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Top 7 Hormones You Should Be Testing

September 18, 2017
hormone testing, naturopathic doctor toronto

If you don’t know this already, Naturopathic Doctors like myself, love discovering the root cause of your problems. Once we find the root cause and address it, your unwanted symptoms will disappear. For good. Sometimes it can be easy to find the root cause (ie. You can’t sleep because you’re drinking a coffee 30min before bed), and sometimes it can be more difficult (ie. your period is irregular). 

Just because the cause isn’t blatantly obvious, doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to discover. In these situations, we’ll commonly recommend lab testing to see how your body is functioning at a chemical and cellular level. 

When it comes to irregular, heavy or painful periods, hormone testing is the way to go. Using the information we get from hormone testing, Naturopathic Doctors can create a plan with the best treatment for you. This is especially helpful if you’ve used Dr. Google in the past to treat singular symptoms. Our hormones can be quite complex, and different patterns may be be responsible for what you’re experiencing. If you find yourself constantly at the health food store looking for a supplement per symptom – investing in hormone testing will likely serve you better in the long run. 

Symptoms associated with hormonal imbalance

– Weight gain OR weight loss
– Breast tenderness
– Abdominal cramping
– Bloating
– Headaches
– Skin changes
– Hair changes
– Low sex drive
– Insomnia
Fatigue
– & MORE!

Hormones you should test:

1. Estrogen

Estrogen is not a singular hormone, it’s present in three forms: estradiol, estrone and estriol. When we think of estrogen, we’re actually thinking of estriol which is the predominant form. Estrogen is mainly produced by the ovaries, and by the adrenal glands (in menopause) and fat cells in smaller quantities. This is the main hormone of the menstrual cycle, especially the first half of your cycle where it controls the thickness of the uterine lining.

Estrogen helps to: control vaginal moisture, enhances sex drive, prevents UTIs and urinary incontinence. Moreover it has great effects on the brain, nervous system and the skin. 

2. Progesterone

Progesterone is another hormone produced in the ovaries, and following menopause is produced in small amounts by the adrenal glands. This hormone dominates the second half of the menstrual cycle as it leads to the thickening of the uterine wall in case a fertilized egg implants. In the event that fertilization does not occur, progesterone levels decrease and triggers the start of your period. 

Progesterone helps promote urination, improves sleep, aids in mood and works with the thyroid to stimulate metabolism. A little known fact, but when you’re undergoing chronic periods of stress, your body will use progesterone to make cortisol. 

3. Testosterone

Testosterone is an androgen – a male hormone. Nevertheless, this hormone is produced within the ovaries and adrenal glands of women. As women age, production of this hormone decreases. 

This hormone is associated with sex drive, bone density, muscle mass and strength. Overproduction of testosterone is associated with a common condition called Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). 

4. Cortisol

Known as our stress hormone, cortisol is produced by the adrenal glands. Cortisol helps the body adapt to daily stressors. However with prolonged stress, the adrenal glands may become fatigued and stop producing this stress hormone. 

Excess cortisol can cause havoc on our body and interfere with other hormones including the thyroid hormones, testosterone and progesterone. 

5. Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH)

The thyroid is incredibly important for metabolism and the overall function of the body. It also controls menstrual regularity, fertility, body weight, energy, heart rate, and more!

TSH acts as the barometer of the body and indicates if thyroid gland is working properly. Additionally, thyroxine (T4), triiodothyronine (T3) and reverse T3 can be tested to get a solid picture of how the thyroid is functioning. 

6. Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH)

Follicle stimulating hormone is produced by the pituitary gland. This hormone acts to stimulate the ovary in preparation for ovulation. As women age, FSH becomes the predominant pituitary hormone. 

7. Lutenizing Hormone (LH)

Lutenizing hormone is produced by the body’s pituitary gland due to a signal of high estrogen from the dominant follicle. A surge of LH trigger’s the egg maturation and causes it to be released from the follicle. This signifies that ovulation is ready to occur.  

Using ovulation tests is a good way to determine if a surge of LH is being produced by the body, in addition other ovulatory signs to be aware of are a slight increase in body temperature (thanks to progesterone) and egg-white cervical fluid.  If women have relatively more LH than FSH, this may also signal PCOS.

Bonus Tests

Ferritin

It’s never a bad idea to test your ferritin levels. Ferritin is the storage form of iron. If you’re experiencing heavy periods, you may actually be deficient iron which can cause it’s own array of unwelcome symptoms. 

Tips for your visit with a ND

Best time to test

Hormone testing is best done in the morning, unless you’re testing cortisol – which can be done at various points during the day. Unless otherwise specified below, you can test your hormones at any point during your cycle. 

Day 3: Best time to test estrogen, FSH and LH.

Day 21: Best time to to test progesterone, although for some conditions (ie. luteal phase defect), you may want to get a 3-day value for progesterone. 

Type of Test

Blood

This is your standard blood test performed in a laboratory. This is a preferred option for testing total estrogen, progesterone and testosterone, along with the other hormones mentioned above 

Saliva

This is at-home specialized test where we use saliva to monitor excesses or deficiencies within the body, as well as look for patterns (ie. diurnal patterns of cortisol). Saliva testing allows us to look at ‘free’ hormones (not bound by proteins), and expands our clinical picture with respect to your condition. Preferred: baseline of cortisol pattern. 

Urine

Urine testing provides an average of your hormone levels and assesses their metabolites (ie. understanding if we are clearing the estrogens). Currently, there are  types of urinary tests: the first where you are collecting urine in liquid form, and the second where you are collecting dried samples of urine. Good for: comprehensive analysis of estrogen and cortisol. 

Reading the Results

Normal vs. Optimal

Naturopathic doctors want you to feel fantastic, and one of the ways we do that is assessing your lab work and determining if it’s optimal rather than normal. Typically doctors compare lab findings with their associated reference ranges to determine if the results are normal or abnormal. If your lab work falls into the normal reference range, then you shouldn’t be having any signs of symptoms of a pathology. Right? Wrong. People can be in this reference range AND continue to have specific signs and symptoms.

This is why naturopathic doctors strive to ensure that while your lab work be in the normal reference range, it also be in the optimal range. This allows us to help treat our patients preventatively, before any imbalances manifest into serious health conditions. 

Next Steps

Naturopathic Prescription

Based on your test results from hormone testing, your Naturopathic Doctor will create a custom treatment plan that will help you feel like your best! Treatment may involve dietary and lifestyle changes, and/or botanical or nutritional supplementation. But the best part is – you don’t need to self prescribe for your symptoms anymore! We’ve got you covered. 

Your homework

Once you have your results and plan in hand, it’s up to you to take the next steps! It can be daunting – but if your doctor is supportive, they’ll do their best to make sure that integrating the plan is as easy as possible. Moreover, once you have your plan it doesn’t mean your ND doesn’t want to see you again – it’s the opposite! We want to make sure that the changes are fitting your lifestyle, eliminating your symptoms and getting to the root of the issue. If some tweaks need to be made along the way, so be it!

Are you ready?

If you’ve been suffering with unwanted symptoms for years, if you want to get pregnant, or if you generally just want to feel fantastic -here’s your permission split to finally invest in yourself. Hormone testing will give us answers to what is going on, but it’s up to you to take that first step and book an appointment. You deserve to live your best life, and I am going to help get you there. 

Hygge for your Period

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August 28, 2017
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Hygge was the it word of late 2016. Pronounced “hoo-ga,” it’s the Danish ritual for enjoying life’s simple pleasures. Oxford Dictionary defines it as “a quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being.” Naturally I took to this concept and bought this and that book, and began to incorporate more hygge into my home and life. So you might be wondering what this has to do with your period. Well, in the last few weeks, as I was doing more research into the menstrual cycle (beyond the hormonal rises and dips). I read that during the first 7 days of our cycle is yin-like and it’s a great time for rest and relaxation (aka. don’t go hard if you don’t have to). (PS. Learn more about your cycle here)

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, yin energy is feminine and restful. This makes sense because we’re doing one of the most feminine things we could be doing – shedding our endometrial layer and setting the foundation for the next. At this time our some of our eggs are also maturing and getting ready for ovulation. While this may seem consequential – it’s an important event that dictates how we will experience our cycle. 

Thus, it’s the perfect time for us to take it easy while our body does it’s own thing. And who doesn’t want to be cozy and comfortable while they relax? 

How to get more hygge in your life

  • Warm drinks – ie. tea, coffee – although the less stimulants during yin time, the better

  • Wool blanket

  • Candlelight – Look for organic soy or beeswax candles

  • A good book – I’m currently reading this book

  • Hydrotherapy spa – This is my idea of the ultimate self care day! Can’t escape Toronto? Visit Body Blitz

  • Thick cozy socks – For me, the higher percentage of wool, the better (PS. Be sure to bring them on your next trip!)

  • Warm sweaters – I prefer pure cotton blends (but they can be hard to find for women)

  • Eating around the table with your partner or family

  • Turning off social media – Sometimes it’s okay to disconnect for a few hours or days

  • Practice gratitude – I bought this journal a couple months back

  • Pet a furry friend

  • Go for a walk in nature – Declutter your mind

  • Display fresh flowers – Bring nature inside your home

  • Knit or crochet – Once a couple of years with my mom’s help, I knit a scarf. Lately, I’ve been toying with the idea of beginning a macrame project. 

  • Watch the sunrise

  • Visit a lake/bay/sea/ocean

  • Take a relaxing bath – Add a cup of epsom salts, a couple drops of lavender essential oil and play some soothing music 

Next Steps

Let’s be honest, who wouldn’t want to practice hygge all the time? Check out my hygge Pinterest board for more ideas of how to incorporate more hygge in your life. 

Feed Your Flow: Eating For a Healthy Period

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August 25, 2017
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The body craves certain foods at different periods of time. In the Spring, for example, we usually crave something fresh and light. Whereas in the fall we’re wanting something warm and hearty. The menstrual cycle behaves in a similar way – during each phase, certain foods nourish our body and correspond to a specific energetic state. Eating for a healthy period is not about following a strict diet, it’s about incorporating foods that will nourish your cycle and body and help maintain this fifth vital sign. 

Follicular Phase


1. Menstruation & Yin


As we are menstruating, our endometrium is starting to grow again, and follicles are beginning to mature. Clearly, there is a lot going on during this time. This is the perfect opportunity for us to take a break, conserve our energy and let our body do it’s job. 

Yin acts as the ‘water’ of our body – it helps to lubricate and fuel our processes. It’s easy for us to become depleted in yin as depletion often occurs when our body is running on empty (sound familiar?). Our body begins to overheat and dry up because the yin (water) is not there.

Foods that help tonify yin 

  • Apples
  • Avocados
  • Bananas
  • Duck
  • Eggs
  • Mango
  • Oysters
  • Peas
  • Pears
  • Pineapples
  • Spinach
  • Sweet potato
  • Tofu
  • Tomato
  • Watermelon

*Foods that tonify yin are often cool and sweet

2. Pre-ovulation & Blood

As the blood flow ends, our follicles are continuing to mature until ovulation occurs, and the endometrium continues to grow. This is the perfect time to build the blood, which is another yin substance (after all, blood plasma is about 92% water!). When we menstruate, the chong vessel (one of the body’s meridians) empties – therefore it needs to be filled in time for the next menstrual period. 

Foods that help build blood

  • Beef
  • Collard greens
  • Dates
  • Eggs
  • Figs
  • Kale
  • Liver
  • Parsley
  • Spinach
  • BONUS: Red fruits and veggies

Luteal Phase

3. Ovulation & Qi

It’s go time! The egg is is ready to be fertilized by sperm. But before it makes its way to the one of the fallopian tubes, the egg needs to exit the follicle and leave the ovary. Smooth, unobstructed movement is crucial during this time. Qi stagnation can cause obstruction of movement, and may occur due to many factors including stress! 

Foods that help move qi

  • Almonds
  • Beef
  • Carrots
  • Chicken
  • Chickpeas
  • Coconuts
  • Dates
  • Eggs
  • Lentils
  • Oats
  • Potato
  • Quinoa
  • Sweet potato
  • Squash
  • Tofu

*Foods that help move the qi are often sweet and warming 

4. Pre-Menstruation & Yang

Last but not least, these are the days right before your period. At this time, hormonal levels are beginning to decline (if the egg has not been fertilized by sperm), and your body is getting ready to shed its endometrial layer. Yang is prominent during this time of the cycle as the body is keeping itself warm to nurture an embryo – after all all the processes of life require heat! 

Foods that help tonify yang

  • Anchovy
  • Basil
  • Cinnamon
  • Garlic
  • Ginger
  • Lamb
  • Nutmeg
  • Pistachio
  • Quinoa
  • Raspberry
  • Shrimp
  • Walnut

* Foods that help tonify yang are often sweet, pungent and warming.

Next Steps

Many of my treatment plans focus on diet and lifestyle techniques to help support a woman’s body during her menstrual cycle. However it doesn’t end there! Support also involves assessing hormones which are prominent in each phase, and balancing them using other techniques such as acupuncture or even using botanicals! If you’re hoping to finally experience a healthy period, book an appointment with me! 

Bonus

My favourite type of breakfast is a smoothie breakfast – it’s quick and easy, and you can assemble all the ingredients the night before. Using all this nutritional information I provided you with, you can blend a smoothie that supports each phase of your cycle! Lucky for you, I’ve come up with 4 delicious recipes for each phase of your cycle. Click here to download them!

References

Helping Ourselves & Healing With Whole Foods