At Carolina Integrative Medicine it is our mission and philosophy to treat each individual as whole person and provide a means to bring a healthy balance to all of the systems that provide human vitality. We often hear symptoms from our patients that simply have not been alleviated in a medical facility which deals with the testing and diagnosis of specific or isolated issues often of the viral or bacterial type and treats that particular infection with a drug that clears it up. Of course dealing with acute issues is critical for our health care system, but the more chronic system-wide issues are often left hanging. These issues are often associated with the body’s hormonal system.
The symptoms we hear the most are accompanied by the words exhaustion, cravings, anxiety, sleeplessness, muscle aches and increased irritability. For women heading into menopause it’s unexplained weight gain, thinning skin, night sweats or even depression. Men may complain of loss of muscle strength, low energy, weight gain, or low libido.
These symptoms are never about a simple treatment. They are about restoring the balance of the hormones that make up the human endocrine system. Because the system is so very complex, issues that arise rarely stem from just one hormone. If there is a disruption in the balance of hormone produced by one gland, it can cause imbalance in other hormones as well.
Symptoms are a Sign of Imbalance
The main culprit in this overall imbalance is often “stress”. Stress can age a body very quickly. The body responds to stress by releasing hormones including cortisol from your adrenal glands. Cortisol is also important for regulating blood sugar, electrolyte imbalance and the production of other hormones. As we age and our production of sex hormones changes, the adrenals play a central role in sustaining optimal health and sex hormone function.
For women progesterone levels decline significantly with age. Estrogen levels rarely decline in balance with progesterone levels. This imbalance often leads to more estrogen in relation to progesterone and is termed estrogen dominance. Estrogen dominance may contribute to mood changes, hot flashes, irritability, memory loss and more. Persistent estrogen dominance may be a risk factor for several diseases including estrogen-dependent cancers, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s disease and cardiovascular disease.
For men the imbalance of testosterone in relation to estrogen may contribute to prostate problems. While testosterone is thought of as “the” male hormone, it is also important to maintain appropriate levels of estrogen, progesterone, DHEA and cortisol. If the adrenal system (which secretes cortisol and DHEA) is out of balance, men may also experience problems with nervous and immune systems and may develop blood sugar irregularities. These irregularities also contribute to cardiovascular health risk.
If there is a disruption in the balance of hormones produced by one gland, it can cause other glandular systems to participate and soon throw off the body’s entire system. The key to alleviating these debilitating symptoms is getting all the hormones produced by the glandular system in balance.
It is important to know your symptoms, but symptoms alone won’t tell us the particularities of your hormonal imbalances. For that we need the most precise testing available in order to create the optimal treatment plan for each individual. What follows may seem a bit technical, but will help answer the question often asked of us, Why Saliva Testing? Salivary testing is the only way to accurately measure the bioavailable hormones - the clinically relevant portion delivered to the receptors in the tissues of the body. The majority of hormones exist in one of two forms: free (5%) or protein bound (95%). Only the free hormones are biologically active, or bio-available, and available for delivery to receptors in the body. So it is the level of these free hormones that affects the body tissue and ultimately the symptoms a patient is experiencing. Blood tests show a combination of the free and the protein bound hormones equally thus results from a blood test cannot describe the precise hormone level that the body is receiving. For precise hormone level testing we begin with a Salivary test called the Comprehensive Hormone Panel. This panel tests both reproductive (sex) and adrenal hormones assessing Estradiol, Progesterone, Testosterone, DHEA, and, Cortisol - four times during the day. Salivary testing is convenient, painless and non-invasive. It simply requires the at-home collection of a one’s saliva by spitting into a small test-tube four times equally distributed during the waking hours of a day. At the lab (where you will mail your tubes in the provided box), the pooling of these four samples of estradiol, progesterone, testosterone and DHEA enables a day-long reflection of each patient’s hormonal status. The cortisol levels are measured separately from each tube to provide an assessment of the natural diurnal rhythm of cortisol. Cortisol should be highest in the morning, and gradually taper off throughout the day.
The Positive Results
The most positive aspect of the Salivary testing process for persons suffering from these heretofore undiagnosed health problems is that the results of the testing will make it very clear which hormones are out of balance. A variety of hormonal replacement therapies including medications and supplements are available. “Feeling better” is often immediate. Results of the hormonal treatments are determined by the alleviation of symptoms as well as follow-up monitoring and retesting for the fine tuning of a patients unique hormonal system. The goal of this testing, treatment and follow-up monitoring and retesting is to remove any debilitation symptoms and restore optimal health for a lifetime. Both therapies and life-style modifications will contribute to this goal. And let’s face it life has a way of allowing imbalances to creep in again. Acute illnesses, surgeries, unplanned for stressors happen. Hormone monitoring and re-testing will enable a return to optimal balance and vitality whatever the external circumstances.