Key takeaways
  • Functional testing provides objective data that can pinpoint or eliminate possible causes of health problems.
  • Different types of functional tests are available, such as organic acid tests, digestive health tests, SIBO testing, food allergy and sensitivity testing, the DUTCH hormone test, and cardiometabolic health profiling.
  • Functional testing provides a more comprehensive insight into health than conventional healthcare tests and can help diagnose conditions, detect imbalances and nutrient status.

What is functional testing?

Functional testing is a valuable tool that functional medicine practitioners use, and is often critical to the detective work they undertake for their patients. By looking at various biomarkers, practitioners can get a better picture of what is going on inside the body, and identify any imbalances or dysfunctions that might be contributing to a patient's health picture.

How can functional testing help solve health cases? 

There are many different types of functional tests that can be used, and the most appropriate tests will depend on the individual case. Investigating the underlying causes of conditions like cardiovascular disease, acne, eczema, IBS, thyroid issues, and more using the functional medicine approach often employs these functional tests, providing practitioners with a wealth of objective data from which to put the pieces of a person's health puzzle back together. In doing so, rather than guessing, which takes time, experimentation, and often, frustration, testing can quickly pinpoint or eliminate a possible cause to put you on a fast track to recovery.

Common functional tests

At Melbourne Functional Medicine, we use some of the best functional medicine lab tests in the world. These tests provide a much broader insight into health than the tests acquired through a conventional healthcare setting, like those you can access through your GP.

Here are some of the common functional tests used in functional medicine:

  • Organic Acids Test (OAT): Measures metabolic by-products in urine to diagnose conditions, detects neurotransmitter imbalances, yeast/bacterial overgrowth, nutrient status, and can be used to monitor treatment effectiveness
  • Comprehensive stool analysis: Used to assess gut health, detect harmful bacteria/parasites, inflammation, and functional digestive capacity
  • SIBO testing: A breath test series taken at home to detect small intestinal bacterial overgrowth
  • At-home gut investigation kit: Includes tests for transit time, stomach acid levels, and dietary carbohydrate digestion to assess digestive health at home
  • Precision 88 dietary antigen and KBMO food inflammation tests to identify inflammatory responses to common foods
  • DUTCH hormone test: A comprehensive urine test measuring oestrogen metabolites, progesterone, testosterone, DHEA, DHT, cortisol, and melatonin to identify hormonal imbalances
  • Cardiometabolic health profile: Evaluates cardiovascular health by measuring lipoprotein particle size, oxidised LDL, inflammatory markers, and fasting blood glucose
  • Comprehensive thyroid panel: Measures a range of thyroid markers, including TSH, T4, T3, rT3, and thyroid antibodies to identify potential thyroid problems.
  • Testing for toxin exposure: Measures exposure to environmental toxins through blood, urine, or hair samples
  • Genetic testing: Can be used to identify genetic predispositions for chronic diseases and guide personalised diet and lifestyle interventions
  • MyDNAge test: Measures biological age through methylation and telomere length, and targeted interventions can slow or reverse biological aging
  • Nutrient testing: Measures the levels of essential nutrients in your body, allowing you to identify deficiencies and make dietary changes or take supplements to address them

Let's look at each of these in a bit more detail.

Organic Acids Test (OAT)

The organic acid test measures the levels of metabolic by-products excreted in a person's urine. Organic acids are chemicals produced when the body breaks down food or other metabolised substances.

The organic acid test has more than 70 different markers, and can be used to help diagnose a variety of conditions, or detect imbalances in neurotransmitters, energy production, yeast or bacterial overgrowth, oxidative stress, detoxification and methylation ability, and nutrient status.

It can also be used to monitor the progress of a disease or to evaluate the effectiveness of treatment.

In many cases your functional medicine practitioner will recommend an OAT when they are interested in looking at how your body, or metabolism, is functioning at the cellular level.

Digestive health tests - comprehensive stool analysis

There are a number of gut health tests available that can help assess the health and function of your digestive system, commonly used for those with digestive complaints like bloating, IBS and constipation, as well as to determine whether poor digestive health is contributing to other conditions such as acne, eczema, autoimmune conditions, and thyroid conditions.

There are several tests our practitioners use, all of which are comprehensive stool analysis tests for the microbiome and gut integrity. These tests can check for the presence of harmful bacteria or parasites in the digestive system, and assess functional digestive capacity such as how well you digest fats, protein and carbohydrates, as well as identify whether there is inflammation in the digestive tract.

SIBO testing

Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) is a common digestive health issue we see in clinic. Testing for SIBO involves a series of breath tests taken over a period of time which you can do at home.

At-home gut investigation kit 

Not all tests require fancy labs when it comes to assessing digestive health. Some of the tests in our gut investigation kit can be done at home, and include:

  • Transit time test - to determine how long it takes from mouth to anus to digest food and eliminate waste using simple sesame seeds
  • Bicarbonate of soda test - to determine stomach acid levels
  • Dietary carbohydrates digestion test - our patients receive an at-home test containing lactose, glucose, fructose and inulin to see whether the inability to digest and absorb these carbohydrates might be contributing to their health picture, which is often involved in bloating, IBS, diarrhoea and other conditions

Precision 88 dietary antigen test

Allergies and sensitivities are immune reactions to foods which can arise at any time, and are often surprisingly implicated in a range of health issues, from digestive issues to skin problems, mood disorders, fatigue, and more. There are two functional tests we often use to identify inflammatory responses from common foods; precision 88 dietary antigen test and KBMO food inflammation test.

The precision 88 (or P88) is a dietary antigen test that looks for both allergic reactions through IgE antibodies, and sensitivities through IgG antibodies, as well as the complement protein C3d, to identify whether inflammation is being produced in response to 88 common foods.

KBMO food inflammation test

The KBMO food inflammation test assesses if you have sensitivities to either 132 or 176 common foods. Through a few drops of blood, it detects and measures immunoglobulin G (IgG) and complement protein (C3d) to identify whether an inflammatory response may be being caused by an immune response to a food.

DUTCH hormone test

The DUTCH test is a comprehensive insight into your hormone status & their metabolism, including oestrogen metabolites, progesterone, testosterone, DHEA, DHT, cortisol, and melatonin.

It involves taking a small sample of urine, which is then sent to a laboratory for analysis. The results of the test can help you and your practitioner understand what, if any, hormonal imbalances you may have. If you're experiencing any symptoms of hormone imbalance, such as fatigue, weight gain, mood swings, and irregular periods, or changes to libido or erectile dysfunction, the DUTCH test can help.

There are five different DUTCH tests: DUTCH Complete, Female, Male, Plus and Adrenal. Your practitioner will determine the right one for you.

Cardiometabolic health profile

Cardiometabolic health testing looks at a number of different factors to give a comprehensive picture of your cardiovascular health. One of the key things that cardiometabolic health testing looks at is the size of your lipoprotein particles.

Small, dense LDL particles are more likely to damage the inner lining of your blood vessels leading to plaque formation than large, buoyant LDL particles.

The testing also looks at the level of oxidised LDL in your blood. Oxidised LDL is more likely to cause damage to the arteries than non-oxidised LDL.

The cardiometabolic profile also evaluates a number of inflammatory markers important in the evaluation of cardiovascular health, in addition to fasting blood glucose which is often an early indicator of insulin resistance and the potential for developing type 2 diabetes mellitus.

Comprehensive thyroid panel

Thyroid function is typically measured by testing for levels of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). However, TSH levels may not always be an accurate indicator of thyroid function.

That's why it's important to test for a broader range of thyroid markers, including T4, T3, rT3, and to explore thyroid antibodies TPOAb, TGAb, and TRAb which indicate autoimmune thyroid disease.

Comprehensive thyroid testing can give you a more complete picture of thyroid function and help to identify potential problems early on.

Testing for toxin exposure

Exposure to common toxins can lead to serious health problems, especially when exposure is prolonged or repeated. Testing for toxin exposure can help identify the source of exposure and allow for proper treatment and prevention.

Common tests for toxin exposure include tests for heavy metals, mould/mycotoxins, and environmental chemicals. In our clinic, we use:

  • Mosaic Diagnostics (formally Great Plains Laboratory) GPL-TOX Environmental Chemicals Testing
  • Mosaic Diagnostics (formally Great Plains Laboratory) Glyphosate test
  • Mosaic Diagnostics (formally Great Plains Laboratory) Mycotox profile to assess 11 mycotoxins from 40 species of mould
  • Doctor's Data hair toxic and essential elements - to assess heavy metals and essential minerals
  • Nutripath whole blood metals testing
  • Nutripath pre & post chelation urine metals testing

Genetic testing and nutrigenomics

Genetic testing can identify what genetic predispositions you might have towards chronic diseases, and can give much insight into understanding your capacity for metabolism, absorption and transport of various substances in the body, from nutrients to neurotransmitters and hormones, as well as assessing detoxification efficiency. This information can then be used to tailor a diet and lifestyle plan that may help optimise your overall health and prevent the onset of chronic disease. 

MyDNAge epigenetics profile to determine biological age

Most of us are aware of our chronological age, or the number of years we have been alive on this planet.  However, many factors such as stress, the environment, toxins, diet and lifestyle habits, direct impact how our body ages, meaning our biological age may be more than our chronological age. 

When it comes to understanding the genetics of your "true" biological age, we need to understand more about how certain genes are turned on or off through a process known as methylation, as well as how many factors influence your telomere length which has been shown to correlate with biological age. 

The MyDNAage test can measure your biological age, which may be different from your actual age. This information helps us understand how our choices and the world around us can affect how our body ages, as well as how fast you age, and our overall health. It's like having a blueprint of our body that shows how different factors can impact how we grow and develop. This exciting field of study is called epigenetics, which is helping people make better choices for a healthier life. With repeat testing you can see how targeted interventions to correct for factors influencing your gene expression can slow or even reverse your biological age.

Testing for nutrient status

One of the best ways to ensure that your body is functioning optimally is to make sure that you are not deficient in any key nutrients. This can be done through testing for nutrient deficiencies or insufficiencies. By finding and correcting these deficiencies, you can help improve your overall health and well-being.

Some of the nutrients our practitioners can test for include B vitamins, vitamin D, calcium, magnesium, zinc, copper, selenium, iodine, chromium, and Omega 3 and 6 essential fatty acids.

As you can see, there are many functional testing tools in a practitioner's arsenal that can help to understand a person's health picture more clearly. If you're trying to get to the root cause of your health issues, functional tests can often bring to light what you need to focus on to heal.

mark payne functional medicine practitioner wearing green shirt standing smiling
Mark Payne
Mark, with 30 years in health and education, specialises in health optimisation and longevity, cardiometabolic, digestive, and immune health, including HIV support. Awarded for research and teaching. Adjunct Fellow at Southern Cross University's National Centre for Naturopathic Medicine.
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Mark Payne
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something? Join the conversation in the comments below and we'd be delighted to chat.
{ "datePublished": "Oct 12, 2023" }