The Most Beneficial Lab Test For Brain Health
Dwight Franklin, DOM
Many families that come to my office are simply not sure where to start. There are so many therapies and modalities out there and often they can be difficult to fit in the family's budget. After over a decade of working in the world of Brain Health I have found NOTHING as valuable as starting with the appropriate lab testing. It often starts a person, very quickly, on the correct food therapy and nutritional supplement program that meets their specific needs. The alternative to lab testing is the incredibly slow, expensive, and often lacking positive results way of removing a food or trying a new supplement and hoping for the best. However, even these lab tests can be expensive and patients, or their parents, are left trying to navigate what lab tests are the most helpful in their unique situation.
Through many years of owning and operating a Functional Medicine practice I have developed a system in terms of what is going to give patient's and their families the best bang for their buck in regards to functional medicine lab tests. Based on my clinical experience, I believe there is one test that is the most effective in helping a patient get results quickly for various brain health concerns such as meltdowns, hyperactivity, inattention, low mood, inability to handle stress, and compulsive behaviors. That test is...
This is a simple urine test that measures various neurotransmitters (the chemicals that make your brain function appropriately) in the urine which can be a good indicator of what is going on in the brain. There has been clinical evidence to support the correlation between the level of neurotransmitters in your urine and in your cerebrospinal fluid. While a spinal tap, which takes a cerebrospinal fluid sample, may be even more accurate in measuring the neurotransmitters, I doubt very seriously any of my patients, especially children, are too enthusiastic about going through such an invasive procedure when we can get a good read on those same levels with a simple urine test.
This simple urine test will help us to understand each patient's imbalances between excitatory neurotransmitters (dopamine, norepinephrine, epinephrine, PEA, and glutamate) and inhibitory neurotransmitters (serotonin and GABA). I like to make the analogy that the excitatory neurotransmitters are like the gas in your car that gives your car the ability to move down the street and get to where you need to go and the inhibitory neurotransmitters are like the brakes in your car that helps your car to stop and avoid danger. If your car were missing either of these important components, it would be stuck on the side of the road or it would be incredibly dangerous to even attempt to get anywhere. The same can be said about neurotransmitters and the imbalances that can happen in our brain. Let's look at a couple of these neurotransmitters individually and how they help us when they are balanced and how they can create problems when they are imbalanced.
Dopamine helps us to be focused and driven. Too little dopamine and we will have inattention and lack motivation. Too much dopamine and we become agitated and hyper-focused. Any of my parents out there with kids who need to have things just a certain way or a meltdown will ensue understand the dangers of high dopamine.
GABA helps to calm our brain and our bodies. Too little GABA and we will be stressed and have the inability to handle stress. Too much GABA and we will be fatigued and have little response to stress. Having little response to stress sounds good until there are bills overdue or homework to turn in the next day and the person with high GABA can't find the motivation to take action.
Even with these really simple examples I am sure you can see how neurotransmitters are in need of being balanced. This is where a pharmaceutical can be problematic when the patient is looked at as a diagnosis and not a unique individual. Here is a story I hear all the time in my office. Mother takes her child who is having trouble focusing on school work to the pediatrician or psychiatrist. The doctor hears lack of focus and immediately puts the child on a stimulant that boosts dopamine. However, what the doctor did not take the time to listen to was that this child also had nervous tics and was hyper-focused on not having any friends in the classroom. This type of child is not likely to have low dopamine nor do they have focus issues. This type of child is suffering from high stress and hyper-focusing on negative situations which leaves them unable to concentrate on school work. This child more than likely has low serotonin, low GABA, and possibly even high dopamine which can all be confirmed via a neurotransmitter test. Do you think that stimulant will work in this situation? Absolutely not and will likely lead to even more stress and more hyper-focusing on not fitting in at school which can be detrimental to the child's self-esteem. I have absolutely nothing against pharmaceuticals for brain health and often they can be very effective when used appropriately with the right patient. It is the lack of treating each patient as an individual that I take issue with.
You may be asking yourself right now, "How do you get results for these brain health concerns if you don't use pharmaceuticals?
One of the most unfortunate things we have been taught to believe is that these chemical imbalances are only able to be addressed by pharmaceuticals. Chemical imbalanced has even become a term that is thrown around by ignorant people to describe a person who is struggling with their brain health. But let me let you in on two secrets. Number one, we all have chemical imbalances to a certain degree. This is why some days we feel a little blue and other days we get really mad in traffic. For some people those instances of not feeling "ok" last longer than they do for others and they need a bit more help to feel better. Number two, neurotransmitters are not static chemicals that stay at the same level unless addressed by a pharmaceutical. They have to be made with the right combination of amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. We know what the makeup is for each of the specific neurotransmitters. This is where I help. It is like making a soup. After we understand which neurotransmitters are high, low, or at the appropriate levels we can implement a food and nutritional supplement program that can give the right "ingredients" to raise the chemicals that are low and lower the chemicals that are high. With this approach we are not just addressing symptoms, we are addressing the person.
We have utilized these lab tests with a large number of patients, both child and adult, and have had remarkable results with those who have implemented our program. If you believe you or your family could benefit from neurotransmitter testing and you live in the State of Florida please call our office at (270) 339-3299. Even if you do not live in the State of Florida please subscribe to our email list as we will always look to provide everyone with a better understanding of their family's health.