You can fly through a security line and pick the best seat on an aircraft, but do you know how to best protect your health when traveling? I’m going to tell you about two essential tests you should have every year to keep your body in top shape while it soars through the skies.
Understanding how travel impacts your body is the first step in being able to protect it. Often we tend to focus on the physical effects of traveling – how tight and sore we feel after sitting for hours, or the aches we suffer from a lack of physical activity. Whether you’re a frequent traveler or an avid desk sitter, the negative effects of traveling can really wear down the body. Even a one-time trip can have a huge impact on your natural defenses.
Two of the most important systems damaged by travel are hormones and the gut. It’s important to check both of these at least once each year to establish a baseline and re-balance as needed. These are the two areas that can have serious, cascading effects on even the hardiest of travelers.
Luckily, checking them is easy. These two cutting-edge functional labs can be done in the privacy of your own home. I use them a lot in my private practice.
The DUTCH test – Also known as the Dried Urine Test for Comprehensive Hormones (by Precision Analytical), this is the most comprehensive hormone panel you can do. It provides more effective measurements and insights than mere blood testing. Another bonus: the DUTCH test measures metabolites to provide information about how your body processes its hormones.
All hormones are important, but too much of them can cause serious health issues. Frequent travelers can be subject to an extraordinary amount of physical, mental and emotional stress. As you may know, stress triggers the release of hormones such as cortisol, which help us fight or run from our perceived threats. Without it our Stone Aged ancestors wouldn’t have been able to high tail it away from that Saber-Toothed tiger. Cortisol also regulates the sleep/wake cycle (a.k.a. circadian rhythm), provides energy, and is a natural anti-inflammatory agent.
Too much of it, though, can cause some of the most common medical conditions including anxiety, depression, digestive disorders, hormone imbalance, skin issues, sleep disorders and autoimmunity. You name it, stress is associated with it. Stress is epidemic in our modern life, and it depletes our resilience and constitutional reserve. This dynamic makes us susceptible to all kinds of chronic inflammatory modern diseases. Measuring the cortisol hormone via the DUTCH test is key to the health of your stress response and circadian rhythm.
In a perfect, healthy world, cortisol should reach its highest level in the morning, providing the energy you need to start your day, and be lowest at night, allowing the release of melatonin to help you sleep. Traveling across different time zones disrupts this cycle, throwing your natural circadian rhythm out of whack. The result: decreased energy, disrupted sleep and unhealthy levels of other hormones such as thyroid, estrogen, progesterone and testosterone.
The DUTCH test also includes markers to evaluate critical hormone balance including testosterone, DHT, DHEA (plus their androgens and metabolites), estrogen and progesterone (plus their metabolites) and melatonin (a.k.a. the sleep hormone). This helps us to keep everything in check.
Why do we want to know about the metabolites of hormones? Those found in urine give us insights into how the body is processing (i.e., detoxing and metabolizing) its hormones. For instance, both men and women should know whether their estrogen is being metabolized into “good” metabolites that protect against cancer or “bad” metabolites that damage the DNA and promote the growth of such diseases.
We can also see which pathway your body favors metabolizing testosterone. The beta pathway is a less androgenic pathway. This means that when you metabolize your testosterone down this pathway, it reduces the effects of testosterone. Testosterone metabolites produced through the alpha pathway are more androgenic, which means that actions of testosterone become increasingly stronger in your system.
For men, this can result in male pattern baldness, benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH), and prostate cancer. In women, these metabolites can cause PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) and hirsutism (unwanted, male-pattern hair growth – dark, course hair on the face, chest and/or back). When we see this on the DUTCH results, we can easily correct these imbalances with diet and targeted supplements, thereby reducing further downstream problems.
The GI-Map (by Diagnostic Solutions Laboratory) is a comprehensive stool test. This panel includes all the critical markers to truly evaluate gut function. It can detect intestinal parasites, bacteria overgrowth, candida and other yeast infections, inflammatory markers, secretory IgA, and calprotectin. Other markers it finds include your degree of gluten sensitivity, balance of beneficial gut flora, and the toxicity marker b-glucaronidase.
Approximately two-thirds of the immune system is housed in our gut. This is where nutrients are absorbed, and where mood-balancing hormones such as serotonin and dopamine are made (among many other important things). Traveling exposes you to different types of organisms, such as parasites, bacteria and yeast, that may not otherwise be found in your daily environment. Plus, your defense system can be suppressed during times of travel (a common side-effect of too much stress, a change of diet, and lack of sleep, among other factors). The result: Your body can’t fight off its attackers.
Who are these so-called attackers? These organisms can be found in the food you eat, water you drink and various surfaces you touch while traveling. You might be wondering, "Isn't my stomach designed to kill these organisms?" You are right, but it doesn't always succeed. Many of us have low stomach acid production due to poor diet, eating and sleeping hygiene and/or have a thyroid condition. Also, as we age, our stomach acid naturally declines.
If a pathogen survives the stomach it can live in the intestines or move to other areas of the body, thus creating a myriad of imbalances. An imbalanced gut can lead to leaky gut, IBS, acid reflux, ulcers, gas, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea. It can also trigger autoimmunity, hormonal imbalances and other serious health conditions that don’t exhibit typical gastrointestinal symptoms.
If you'd like to have a conversation about how you can gain more insight into your health and start to feel better and be more productive, schedule a free, 20-minute consultation with me.