Now Reading
5 Medical Tests I Wish I’d Taken Sooner

On my path to better health, I’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars on various tests. Some were meant to discover while others simply to rule things out. In hindsight, there were a handful that provided such insight I wish someone had told me about them sooner.

Some of these tests can be ordered online but some require a doctor’s authorization. In either case — you should be working closely with a doctor to help you interpret them. These tests provide you with a lot of data. I wouldn’t have gotten half the value from them without the help of a professional to interpret them.

Highlights

In this article, I discuss several alternative health tests I’ve had over the years. Here’s a quick rundown of what’s to come:

  • Stool Testing: Great Plains Laboratories & Genova Diagnostics
  • Organic Acids Test (OAT): Great Plains Laboratories
  • Genetic Testing: 23andMe
  • Genetic Test Interpretation: StrateGene, Genetic Genie, Promethease
  • Hair Toxins Testing: Doctor’s Data

Introduction

Many of my health-related issues are centered about poor digestion. I’d had an allergy panel, IgG food tolerance test, a colonoscopy, upper endoscopy, and several CT scans, and a traditional stool analysis rule out anything obvious. Insurance covered a fair percentage but the bills started adding up. Fortunately, I had a good job and decent health insurance at the time.

I believe I would have saved thousands of dollars and gotten onto the path to better health years sooner.

After nearly two years of expensive medical tests and no insight, I started looking to less traditional practices. I ultimately ended up working with an Integrative Doctor and finally got some answers and my health began to improve — quickly. The first thing I noticed was that the types of tests being ordered were really different from anything I’d ever heard of before. That, and appointments lasted more than 15 minutes!

Looking back, I attribute my improvement largely to the insights gained through these mysterious tests I’d never heard of before. There have been plenty I feel were useful but a handful stand out. Below you’ll find a description of several medical tests that I wish someone had told me about sooner. I believe I would have saved thousands of dollars and gotten onto the path to better health years sooner.

Organic Acids Test (OAT)

The Great Plains Organic Acids Test (OAT) provides deep insight into metabolic balance and toxicity. It measures the levels of certain compounds—known as organic acids—to provide a holistic snapshot of your metabolic balance.

This test measures levels of dozens of different compounds. Each measure is meant to help paint a picture of what’s going on in your body. Things like poor digestion, neurotransmitter imbalances, and even SIBO can all be characterized by organic acids. Below is a sample of the type of data this test provides

Organic Acids Test Sample Results
Sample Results from the Great Plains Organic Acids Test

This test provides an overwhelming amount of data. Great Plains Laboratory provides resources for helping interpret your results. Even with these to help, there’s no way I could have digested all the info this test provides without the help of a well-trained physician.

Check out the Great Plains Vimeo Channel for some great videos on how their testings (including the OAT) can be used.

Cost: ~$350

Doctor Required: Yes

Covered by Most Insurance: No

Comprehensive Stool Analysis

A Comprehensive Stool Analysis designed to provide a snapshot of your overall digestive health. This includes microbial balance, immune cell function, and nutrient absorption. Of the many insights gained from this test, these will be provided:

  • Pancreatic enzymes
  • Short-Chain Fatty Acids
  • Butyrate Levels (produced by good bacteria)
  • Enzyme Immunoassay
  • Bad Bacteria, Parasites, Fungal Overgrowth

Below is a sample set of results from a Doctor’s Data Comprehensive Stool Analysis:

Doctors Data Comprehensive Stool Analysis Sample Results
A sample set of results from the Doctor’s Data CSA Test

The CSA I received from Doctor’s Data offered a lot of insight into the nature of my digestive problems. This report also included data showing which compounds—both natural and pharmaceutical—are effective at treating specific bacteria. Here’s an example:

Doctors Data Bacterial Susceptibility Test Results Sample
Sample Bacterial Susceptibility Results from Doctor’s Data

There’s an argument this type of testing is overkill because the resulting actions—a diverse diet of high-fiber foods—are likely to be the same regardless. I respect this to a degree but also feel it’s a bit dismissive. My results allowed my doctor to recommend a more specific antibiotic for a shorter duration and followup with herbal therapy.

Genova Diagnostics also offers comprehensive stool testing. I’ve heard great things about their lab work and would suggest anyone considering such tests check them out.

Cost: $300-500

Doctor Required: Yes

Covered by Most Insurance: No

Heavy Metals & Toxins Hair Test

The Doctor’s Data Heavy Metals Hair Test uses sample cuttings of hair to indicate levels of toxins like lead, cadmium, or mercury. Results from this test are like casting a broad net to get a lot of data. It’s likely your doctor will order additional testing should your results indicate high levels indicate abnormal amounts of any particular toxin. Here’s an example of the results from this test:

Doctors Data Hair Toxins Test
Sample results from a hair analysis test done by Doctor’s Data

As you can see, this test casts a wide net. Hair analysis testing helps measure toxins in the body over time. It’s not a great measure of specific levels or levels at a specific time. Toxins built up in tissue and can be released cyclically making diagnosis difficult. A hair analysis is like long-exposure photography that captures anything walking in front of it throughout the entire day.

Follow up urine analysis or blood testing for specific toxins is likely required to confirm any results. This test is great for helping to determine if such testing is required. Otherwise, you’d be left with the option of dozens of blood tests each of which is likely to cost several hundred dollars.

Cost: $150-250

Doctor Required: Yes

Covered by Most Insurance: No

DNA Testing

Personal genetic testing from companies like 23andMe.com or Ancestry.com is pretty useless directly. The FDA regulates the shit out of these companies and anything resembling a diagnosis causes them major issues.

The raw data files provided can be used for some really interesting stuff though. These files can be uploaded to other services through which you can get some deeper insights.

You’ll often hear these results referred to as Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs). There are several places where you can upload raw genetic files to and get such results. Here’s a list of the ones I’ve tried:

Genetic Genie

Genetic Genie offers raw results interpretation services to help identify such issues as MTFR mutations. These tests can provide actionable insights into major health issues, albeit only from a pretty narrow scope of concerns. These are the two tests have used from Genetic Genie

Here’s a sample of results from the Genetic Genie methylation test:

Genetic Genie Methylation Profile Test Results
Sample Results from the Genetic Genie Methylation Profile Test

This test will leave you with a lot of research to do but can offer invaluable insight. Certain SNP mutations, such as MTHFR, can have dramatic ramifications on health and even the health of one’s children (R). The $5 you’ll spend on this test is a bargain in my opinion.

Cost: $5 per report

Doctor Required: No

Covered by Most Insurance: No

Seeking Health StrateGene Report

The StrateGene Genetic Profile Test is my single favorite genetic test to date. It provides much of the same information as other tests but the results are presented in a much more helpful manner.

The StrateGene report provides a similar presentation to the Genetic Genie report. The real value with this report ($45 when I ran mine) is the detailed information provided along with the results. Genetic Mutations are highlighted in contextual diagrams to help understand how they may affect your physiology. Here’s a sample:

StrateGene Genetic Test Sample Report
A sample report from the StrateGene test showing how and where a MTRR SNP mutation may influence metabolism

This report is great for anyone doing their own research and does well to illustrate how SNP mutations influence different aspects of metabolism. This report provides a lot of info but the context and references provided make it more palatable than other reports.

Cost: $45

Doctor Required: No

Covered by Most Insurance: No

Promethease

Promethease provides an insane amount of data. It’s a burden honestly. I found it serves as an invaluable reference but isn’t very practical for identifying specific risk factors. It’s considered a “literature retrieval service” as opposed to an interpretative service.

The Promethease service is like having someone go through an encyclopedia of SNP references and highlighting the ones you need to pay attention to. Useful—but you still have to read through an encyclopedia. Here’s an example of what you can expect:

Promethease Genetic Report Dashboard
A sample of the Promethease dashboard provided where you can scroll through results

For example, it’ll tell you that you have 43 SNP pairs that increase your risk for cancer and 43 that reduce it. You could spend all day working out that math. Nonetheless, it’s worth the money to have as a reference to interpret other genetic data.

This genetic interpretation used to be in the $50 range (I think) but is now free after the company was acquired by MyHeritage. Historically, this report was provided as a downloaded html file. The file opened in a web browser and allowed interactive filtering and searching of data. I’m not sure if the format has changed since the MyHeritage acquisition.

Cost: Free Through MyHeritage (unconfirmed)

Doctor Required: No

Covered by Most Insurance: No

Microbiome Testing

uBiome, the company I received a microbiome test from, has since gone bankrupt and has become the focal point of an FBI investigation. The results from this test weren’t what I’d call actionable but still useful. They provided a detailed analysis of the balance of different bacterial species in my digestive tract.

I found the results of my uBiome test very interesting. This test showed my results in relation to all other tests. For a particular bacteria, a Lactobacillus bacteria, for example, I was shown how my levels compared to levels of others. Interesting, but not exactly actionable. Here’s a sample of the results from a uBiome test:

uBiome test results sample
A Sample of Results from the uBiome Explorer Kit

The legal case against uBiome centered on their over-billing to insurance companies. They were slandered in the news for this but I’ve experienced the same type of BS from doctors and hospitals—and apparently so have others.

Another company, Viome, offers similar testing. I haven’t tried their services and can’t attest to their utility or validity. Here’s a link to a sample of results (PDF) you can expect from them. I consider these tests recreational rather than diagnostic.

Microbiome science is still very new and, assuming results are accurate, nothing short of eating a high-fiber diet has much consensus as being universally therapeutic.

Cost: Varies

Doctor Required: No

Covered by Most Insurance: No

Review

These tests aren’t guaranteed to provide you with the answers to your health. In many cases, you may find yourself with more questions afterward. The data these tests provide can help a seasoned medical professional gain a much better idea of your holistic health. I’ve found each of these tests useful in helping me to make more informed decisions to improve my health.