Naturopathic doctors have access to multiple testing options for stress and mental health. Symptoms of chronic high stress include mood swings, irritability, variable fatigue throughout the day, insomnia, depression, digestive issues, menstrual irregularities, and decreased immune function. For patients with chronic high stress, naturopaths will test two key stress hormones: cortisol and DHEA-S.
Cortisol is an incredibly important hormone in our body. It is our main hormone of the sympathetic nervous system, is responsible for the ‘fight or flight’ response and is secreted from our adrenal glands. Cortisol should be high in the morning to wake us up, and then slowly decrease throughout the day. By bedtime cortisol should be very low as we prepare to sleep. Chronic stress disrupts this natural secretion of cortisol, known as our circadian rhythm. Blood cortisol testing can be done both in the morning and evening to see the trend of cortisol throughout the day. In the first stages of adrenal fatigue, it is common to see cortisol levels high as the body tries to compensate. As the body is continually put under stress, the adrenal glands are no longer able to keep up with the high demand and cortisol levels will decrease. DHEA-S is another key hormone marker for stress. Similar to cortisol, in the early stages of adrenal fatigue DHEA-S is elevated. As our bodies are continually put under stress, DHEA-S levels will deplete. Often, naturopaths will see low DHEA-S in chronically stressed individuals. Both cortisol and DHEA-S are good indicators of what stage of adrenal fatigue patients are in. This allows for appropriate supplementation of key nutrients and lifestyle modifications in each stage to help energy levels and stress mitigation.
Heart rate variability is an important diagnostic tool for stress which can be monitored in office by your naturopathic doctor. It measures heart rate over a period of time. When heart rate is more variable, our bodies adaptations to stress are working properly. In patients with chronic stress, heart rate variability will decrease indicating a decreased ability of the body to adapt to stress.
With symptoms of mental health, such as depression, anxiety and mood swings, naturopathic doctors will test neurotransmitters through urine collection. The testing includes serotonin and dopamine – our ‘happy’ neurotransmitters, norepinephrine and epinephrine – our adrenaline neurotransmitters, and GABA – our ‘de-stress’ neurotransmitters. The testing also includes precursor and metabolite products of these key neurotransmitters, giving a full picture of the neurotransmitter synthesis pathways. This test determines why patients are feeling symptoms of anxiety or depression. This testing allows naturopaths to determine where the imbalances lie that need correcting. Through specific and indicated treatments to correct these, we can achieve neurotransmitter equilibrium and overall balanced mood.