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Functional Medicine Gut Health

Functional Medicine Gut Health

By Dr. Patrick Lovegrove Medically Reviewed by Lindsay Langley, BSN, RN, CHT
Posted Friday, May 12th, 2023
Functional Medicine Gut Health

Introduction to Functional Medicine Gut Health

The patient-centered approach of functional medicine focuses on identifying and treating the underlying causes of diseases in gut health. It is a personalized approach that considers the unique genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors contributing to an individual’s health. One of the critical areas of focus in functional medicine is the gut-brain axis.

The gut-brain axis refers to communication between the gastrointestinal tract and the brain. The nervous system, hormones, and immune cells facilitate this communication. The vagus nerve connects the digestive tract and the brain, which allows for the transmission of signals between the two.

The Importance of Gut Health

The digestive system is responsible for dietary digestion and nutrient absorption. It contains trillions of microorganisms, known collectively as the intestinal microbiome. The gastrointestinal microbiome is essential for maintaining overall health and wellness.

Functions of the gut microbiome include:

  1. Breaking down food and producing essential nutrients
  2. Regulating the immune system
  3. Protecting against harmful pathogens
  4. Producing neurotransmitters that affect mood and behavior
  5. Research shows poor gastrointestinal health has been linked to various health conditions, including autoimmune diseases, mental health disorders, and chronic inflammation.

How is gut health assessed using functional medicine?

How Gut Health is Assessed: Diagnostic Tools Used in Functional Medicine

The human gut is a complex system of organs that plays a crucial role in maintaining our overall health and well-being. The collection of trillions of microorganisms found in the intestines is known as the gut microbiome, which is responsible for various functions such as digestion, immune function, and nutrient absorption.

However, an imbalance in the gut microbiome can lead to multiple health issues, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and mental health disorders. Therefore, assessing gut health is crucial in maintaining overall health. This article will discuss the diagnostic tools used in functional medicine to assess gut health.

Here is a List of Medical Tests to Diagnose Gut Health
  • Stool Analysis
    Stool analysis can identify the root cause of various gut health issues. The test involves analyzing a stool sample to determine the presence of multiple markers, such as bacteria, parasites, and fungi. Stool analysis can also choose the diversity and balance of the gut microbiome. It can reveal the presence of beneficial bacteria, harmful bacteria, and the overall composition of the microbiome. Stool analysis can help identify the underlying cause of different gut health problems. For example, harmful bacteria or parasites can induce digestive disorders such as diarrhea., bloating, and abdominal pain. Once identified, appropriate treatments such as targeted antimicrobial therapy, probiotics, or dietary changes can be recommended to restore gut health.
  • Food Sensitivity Testing
    Food sensitivity testing is another diagnostic tool utilized in functional medicine to evaluate gut health. The test involves measuring the body’s immune response to specific foods. Food sensitivities differ from food allergies in that they are not life-threatening. Still, they can cause symptoms such as bloating, gas, diarrhea, and skin rashes. The test involves analyzing a blood sample for the presence of immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibodies produced by the immune system as a result of specific foods. The test results can help identify foods that trigger an immune response—recommending dietary changes to alleviate symptoms and improve gut health.
  • Intestinal Permeability Testing
    Intestinal permeability or leaky gut testing is a diagnostic tool used in functional medicine to assess gut health. The test involves measuring the permeability of the intestinal wall, which is the barrier that separates the gut from the bloodstream. In addition, the test measures the presence of specific markers, such as zonulin, which regulates intestinal permeability. Increased intestinal permeability can lead to various health issues, such as inflammation, autoimmune disorders, and food sensitivities. The test can help identify the underlying cause of increased intestinal permeability. Appropriate dietary changes, probiotics, and antimicrobial therapy help to restore gut health.

Gut Health and Disease

Research has linked poor gut health to various conditions, including autoimmune diseases, mental health disorders, and chronic inflammation.

When the immune system erroneously attacks healthy cells and tissues, autoimmune diseases occur. Research has shown that autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory gastrointestinal disorder, are because of imbalances in the microbiome and increased intestinal permeability.

The stomach produces neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine that are critical in regulating mood and behavior, associated with psychiatric conditions such as depression and anxiety due to poor gut health. Variations in the production of neurotransmitters linked to the gut microbiome may cause mood disorders.

Chronic inflammation is a prevalent underlying cause of numerous chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer. Research has shown that poor gut health can contribute to chronic inflammation by triggering an immune response and promoting the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines.

Treatment Approaches

In functional medicine, there are several approaches to treating gut health issues. These include nutritional interventions, probiotics and prebiotics, lifestyle changes, and stress management techniques.

Nutritional interventions can help to support the gut microbiome and reduce inflammation. It may involve eliminating inflammatory foods such as processed foods and sugar and increasing the consumption of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are fiber-rich foods.

Probiotics and prebiotics can help to restore balance to the gut microbiome. Individuals may consume live microorganisms called probiotics as supplements or in fermented foods like yogurt and sauerkraut for their potential health benefits. Prebiotics are fibers that serve as food for the beneficial bacteria in the gut.

Lifestyle changes like regular exercise, adequate sleep, and stress management techniques can also support gut health. Chronic stress can contribute to imbalances in managing stress through meditation, yoga, or mindfulness, which can help maintain a healthy gut microbiome.


In conclusion, gastrointestinal health plays a vital role in functional medicine. In addition, the gut microbiome is essential for maintaining overall health and well-being, associating the gastrointestinal microbiome with imbalances in multiple diseases.

Functional medicine takes a personalized approach to assessing and treating gut health issues. Diagnostic tools such as stool analysis, food sensitivity testing, and intestinal permeability testing can help to identify imbalances in the gut microbiome and other gut health issues. Treatment approaches may include nutritional interventions, probiotics and prebiotics, lifestyle changes, and stress management techniques.

It is essential to address gut health to maintain overall health and wellness. By supporting the gut microbiome and reducing inflammation, we can improve gut health and potentially reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases. Functional medicine provides a holistic approach to addressing gut health issues and promoting overall health and well-being.

About the author

Dr. Patrick Lovegrove