In conventional medicine, the Antinuclear Antibody Test (also known as: ANA) is typically used as a diagnostic test to determine whether or not someone has an autoimmune condition like lupus[note]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5360668/[/note].
In functional medicine and at kNew Health, we use this test proactively to help us identify the presence of immune system dysregulation and trends toward autoimmunity.
In today’s article, we’ll look at the specific health issues that the Antinuclear Antibody Test can help us detect and how to optimize your levels and (ideally) prevent disease.
Who Should Get an Antinuclear Antibody Test?
Given what we now know about the role of inflammation in many types of chronic diseases[note]https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/Inflammation_A_unifying_theory_of_disease[/note], and the epidemic rates of autoimmune disease affecting 1 in 5 Americans[note]https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/materials/autoimmune_diseases_508.pdf[/note], nearly every adult will benefit from monitoring their antinuclear antibodies.
It’s important to understand that this test does not diagnose autoimmune disease (and it’s not the only autoimmune marker), but rather it acts as a general, predictive test—giving us clues into your body’s level of inflammation, immune system stability and whether you’re trending toward a possible, future condition.
kNew Health members receive an Antinuclear Antibody Test as part of their initial lab work.
What Are the Optimal/Functional Levels?
Ideally you want a negative ANA Test, meaning no (or very little) antibodies in your blood.
A positive ANA test means that the body’s immune system is releasing antibodies to attack it’s own cellular nucleus material: the definition of an autoimmune dynamic.
If your results do come back positive do not despair.
Remember, this is a predictive test—not a diagnostic test. Therefore a positive result may simply indicate a trend toward a chronic condition and not a full-blown disease.
Contrary to common myth, we all have low levels of autoimmune activity happening the time
It’s a key part of the body’s innate checks-and-balances in keeping a strong and aggressive but also well-regulated immune system.
But a sustained antibody response to human cell nuclear material is notable. A positive result on this marker can give us precious clues into how your body is dealing with immune threats and inflammation, which will help your kNew Health Coach recommend an effective course of action to get your numbers back in the negative.
The Causal Factors Behind Positive ANA Tests and Systemic Inflammation
What can cause a positive ANA?
Since the ANA Test measures inflammation, the causal factors can be vast.
For example, excess inflammation can be caused by a pre-existing condition such as Leaky Gut Syndrome, a dietary sensitivity, environmental toxins, allergens, stress, lack of sleep and a variety of other factors.
Fortunately, functional medicine practitioners are experts in identifying the root cause (or causes) of inflammation.
Despite the range of possible causes, there is one sneaky root cause which is commonly connected to excess inflammation: gluten sensitivity.
Yes. Even if you don’t have a full-blown autoimmune condition or gluten allergy, this protein can wreak havoc on your body’s inflammatory levels.
Gluten is commonly found in wheat, spelt, einkorn, kamut, bulgur and other grains. Common sources of gluten include:
- Processed foods
- Baked goods
- Cous cous
- Breakfast foods
- Energy bars
- Canned soups
Gluten-free grains include:
- Gluten-free oats
What to do if Your ANA Test is Positive
As a first step, your Health Coach will likely advise an elimination diet.
The specific diet will vary person to person based on your health and history, and may include eliminating gluten along with other common trigger foods such as: dairy, soy, eggs, sugar and corn.
If a gut health issue is suspected or confirmed, your Health Coach may also recommend you eat more cultured foods like yogurt, kim chi, sauerkraut and kombuchua in addition to the elimination diet.
Supplementation with a high-quality probiotic, digestive enzymes and specific herbs like deglycerized licorice can also be helpful in resolving gut health issues.
In some cases, high levels or high or persistent autoimmune markers are present despite a functional medicine lifestyle approach. If that is the case, rest assured your kNew Health Coach may refer you to a functional medicine doctor in our network to dig deeper into root causes.
Other dietary and lifestyle measures to quell inflammation and reduce ANA levels may include:
- Increasing your intake of vegetables and other anti-inflammatory foods—especially leafy greens, moderate amounts of fruit, grass-fed meats, wild-caught fish, healthy fats and moderate amounts of gluten-free grains
- Including more essential fatty acids and omega 3s in your diet—either from a high-quality fish oil supplement or wild-caught salmon, sardines and other fatty fish
- Practicing stress-management techniques—such as meditation, daily exercise, laughing, listening to music and yoga
- Getting enough quality sleep—a lack of sleep (less than 7.5-9 hours a night) can really do a number on your inflammatory levels and gut health
- Balancing your exercise and movement—too little or too much exercise can cause inflammation. Ideally you want to aim for 20-30 minutes of exercise that challenges your muscles, without overdoing it
How Often to Re-test
This depends on your test results.
If you’re in the negative, an annual ANA test is usually sufficient.
However, if your numbers are positive or very high, your Health Coach may recommend re-testing in as little as 2-3 months, or less.
With all the information about inflammation and chronic disease risk in the news, it can be easy to get overwhelmed or scared into inaction.
Thankfully, simple, accurate labs like the ANA test exist and make it fairly easy to keep up on your inflammatory markers and risks.
It’s predictive medicine at its finest…and doesn’t have to cost a lot either.
To learn more about how we work with our members to help predict and prevent chronic ailments, check out our membership page here.
To your good health!
-The kNew Health Team