Dr. Brian Lum
How Can You Test For Inflammation?
Updated: Feb 3
Inflammation is a common factor for many dreaded diseases, from cancer to depression to dementia. But inflammation, like pain, has a vital purpose in the body.
Inflammation internally signals to our immune system to heal an injury or attack a foreign invader.
In the case of a splinter, the site gets red as blood surges into the area carrying vital white blood cells for repair while escorting away waste. Inflammation aids in the healing process in this kind of localized injury.
If inflammation is extensive and ongoing, as with an autoimmune disease like rheumatoid arthritis - swelling and pain occur perpetually. This long-term high inflammation is damaging.
Unless the underlying factors of the autoimmune disease is treated - this inflammation will persist and will likely lead to other conditions.
In order to lower inflammation, you have to assess how much inflammation you have, where it is, what type it is and identify the triggers for your body.
That is where testing comes in!
Testing For Inflammation
Whether you are treating a chronic condition or you are serious about disease prevention - don't guess at what you need. Don't buy into the labelling on supplements that promises to 'lower inflammation'.
While there may be active and useful properties in these supplements, unless you are given the right dose, in the right form, and use a high grade form of it - most likely you are wasting time and money.
Taking 'inflammation lowering' products or pharmaceuticals only addresses the effect of your health problem - finding and treating the cause of inflammation is necessary for full symptom resolution and improved health.
We will explore two different types of inflammation - 'whole-body' or systemic inflammation and 'gut-specific inflammation'.
These are just a few of the tests I employ when exploring the potential causes of inflammation.
1. High-Sensitivity C-Reactive Protein (hs-CRP)
This marker evaluates general inflammation. The liver produces this inflammatory molecule and may indicate liver inflammation as well as overall (systemic) inflammation.
This marker is also commonly used to detect major cardiovascular events and death "with associations being linear for hs-CRP ranging between 1 and 5 mg/L and plateauing thereafter to a sustained increased risk." 
This marker is also generally high in patients with myocardial infarction (heart attack) 
2. Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR or sed rate)
This is a useful marker for systemic inflammation. It can also indicate an a tumor, infection or an autoimmune condition like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis.
This test is measuring how fast your red blood cells fall away from the plasma when your blood is drawn and placed in a narrow tube. The blood cells settle or 'fall away' faster when there are inflammatory materials in the blood.
This test is best used in combination with other tests for inflammation.
Usually this is an indicator for how well you are storing iron but can also indicate high levels of inflammation.
Ferritin levels indicate iron deficiency (anemia) or iron overload.
4. Antinuclear Antibody (ANA) Test
The ANA test is tricky, it doesn't necessarily indicate an autoimmune disease but it does indicate that your body may be on the 'autoimmune spectrum' as well as having systemic inflammation.
A positive ANA test does not mean that you have a specific autoimmune disease.
The body produces antinuclear antibodies when it has trouble telling the difference between a threat and your own body.
This usually happens because the immune system is overwhelmed from fighting underlying subclinical infections or dealing with other toxic situations. This tendency, over time, can develop into an autoimmune condition.
Testing for antibodies is used to diagnose specific autoimmune diseases. Antibodies indicate autoimmune and tissue-specific inflammation.
Thyroid antibodies (like anti-TPO and anti-TG) tests for thyroid-specific autoimmune diseases like Hashimoto's thyroiditis.
Thyroid antibodies in the blood indicate that there is rampant inflammation in the thyroid.
This inflammation is often due to an underlying infection which then can damage the thyroid gland and thyroid proteins.
This results in abnormal thyroid function - including symptoms of hypothyroidism (low thyroid hormone levels).
Other antibodies are used to diagnose rheumatic diseases - lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjorgren's syndrome, and psoriatic arthritis.
In each case of a positive test for a specific antibody - chronic inflammation is also present.
6. Neurological Antibodies
Similar to the process used to determine an autoimmune disease - neurological antibodies indicate whether there is inflammation in your nervous system.
Testing for this kind of inflammation is helpful in cases of Parkinson's, memory problems like brain fog, multiple sclerosis (MS), nerve pain, learning disabilities, PANDAS and autism.
Once we identify this kind of inflammation we can formulate a plan with food and natural medicines to bring down these values and normalize function to reduce or eliminate symptoms.
Knowing that, for example, your blood brain barrier is damaged and unwanted substances can cross into the brain - is crucial information when addressing all kinds of symptoms associated with memory, cognition, anxiety, depression and others.
Homocysteine levels are used to assess if you are at an increased risk for a heart attack, and to monitor progress with those with heart disease.
Homocysteine levels are also a good screening marker for your methylation status - too high and your body is having trouble regulating its DNA, making neurotransmitters, detoxifying, ridding the body of excess hormones, and more.
If it's too low your methylating too fast which can yield a whole host of unwanted symptoms.
Homocysteine is an amino acid that is usually used quickly in the body and made into other things - to perform this conversion, the body needs vitamins.
This is why high homocysteine levels are correlated with B vitamin deficiency.
Gut Specific Inflammation
Calprotectin is evaluated using a stool sample.
Inflammation in the intestinal tract produces white blood cells, which release calprotectin, which can be measured in the stool.
By measuring this protein we can help distinguish between common gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhea, constipation and cramping - and irritable bowel disease (like Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis).
This can also be a good indicator of cardiovascular and blood vessel inflammation.
Fibrinogen can be used to evaluate the coagulation (the viscosity) of your blood. It is a good indicator of systemic inflammation and cardiovascular inflammation.
Fibrinogen is tested during the investigation of a possible blood clot, clotting issues, easy bruising, and heart disease risk.
This enzyme correlates with plaque in the blood vessels and is excellent at determining whether you are on your way to developing a stroke or a heart attack.
It also indicates blood vessel specific inflammation which is very useful in investigating gastrointestinal symptoms and irritable bowel disease (IBD).
The Limitations Of Self Diagnosis
There is an increase in popularity of direct-to-consumer blood testing. Increasingly, patients can order and receive their own tests without the need for a doctor.
While patient empowerment is a great byproduct of this movement there is also a danger of inadequate self treatment.
There are entire books, courses and conferences that enumerate the different uses and pitfalls of a single test - to boil it down to a few sentences can lead to misunderstanding.
If, for example, your homocysteine levels are high and you take a B vitamin to 'fix' the problem - you are likely not reducing your homocysteine levels OR reducing your risk of a severe cardiac event because there may be much more to what is going on than a B vitamin deficiency.
Find a functional medicine doctor who understands advanced testing and will guide you through the process of healing to become the healthiest version of yourself.
They should also have a multi-pronged approach to treatment which will involve lifestyle, diet and any necessary medication or nutritional medicines.
Functional Range vs Diagnostic Range
It is important that you understand that the 'normal range' of test results may not indicate health.
Essentially these values are based on the average of all the (usually sick) people who have taken this test.
The 'functional range' on the other hand, indicates the healthy, optimal function of your body. In this way we can eliminate symptoms and often, get your body back to its pre-disease state.
Functional Medicine & Inflammation
If all your doctor is doing is offering you drugs, they are doing you a disservice. Illness is best treated by using all the tools at a doctors disposal, and pharmaceuticals is just one of them.
Treating inflammation is one of the cornerstones of a successful functional medicine treatment plan.
Whether your goal is to reverse disease, prevent illness, optimize longevity or just have more energy or sleep better - a functional medicine practitioner finds out what your body is not doing well, then uses high-grade, scientifically backed nutritional medicines as well as diet and lifestyle changes to get you healthy.
If you would like to speak to me to ask questions about functional medicine, inflammation or how I can help you, please schedule a Free 15 Minute Consultation or call or text my office at 913-728-5291.
My clinic offers functional medicine appointments as well as manual soft tissue treatments for chronic pain and illness. I do online consultations for those out-of-state or outside of the United States.
If you think that you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately. No action or inaction should be taken based solely on the contents of this information. Nor should you ever delay seeking medical advice or treatment due to the information contained on this Website.