Why would you want to test your nutrient levels, you ask?
Most micronutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and fatty acids, don’t get much notoriety (except for vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids), but they should. These nutrients are the building blocks of every single process in your body, and without them, disease and dysfunction ensue.
Scurvy is a great example. Lack of vitamin C in the diet of British sailors during the 18th century caused bleeding gums and mucous membranes, poor wound healing, and spots on the skin. If left untreated, they would die from blood loss.
Vitamin C is essential for the formation of collagen in hair, skin, and nails, blood clotting, nerve and muscle function, and is an important co-factor in many biochemical reactions.
We take for granted that getting the correct balance of nutrients is required for maintaining good health. Even a small deficiency in one nutrient can have major consequences in the long run. Conditions ranging from acne to heart disease start with some type of nutrient deficiency or excess.
The symptoms are seemingly limitless, since almost every symptom has a nutrient component. So understanding the important ones is crucial to good health.
Symptoms of Nutrient Deficiency or Excess
Skin/hair/nails: Brittle or dry skin, hair, or nails, lines on nails, bleeding gums, rashes, acne, rosacea, hair loss, spots on skin, darkened skin
Inflammatory/immune: Poor wound healing, recurrent infections, pain, autoimmunity, asthma
GI/digestion: Inability to taste, canker sores, constipation, diarrhea, reflux
Brain/mood/energy: Impaired sight, smell, or taste, hyperactivity, ADD/ADHD, malaise, lethargy, headaches, brain fog, inability to focus, depression, irritability, poor memory, poor sleep
Nerves: Neuropathy, paresthesia, pins and needles, numbness, tingling
Hormones: Sex hormone, thyroid, and adrenal imbalances, PMS, PCOS, severe menopause/andropause symptoms, inability to lose or gain weight, infertility, intolerance to cold or heat, excessive or diminished sweating
Musculoskeletal: Chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, restless leg syndrome, muscle pain or twitching, joint pain, brittle bones, osteopenia/osteoporosis
Liver: Poor detoxification, chemical sensitivity, intolerance to alcohol or medications
Cardiometabolic: High or low blood sugar, fatty liver, atherosclerosis, palpitations, arrhythmia
Which Test Do I Choose for Nutrient Deficiency or Excess?
When considering the possibility of nutrient imbalances, people often start by assessing symptoms and trying to guess which individual nutrients might be associated with them. This is a less efficient way to do things, as you might miss important nutrients.
For instance, if you have neuropathy or tingling in your legs, you might look at vitamins B6 or B12, since they’re important for nerve function. But if the underlying cause is high blood sugar, you’d also want to know your magnesium, zinc, chromium, inositol, carnitine, lipoic acid, biotin, and vitamin B3, C, D, and E levels as well to have a more complete picture and treatment plan.
Since symptoms of nutrient deficiency and excess are vast, starting with a test that looks at many nutrients in an expansive panel is often a better way to go. The panels available now allow you to check multiple nutrients simultaneously, giving you greater knowledge of your body and the ability to rebalance nutrient levels properly.
Balancing nutrients appropriately is crucial, since too much of one and not enough of another can cause further trouble.
There are many different types of test panels you could choose for analyzing your nutrient status. Depending upon your symptoms, condition, and health goals, you may want to select a smaller panel.
Or, if you’re unsure, a more expansive panel that looks at everything is a good choice.
- Organic acid testing
- Amino acid testing
- Fatty acid testing
- Combination nutrient testing
Organic Acid Testing
Organic acids (OA) are the end products (metabolites) generated by your metabolic processes, and they are easy to measure in urine. Organic acid testing provides an indirect way of measuring nutrient status, since all of your metabolic processes require certain vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and other micronutrients to function properly. It you are deficient in specific nutrients, it will show up as increased or decreased metabolites in the urine.
Nutrient deficiencies have several effects on metabolic reactions. First, serious deficits will impede biochemical reactions from occurring at all, giving a result that is below test detection limits.
Deficiencies can also cause a reaction to be limited/inefficient—producing low levels of metabolites—or cause a backup (think log jam) because there isn’t enough nutrient cofactor to propel the reaction forward. This results in an excess level of metabolites in urine.
Organic acid testing assesses the nutrients involved in driving metabolic processes forward:
Fatty acid metabolism requires carnitine, B2, and lysine.
Carbohydrate metabolism requires thiamine (B1), B complex, lipoic acid, chromium, vanadium, magnesium, manganese, and CoQ10.
Energy production requires arginine, cysteine, CoQ10, B complex, lipoic acid, magnesium, and manganese.
B-vitamin metabolism requires B-complex vitamins (B1, 2, 3, 5, 6), lipoic acid, and biotin.
Methylation cofactors require B12 and folic acid.
Neurotransmitter metabolism requires tyrosine, 5- hydroxytryptophan (5 HTP), phenylalanine, B6, and magnesium.
Oxidative stress markers show the need for antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E, and lipoic acid.
Detoxification requires glutathione, N-acetyl cysteine (NAC), taurine, arginine, aspartic acid, glycine, magnesium, B-vitamins, and antioxidants.
Dysbiosis markers indicate the need for glycine, glutamine, and an amino acid complex.
Organic acids testing is available from Genova Diagnostics and Great Plains Laboratory.
Amino Acid Testing
Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. When you eat protein, your body breaks it down into usable units, or amino acids, that are vital to life.
Non-essential amino acids can be made in your body, but some must be obtained through the diet. These are called essential amino acids. As individual amino acids, or linked as chains called peptides, they have many functions:
- Building blocks of all structural tissue (bone, skin, muscle, etc), hormones, neurotransmitters, and enzymes
- Pain control
- pH regulation
- Fat and cholesterol metabolism
- Control of inflammation and immune function
Amino acids can be assessed in the urine or blood. Genova Diagnostics, Doctor’s Data, and Great Plains Laboratory offer amino acid testing.
Fatty Acid Testing
Fatty acids are the technical term for what we typically think of as “fat.” For example, fish oil is comprised of the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. Like amino acids, fatty acids can be essential or nonessential, and they play a critical role in sustaining life.
Having the proper balance of omega-3, 6, and 9 (polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, and saturated fats) is critical for maintaining health. Among other things, fatty acids:
- Generate cell membrane structure and regulation
- Ensure healthy blood pressure and lipid (cholesterol) levels
- Provide immune and inflammatory response and regulation
- Decrease blood clotting (coagulation)
- Decrease oxidative stress
- Compose the structural tissue of the brain and nerves
- Provide energy for metabolism
Fatty acids are analyzed from a blood sample. Genova Diagnostics, Doctor’s Data, and Great Plains Laboratory offer fatty acid testing.
Combination Nutrient Testing
Several companies offer comprehensive test panels that allow you to see nutrients, amino acids, fatty acids, and organic acids in different combinations, depending upon your needs.
Great Plains Laboratories can provide many different panels based on your condition or health goals. Basic and comprehensive panels for autism, ADD/ADHD, fibromyalgia, Tourette’s, mental health, and wellness options are available.
Genova Diagnostics offers a fat-soluble vitamin profile, ION profile, NutrEval, and ONE (Optimal Nutritional Evaluation) FMV, all of which analyze different combinations of nutrients, amino acids, fatty acids, and organic acids.
Spectracell Laboratories offers the Micronutrient Test, which assesses 30 key vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, amino acids, and fatty acids that are essential to health and often indicated in disease. Additionally, it provides assessment of total antioxidant function, an immune response index, glucose-insulin interaction, and fructose sensitivity.