Sex hormones are so important for very obvious reasons. Whether it is symptoms that are related to the female cycle, sex drive or aging and menopause, it is important to know what your hormone levels are so you can promote healthy fertility and pregnancy, healthy relationships and intimacy, proper energy, maintenance of bone and muscle health as well as overall anti-aging.
Checking your hormones is not straight forward and there are a wide range of tests available to make it even more confusing. Important points you should know when testing for hormones:
- DIFFERENT TESTS OFFER DIFFERENT LEVELS OF ACCURACY: Not all tests are created equal, measuring hormones from a blood sample is not as accurate as measuring hormone levels from saliva. The reason for this is because much of the hormones in our body are present in our tissue, and saliva samples more accurately represent the level of the hormones in the tissue itself. This will give you a great picture of the actual hormone levels of your body, but will decrease your vision of the pathways in the body, like the liver, that show us how effective you are at making your hormones from cholesterol and how the hormones are being broken down and detoxified from the body as well.
- DON'T JUST FOCUS ON PERFORMANCE, HORMONES ARE KEY IN PREVENTING DISEASES LIKE CANCER: Knowing how well your liver and other organs are at breaking things down and eliminating them out of the body is very important, for example, the best model we have for the development of breast cancer is when there is a problem with how we break down estrogen. There are two primary detoxification stages in the liver that are important for this example. When estrogen goes through the first stage, but not the second and gets stuck in limbo, the ideal environment is created to oxidize this estrogen, which is the primary particle identified to target breast tissue and damage DNA to create new cancerous cells. So checking hormones is not just about checking hormone levels, but also checking how you are building them and breaking them down.
- HORMONE LEVELS ARE NOT COMPLETE ON THEIR OWN: There are other tests in the blood that help tell a more complete story, for example, in the blood is a protein called Sex Hormone Binding Globulin (SHBG). It helps transport hormones, specifically testosterone through your body and act as a buffer (a form of storage). It acts like a school bus. Your total level of Testosterone may be at normal levels, but if too much of it is located on the school bus, it isn't activated and getting into your body's tissue because it is stuck on the bus. So even though I see many clinics just hand out testosterone replacement to folks with this scenario, it is not what the patient needs, and we need the whole story to understand that working to release more of the hormone that is already in the body is what is required. Getting them off the buses and into the form of testosterone called Free Testosterone. For men especially, this issue is often linked with insulin resistance and an issue with how your body handles sugar in your diet. So then not testing blood sugar, insulin resistance, Hemaglobin A1C and more to get the entire picture could be doing yourself a disservice by resorting to pushing testosterone levels higher than needed when you could be focusing on the real issues and naturally freeing your testosterone and also catching issues of insulin resistance that may be present.
- SINGLE SAMPLES MAY NOT BE ENOUGH: For women of child bearing age, one sample doesn't help much because it will only show you one small piece of your entire hormone cycle. So in cases with clear symptoms related to the cycle and no easy solutions found through simple screening labs, performing saliva testing with 14 samples over 28 days may be a great option and will give you a more complete picture as to how your hormones are balanced at each stage and what the complete picture is as it relates to your symptoms.
- GET A COMPLETE PICTURE: Testing a couple of hormones, but not testing enough of the body's other functions may tell you a few facts, but cannot tell you the entire story. How well is your body making hormones? How well are your breaking them down? What other systems may be influencing your hormone levels, why and what can you do about it? Half the battle is simply being able to see an accurate map of what is going on so you can make educated choices as to how you can get to your desired location.
What Does All This Mean?
- Start with blood work, these tests are a screening you can get covered by insurance. You can also check most other major systems at the same time to get the best overall picture at lowest cost.
- Now that you have information, your options are to treat things you find, and/or do more advanced testing to give you an even better idea of what is going on depending what questions are left unanswered. By using screening testing you save yourself a lot of money and have good evidence to point you to more advanced testing that you may want instead of spending money on the advanced testing straight away because it simply sounded good and may not have been relevant or a wise way to spend money. Often times treating most issues from the screening tests is more than enough, and generally I only suggest more advanced testing if the treatments do not produce progress, or maybe they improve things, but at some point a plateau is reached where more information may be beneficial.
Be fully educated about your health, this doesn't mean you need to know everything your doctor knows, just what they know about your body. You can have these values to help you create the picture of health you desire and track your progress to getting there, to help motivate yourself, reward yourself and also help rule in and out all the information that may or may not be beneficial for you individually. We all can agree we are each very different and knowing which diet, exercise and nutrition principals are ideal for my body can go along way in making health easy.
My favorite companies for screenings:
- Vibrant America
- True Health Diagnostics
- Boston Heart Diagnostics
I feel these companies offer the most affordable options for having the health information we all deserve.
Labs I Use For Advanced Testing:
- Genova Diagnostics
- Doctors Data
This is not a complete list, but are the most common companies I go to for testing patients.
Know Your Body
To summarize, knowing your sex hormone levels is very important because they effect every area of our life. Access to knowing and tracking your hormone levels has never been easier or more affordable. Make sure you work with someone who is going to not just hand out hormone replacement therapy, while it may be a short term fix, you want someone who also is going to work in supporting your body as to why the hormones are imbalanced in the first place. Your body was meant to be naturally balanced, make sure your Doctor's first goal is to maintain and support this balance before supporting simple band aid tricks that sugar coat underlying causes/problems. This includes any hormone replacement therapy, another hot topic is exogenous ketones; they are all bandaids to larger breakdowns in your body's function.
So get to know your body if you haven't already and get checked, and if you already are testing, hopefully you can have access to this information easier and cheaper.