Laura G Owens ~ Writer

Humanity. Health. Happiness.

Page 12 of 14

Autism and Vitamin D Incidental Findings Gaining Attention

autism, vitamin d, vitamin d deficiency

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Researchers are continuing to piece together one of the most mysterious modern day epidemics, autism spectrum disorder, a syndrome affecting one in 110 children. A growing body of evidence suggests low vitamin D levels may play a role.

Scientists studying autism and vitamin D believe there may be an association between a woman’s vitamin D levels during pregnancy, her child’s subsequent vitamin D levels, and autism symptoms. Researchers aren’t however, suggesting a vitamin D deficiency causes autism, rather that a number of incidental studies suggest a link.

Autism Epidemic Presents Five Unexplained Features

The Autism Society of America (ASA) describes autism as “a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and is the result of a neurological disorder that affects the normal functioning of the brain, impacting development in the areas of social interaction and communication skills.” Autism is considered a spectrum disorder because it impacts individuals differently and to varying degrees.

ASA estimates 1 to 1.5 million Americans are impacted by autism, making it a national health crisis costing about $35 billion annually. Yet, despite numerous exhaustive metabolic and genetic evaluations conducted by scientists all over the world, researchers still aren’t able to pinpoint the exact causes.

Dr. John Cannell, Executive Director of the Vitamin D Council, writes that scientific groups have been trying to account for the 20-year increase in autism. Yet any valid theory says Cannell, must account for the following five unexplained features:

  1. significantly higher concordance (if one has it, the other is likely to have it) rates in identical, but not fraternal, twins
  2. widely-varying symptoms, even among identical twins
  3. striking 4:1 male to female sex ratio
  4. increased rates in blacks
  5. rapid increase in occurrence rates over the last 20 years

A 2009 Scientific American article “What if Vitamin D Deficiency is a Cause of Autism?” reported that five researchers at Harvard endorsed the vitamin D theory of autism, and that Dr. Darryl Eyles with the University of Queensland joined the expanding list of scientists who support the theory.

Despite the name, “vitamin” D is a secosteroid hormone that directly regulates more than 1,000 human genes. Not readily available in foods, vitamin D is made in large quantities when sunlight strikes bare skin.

fibromyalgia,vitamin d,anxiety, depression,chronic pain

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Vitamin D Regulates Long List of Genes

Geneticists believe that genetic codes may not properly transfer in children with autism, and that multiple genes aren’t expressed, possibly the result of environmental injury. Vitamin D, it seems, may protect an individual’s genome (entire genetic material) from damage from environmental toxins.

Researchers with the Autism Genetic Resource Exchange (AGRE) identified mutations in four genes within the AGRE families. Two of the genes were shown to be associated with autism and often are involved in forming or maintaining neural synapses, the point of connection between individual neurons. One of the new genes identified was neural cell adhesion molecule 2 (NCAM2). NCAM2 is expressed in the hippocampus of the human brain, a region previously associated with autism.

Dr. Lei, lead researcher on the study, explains the implications, “Studies such as this provide evidence that autism is a genetically based disease that affects neural connectivity.”

Dr. Cannell emphasizes that the vitamin D theory of autism doesn’t downplay the genetic role. In fact, he writes, “Without the genetic tendency for autism, I suspect that severe maternal or early childhood vitamin D deficiency may cause bone abnormalities, as referenced above, [but] with no evidence autism.” A vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy and early childhood may, however, trigger symptoms in a child who is genetically pre-disposed to the disorder.

Autism and Vitamin D Deficiency Linked Through Incidental Findings

In the May 2010 issue of Acta Pædiatrica, Dr. Cannell submitted a paper stating his position regarding D’s role in autism, “I have suggested that the primary environmental trigger for autism is not vaccinations, toxins or infections, but gestational and early childhood vitamin D deficiency (1,2),” he writes.

In the report, Cannell cited several studies that offer incidental evidence (unexpected clinical findings) of a link between D deficiency and autism:

A few of the findings include:

  • Boys with autism have unexplained metacarpal bone thickness. At some point these boys developed less cortical bone than normal children, a finding consistent with undetected and untreated childhood or even intrauterine vitamin D deficiency.
  • Melanin in the skin is an effective sunblock. Melanin is higher in dark-skinned people. Three of four recent U.S. studies found a higher incidence of autism in black children.
  • A Somali immigrant study in Sweden found a higher rate of autism in the Somalian population. These refugees traded family compounds and regular exposure to the equatorial sun for cloistered high-rise apartments, and many of them Muslim, cover their bodies from head to toe (thus received minimal sun exposure).
  • Studies showed autism in three U.S. states was higher in areas with more precipitation and clouds (less exposure to sunlight).
  • Lower seafood consumption during pregnancy was associated with low verbal intelligence quotient, suboptimum outcomes for prosocial behavior, fine motor, communication and social development scores. Fish is one of the few foods with significant amounts of vitamin D.
  • Autism is more common in mothers who take antiepileptic drugs. Antiepileptic drugs are one of the few classes of drugs that interferes with vitamin D metabolism, lowering 25(OH)D levels.

While the government’s advice to the public over the past few decades to use sunblock and to avoid excessive sun exposure to reduce the incidence of skin cancer was well-intentioned, an unfortunate side effect has contributed to two modern day epidemics, vitamin D deficiency and autism spectrum disorder.

Footnotes: 

“Study adds to evidence that autism has genetic basis,” ScienceDaily, May 3, 2010. Accessed July 23, 2010.

Cannell JJ. “On the Aetiology of Autism.” Acta Paediatrica. May 2010.

Cannell JJ.” Autism and Vitamin D,” Medical Hypotheses 2008, Accessed July 23,2010.

Lite, J., “Vitamin D deficiency soars in the U.S.,” Scientific American, March 23, 2009. Accessed July 23,2010.

Copyright Laura Owens. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.

Depression Caused by Low GABA Rather Than Serotonin in Some

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SSRI meds For GABA-Related Depression May Not Work

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Doctors may be closer to treating major depression in individuals who don’t respond to selective-serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and selective-serotonin nor epinephrine re-uptake inhibitors (SSNRIs).

Medications prescribed to treat major depression are often those designed to increase the availability of serotonin, dopamine and/or nor epinephrine in the brain, neurotransmitters involved in a number of processes, including mood. Yet patients who don’t respond to those classes of drugs may in fact have an imbalance in another key brain chemical, GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid).

Depression Not Always Due to Serotonin, Dopamine, Nor Epinephrine Imbalance

Major depression is a complex mood disorder that can be caused by a number of underlying and potentially intertwined biochemical and psychological factors. While some patients respond to serotonin therapies, for others, SSRI’s don’t improve their symptoms or can even make them worse.

Scientists in a study released in 2005, “Corelease of Dopamine and Serotonin from Striatal Dopamine Terminals” found that higher serotonin concentrations caused by SSRIs can “trick” transporters of another key neurotransmitter, dopamine, into retrieving serotonin into dopamine vesicles. This is referred to as “cosignaling” and can lead to a dangerous, even life threatening condition called serotonin syndrome.

In a March 2010 study published in Biological Psychiatry, co-authors Drs. Andrea J. Levinson and Zafiris J. Daskalakis of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) studied a group of brain chemicals involved in virtually all brain activity, the neurotransmitter GABA. In the study, individuals who were the least likely to respond well to prior depression treatments were also the ones with the lowest level of GABA in their brain.

Depression and GABA

GABA controls the brain’s rhythmic theta waves that allow individuals to feel physically and mentally balanced. They are the electrical brain waves associated with an “in between” mental state, a drowsy, semiconscious, alert yet relaxed dream-like state of mind.

Dr. Ray Sahelian, author of Mind Boosters [St. Martin’s Press, 2000] explains, “GABA is the most important and widespread inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. Excitation in the brain must be balanced with inhibition. Too much excitation can lead to restlessness, irritability, insomnia, and even seizures. GABA is able to induce relaxation, analgesia, and sleep.”

GABA creates a sense of well-being and is involved in the production of endorphins, brain chemicals that create feelings of well-being known as the “runners high.” “Endorphins are produced in the brain during physical movement, such as stretching or even sexual intercourse,” explains Dr. Braverman in his book The Edge Effect [Sterling Publishing, 2005]. As endorphins are released, people begin to feel a sense of calm, often referred to as the Endorphin Effect.

A GABA imbalance can be involved in bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and anxiety disorder but it’s also inherent to a number of critical day to day brain functions. “We apply so many conscious and unconscious perceptions and judgments to our actions at every second, without even realizing that we are doing so,” says Dr. Levinson. “GABA is part of the brain system that allows us to fine-tune our moods, thoughts, and actions with an incredible level of detail,” she says.

The findings on GABA and major depression may explain why electroconvulsive therapy, once thought barbaric, is still the most efficacious therapy for major depressive disorder. “Electroconvulsive therapy may act on GABA brain chemicals in a way that can reset the balance,” says Levinson.

GABA deficiency symptoms

Because GABA is the chief inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain, it’s involved in an impressive list of regulatory processes in the body. A GABA deficiency can lead to:

  • Allergies, light-headedness, restlessness, transient muscle tension or aches;
  • Feelings of dread, blurred vision, protein cravings, impulsive attention errors, cold or clammy hands, butterflies in the stomach, feeling of a lump in the throat;
  • Dizziness, coughing or choking, temporomandibular joint syndrome, paresthesia (prickling or tingling sensation), phobias;
  • PMS, irritable bowel syndrome, night sweats, moderate to severe constipation/diarrhea;
  • Tachycardia (rapid heartbeat), mood swings, various mild pain syndromes, various anxiety disorders, hypertension;
  • Delusions, unexplained chronic pains, trigeminal neuralgia and other facial pains;
  • Short or violent temper, chronic insomnia, neuropathy (nerve pain), fibromyalgia (chronic muscle pain);
  • Severe heart arrhythmias, carbohydrate cravings, severe migraines, rage; and
  • Severe tinnitus, severe pain, manic depression, seizures.

The implications of the study suggest that targeted drug therapies that include GABA medications may be more effective for patients with major depression than the trial and error approach that relies on serotonin and other neurotransmitter drug therapies.

“We are advancing the goal of a truly personalized medicine,” says study co-author Dr. Daskalakis. “It is intriguing to think that we may soon be able to apply simple brain stimulation to identify which treatments are most likely to help the individual person, eliminating the guesswork. That is, through these findings we may be able to one day determine who is and who is not going to respond to traditional pharmacological approaches to depression.”

Footnotes: 

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (2010, March 6). “Critical brain chemical shown to play role in severe depression.” ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 19, 2010, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2010/03/100301102803.htm

Fu-Ming Zhou, Yong Liang, Ramiro Salas, Lifen Zhang, Mariella De Biasi, and John A. Dani: “Corelease of Dopamine and Serotonin from Striatal Dopamine Terminals” Publishing in Neuron, Volume 46, Number 1, April 7, 2005, pages 65–74. http://www.neuron.org

Copyright Laura Owens. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.

Five Ways To Improve Mood Naturally: Dopamine, GABA, Fish Oil…

Natural mood elevators, including fish oil

(Photo credit: Kittikun Atsawintarangkul)

Depression and anxiety treatment continues to explode as a highly profitable industry for drug companies. A growing number of people are popping prescriptions, desperately seeking solutions that will work long term and don’t carry risky side effects.

Pharmaceutical companies continue to spend millions on advertising to convince consumers that the solution to conquering mood disorders comes from a doctor’s prescription pad. Yet there are numerous natural alternatives available that cost little money, are safe and effective and will treat a spectrum of acute and chronic mood issues.

Serotonin Not Always Solution to Depression

Many prescription anti-depressants are designed to address low levels of serotonin and nor epinephrine. Yet in a 2005 review, researchers Jeffery Lacasse and Jonathon Leo wrote that they couldn’t find any article to directly support the long-held claim that a serotonin deficiency causes mental disorders.

Moreover, not all mood disorders are due to a biochemical imbalance, and medications often miss the mark or don’t address the underlying causes. Drugs can have unpleasant side effects such as weight gain, loss of libido, or diminished affect (emotion); and can even exacerbate symptoms. Alternatively there are a number of natural alternatives to boost mood.

1.Increase Dopamine for Depression Relief

Dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved in arousal and motor function is a precursor to adrenaline and a related molecule, not adrenaline. Dopamine is made from the amino acid tyrosine and is central to the creation of reward systems such as food, sex, positive social interactions, even humor. While doctors can prescribe medications to treat dopamine-dependent depression, there are natural ways to elevate dopamine.

Michael Lardon, a doctor and researcher on the neuroelectric assessment of athletic peak performance explains in an online article for the Modesto Bee that everyone who exercises can reap the benefits from the “dopamine buzz.”

“Dopamine is released within just 20 minutes of moderate exercise, says Lardon, “and triggers within your brain positive feelings about yourself even after your first session of exercise, before your body has had a chance to firmly establish an association between the exercise and the great feelings.”

2. Boost GABA for Mental Health

Another neurotransmitter involved with mood regulation is GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). GABA controls the brain’s rhythmic theta waves that allow individuals to feel physically and mentally balanced.

Dr. Ray Sahelian, author of Mind Boosters [St. Martin’s Press, 2000] explains GABA’s key brain balancing role, “GABA is the most important and widespread inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. Excitation in the brain must be balanced with inhibition. Too much excitation can lead to restlessness, irritability, insomnia, and even seizures. GABA is able to induce relaxation, analgesia, and sleep.”

GABA is involved in the production of endorphins, brain chemicals that create feelings of well-being known as the “runner’s high.” An imbalance can be involved in bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and anxiety disorder but it’s also inherent to several critical day to day brain functions.

A GABA-rich diet and certain supplements can elevate GABA, and so can yoga, research finds. “The practice of yoga should be explored as a treatment for disorders with low GABA levels such as depression and anxiety disorders. Future studies should compare yoga to other forms of exercise to help determine whether yoga or exercise alone can alter GABA levels,” write scientists in a 2007 study.

3. Take Fish Oil to Improve Mood

Fish oil is most often associated with cardiovascular health, but the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil can also improve mood in some people.

According to Dr. Mercola, a leading natural health expert, “Numerous studies worldwide have linked lack of omega-3 consumption – specifically DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) – with depression. One study found that depression symptoms were higher among infrequent fish consumers than among those who ate fish on a regular basis.”

Researchers found that low plasma concentrations of DHA were good predictors of low concentrations of brain serotonin. Low serotonin can be associated with depression and suicide in some individuals.

4. Socialize With Cheerful People

Depressed people often avoid social interaction, but forcing face-to-face connections with upbeat people can boost mood, research indicates.

Forbes.com reported on a 20-year study that found social networks can have a deep impact on an individual’s happiness. Scientists tracked over 4,700 people and found that social interactions with both cheerful friends and strangers considerably influenced the subject’s chances of happiness.

5. Pet a Pet to Boost Mood

Petting Rover can be plus for mental and physical health. “The benefit is especially pronounced when people are strongly attached to their pets,” says researcher Judith Siegel, PhD for a WebMD article.

Blair Justice, PhD, a psychology professor and author of Who Gets Sick: How Beliefs, Moods, and Thoughts Affect Your Health [Peak Press, 2000] tells WebMD that like any enjoyable activity, playing with a pet increases serotonin and dopamine. “People take drugs like heroin and cocaine to raise serotonin and dopamine, but the healthy way to do it is to pet your dog, or hug your spouse, watch sunsets, or get around something beautiful in nature, “says Justice.

While the pharmaceutical industry continues to promote a long list of medications for anxiety and depression, several natural alternatives are available that are safe, often very effective, and without risky side effects.

People suffering with acute or chronic mood changes who are interested in natural treatments should seek a holistic practitioner. Holistic physicians often measure neurotransmitter and hormone levels and then develop a comprehensive treatment plan that may include a combination of diet changes, exercise, hormone replacement and supplements. Treatment may be combined with conventional approaches to mood management or as an alternative.

Footnotes:

Lacasse JR, Leo J, “Serotonin and depression: a disconnect between the advertisements and the scientific literature,” Florida State University College of Social Work, Tallahassee, Fl., 2005 Dec;2(12):e392.

Lerche Davis, Jeanie, “5 Ways Pets Can Improve Your Health,” WebMD. November 16, 2009.

Mercola, Joseph, Ph.D., “More Omega-3 Studies Find Links to Depression,”November 24 2004.

Rebecca, Ruiz, How To Beat The Winter Blues. Forbes.com. December 15, 2008.

Streeter, CC, Jensen JE, Perlmutter RM, Cabral HJ, Tian H, Terhune DB, Ciraulo DA, Renshaw, PF, “Yoga Asana sessions increase brain GABA levels: a pilot study.” Journal of Complementary Medicine, 2007 May 13.

Heart Health Risk With Calcium Supplements, Research Suggests

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Calcium supplements (vs. food-based calcium) may contribute to heart issues

(Photo credit: Carlos Porto) (Photo credit:Master isolated images)

A new study finds supplementing with calcium may slightly increase risk of heart attacks. Researchers suggest a review of current calcium recommendations.

A study published in the British Medical Journal found that calcium supplements commonly prescribed to benefit skeletal health, may increase the risk of a heart attack and cardiovascular events such as stroke, in healthy older women by 20% to 30%.

Calcium and Osteoporosis

While the increased risk is small, and some researchers say the findings are unnecessarily alarmist, given the widespread use of calcium supplements to help prevent osteoporosis, even a small risk within a large population could become a health burden, warns the study’s lead researcher Dr. Ian Reid.

Calcium supplementation has proven to provide only minimal benefit to increase bone density and to prevent fractures in women. As a result of its limited use for osteoporosis patients and the new heart risk findings, Reid suggests the current supplement recommendations be re-assessed.

In an editorial published with the study, cardiologist John Cleland of the U.K.’s Hull York Medical School called the analysis “concerning but not convincing.” Like Reid however, Cleland remains cautious. “Given the uncertain benefits of calcium supplements, any level of (heart) risk is unwarranted.”

Council for Responsible Nutrition Questions Implications

Dr. Andrew Shao, senior VP, scientific & regulatory affairs with the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) says in a press release for CRN that the warnings have been overstated and dilute the importance of calcium. Calcium’s role in building and maintaining bone is vital says Shao, and to prevent osteoporosis. “The results from this meta-analysis does not undermine the value calcium supplements offer to those concerned with maintaining or increasing bone density, as years of research shows these products do,” he says.

The problem explains Shao, is the meta-analysis only included 15 randomized trials on calcium, rather than the available 300. Moreover, seven of the 15 trials had no, or incomplete data on cardiovascular outcomes and the study excluded studies that combined calcium with vitamin D. “This analysis should not dissuade consumers, particularly young women, from taking calcium supplements. They should talk with their doctors about their current and long-term needs and determine how much calcium they are getting from their diets, and supplement accordingly, likely in combination with vitamin D,” says Shao.

Vitamin D and Heart Health

Vitamin D, actually a secosteroid hormone, is gaining increasing attention among researchers. Once largely associated with bone health, studies indicate vitamin D may play an essential role in a wide array of key body functions including immunity, cancer prevention, and heart health.

“Vitamin D deficiency is an unrecognized, emerging cardiovascular risk factor, which should be screened for and treated,” says researcher James H. O’Keefe, MD, director of preventive cardiology at the Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas City, Mo., in a news release. “Vitamin D is easy to assess, and supplementation is simple, safe and inexpensive.”

The December 2008 issue of The Harvard Heart Letter reported on the link between vitamin D and heart health, writing that calcium deposits that stiffen the arteries are more likely to develop in people with low levels of vitamin D and cause coronary artery disease. Like low magnesium, a D deficiency contributes to high blood pressure, a risk factor for heart attack and stroke.

Jennifer Warner in her WebMD article “Too Little Vitamin D Puts Heart at Risk,” writes that researchers are finding a growing body of evidence to suggest a vitamin D deficiency increases the risk of heart disease and is linked to other, well-known heart disease risk factors such as high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes.

Magnesium and Heart Health

Another unsung hero involved in heart health is magnesium. Dr. Carolyn Dean, Medical Director of the Nutritional Magnesium Association and author of several books including The Magnesium Miracle, has long warned doctors and the public against over promoting calcium and under promoting magnesium.

Magnesium is a mineral that plays a critical role in heart health and balances the effects of calcium. Most calcium-magnesium formulations however, have a 2:1 (or higher) ratio. Dr. Dean recommends the inverse, 2:1 magnesium.

Andrea Rosanoff, Ph.D.Director with the Center for Magnesium Education & Research writes in her book The Magnesium Factor, “The most important marker for impending heart disease is a low magnesium to calcium ratio in the cells.” Rosanoff’s co-author, Dr. Mildred Seelig writes, ”While several essential nutrients are imperative for heart and blood vessel health, the vast research on low magnesium and its impact on heart health has gone unheeded, so much so that much of the heart disease seen today is a direct result of low magnesium consumption.”

In recent decades calcium supplementation has been heavily promoted to prevent osteoporosis, build bone density and prevent fractures, yet results have been disappointing. Calcium, a new finding suggests, may actually increase the risk of heart attack. Yet magnesium and vitamin D once largely in the shadow of calcium, are gaining attention for their role in the prevention of a wide array of diseases and to improve overall health functioning, including heart health.

Footnotes:

Boyles, Salynn, “Calcium May Increase Heart Attack Risk, WebMD Health News. July 29, 2010.

Bolland MJ, Avenell A, Baron JA, Grey A, Maclennan GS, Gamble GD, Reid IR., “Effect of calcium supplements on risk of myocardial infarction and cardiovascular events: meta-analysis.” British Medical Journal, 2010 Jul 29.

Rosanoff, Arlene, Ph.D. and Seelig, Mildred. The Magnesium Factor, Penguin, 2003.

“Vitamin D deficiency bad for the heart, bones, and rest of the body,” Harvard Heart Letter, December 2009, Harvard Health Publications, Harvard Medical School.

Warner, Jennifer, “Too Little Vitamin D Puts Heart at Risk.” WebMD Health News. Dec. 1, 2008.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and should not be used for diagnosis or to guide treatment without the opinion of a health professional. Any reader who is concerned about his or her health should contact a doctor for advice.

Copyright Laura Owens. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.

Hormone replacement therapy. When is it right for you?

Photo - Sally Howard

(Photo credit: Sally Howard)

Feeling off?

Forgetful? Sweaty? Waking up in the middle of the night? Less interested in sex? Increasingly stressed, unfocused or irritable?

Your doctor might suggest you’re in peri or full menopause. Or perhaps you’ve had a complete hysterectomy and she wants you on hormone replacement therapy (HRT).

Or, maybe your cortisol (the stress hormone) levels are high, a condition that is all too common today in our stressful society, that and adrenal fatigue. Cortisol in small doses as the “fight or flight” hormone alerts you to take action. And, like all hormones it’s just doing its job. But, at chronically high levels, as in the case of constant stress, cortisol can harm your sleep and your health.

Whatever is going on your doctor (or you) may want to test your hormones and a number of other factors. The connection between hormones, neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) and our mind and body wellness is intricately complex, but infinitely manageable.

*Click here for a few of my favorite natural hormone balancing products

Here’s my six-prong approach to making decisions about hormone therapy:

1. Track your symptoms. Do this for several months before and and after (if you decide) you start hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Write in a journal how you feel, your symptoms based on time of day, how your symptoms change from day to day, weekly and monthly and how you feel after you eat.

Food is the first and foremost nutraceutical we take in throughout the day, and food affects our mood, hormones, EVERYTHING. Your diligent symptom tracking will provide you and your doctor with some useful patterns and information about what hormones and neurotransmitters might be off balance.  Do you see patterns before your period? After? Sporadically?

2. Test your hormone levels (saliva testing is more accurate for several hormones). Get tested even while you track your symptoms.

3. Consult with an open minded doctor. Preferably find one who specializes in natural hormone and mood balancing. The gift of finding a doctor who listens, respects your symptoms and who understands women’s hormones and brains is beyond priceless.

Much of what I’ve learned is from my hormone balancing doctor, my own decade of research and Dr. John Lee’s books. He’s my guru for bioidentical hormones. (Dr. Braverman is my guru for mood balancing).

*Click here for a few of my favorite natural hormone balancing products

4. If applicable, start hormone therapy (HT). Ask yourself, do I feel increasingly crappy? Do I want to stay this way and accept feeling crappy as par for aging?

You have your answer.

5. Use bioidentical hormones (BH)

6. Use a compounding pharmacist.  Most insurance companies don’t cover BH, however some might reimburse a portion. You may only need progesterone. Many women do not need estrogen replacement. Progesterone often alleviates symptoms of the common “estrogen dominance” which doesn’t mean you have high estrogen (though some women do and this is referred to as “estrogen excess”) it means your progesterone is too low.  However if after balancing your progesterone you are still low in estrogen, BH estrogen is FDA regulated, therefore often covered through your health insurance and/or discount pharmacy plans.

I order my BH estrogen transdermal patches from Canada, Smart Choice Pharmacy. I’ve found their pricing and customer service to be excellent.

*Click here for a few of my favorite natural hormone balancing products

Whether you opt in or out of HRT, at least stay open to the possibility.

Read between the hormone news scare lines, don’t react against HRT until you understand the researching findings, until you understand the difference between synthetic and bioidentical hormones, until you talk to an experienced physician who understands natural hormone balancing and who keeps up with the latest research on both sides, conventional and natural hormone HRT.

 

Considering Bioidentical Hormone Replacement? Consider a Compounding Pharmacist.

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Consider using a compounding pharmacist for bioidentical hormones

(Photo credit: Renjith Krishnan’s)

Have you talked to your doctor because you think you might be in peri or full menopause?

Are you feeling off, forgetful, sweaty? Are you waking up in the middle of the night, increasingly anxious, unfocused, irritable and have little sex drive? Perhaps you’ve had a complete hysterectomy and your doctor wants you on hormone replacement therapy.

The first step is to measure your hormones. Saliva testing is preferable to serum blood tests, in some instances. 

(Click image for hormone testing kit)

Click for list of ZRT Labs hormone tests)

And, if based on your test results you decide to start hormone replacement therapy (HRT), consider bioidentical HRT over conventional, synthetic forms. It’s important to get your bioidentical hormones (BH) from a reputable pharmacy who dispenses with a prescription from your doctor. (Ask your doctor what your state requires as this varies).

Find a compounding pharmacist nearest you.

While over the counter (OTC) progesterone creams are available, I don’t recommend these because of the potential for inconsistency in the active compounds and dosing.  Dr. Lee however, the HRT guru I follow, recommends a few OTC formulas in his book.

(click image for more information)

One  of Dr. Lee’s OTC progesterone cream recommendations is Emerita. Yet, I order my progesterone and testosterone from a local compounding pharmacy. I mail or fax the pharmacy my Ob & Gyn ordered prescription and the staff fills my script through the mail upon request.

So what exactly is a compounding pharmacy?

Writes Wikipedia:

Compounding pharmacies use commercially-available bulk drugs to create new formulations which differ (in form or dosage) from those manufactured on a large scale by pharmaceutical companies.

Custom-compounded BHRT is (bioidentical hormone replacement therapy) almost wholly restricted to the United States, where pharmacy compounding is governed at the state level while the FDA has regulatory authority over the compounded product. Some internet-based compounding pharmacies understate harm and claim benefits of compounded BHRT beyond what can be proven by evidence-based medicine, and many of their claims exceed those made by other, more mainstream, BHT practitioners.

Find a compounding pharmacist nearest you.

In the United States, compounding pharmacies are licensed and regulated by their respective state like all other pharmacies. National standards have been created by Pharmacy Compounding Accreditation Board (PCAB). Compounding pharmacies were the subject of the United States Supreme Court decision Thompson v. Western States Medical Center (535 U.S. 357, 2002).

I pay a small extra fee to have my compounding pharmacy dispense my creams in a dose-monitored pump to ensure I easily apply the exact amount of progesterone and testosterone cream my doctor prescribed. (Note: Testosterone is a controlled substance and is not available over the counter).

Syringes with tick measurements on the side are often given to customers. These work fine and usually don’t cost more.

Verify your pharmacy and the pharmacist is legitimate. I won’t mention the name, but a certain pharmacy in our area was charged (okay the pharmacists were, not the local chain) for dispensing steroids in and out of state, without a prescription.

Find a compounding pharmacy nearest you.

Before I bought my prescription from the pharmacy I now use I met with the doctor on staff (a former Ob & Gyn who specialized in hormone and brain balancing) and the compounding pharmacist.

I order my bioidentical estrogen patches, Vivelle-dot (I used to use Climara but the bi-weekly Vivelle is offers a more continuous delivery of the active ingredient because you change the patch twice a week) from a Canadian Pharmacy. Because Vivelle is not a compounded substance, it IS FDA approved. I order mine from a verified Canadian pharmacy.

Will insurance cover bioidentical hormones?

Many insurance companies don’t cover compounded medications, it’s important to ask if they pay some, all or none of the cost. Some insurance plans will cover bioidentical estrogen patches (e.g. Climara, Vivelle-dot) because these biodientical estrogen patches are regulated by the FDA.

I have a health savings plan and pay out of pocket, so I price my hormones all the time.  For years I’ve found that even if my estrogen patches were covered under my insurance, it was (usually) less expensive to order them out of pocket from my Canadian pharmacy, even after including the shipping charges.

I use Smart Choice Pharmacy and have been nothing but pleased over the years. Their customer service is polite, efficient and prompt.

Hormone replacement therapy decision checklist:

  1. Track symptoms for several months before and after starting HRT
  2. Get tested (saliva preferable in many cases)
  3. Consult with open minded doctor who understands or specializes in women’s medicine, natural hormone and mood balancing.
  4. Start hormone therapy if applicable. Monitor your symptoms over time, realizing that your body may feel worse the first week or two before you feel better as you adjust ot the hormones.
  5. Use bioidentical hormones, BHRT (my preference), using the least amount to achieve desired results (reduced or no symptoms).
  6. Use a compounding pharmacist for your BHRT creams and compare your health insurance and pharmacy plans for bioidentical estrogen patches if applicable. Many women find they don’t need estrogen HRT, only progesterone.

Obtaining your BHRT creams from a compounding pharmacist rather than over the counter increases the likelihood that the progesterone and/or testosterone cream you use is formulated to the dosing and purity your doctor prescribed, which is critical to relieving your menopausal symptoms.

Calcium and Vitamin D Synthesis Involved in PMS & PMDD Symptoms

Research suggests there’s a link between premenstrual dysphoric disorder and how some women synthesize estrogen, vitamin D and calcium during menses.

While 30% of women suffer from PMS each month, up to 8% suffer from a more extreme form, premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). Although the exact cause is still largely unknown, research suggests an increase in estrogen with changes in subsequent vitamin D and calcium synthesis may be involved.

PMDD Emotional Symptoms More Severe Than PMS

Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) is an extreme form of Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) with monthly symptoms that can be severe, even disabling for some women.

While PMS and PMDD both manifest with physical and emotional symptoms, PMDD causes more extreme mood shifts in women that can interfere with their work and relationships. PMDD symptoms occur during the luteal phase (latter part) of the menstrual cycle and are virtually non-existent during the follicular phase.

PMDD disappears at menopause, remits during pregnancy, and improves with ovarian hormone suppression therapy. In both PMS and PMDD, women experience symptoms in the last week of the menstrual cycle which generally improve a few days after menstruation begins.

PMDD and PMS both share symptoms of bloating, breast tenderness, fatigue, and changes in sleep and eating habits, but women with PMDD often experience a combination of the following emotional and behavioral symptoms:

  • Anxiety
  • Feelings of being “keyed up” or “on edge”
  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Persistent irritability
  • Marked anger

While the exact cause is unclear, research has shown a link between calcium deficiency and mood abnormalities which suggest PMDD may be linked to extreme fluctuations in calcium-regulating hormones in some women during their menstrual cycle.

Calcium Improves PMS & PMDD Symptoms

In a 2007 study on calcium and PMDD, lead author Susan Thys-Jacobs writes, “women with PMS were shown to have exaggerated fluctuations of the calcium regulating hormone across the menstrual cycle with evidence of vitamin D deficiency and secondary hyperparathyroidism.”

(flickr,photo credit)

Thys-Jacobs’ research team investigated calcium’s role in PMS and PMDD based on earlier evidence linking mood disturbances and calcium metabolism. “On the basis of previous studies linking abnormalities in mood,” writes the author, “this investigation has now found that the pattern of cyclical fluctuations in the calcium-regulating hormones, specifically ionized calcium, urine calcium, and 1,25 (OH)2D (vitamin D) differs between women with PMDD and those without.”

Although there’s still no consensus among scientists the degree to which calcium-regulating hormones vary in women with PMDD, the 2007 study indicated that serum calcium declines at three points during a woman’s cycle: at menses, at mid-cycle, and during the late luteal half of her menses.Vitamin D Synthesis Involved in PMDD Symptoms

The research team found that although women with and without PMDD symptoms were low in vitamin D, women with PMDD metabolized vitamin D differently during their menstrual cycle than women without PMDD. Asymptomatic women had more access to stored calcium in their body during their menstrual cycle than women with symptoms. Researchers believe vitamin D plays a role in regulating the level of calcium released during the menstrual cycle.

Estrogen is likely involved as well. Estradiol, a component of estrogen, peaks during the ovulatory and luteal phase of menstruation to regulate vitamin D metabolism and to help prevent bone loss by keeping bone from being reabsorbed. When estrogen inhibits calcium from being released from bone, it lowers serum calcium which leads to a rise in the parathyroid hormone, triggering an increase in 1,25(OH) 2,D synthesis. Elevated 1,25(OH) 2,D may contribute to vitamin D and calcium deficiency, and subsequently cause PMDD symptoms.

While the exact cause of Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder is still unknown, a growing body of evidence suggests there may be a link between elevated estrogen levels and how vitamin D and calcium are metabolized in some women during their menstrual cycle.Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and should not be used for diagnosis or to guide treatment without the opinion of a health professional. Any reader who is concerned about his or her health should contact a doctor for advice.

Footnotes:

  • Bertone-Johnson ER, Hankinson SE, Bendich A, Johnson SR, Willett WC, Manson JE. “Calcium and vitamin D intake and risk of incident premenstrual syndrome.” Archives of Internal Medicine, June 13, 2005.
  • Khajehei M, Abdali K, Parsanezhad ME, Tabatabaee HR. “Effect of treatment with dydrogesterone or calcium plus vitamin D on the severity of premenstrual syndrome.” International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics, May 2009.
  • Thys-Jacobs S, McMahon D, Bilezikian JP. “Cyclical changes in calcium metabolism across the menstrual cycle in women with premenstrual dysphoric disorder.” Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, May 2007.
Copyright Laura Owens. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.

PMS Symptoms May Improve With Tulsi, Ancient Revered Indian Herb Lowers Cortisol

holy basil, pms, pmdd, herbs for pms

Holy basil may reduce symptoms of PMS, PMDD

While millions of women suffer with a long list of premenstrual symptoms each month, a number of natural solutions are available to reduce symptoms. Tulsi an ancient and revered herb, has adaptogenic qualities that can lower cortisol levels in the body and in turn, may alleviate some of the emotional stress associated with PMS.

The Centers for Disease Control’s National Women’s Health Information Center cites that 30-40% of women experience some impairment of their daily activity due to premenstrual syndrome (PMS), 75% experience at least some symptoms, and 3-8% have severe premenstrual symptoms, a condition called premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).

Yet the exact cause of PMS and PMDD, and therefore most effective treatments, remain elusive, largely due to the variability of underlying triggers across women. Writes Dr. Tori Hudson, a naturopathic physician, on her website: “It is difficult to identify the cause in a condition that overlaps so broadly with normal physiology, affects so many, and has such a wide array of symptoms. Many theories have been explored and none found completely satisfying. Most likely this is because it is such a complex interaction of factors both physiologic and social.”PMS symptoms vary according across women and can change in severity each month, generally however, women experience some combination of physical and emotional changes including, according to WebMd:

Physical:

  • Acne
  • Bloating and tender breasts
  • Food cravings
  • Lack of energy
  • Cramps
  • Headaches
  • Low back pain

Emotional and Cognitive:

  • Feel sad, angry, or anxious
  • Be less alert
  • Find it hard to focus on tasks
  • Want to withdraw from family and friends
  • Act in a forceful or hostile way.

A number of factors are thought to contribute to PMS and PMDD such as inadequate vitamin B6, calcium, or magnesium intake, lack of exercise, too much caffeine, hormonal changes that contribute to the symptoms of estrogen dominance, and neurotransmitter imbalances such as a drop in serotonin levels. Stress can also exacerbate symptoms. The underlying relationship of stress to PMS, while still not entirely understood, is likely related to differences in the stress-regulation feedback system in women as they enter their cycle.

Click here for PMS and PMDD products

Click here for holy basil products.

Click here for products to lower cortisol, support adrenal health

Premenstrual Syndrome and the Cortisol ConnectionCortisol, often referred to as the “stress hormone,” is produced and secreted by the adrenal glands. In excess cortisol has been linked to abdominal obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and an inflammation state in the body, the cause of numerous diseases. Cortisol increases in response to chronic stress, triggering the body to make glucose from amino acids which causes blood sugar to rise. Cortisol is primarily released in response to feelings of fear, danger or even a sense of competition.

As with any hormone, when cortisol is left to do its job and kept in balance, it isn’t harmful to health. Emma Adam, Northwestern University assistant professor of Education and Social Policy, explains cortisol’s role in the body, “Cortisol helps us respond to stressful experiences and to do something about them,” she said. “It is necessary for survival — fluctuations in this hormone assist us in meeting the changing demands we face in our daily lives.” A stress-cortisol-activated body that never comes back into balance however, is at risk for health problems.

Click here for PMS and PMDD products

Click here for holy basil products.

Click here for products to lower cortisol, support adrenal health

Cortisol works within its own circadian rhythm with levels increasing before people wake up in the morning so their body can prepare for the stresses of the day. Levels generally drop during various times of the day and evening hours, yet if cortisol remains high or surges at night, the disruption to the circadian rhythm can lead to insomnia or early waking. Lack of sleep alone can exacerbate symptoms of PMS, yet physical or emotional stress produces higher than normal levels of cortisol, which can make some premenstrual symptoms worse.

Dr. John R Lee M.D, writes in his book, What Your Doctor May Not Tell You about Premenopause, [Warner Books, 1999], the way in which cortisol, stress and hormones contribute to PMS, “Since cortisol and progesterone compete for common receptors in the cells, cortisol impairs progesterone activity, setting the stage for estrogen dominance. Chronically elevated cortisol levels can be a direct cause of estrogen dominance, with all the familiar PMS symptoms,” writes Lee.PMS and Cortisol: The Blood Sugar, Food Cravings and Weight Gain Cycle

High cortisol also levels affect blood sugar, sending glucose into the cells, a process that may partially explain the common food cravings many women experience during PMS. The initial flood of glucose may at first feel good, but a half hour later or so the body has to work overtime to produce more glucose.

The result? High cortisol promotes cravings, pushing people to grab candy bars, cookies and potato chips in an attempt to get their blood sugar (glucose) and energy back up. The vicious cycle continues with the long term affect of eating empty calories, negatively affecting mood and packing on the pounds, explains Lee.

The fluctuations in blood sugar also prompts another type of negative feedback cycle. High blood sugar stimulates the release of adrenaline, which in turn stimulates the release of cortisol which stimulates cravings for quick calories, and so, the cycle continues.

Tulsi Lowers Cortisol Levels, May Improve PMS Emotional Symptoms

(Flickr, photo credit)

In a 1998 study Boston researchers studied women with varied intensity of premenstrual symptoms in relation to their cortisol output. Results showed that during the follicular and luteal phases (the latter is the day after ovulation that runs through the remainder of a woman’s cycle); women experienced statistically significant differences in symptom severity.

Researchers also found that during the luteal phase (but not the follicular) there was a difference in cortisol output among the women. The authors of the study suggest that during the phases of the monthly menstrual cycle some women experience changes in the stress regulation-feedback system in relation to their cortisol output.

Reducing cortisol levels may help reduce premenstrual symptoms in some women, and Tulsi or Holy Basil, a highly honored herb in India with numerous medicinal properties, can decrease cortisol output.

Click here for PMS and PMDD products, books, vitamins

Click here for holy basil products. New Chapter is excellent so is Gaia, Enzymatic Therapy & Nature’s Way.

Click here for products to lower cortisol, support healthy adrenal health

Tulsi assists in maintaining equilibrium by modulating several biochemicals associated with stress responses, including cortisol, serotonin, epinephrine, norepinehprhine, dopamine, and inflammatory mediators.

Sacred in the Hindu religion, Holy Basil, or Tulsi, (sometimes spelled Tulasi) can be found growing profusely around temples. As a principal herb of Ayurveda, the ancient traditional holistic health system of India, Holy Basil’s medicinal properties are: anabolic, hypoglycemic, smooth muscle relaxant, cardiac depressant, antifertility, adaptogenic, immunomodulator, antioxidant, hepatoprotective (liver protecting) and gastrointestinal protective.

Certain herbs have the ability to improve the body’s resistance to stress, a process referred to as a State of Non-specific Increased Resistance (SNIR). SNIR was proposed by N.V. Lazarev in 1958, and the herbs and tonics that evoked SNIR were named “Adaptogens” or “Athenktotropics.” Adaptogens help the body adapt to stressors or cause adaptive reactions by increasing the defensive power of an organism. Adaptogens support the body’s systemic response to stress and can increase stamina.

Holy Basil Dosing and Safety

(Flickr, photo credit)

Holy Basil can be ingested as a supplement, herbal tea, dried powder, fresh leaf, or mixed with ghee, a Southeast Asian clarified butter.

The appropriate dose depends on several factors such as the user’s age, health, and several other conditions. According to WebMd.com there is not enough scientific information to determine an appropriate range of doses for holy basil. Keep in mind that natural products are not always necessarily safe and dosages can be important. Be sure to follow relevant directions on product labels and consult your pharmacist or physician or other healthcare professional before using.

Click here for PMS and PMDD products

Click here for holy basil products.

Click here for products to lower cortisol, support adrenal health

While the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome are complex and often tied to a variety of interrelated physical, emotional and social conditions, the ancient and revered herb Tulsi, or Holy Basil, may be effective to lower cortisol levels, the stress hormone known to exacerbate PMS symptoms in some women.

Sources

  • Cahill, CA., “Differences in cortisol, a stress hormone, in women with turmoil-type premenstrual symptoms.” Nursing Research, 1998 Sep-Oct;47(5):278-84.
  • Khanna, N. “Antinociceptive action of Ocimum sanctum (Tulsi) in mice: possible mechanisms involved.” Journal of Ethnopharmacology. October 2003.
  • Lazarev, N. V., Farmacology Toxicology. (1958): 21, 81. Quoted from Ref. No.4.
  • Mondal S, Mirdha BR, Mahapatra SC. “The science behind sacredness of Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum Linn.). “ Indian Journal of Physiology Pharmacology. Oct-Dec 2009.
  • Prakash P, Gupta N. “Therapeutic uses of Ocimum sanctum Linn (Tulsi) with a note on eugenol and its pharmacological actions: a short review.” Indian Journal of Physiology Pharmacology. April 2005.
  • Singh, N., Nath, R., Mishra, N. and Kohli, R.P. “An Experimental Evaluation of Anti-stress Effects of Geriforte (An Ayurvedic Drug).” Quarterly Journal of Crude Drug Research. 1978.
  • Singh, N., Hoette, Y., and Miller, Ralph, “Tulsi: The Mother Medicine of Nature.” International Institute of Herbal Medicine (Lucknow, India). 2002.
  • Shinrigaku, Kenkyu “Influences of premenstrual syndrome on daily psychological states and salivary cortisol level.” 2005 Dec;76(5):426-35.
  • Vaughan Tremmel, Pat. “Day-to-day experience-cortisol dynamics.” Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University. November 15, 2010. Web.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and should not be used for diagnosis or to guide treatment without the opinion of a health professional. Any reader who is concerned about his or her health should contact a doctor for advice.

Copyright Laura Owens. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.

Hormone Fears Cloud Benefits of Bioidentical Hormone Therapy over Conventional

Photo - Sally Howard
    (Photo credit: Sally Howard)
For women who need hormone replacement, bioidentical hormones can offer a safe alternative to synthetic estrogen and progesterone.

Traditional hormone replacement therapy has become the standard protocol for women as they approach menopause or for women who have a total hysterectomy. Yet not every peri or full menopausal woman has low estrogen, progesterone or suffers from hormone deficiency symptoms. Prescribing hormones to women who don’t need them may elevate their levels and produce unwanted side effects.

Click here for a few of my favorite natural hormone balancing products  

Yet for women who do experience the symptoms of estrogen deficiency or estrogen dominance (due to low progesterone) bioidentical hormone or natural hormone replacement is a safer alternative to synthetic.

The Controversy Over Hormone Replacement

Hormone replacement therapy became controversial after a report suggested there was a link between breast cancer and estrogen. In July 2003 The Women’s Health Initiative, the largest government study on synthetic hormones, was halted when early results showed that women using conventional hormone replacement (specifically PremPro), had a much higher risk of invasive breast cancer, heart disease and stroke. Women began to weigh the risks of using HRT against learning to live with the unpleasant symptoms of menopause

Yet critics of that study point out that the WHI study was NOT representative of women in their 40’s and 50’s, women who were likely in the early years of peri or full menopause. In fact the average age of the women involved in the study was 63 with an average time into menopause of 12 years.

Controversy exists over bioidentical hormones (BH).

But because I worked with a natural hormone mood balancing doctor who understood BH, my Ob & Gyn writes the prescriptions, adjusting my dosing after we consult about my symptoms, and I get my prescription through a reputable compounding pharmacy I have zero concern about BH, but grave concerns about synthetic BH. 

I’ve been using BH for several years.

Suzanne Somers has been the bioidentical hormone poster child, and while she may or may not use levels higher than some, her message is still the same: do what works for you.

The key is to get tested, track your symptoms, and re-test. IMO, and Dr. Lee’s, replace only to levels that alleviate or eliminate your symptoms, no higher. As you age, your requirements change. But don’t accept feeling crappy as “the way it is when you age” or “what menopause feels like.”

Don’t be afraid of hormones, be afraid of not doing your hormone homework  and of accepting that feeling crappy is part of aging.

Click here for saliva hormone testing kits

Click here for a few of my favorite natural hormone balancing products

I’ve greatly benefited by getting off 20 years of synthetic HRT (I had to be on HRT since age 19 due to my pituitary disorder, empty sella syndrome). Those prescriptions had levels of estrogen far higher than my body required, not to mention that bioidentical and synthetic hormones in most regards, act quite differently in your body.

Natural Hormone Replacement vs. Conventional

Although traditional hormone replacement has been shown to be safe in women entering peri or full menopause, synthetic hormones are radically different than bioidentical or natural hormones in how the body synthesizes them.

So what is bioidentical? Hormones are deemed  bioidentical if they are exact duplicates of what your body makes.

Click here for saliva hormone testing kits

Click here for a few of my favorite natural hormone balancing products

Advantages of Bioidentical HormonesFirst, bioidentical hormones such as estrogens, progesterone and testosterone are administered transdermally, via a patch or cream and in much lower doses than oral estrogens. Transdermal delivery methods avoid the “first pass metabolism” by the liver that occurs with oral dosing.

Second, bioidenticals mimic what your own body naturally produces.

Dr. John Lee, a pioneer in women’s health and author of “Hormone Balance Made Simple” is an advocate of bioidenticals for hormone replacement therapy, explains, “Hormones do very complex and specific jobs in the body by fitting into part of your cells called receptors, much the same way that a key fits into a lock. Once the hormone is in the receptor, it gives the cell instructions. If the molecular structure is different, even by ONE atom, the instructions given to the cell are different.”

So, comparing synthetic hormones to bioidenticals is like comparing processed white bread to all natural unprocessed multi-grain. Both share similar properties but once consumed their by-products and how the body uses them can be very different.

Flaws With Conventional Hormone Replacement Therapy

1. Doctor’s often don’t measure hormone levels prior to starting conventional hormone replacement therapy.

2. Synthetic hormones, because they are not duplicates of what the body makes on it’s own, often produce unwanted side effects.

3. The dosing level of synthetic hormones isn’t physiologic, the level your body would naturally produce on it’s own. Instead, the synthetic dose is usually much higher than what is necessary for the body to produce a desirable effect.

Click here for saliva hormone testing kits

Click here for a few of my favorite natural hormone balancing products

Dr. Lee’s “3 Rules For Hormone Replacement”1. Use hormones only if you need them (e.g. if they are measurably low and/or you have clear symptoms)

2. Use bioidentical hormones rather than synthetic hormones

3. Use the least amount required to reduce or eliminate symptoms.

Work with Open-Minded Expert in Hormone Replacement Therapy

It’s best to consult with your Ob/Gyn or a specialist in hormone balancing with a background in endocrinology and/or gynecology. Be sure to find a physician who listens to your symptoms, is open-minded and is knowledgeable in both synthetic and natural / bio-identical hormone replacement.

They should be well-informed regarding the latest research findings. Unfortunately, hormone replacement therapy has become a profitable industry for doctors practicing in fields completely unrelated to female endocrinology. Buyer beware.

Hormone replacement has become quite common place but in reality it is a complex and specialized field. In the hands of a trained professional who understands the intricacies of a woman’s endocrine system (and more notably, the benefits of bioidentical hormones), hormone replacement therapy is safe and effective for many women.

Most doctors prescribe bioidentical hormones via transdermal delivery systems such as patches, creams, gels and sublingual (under the tongue). Some physicians however, offer hormone pellet therapy, a process of inserting concentrated pellets under the skin to provide continuous delivery of bioidentical estrogen or testosterone. Although pellets offer patients some advantages, once inserted they cannot be easily removed unlike transdermal methods.

If you’re experiencing cyclical or on-going symptoms of menopause or a hormone imbalance, ask your doctor about getting a saliva test which for some hormones is more accurate than blood. Click here for saliva hormone testing kits

Armed with accurate information and a doctor knowledgeable in bioidentical hormones, hormone replacement therapy can alleviate a number of hormone imbalance symptoms, safely and with minimal or no side-effects.

Click here for saliva hormone testing kits

Click here for a few of my favorite natural hormone balancing products

Copyright Laura Owens. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.

Hormone Testing – Saliva or Blood? Depends.

hormone testing, blood test, saliva testing, blood work

Saliva test more accurate to measure certain hormone levels

Photo credit: Ambro

Head to your doctor because you’ve been feeling off, forgetful, sweaty, waking up in the middle of the night, increasingly stressed, unfocused, irritable and she might tell you you’re in peri or in full menopause. Or perhaps you’ve had a complete hysterectomy and your doctor wants you on hormone replacement therapy.

Or, maybe your cortisol (the stress hormone) levels are way off the charts, a condition that is all too common today, that and adrenal fatigue.  Cortisol in small doses as the fight or flight reactive hormone alerts you to take action. And, like all hormones it’s just doing its proper job. But, at chronically high levels, as in the case of chronic stress, cortisol can harm your sleep and your health.

Whatever is going on your doctor (or you) may want to test your hormones along with a number of other factors.

Click here for saliva hormone testing kits
Click here for Dr. John Lee’s books on hormones, peri and full menopause and HRT after breast cancer

How? Likely via a blood test. Yet, while not invalid, conventional blood serum tests are not as accurate as saliva to measure certain hormones.

Saliva testing

According to ZRT labs:

When the various glands manufacture the steroids they are released into the bloodstream bound to carrier proteins. Only a small fraction (1-5%) of a given amount of steroid hormone breaks loose from the carrier protein in the bloodstream and is free to enter target tissues.

This free or unbound hormone is what we want to measure, since it is active or bioavailable to the target tissues such as the breast, uterus, brain, and skin. Many studies in the scientific literature have shown that there is a strong correlation between the levels of steroid hormones in saliva and the bioavailable (free) levels of steroids in the bloodstream.

Click here for saliva hormone testing kits
Click here for Dr. John Lee’s books on hormones, peri and full menopause and HRT after breast cancer

ZRT labs also offers at home blood spot testing which is convenient and at times less costly than the blood serum tests your doctor orders.

Blood spot testing

The development and application of blood spot testing allows monitoring of hormone levels, cardiometabolic markers and Vitamin D.  The convenient collection of blood from a tiny nick of the finger, allows for flexibility of testing at the right time of day, month or following hormone therapy.  Blood Spot testing provides results on par with those from serum tests but without the cost and inconvenience of conventional blood draws, making it beneficial for both patient and practitioner.

ZRT labs offers saliva, blood spot and combo tests. This ZRT labs chart compares which tests are done in saliva and/or blood spot.

Hormone or Analyte Saliva Blood Spot
Estradiol (E2) Checkmark Checkmark
Progesterone (Pg) Checkmark Checkmark
Testosterone, free Checkmark
Testosterone, total Checkmark
DHEA-S (DS) Checkmark Checkmark
Cortisol, AM (C1) Checkmark Checkmark
Cortisol, Diurnal (C1, C2, C3, C4) Checkmark
Estriol (E3) Checkmark
Estrone (E1) Checkmark
Follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) Checkmark
Luteinizing Hormone (LH) Checkmark
Insulin-like Growth Factor (IGF-1) Checkmark
Insulin, fasting Checkmark
Triglycerides (TG) Checkmark
Hemoglobin A1C (HbA1c) Checkmark
High Sensitivity C-Reactive Protein (hs-CRP) Checkmark
Total Cholesterol (CH) Checkmark
LDL Cholesterol Checkmark
HDL Cholesterol Checkmark
VLDL Cholesterol Checkmark
Prostate specific antigen (PSA) Checkmark
Sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) Checkmark
Thyroid peroxidase antibodies (TPO) Checkmark
Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) Checkmark
Triiodothyronine (T3), free Checkmark
Thyroxine (T4), free Checkmark
25-hydroxy vitamin D2 Checkmark
25-hydroxy vitamin D3 Checkmark

So, you have choices depending on what you want to measure:

  1. Go to your doctor. Doc orders standard blood to test hormones, etc, (ideal for measuring cholesterol, vitamin D etc, but not all hormones as you can see from above).
  2. Depending on what you want to test, you can order your own saliva and/or blood spot test from ZRT labs either directly or through a provider (depends on what is cheaper, if your insurance covers the labs if ordered by a doctor or you buy the kit directly and bring the results to your doctor).

But, if you want saliva and/or blood spot testing and your doctor won’t order them for you, take all this into your own hands.

Order your own from ZRT, bring the results to her, or ideally to a physician who understands saliva testing and will discuss options to re-balance your hormones, cholesterol and/or vitamin D levels.

 

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