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How To Test Your Adrenal Health

Today I’d like to discuss how to determine the health of your adrenal glands.  There are numerous ways to do this, but the way I recommend doing this is through an Adrenal Stress Index panel, which is performed by a company called Diagnos-Techs.  This test uses saliva-based testing to measure the levels of cortisol, which is a hormone that is secreted by the adrenal glands.

Before I go any further, you might wonder how reliable saliva testing is, especially when compared to blood tests.  Saliva tests are actually very reliable, and they also have the following advantages:

Advantage # 1: They are less expensive than blood tests: To receive an equivalent blood test will in most cases cost significantly more than receiving this test.  One of the reasons is that this test measures cortisol levels at four different times during the day.  Having four different blood tests performed at different times of the day not only would be cumbersome, but would be very expensive.

Advantage # 2: They are non-invasive. If you don’t like getting stuck with a needle, then you’ll definitely prefer saliva testing.  Each time you collect a saliva sample you simply will put a small piece of cotton in your mouth (it comes with the test kit), and then drench it with saliva for a few minutes.  Then you put it in a test tube and ship it to the lab.

Advantage # 3: They provide more accurate information than a single blood test. Because this test measures four different levels of cortisol throughout the day, it is without question more accurate than a single blood test that tests your cortisol levels.  The reason this is important is because the cortisol levels vary throughout the day.  Plus, just because someone is normal in the morning does not mean their cortisol levels are normal at night, and vice versa.  For example, my cortisol levels were low in the morning, but normal at night when I had my first test.  Had only a late afternoon or evening sample been taken, I would have been diagnosed as having “normal” cortisol levels.

Now that you know some of the advantages of saliva-based testing, you might wonder how to go about ordering these tests.  Chances are you will need to find a holistic doctor that will order this test for you, as some chiropractors, naturopaths, and holistic medical tests will order such a panel.  You can also visit http://www.diagnostechs.com and perform a search.  The good news is that you don’t need to find a doctor who practices in your immediate area, as you can always consult with someone over the phone who can order such a test for you.  And in many cases, the ASI panel will be covered by health insurance.

By the way, the ASI panel does more than just measure your cortisol levels.  I’m not going to go into detail about the other tests, but it does measure DHEA levels, which can also be very valuable.  It also measures 17-OH Progesterone, Insulin, Gliadin Ab, and Secretory IgA.  Once again, you can learn more about these tests by visiting the website I listed above.

The next thing I’d like to discuss is the frequency of testing.  It is ideal to have your adrenal glands tested before you begin a natural treatment protocol.  The reason for this is because many people with Graves’ Disease and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis have adrenal gland issues, and often times the adrenal glands will need to be addressed before the other systems can respond.  For example, in many cases the stressed out adrenal glands can over a long period of time lead to a compromised immune system, which in turn can cause the thyroid gland to malfunction, presenting itself as Graves’ or Hashimoto’s.  In this example, if you were to treat either the thyroid gland or the immune system without treating the adrenal glands, very little progress will be made.

After receiving the initial ASI test, many doctors will recommend that you receive a follow up every three months, until the cortisol levels are within a normal range.  With my original ASI panel, I had depressed cortisol levels in both the early morning (between 6am and 8am) and late morning (between 11am and noon), with normal levels in the afternoon (between 4pm and 5pm) and before bed (between 10pm and midnight).  Three months later I retested, and the early morning, afternoon, and bedtime cortisol levels were normal, although the late morning levels were slightly depressed.  However, the overall cortisol burden was within normal limits, whereas with the first test it was not.  The cortisol burden is essentially an indicator of overall cortisol exposure, with the normal values falling between 23 and 42. The first time I was tested my cortisol burden was 15, while it was 26 with the second test.  I decided to do another ASI panel three months later, and the cortisol levels were within normal limits during all four time periods.

As for improving your adrenal health, I’ve discussed this to some extent in a previous post when I talked about managing blood sugar levels, and I will talk about this topic in greater detail in future posts.  So I’m not going to discuss how to make sure your test results improve after three months, although I will say that simply reducing the amount of refined foods in your diet and eating every two hours will help.  Plus, in a previous blog post I also mentioned a herb called gymnema, which can also do wonders in helping to regulate blood sugar levels, eliminate sugar cravings, and thus help to promote adrenal health.

That pretty much does it for this post.  Even if you have no intentions of trying a natural treatment protocol, I do highly recommend getting at least an initial ASI panel to determine the health of your adrenals.  Because while I always will be biased and recommend that you consult with a natural endocrine doctor, when it comes to improving the function of your adrenal glands, some of this you can do on your own.