You feel ready to collapse – tired, irritable, flat, anxious and ready to cry at the drop of a hat. You need a time-out, but the world around you doesn’t allow for such a luxury. Your GP suggests you start taking anti-depressants. Of course, that is always an option, but before you fill that prescription consider doing a bit more research into the cause of your symptoms. The tests described below identify common causes of the symptoms you are experiencing, and once recognized, they can be addressed with great success. Keep in mind that these are comprehensive, specialized tests and not the routine tests your GP can request for you. We offer all tests described below at Infuse, and many other integrative medicine practitioners can order them for you too. The cost of these tests may be covered under your extended health care benefits. A detailed history will help elucidate the most appropriate test for you.
1. 4-point cortisol test
Cortisol, better known as the “stress hormone”, is released by the adrenal glands to help the body better respond to stress. For a while. But if the stressor doesn’t go away (whether it is mental, emotional and/ or physical) it gets much harder for the body to keep up. This type of low grade, long lasting stress (as opposed to the acute, short duration stress of running from a preditor) is what many people in todays society experience and what eventually wears them down.
It is important to know in what stage of the stress response you are in order to treat your symptoms effectively. During the initial stages of stress the cortisol levels will spike up, causing you to feel “wired but tired”, with difficulties sleeping. But during the later stages of stress the cortisol levels become depleted, causing chronic inflammation, pain and fatigue, weakened immunity and lowered cognition.
At the same time, other hormonal systems are being affected as well. Since all steroid hormones (including cortisol and your reproductive hormones) are made out of the same precursor (progesterone), it is inevitable that the more cortisol is being produced, the less progesterone is available for the production of, for example, testosterone, and for maintaining the progesterone to estrogen balance, which is crucial for mood and reproductive health. As if that is not enough, the thyroid hormones are also affected, as the body will want to conserve energy by reducing metabolism, and as such everything will slow down, resulting in symptoms such as feeling sluggish, a foggy mind, weight gain and depression.
And you thought it was “all in your head”? As you can see, chronic stress causes a huge domino effect, affecting many important body systems. The 4-point cortisol test tests your cortisol levels at 4 different times of the day, as cortisol levels vary during the day. This is done through saliva samples, which is a much better reflection of what is happening in the body than blood levels (which are strictly regulated). Once you know where your cortisol levels are at, treatment can be initiated (with herbs, supplements, life style changes and/ or acupuncture) with the right level of stimulation while restoring the adrenal’s capability to respond.
2. Gene mutations and the Methylation Cycle.
The Methylation Cycle is a biochemical pathway that contributes to a wide range of crucial bodily functions, such as detoxification, immune function, maintaining DNA, energy production, mood balancing and controlling inflammation.
Methylation is involved in almost every bodily biochemical reaction, and occurs billions of times every second in our cells. If any step of this pathway is compromised, the body is less able to respond to environmental stressors and toxins, which may contribute to many, major chronic conditions, including:
• Cardiovascular Disease
• Adult neurological conditions
• Autism and other spectrum disorders
• Chronic Fatigue Syndrome & Fibromyalgia
• Alzheimer’s disease
• Miscarriages, fertility, and problems in pregnancy
• Allergies, immune system, and digestive problems
• Mood and psychiatric disorders
Two key vitamins that are required for the methylation pathway to function, and that are often low, are vitamin B12 and L-methylfolate (active folate). MTHFR (MethyleneTetraHydroFolate Reductase) is an enzyme required to turn dietary folic acid into active folate that can then be used for the methylation cycle. As many as 47% of North Americans have a genetic mutation called the MTHFR polymorphism, which causes a reduced capacity to produce active folate from folic acid. An even higher percentage of people with mental/ cognitive health concerns have this mutation. Yet our foods are fortified with folic acid, which, if not metabolized into active folate, may accumulate in the body to toxic levels.
Genetic testing from a saliva sample can identify if and where exactly the methylation cycle is compromised. Treatment will involve natural supplement protocols to support the methylation cycle, as well as dietary changes to reduce the folic acid intake and increase the levels of active folate.
3. Food-sensitivity testing (or elimination diet)
Did you know that food and/or chemical sensitivities can create emotional, behavioral and mental symptoms such as panic attacks, compulsive behavior, depression, psychotic episodes, or hallucinations? They can also contribute to many less severe mental and emotional symptoms such as anxiety, irritability, hyperactivity, inability to concentrate, or feelings of being in a mental “fog”.
The idea that food affects the mind is an alien concept to many people. But since the brain is perhaps the most delicate organ of the body, using sometimes as much as 30% of all the energy we derive from food, this should be no surprise. Allergies to food can upset levels of hormones and other key chemicals in the brain, resulting in symptoms ranging from depression to schizophrenia, and from auto-immune conditions to Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
The difference between a food sensitivity and a food allergy is that different antibodies are generated in response to an allergen (foods that cause an immune reaction). Full blown allergies cause a IgE-antibody reaction, which generally occurs within minutes and can, on rare occasions, be life threatening (eg peanut allergies). Skin eruptions (hives, eczema), breathing and digestive problems are also common IgE reactions.
Food sensitivities, on the other hand, cause a IgG-antibody reaction which takes hours to days to develop. IgG antibodies attach themselves to the antigen and create an antibody-antigen complex. When these complexes accumulate in the body tissues they can cause inflammation, which can contribute to a wide variety of health conditions, including the mental health symptoms described above, chronic pain and fatigue.
The most reliable way to identify food sensitivities is trough a carefully managed elimination diet. The person following such a diet avoids suspected allergens for 1 month, and then makes carefully observed reintroductions of each potentially problematic food. While very reliable, the elimination diet may be difficult to maintain for some. In those cases, another way to test for food sensitivities is through a blood test that detects antibodies (IgG and IgA) that the immune system forms in response to allergens. While this is very useful (and a lot faster and easier than following an elimination diet), there is a small chance of false negatives, meaning the sample didn’t pick up the antibody, even though it might still be circulating in the blood. The test can only detects antibodies to foods that have been consumed within the last 3 months.
How is the test done?
We take a small blood sample at the clinic – this is done via finger prick (much like a blood glucose test). The sample is sent to the lab and they expose your sample to 95 different food antigens, then observe how reactive you are to each food. The clinic receives a report 2-3 weeks later and you come back for a follow up to get advice on how to maintain your diet while avoiding these foods.
The test can be done on children as young at 2 years of age and the only contraindication is for individuals who are currently taking certain immunosuppressant drugs.
Low mood, depression, anxiety and cognitive difficulties can have many different causes. To determine the most effective treatment for your personal situation, comprehensive lab testing can help identify where your body needs some extra support. The tests described above test for common causes of a wide range of symptoms, including the mental health challenges mentioned. There are many more causes and tests to consider, and a comprehensive health history will help narrow down the best test(s) for you. Once we know where things are not functioning optimally, we have a better understanding of what to do about it. For a full menu of testing offered at Infuse, contact me We offer free 15 minute consultations to answer any questions you may have about these – and other – tests, which you can book online.