Blood tests have become the standard method that doctors use to help better understand the health or the disease states of their patients. Many tests are straightforward such a blood sugar test (glucose) in someone with diabetes or an iron level in someone with suspected iron-deficiency anemia. Other testing may be more complex. These are called biomarker tests because they are not necessarily direct measures of health or disease, but are characteristics or indicators that suggest one or the other. Biomarkers are very often pieces of a more complex puzzle that experienced doctors trained in advanced testing can use to piece together what the underlying root causes of a person’s symptoms might be.
Here are some questions that Parsley Health doctors can answer using blood testing that is not often found in other doctor’s bag of tricks.
Intestinal permeability, or “Leaky Gut Syndrome”, is a lesser appreciated condition by the larger medical community, but scientifically well-established as an underlying cause of an overstimulated immune system , which can lead to conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), diabetes, cancer, obesity, autoimmune disorders, and even mental illness.
Research in the journal Physiological Reviews notes that zonulin can be used as a biomarker of impaired gut barrier function for several autoimmune diseases, neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, and even tumoral diseases. It may also be a potential therapeutic target for the treatment of these conditions.
At Parsley Health, we often order a zonulin test to more definitively diagnose or rule out leaky gut syndrome. We also use the levels of the test in follow up to determine whether specific treatment is working to improve the health of your gut.
Speaking of leaky gut syndrome, one of the contributing causes of leaky gut is eating foods that are harmful to gut health . Some foods, for example, will promote bacterial overgrowth that can damage the gut, while other foods cause damage by provoking a direct response by your immune system.
You may also be genetically predisposed to not tolerate certain foods that you’re currently eating because you think they’re healthy. They may be healthy for some people, but perhaps not for you due to your unique immune system.
Certain blood tests look for antibodies to foods to see if your immune system is reacting to them unexpectedly. Antibodies are proteins that your immune cells create in response to a perceived threat such as a bacteria, virus, toxin, or even a food that your body doesn’t recognize as safe and healthy.
Sometimes changes to your gut health decrease your ability to digest food effectively. This, combined with developing a leaky gut, exposes your immune system to larger food particles to which it has not been exposed before. This causes the immune system to react and produce antibodies.
Testing for these antibodies not only identifies an immune system that has been overly stimulated, but can identify which foods may be causing the stimulation. Treatments by an experienced provider can reduce this stimulation and perhaps even reverse not only the damage done, but also the sensitivity to these foods.
Thyroid disorders, such as hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism, are easily diagnosed with simple blood tests and often immediately treated with prescription medication. But more extensive testing, which many doctors don’t do, can identify potential treatable issues causing the disorder.
Parsley Health uses antibody testing to determine if the nature of the disorder is destructive autoimmune antibodies, as in the case of the relatively common Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. We also look for nutritional deficiencies, which can sometimes cause an under-active thyroid.
Our doctors test for selenium, zinc and Vitamin D3 levels, all of which play a significant role in maintaining thyroid health. A deficiency in any one of these vitamins or minerals can cause sluggish thyroid function which can be easily treated.
Mood disorders such as anxiety and depression are relatively common. Even more common are less severe mood disturbances like irritability, moods swings, and premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
Many doctors automatically treat these conditions with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). By inhibiting the reuptake (reabsorption) of these chemicals in your brain cells and central nervous system, they increase the amount of these substances available and free in your system. This helps to restore chemical imbalances that may lead to mood disorders or disturbances. But doctors don’t typically ask themselves what is causing these imbalances in the first place.
Nutritional deficiencies and otherwise silent genetic disorders can often be responsible for such imbalances. Two major nutrients—vitamin B12 and folate—are involved in energy production, detoxification, and neurotransmitter production and low levels have been associated with a higher risk for mood disorders . Deficiency in these vitamins can also lead to elevated levels of the amino acid homocysteine , which could impair neurotransmitter function , resulting in symptoms of anxiety, depression, and irritability.
But even if B12 and folate levels are normal, an elevated homocysteine level can be an indicator that something in the biochemical pathways is still not right. In many cases, due to genetic variations such as MTHFR (methyltetrahydrofolate reductase) abnormalities, the body’s ability to methylate, or activate, vitamins to a useable form is impaired. This slows or halts metabolic activity so the body isn’t able to make the appropriate levels of neurotransmitters, leading to mood imbalances or more severe depression and anxiety.
In these cases, our doctors at Parsley Health may be able to help members feel better by replacing activated vitamins rather than using prescription medication that might not treat the underlying problem. Homocysteine can also be monitored to more objectively determine whether subsequent treatments are effective.
Genetics refers to the DNA, or genetic information, that was passed down from your ancestors. Genomics, on the other hand, is an understanding of how those genes work (or don’t work) and how they express themselves (or don’t) in your life.
Doctors experienced in genomics know how to selectively survey your genetic predispositions using various tests and help you understand your risks and how to minimize them.
Genetic testing can help you and your doctor to determine if you may have an increased risk for numerous problems. More severe illnesses can be predicted such Alzheimer’s disease due to the more commonly known APO-E gene or the lesser known APP, PSEN1 or PSEN2.
Parsley Health doctors understand how to interpret the epigenetics of the situation. Epigenetics is the most important aspect of this type of evaluation. It refers to how one can activate or deactivate certain genes or even potentially overcome certain genetic variations (such as the MTHFR gene variant described above) by altering lifestyle factors such as food choices, types of and conditions surrounding exercise, improving sleep , or reducing stress.