into general circulation, while excluding large partially digested food molecules, chemicals and other toxic compounds. A damaged or sick intestine can turn sieve-like, also to as “leaky gut syndrome”.
This test requires you fast overnight and then drink a beverage the next morning containing lactulose and mannitol, sugars that don’t break down during digestion. Six hours later urine is collected and sent to the lab where urinary mannitol and lactulose are measured. Within one week, you receive results. Low levels of both sugars indicate malabsorption; high amounts point to a leaky gut. High lactulose and low mannitol means both conditions exist.
Various types of arthritis have been linked to a leaky gut, as have food allergies, skin conditions and celiac disease. Inflammatory bowel disease or other intestinal conditions including infections, injuries and dysbiosis may increase intestinal permeability. Alcoholism, aging and certain medicines like aspirin and ibuprofen aggravate this problem.
“The gut is the source of a lot of health problems,” says Lukaczer. “It’s like the roots of a tree, if the roots are poor, the whole system suffers.”
Functional Liver Detoxification Test
The gastrointestinal tract does its best to screen out harmful toxins. The liver catches then detoxifies and eliminates most toxins that sneak over the intestinal wall. However, a leaky or dysfunctional gut, or over-exposure to noxious compounds can overwhelm the liver and ultimately creep into the bloodstream.
Fatigue, headaches and other symptoms signal liver overload as well as conditions like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s Disease, food allergies, multiple chemical sensitivities and premenstrual syndrome.
Rather than check for liver damage (which is difficult to repair), the $100.00 and up Functional Liver Detoxification test determines how well the liver filters out toxins. Urine and saliva samples are collected after you ingest several pills including one containing caffeine. A complex printout returns in one week with results, for instance, as follows. Elevated salivary caffeine usually means high toxin exposure; low levels may indicate an inefficient liver.
Checking for Free Radicals
If you’re wondering how well your body manages free radicals, for $70.00 to $100.00 you can find out. Free radicals are highly reactive molecules that, when exceedingly high, speed up aging and promote cancer by harming cells and tissues. This damage may be silent, or contribute to one of over 100 diseases ranging from ulcerative colitis to rheumatoid arthritis.
Your body produces free radicals to help white blood cells disable germs, and aid in liver detoxification. However, pollution, too much sun, pesticides, radiation, some drugs, alcohol, cigarettes and rancid fats push free radicals above comfortable levels, and use up free radical-fighting nutrients called antioxidants.
With the same lymphocyte technique used in their Essential Metabolics Analysis test, the Spectrox test from SpectraCell Labs inspects blood to see how well your body’s antioxidants and repair mechanisms resist free radical damage.
Great Smokies Lab offers similar information with its Oxidative Stress test. Technicians examine your blood or urine sample for glutathione, an antioxidant found in your body, and lipid peroxide (free radical) levels. High glutathione means your body’s working overtime combatting free radicals. Elevated lipid peroxides signal excessive oxidative or free radical damage.
It’s a good idea to test both antioxidant body stores and free radical damage, states Lukaczer, so you know how much antioxidant supplementation is needed to offset current oxidative harm. Lukaczer suggests running the Functional Liver test together with the Oxidative Stress test since a dysfunctional liver increases free radical production. Test results take from one to two weeks.
ELISA isn’t the name of a girl; it’s an acronym for enzyme linked immunosorbent assay, a food allergy test. For as low as $40.00, this simple blood test will tell you what foods are causing allergic symptoms.
There are two types of food allergies. The fixed or immediate kind produce hives, stuffy nose or even life-threatening anaphylaxis usually within hours or even minutes after eating an allergic food. Common offending foods include shellfish, strawberries, peanuts, nuts and others. Conventional (and alternative) allergists readily accept fixed food allergies, a diagnosis easily confirmed through not only symptoms but a variety of lab tests including ELISA.
Delayed, cyclic, masked or hidden food allergies are more controversial. Symptoms run the gamut from headache, bedwetting and mental confusion to ear infections, asthma and joint pain (3). No body system is exempt from adverse food reactions. Again, ELISA is an appropriate test for this form of food allergies.
There are several kinds of ELISA allergy tests on the market. Make sure the one you choose detects increases in both immunoglobulin E (IgE) and immunoglobulin G (IgG)–the antibodies that increase in response to fixed and delayed food allergies respectively. Results should be available to you with two to five working days.
Lab results are just one piece of evidence used by a doctor to diagnose health conditions. Physical exam and detailed questions are also vital. Remember too that lab tests aren’t perfect: sometimes they miss a problem, other times they falsely say you’re sick.
If you think the above laboratory tests will help you, take this information to your doctor for consideration. All of these tests should be instigated under your physician’s supervision. For free brochures on these and other laboratory tests, call:
Great Smokies Diagnostic Laboratories
Meridian Valley Clinical Laboratory
SpectraCell Laboratories, Inc
Every year laboratories develop new tests to help your doctor prevent and treat illness. Here are some other tests you might ask about.
This yeast can be measured in the gastrointestinal tract, vagina, throat or other suspected infected areas. Candida infection symptoms include fatigue, indigestion, mental confusion and others.
Low levels of the adrenal hormone dehydroepiandrosterone has been linked to various ailments including fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis. If levels are low, your doctor can prescribe DHEA medication.
Laboratories can assess heavy metal exposure (lead, cadmium, for example) from a lock of hair. Lead toxicity in children causes mental confusion.
Glucose-Insulin Tolerance Test
This test is used to assess suspected refined carbohydrate intolerance, or what many refer to as hypoglycemia. If you have essential hypertension, ask your doctor about performing this test. High blood pressure is associated with defects in insulin, glucose and lipoprotein metabolism in some people.
Sex Hormone Profile
This urine test measures various sex hormones including DHEA, testosterone and progesterone. It also calibrates estrone, estriol and estradiol (the three different estrogens) ratios, one way to judge breast cancer risk.
- Niewoehner CG et al. Role of zinc supplementation in type II diabetes mellitus. The American Journal of Medicine 1986;81:63-68.
- Riemersma RA et al. Risk of angina pectoris and plasma concentrations of vitamins A, C, and E and carotene. The Lancet 1991;337:1-5.
- Pizzorno J & M Murray. A Textbook of Natural Medicine®. Seattle: Bastyr College Publications, 1985.