Functional testing in autoimmune disease

Have you ever wondered what might be at the root of your symptoms, but the test your doctors run keeps saying everything is ‘normal’, even though you struggle with daily inflammatory symptoms like brain fog, fatigue and skin irritations? 


If so, I would like to chat with you about functional testing because I was also frustrated when I started my path to better health. However, unlike many of my clients, I did have some out-of-range numbers in my doctor’s testing, but they didn’t know why.

After many times of going back and forth to the doctors and endocrinologists, with no treatment options provided, I decided to take my health into my own hands. And that is when I discovered functional testing. 

In this article, I will share with you the functional tests that enabled me to take a personalised approach to my diet and lifestyle so that I was able to reverse my symptoms of autoimmune disease. I now commonly use these tests with my clients to help them on their path to better health.

Stool test

The test I run the most in my clinic is a stool test. The gut is central to all systems in the body, especially the immune system. 70% of the immune system is located in the gut, where diverse bacteria are best. If something is out of balance in the gut, it will likely affect your inflammatory response. 

The stool test focuses on five key areas: maldigestion, inflammation, dysbiosis, infection and metabolic imbalances. And why are these important? Because a breakdown or imbalance in any of these five systems can lead to nutrient deficiencies, inflammation, and digestive issues and may lead to autoimmune disease. 

Through PCR testing, the stool test will identify any pathogenic bacteria or parasites that might be present in the gut. It will also determine the many different types of healthy commensal bacteria in your gut and whether these are balanced. 

A balanced gut microbiome is vital for optimal digestive health, so even when you don’t have a pathogenic infection, if the healthy bacteria are out of sync, you may still have a problem. 

I see this often with my clients taking the same probiotic for an extended time. Yes, you do initially get the benefit from the probiotic. Still, taking them long-term can lead to a build-up of certain healthy bacteria vs others, leading to dysbiosis, which can cause leaky gut syndrome and systemic inflammation.

The stool test I offer in my clinic is easy to administer at home and return to the laboratory for testing. If you want to learn more about my Gut Health Testing Packages, you can do so on my website. 

Hormone panel

Sex hormones 

A test that I seem to be running more often than not at the moment with my clients is the hormone panel, which tests for both sex and stress hormones. 

It is no surprise, given the number of xenoestrogens such as phthalates we are exposed to from plastics and the demanding lives that we all lead, which can cause chronic stress and burnout. 

The hormone panel that I run in my clinic looks at both sex hormones and the metabolites that the hormones are converted into through phase 1 detoxification. During this phase, hormones are converted into metabolites through hydroxylation, which can have either a positive or negative effect on your body. 

Understanding which metabolites your body favours in this phase is vital to understanding how your hormones and their metabolites might relate to your symptoms. 

And if your body is currently creating unhelpful metabolites, then there are actions you can take with your diet and lifestyle to redirect your hormones through the more beneficial pathways.

The hormone panel also provides information on phase 2 detoxification. Once your hormones are conjugated, they can be excreted from your body. Otherwise, you build up certain hormones, which can cause inflammation and contribute to autoimmune symptoms. Recent studies have demonstrated oestrogen hormone receptors in autoimmune diseases.

Stress hormones 

The hormone panel I offer tests stress hormone levels and the cortisol awakening response, a crucial marker in autoimmune disease. The cortisol awakening response (CAR) is a rapid increase in cortisol levels first thing in the morning. It has been shown to have many beneficial effects on the body, including keeping inflammation in check. 

You see, the CAR provides some great insight into the reactivity of your stress response. Cortisol is anti-inflammatory and helps to suppress inflammatory markers. If you wake up in the morning with joint pain, headaches, and migraines, it might indicate that your cortisol awakening response is not optimal. And once you know this, you can then take steps to improve your morning response. 

And not only that, the CAR has been shown to affect autoimmune diseases, as it helps the thymus gland detect autoimmune cells and destroy them through a process known as apoptosis. 

The thymus gland is where immune cells called T cells are produced and undergo scrupulous interrogation to determine whether they are fit for purpose. If they are positively selected, they are released into the system. 

The hormone panel I offer in my clinic is a urine and saliva test, which is easy to administer at home. If you want to learn more about the hormone panel testing package I offer, you can do so on my website.

Organic acids test

And the final core test that I use routinely with my clients is the organic acids test, which tests for metabolites in your urine. Organic acids are the metabolic intermediates of various biochemical processes in the body, including energy production, detoxification, neurotransmitters and methylation. 

When I use the organic acids test with my clients, it helps me to understand whether they have vitamin and mineral deficiencies, bacteria or yeast overgrowths, whether they are in a state of oxidative stress, and if toxicity is a factor for them.

Armed with this information, I can then recommend foods and supplements that can address the underlying problems identified in this test.

I find the organics acids test is a great test to assess overall health and to take a proactive approach in managing my clients' help, as often markers can be out of range before your feel symptoms. 

For example, one marker that I think is particularly useful for my clients with joint and muscle pain is the marker for oxalates, which is also a risk factor for bladder and gut issues, and kidney stones. Oxalates are found in healthy foods such as almonds, berries and spinach and are often raised when you have candida overgrowth or mould toxicity.

The benefits of functional testing  

Functional testing has enabled me to take my health to the next level after years of not knowing the cause of my symptoms. And I see the same in my clients as well. By understanding the imbalances of specific systems in your body and their potential causes, you can take action for your health. 

I also find data hugely motivating for both my clients and myself. Even when you feel better, by seeing the improvements in your results from your previous test, you feel enthused about staying on track, as you can see the results in print. 

If you would like to explore the benefits of functional testing, then feel free to book a free initial consultation with me via the 'email me' button below. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Nutritionist Resource are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London W1G & Harrogate HG1
Written by V. J. Hamilton, Autoimmune Disease Expert | BSc (Immunology), DipION, mBANT
London W1G & Harrogate HG1

Victoria is a qualified Nutritional Therapist and member of BANT, focusing on autoimmune disease including skin disorders, heart disease & neurological issues as well as gut health & fatigue. Victoria has a BSc in Biochemistry & Immunology which she uses in her practice, using only evidence-based nutritional therapies to support chronic conditions.

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