Heartbreak and Heart Failure

screen-shot-2016-11-06-at-2-48-11-pmSometimes life, work and study all seem  to dovetail and everything makes sense for just a few glorious moments. Cardiology was like that for me, in between the Frank Starling curves.

Last year we had a case study of a woman with congestive heart failure (CHF.)  Her husband had renal failure and needed dialysis, and she worked at a job she didnt love. She slowly developed worsening heart failure over the course of the case, with  shortness of breath, edema, high blood pressure, and poor circulation, eventually dying from it. I was impacted by the apathy she displayed in her efforts to recover – unwilling to eat more grains and greens, decrease salt,  get outside, exercise regularly, investigate psychotherapy, or better her personal life in any way. Instead, she just declined in health, adding a new prescription per year to mange her symptoms until she  – drowned. In her grief. Of heart disease.

This. Story. Happens. Every Day.

And not only in the US, or Canada or Europe. World-Wide.

The multitudes of meta-analysis risk factor evaluations like the Framingham, Whitehall and Rekjavic studeis have concretely illustrated important evidence about the facts of heart disease: atherosclerotic fatty streaks in arteries, high blood sugar, and  inflammation are the undeniable Holy Trinity of heart disease. What is not being avidly reported is the rate of divorce, or mood disorders in these same subjects. The sexual dissatisfaction. The childhood trauma. Socioeconomics and race are sometimes studied, and African Americans and Latinos have higher rates of heart disease. Nobody is surprised. Russia has the highest rate of ischemic heart disease in the world, along with some African nations and Indonesia. These countries also have horrible human rights records, with well documented transphobia, homophobia and police brutality.

screen-shot-2016-11-09-at-9-01-58-pmIf we are going to turn around heart disease, do we not need to acknowledge the humanity of the heart? The same  epidemiological study quoted deep within the content:

“Additional reports from this study have shown inverse associations between fair and respectful treatment at work and CHD [Congestive Heart Disease],and job control with future CHD risk.

Similarly, hypertension, which is the harbinger of heart disease through its effect on cardiac structure and function,  is hugely mediated by the stress response.

screen-shot-2016-11-09-at-9-11-31-pmI was talking to Dr. Stein, an internist specializing in HIV and also our OMS II course director, about this theory that heart failure is so rampant because we have no real medicine for soul-problems like dissatisfaction, grief, sorrow, envy, loneliness and such. He said the links between depression, elevated cortisol, hypertension and CHF are well documented and clearly evidenced.

He reiterated that it is known that People of Color have higher blood pressures because their lives are more stressful due to systemic and personally experienced racism aka “stress.” It is also well evidenced that African Americans with CHF respond better to different medications than other races – Hydralazine, a vasodilator that decreases resistance,  improves survival with  isosorbide dinitrate rather than the ACE inhibitors and Beta Blockers commonly used. Ha, decreasing [systemic institutionalized] resistance as a keystone in improving survival? I need to know more about the MOA of these drugs to understand why decreasing the catecholamines isnt enough for this population; maybe its because of the deleterious and constant push and pull the sympathetic blockers have on the heart receptors of someone living in the actual adrenergic rut of an unsafe society.

3f0a8388-0078-4c4f-88ef-36078365eae5Our cardiologist professor Dr. Glass stated that the average person with hypertension is on 3.4 medications to manage it. These are usually layers of diuretics to decrease the blood volume and drain edema (decreasing preload), and beta blockers to decrease cardiac work and improve cardiac output,  and/or other meds like diphydropyridines and nitrates. But guess what – it just came out recently that hypertensive medications may be CAUSING depression/ mood disorders while working to decrease blood pressure.  What a double whammy.  This was a big study from a database of a single hospital containing 525,046 patients over 5 years. This 2016 article stated:

Major depressive and bipolar disorders predispose to atherosclerosis, and there is accruing data from animal model, epidemiological, and genomic studies that commonly used antihypertensive drugs may have a role in the pathogenesis or course of mood disorders.”

  • Patients on angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors or angiotensin receptor blockers had the lowest risk for mood disorder admissions
  • those on β-blockers (hazard ratio=2.11; [95% confidence interval, 1.12–3.98]; P=0.02) and calcium antagonists (2.28 [95% confidence interval, 1.13–4.58]; P=0.02) showed higher risk
  • those on no antihypertensives (1.63 [95% confidence interval, 0.94–2.82]; P=0.08) and thiazide diuretics (1.56 [95% confidence interval, 0.65–3.73]; P=0.32) showed no significant difference.

To summarize the findings,  calcium antagonists and β-blockers may be associated with increased risk, whereas angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers may be associated with a decreased risk of mood disorders. (Hypertension. 2016;68:1132-1138. DOI: 10.1161/HYPERTENSIONA HA.116.08188.)

It appears, the drugs that most directly affect the heart muscle itself are thus linked to more mood disorders, while those that work indirectly and decrease the work for the heart seem to have less impact on mood.

This is such a broad topic and there are so many layers to heart failure – blood pressure, kidney regulation of blood pressure, nutritional effects, blood lipids, blood volume, inflammatory mediators, free radicals and antioxidants, sleep quality and more – but I think that too often we lose sight of some of the most basic truths of happiness and heart health. And we also forget the deeply sensitive creatures that most of us are and fool ourselves that pharmacy could possibly be enough to cure a heart that is systemically broken, or the effects of a chronically hypervigilant nervous system.

imagesWIDJJQD2I am going to need to become proficient at cardiology as an Internal Medicine doc. But without a degree in psychiatry, or soul medicine, or archangel intervention, how can I possibly hope to help people recover their failing hearts when the intersections cut so deep? I am scared of all of those people that have no willingness, or ability, to look deep within and make the simple and profound choices towards life. This is the part of being a physician I most fear. The medical failures; the broken hearts.

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Insomnia is the Worst!

luxury-hotel-rooms-pamilla-cape-townI was on vacation with my sweetheart this past week, and spent two long nights in a hotel room when I could.not.fall.asleep! What to do? It was so exhausting, and of course set my mood and energy levels off for the remainder of the trip.

When I evaluate sleep from an Integrative Medicine perspective, I usually break it into –

  1. unable to fall asleep
  2. unable to stay asleep.

The former tends to have a different set of causes and therefore medications than the latter. Sleep is complex and involves multiple body systems working together including endocrine, neurological, immune, musculoskeletal, and mental/emotional at the very least! Each person with chronic insomnia will benefit most from individualized treatment, but here are some generalizations to improve sleep.

First, as boring and arcane as it sounds, sleep hygiene is important. Hygiene is a strange word to associate with sleep, IMHO. It sounds weird and uncomfortable, but “sleep hygeine” is a general concept that encompasses the environmental and behavioral aspects that are known to improve sleep quality and promote restful sleep. For example, my hotel room was too hot both nights. Maintaining a comfortable room temperature preferably cool with fresh air, is known to improve sleep quality. A darkened room without blinking or other lights within eyesight and a peaceful bedtime routine are also examples of sleep hygiene.

untitled     To fall asleep, sedatives are the key. Valerian is the strongest herb for sleep support. This herb was mentioned by Hippocrates in his writings, and is one of the oldest sedatives known. It has numerous studies supporting its use for sleep. The essential oils in valerian appear to provide its sedative activity, while the valepotriates exert a regulatory effect on the autonomic nervous system.  Although more than 150 constituents have been identified, none appear to be solely responsible for valerian’s effects, suggesting many compounds may act synergistically. Valerian’s mechanisms of action are not completely understood.  Valerian interacts with neurotransmitters such as GABA and produces a dose-dependent release of GABA. Valerian also inhibits the enzyme-induced breakdown of GABA in the brain.

GABA is my other secret weapon for falling asleep. There are two on switch neurotransmitters (dopamine and acetycholine) and two off switches (gaba and serotonin.) When the off switch is stuck on, sleep becomes difficult. Taking GABA as a supplement improves GABA levels in the brain, quieting the mind. Benzodiazepenes like Attivan and hypnotics like Ambian also work to increase GABA levels, as does Valerian. *Don’t use these all together as they can depress respiratory function as a cocktail.

images7OHBNK29Difficulty staying asleep can be more complicated to treat than falling asleep. Taking sedatives at 2 – 4 am can result in morning grogginess. From my experience, early waking (3am) is often related to a dysregulated cortisol clock, or, put simply, stress. Cortisol is the primary stress hormone produced by the adrenal glands. It runs on a 24 hour clock, and should be highest at 8am, and slowly drop during the day and rise at night. With emotional and/or physical stress, travel to different time zones, or shift work, the cortisol clock can become dysregulated, peaking earlier and earlier, creating an too-early wake up signal. Adrenal support is key. I often use herbs like ashwaganda, L-theanine, rhodiola, relora, and more to help regulate adrenal hormone production and heal imbalances. Cortisol is complicated, and balancing requires an in-depth look at ones lifestyle, mental health, stress coping techniques, exercise patterns, blood sugar and more. Therefore, treating stress and adrenal health in relation to sleep is best with an individualized approach, as “cookbook” medicine rarely gives optimized results.

For really tough sleep cases, NeuroScience labs makes a neurotransmitter panel to assess what is causing the night time wakefulness. Blood sugar disorders, sympathetic nervous system activation, cortisol dysregulation, hormone imbalance, anxiety, depression, grief, and more can all be part of the “perfect storm” of insomnia. Find a Naturopathic Doctor in your area to unravel the depths of your sleep mystery.

Umbrella_GraphicFinally, energetic medicines like acupuncture and homeopathy can be invaluable for unlocking sleeps depths. We are quantum physics humans, we do not operate in straightforward paradigm. Sometimes sleep issues go back to childhood dysregulation or other “never been well since” life events. These more energetic medicines can work to correct these deep imbalances by integrating unresolved issues that plague your subconscious when your guard is down. Psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral strategies can also be used to unravel sleep and stress mysteries.

I was lucky: once I was able to come down from the stress before my trip, and relax into my holiday my sleep improved, and I even got to sleep in for a change! What do you need to get that beauty sleep you so desire?

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Mediterranean Diet Explained

mediterranean_map-bigThe Mediterranean Diet (and Lifestyle)

This post was originally written for Apothecary by Design.

There is a lot of conflicting opinions about what style of diet individuals should choose for best health. Eating patterns can be based on ethics, habits, familial patterns, disease states, weight loss, convenience and more. The Mediterranean Diet is specifically known to correct heart disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. It is also used in cancer recovery. It is not a prescribed regimen of foods, but rather a way of eating based on the local foods of indigenous cultures that live around the Mediterranean Sea. People from this region tend to live longer, and have less chronic disease and obesity than the rest of Europe and North America. To understand why, scientists looked at the foods and lifestyle of the region which has been proven time and time again as superior for cardiovascular health and wellness.

Introduction: It is estimated that over 600 million people have high blood pressure. Heart disease is still one of the leading causes of death in the United States, and dietary interventions are first line therapies for prevention and treatment. The Mediterranean Diet, so called because it mimics classic eating patterns and ingredients from countries like Spain, Italy and Greece, has proven itself time and again as an effective therapy for hypertension and cardiovascular disease. A quick search of Medscape will show you that other conditions like Type 2 Diabetes, Weight loss, Alzheimer’s disease, Metabolic Syndrome, and Cancer are also being improved by adherence to this style of eating.

What it entails: The Mediterranean Diet is modeled after a traditional European “local” diet. Think small servings of homemade pasta or polenta, with fresh local herbs and vegetables like rosemary, basil, tomato, fennel, mushrooms and onions sautéed in liberal amounts of extra virgin olive oil. Add some white beans or fresh local cheese and handfuls of fresh arugula. Small fish like sardines and anchovies are added to meals regularly or served as a snack with walnuts, flatbread and cut up raw vegetables like cucumbers, cabbage, carrots, and broccoli. Fish is a regular staple, always cooked with olive oil and often marinated with lemon and fresh herbs. A couple times a week you may have free range eggs or chicken, again with liberal amounts of greens, cooked vegetables, beans and fresh herbs. And steak or lamb is eaten a couple times a month. Red wine is served with dinner most nights, and small amounts of homemade dessert like tiramisu or gelato a couple times a month.

2ac47164217c3a2b12eadd7a62b6ee78Many people use a triangle to depict the major Food groups for the Mediterranean diet.

Grains and pastas while frowned on by the low-carb crowd, are important for feeling full, serotonin production, daily fiber and vitamins and minerals. They are also essential for T3 thyroid hormone production. Grains are commonly used in their whole form for optimal nutrition although some homemade pasta and bread are implemented. Suggested Mediterranean grains include barley, buckwheat, bulgur, cous cous, farro, millet, polenta, rice, and wheat berries. Whole grain salads and porridges are great ways to have a daily grain in your menu. Portion sizes are conservative, with emphasis on the vegetable and olive oil.

Vegetables are an important staple in the eating patterns of all countries bordering on the Mediterranean, providing essential plant nutrients, vitamins, minerals and fiber. Cook with virgin olive oil, and drizzle whole pressed plant oils on raw vegetables. These plant nutrients and plant oils are thought to be the foundation of the beneficial effect from this way of eating as they provide essential fats and omegas daily. Commonly used vegetables include: artichokes, arugula, beets, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, carrots, celery, celeriac, cucumber, dandelion greens, eggplant, fennel, greens of all kinds including collard, kale, Swiss chard and more, leeks, lemons, lettuce, mache, mushrooms, okra, onions, peas, peppers, potato, pumpkin, radish, rutabaga, scallion, spinach, turnips, yams and zucchini.

Whole fresh fruit provides sweetness and important nutrients, with juicy sweetness. Include apples, apricots, avocado, cherries, clementines, dates, figs, grapefruit, pomegranate, strawberries and tomatoes. Avoid juices, jams, and jellies as these are high in sugar without the antioxidants and fiber of whole fruit.

imagesNuts and Seeds are another key to the healthful oils that improve cardiovascular health. One study added only walnuts to a standard diet and exhibited cardiac disease improvement just from the omega 3 fats naturally contained in these nuts. Twenty raw almonds daily have also been suggested as a natural way to lower blood pressure. All raw nuts and seeds and raw nut butters except peanuts contain beneficial oils and add richness and flavor to vegetable based dishes. Once you “dry roast” or roast the nuts and seeds, the beneficial oils are lost or made into inflammatory trans-fats. If you prefer the taste, buy raw nuts and toast them yourself in a cast iron pan or a low heat oven for 10-20 minutes. You can add spices, soy sauce or honey before toasting for additional delicious taste!

Beans and Legumes are great source of protein and fiber and have a rich creamy texture. Cook with cannellini beans, chickpeas, fava beans, and green beans. Kidney beans, lentils, and split peas are also common ingredients in Mediterranean meals. Legumes provide a protein rich flavor note and nutritional support; in moderate amounts they are less likely to cause digestive upset. Think: brothy bowls of rich soup, light summer salads with olive oil and beans, or a Spanish fabada with pork and sausage. Use a digestive enzyme if needed to improve digestion and reduce side effects.

indexFish and seafood are prominent in the way of eating as it is based around sea cultures. Fish and shellfish are incorporated almost daily, providing high amounts of omega three fats essential for heart health. Little fishes like sardines, anchovies and mackerels are cheap and abundant and very high in omega 3 oils. Next time you are at a grocery store, pick up a tin of boneless, skinless sardines. Try eating them with crackers and sour cream, or top a nicoise-style salad with them (potatoes, olives and arugula.) They are quite delicious! Bigger fish like tuna, salmon and sea bass are featured regularly, as well as all shellfish, octopus and eel varieties. Fish and seafood are rarely battered and friend. They are often grilled, baked, steamed or pan-fried with olive oil.

Eggs, dairy, meats, wine and sweets are also part of this way of life, but in modest amounts, For example, cheese and yogurt may be eaten daily as tatziki yogurt dip, manchego , romano or feta; you do not see the consumption of large amount of industrialized cheese like a Domino’s pizza. Red meat is enjoyed every couple weeks as are cured meats like salami, carpaccio or prosciutto – used sparingly on homemade pizzas with a cheese like ricotta, or served antipasti with olives and vegetables.

As you can see, there is great diversity in this way of eating. There are no “bad” foods and “good” foods, but there is a plethora of vegetarian and pescatarian eating that results in high vitamin C, E and selenium, high levels of glutathione, balanced omega 6 and 3 oils, high fiber, and abundant antioxidants from fruits and vegetables including resveratrol from red wine and polyphenols from olive oil. These are the basic foundations of a heart healthy diet that any nutritionist or integrative doctor will recommend!

Henri-Lebasque-The-SiestaLongevity Lifestyle: There is more than just food to the Mediterranean success though. Lifestyle is almost equally as important for the longevity and happiness that contributes to this regions wellness. Meals are enjoyed in a social atmosphere, contributing to slower eating and improved digestion. Naps in the form of “siestas” are built into the regions lifestyle, allowing valuable down time and relaxation as well as sleep! Movement, in the form of daily walking and gardening, is an inherent part of an active lifestyle that also improves cardiovascular fitness. And finally, there is a strong sense of community, often centered around religion, which fulfills the esoteric or spiritual needs at an individual level.

Implementing Changes: The biggest hurdle to changing your nutrition is what you put in your grocery cart. As long as you have frozen meals and industrial cheese in your cupboards, that is what you and your family will eat. Start by purchasing olive oil, fruits, vegetables, raw nuts, and whole grains, and planning simple meals like soups and salads. Scope out your local Italian grocery store like Micucci’s in Portland, and go to the farmers market and fish market for inspiration.  Classic Italian, Spanish, Middle Eastern or Greek cookbooks or cooking classes can provide inspiration; however, this is inherently a simple style of eating. Some convenience may be lost as you cook a cannellini bean soup, but the preparation time can be made up by the abundance of delicious, easy leftovers and lunches. Enjoy your preparation time with music and a glass of wine and have your kids help – community and relaxed eating environments are two of the secrets to happiness! Get inspired by these simple recipes.

olive-oils-williams-sonoma-cooking-technique-classes-aug-2014A note on olive oil. Americans spend about 700 million dollars on olive oil per year. Low grade olive oil is rampant, and many cheap versions are cut with soybean oil or other inferior vegetable oils. Products branded as Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) are often not extra virgin (first press) and often not 100% olive. Choosing organic olive oil is a higher price, but ensures the quality and manufacturing guaranteed by organic standards. There are no regulations in place for non-organic oils at the moment. Using liberal amounts of soybean oil or other low grade, low quality oils, especially when stored in plastic, will NOT have the same beneficial properties like polyphenol antioxidants that real olive oil has. When I was recently in Spain, a good quality bottle of organic olive oil was about 15-20 Euros. I saw the same bottle of organic Spanish oil that I brought home from Spain in Williams-Sonoma this past weekend for $25 US. This is about the price that a liter or more of high quality extra virgin olive oil goes for (unless you find some on sale.) If you are paying significantly less, you are probably getting adulterated oils.

Consider shopping at an olive oil specialty store that lets you taste before you buy ~ Le Roux in Portland, Maine offers this option plus delicious balsamic vinegars to pair it with! Buying olive oil in larger amounts, like the metal cans sold at Italian grocery stores, often allows for improved quality and a lower volume price. Transfer some of the oil into a smaller table-friendly vessel for cooking and dressing raw greens! Read More about Olive Oil’s dark side.

References:

http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/502409_5

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24050803

http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/504600

http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/750564#vp_2

http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/785895#vp_2

http://oldwayspt.org/resources/heritage-pyramids/mediterranean-diet-pyramid/traditional-med-diet

http://www.ciaprochef.com/northarvest/mediterranean.html

http://www.today.com/health/live-100-sardinias-secrets-longevity-blue-zones-2D80590693

https://www.bluezones.com/

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Frequently Asked Questions: Hormone Tx

Many people have questions about the safety and efficacy of hormone treatments. I provide individualized hormone treatment programs. Every patient undergoes our complete metabolic bloodwork panel; a physical exam including breast exam, and a full 90-minute initial intake to make sure that hormone treatment is safe and recommended for you.

Here are some common questions, asked in our free 30 minute screening consults.

Will I need to stay on hormone treatment forever?

Current evidence shows that estrogen and progesterone bioidentical replacement therapy is safe for up to 15 years. After 15 years the risk of hormonal cancers increases very slightly. I encourage our patients to follow their own instincts around the duration of bHRT. Many women reach a point where they want to try coming off the hormones, to see how they feel. (Many then come back on the hormones for the feelings of well being they provide!) There is no “right answer” for the duration of hormones treatment; instead, your ongoing health and feelings of wellness may be the most important indicator to measure this.

What is a Bioidentical hormone?

Bio –meaning, of the body and Identical meaning, exactly like = hormones that are exactly like those your body naturally produces.

Why use Bioidentical hormones?

Generic and brand name hormones made by pharmaceutical companies all have biochemical additions to the basic hormone structures like pharma-signatures that make the drug patented (and profitable.) Bioidentical hormones are made as liquids, creams, troches, rapid dissolve tablets, injections or suppositories by a compounding pharmacy laboratory like Apothecary by Design to make them exactly like the hormones your body would naturally be producing. Drug companies cannot make money off of this form of hormone because they are universal; therefore their use is discouraged by big pharma. We know that bioidentical hormones are the safest, most effective way to replace hormones in your body. We only use compounded, bioidentical estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone at Age Management Center.

Do hormones cause cancer?

The Women’s Health Initiative study in 2001 did show an increased risk of not only breast cancer, but also heart disease in women taking the medications in the study. What is KEY here is that the hormone medications used in the study were the horse-based estrogen Premarin and a synthetic version of progesterone called progestin, brand name Provera. The study was separated into just Premarin users and Premarin + Provera “Prem-Pro” users. The Provera Rx was clearly indicated as the causative factor for the increased risk of breast cancer in clinical data. In further studies on bioidentical progesterone it has been evidenced that 200 mg of bioidentical progesterone is actually protective against the development of breast cancer.

It was the synthetic pharmaceutical analogue Progestin that is linked to cancer development, not either bioidentical estrogen or progesterone. Having said that, if you already have an estrogen positive cancer growing in your body, additional hormone replacement therapy can feed the tumor growth. We encourage all of our patients to get screening mammograms yearly during menopausal hormone replacement therapy, and actively support anti-cancer nutrition and antioxidant supplementation as part of our treatment protocols.

What about heart disease in women and estrogen use?

One of the most surprising results of the Women’s Heath Initiative was the increased risk of cardiovascular health issues like blood clots resulting from plaque rupture in women using Premarin. Estrogen is in fact protective for the cardiovascular system as it increases elasticity in all systems including the blood vessels. More elastic, flexible arteries means healthier blood flow. However, when combined with risk factors for atherosclerosis (plaques in the arteries) like elevated cholesterol, high blood sugar, smoking and being overweight the benefits and the risks need to be weighed to assess what is best for each woman.

At Age Management Center our complete metabolic blood work panel and 90 minute initial consult is in part to ensure that your body is metabolically able to handle additional bioidentical estrogen, and that you are a good candidate for hormone treatment. Some women need to do additional metabolic and cardiovascular work to reduce risk factors before estrogen-based therapy is indicated. Oral estrogen (taken by mouth) was associated with more risk for plaque rupture than topical estrogen. We start all women on a topical mix of bioidentical estradiol and estriol plus additional progesterone to manage symptoms while navigating risk, ultimately improving metabolic and cardiovascular health for effective anti-aging.

I thought testosterone was only for men?

Want to know a secret? Testosterone is like magic for womens health. It is actually the most abundant hormone across our entire lifetime because our body continues to produce it after menopause (if all goes well.) Testosterone is extremely valuable for women’s health because it is the “vitality” hormone that leads to physical and mental strength, bone health, leadership qualities, sexual appetite, sexual satisfaction, mood stability and more. Testosterone levels naturally start to get lower around 40, but the adrenal glands take over testosterone production when periods stop completely. We see low testosterone in women of all ages; we use testosterone supplementation in most of our menopausal treatments, because it helps you feel great! This hormone has been part of menopausal treatments since 1937. There is not much excitement generated about it in traditional medicine because who wants strong, sexual, healthy, happy, active, passionate postmenopausal women? I do!

Will taking testosterone make me look manly? (Facial hair, lower voice etc)

My job is to replace and optimize hormones to their natural levels. When testosterone levels are optimized for your body, it is unlikely you will have complications like black facial hairs, voice lowering, acne, or other classic side effects. However, this of course depends on your genetics and sensitivity to hormones. We start with the lowest possible dose after our thorough initial exam, an adjust dosages based on your personal experience plus laboratory testing. If you happen to be someone who does have side effects like facial hair or pimples, these are immediately reversible by lowering your dose.

At Age Management Center I also provide transition support for transgender and transsexual individuals. These dosages of hormones are significantly higher than doses used for hormone replacement, and do have permanent and reversible side effects that are usually considered desirable by the people using them.

Do you accept insurance?

Age Management Center is a concierge medical practice. We offer the best of modern regenerative medicine, guided by cutting edge evidence based research, in a relaxed, comprehensive manner. Our hormone programs are simple. Once a month fees include all doctor visits, emails, and phone calls, as well as your administrative support and foundational hormones. We operate outside the insurance system so that we can offer the high touch personalized medicine that our patients have come to rely on. We do not bill insurance companies for our services; however we can give you an itemized “superbill” for your services that you can submit on your own for reimbursement. We invite you to come in for our free 30-minute consultation to learn more about our concierge medical programs and how these might work for you.

Can I use my insurance for the comprehensive metabolic bloodwork?

We prefer that our patients use our cash-based in house laboratory services as it allows for consistent lab results and lab values, speedy results, streamlined workflow and improved coordinated care. We thoroughly research the best prices for lab work, and pass those savings on to our patients. For example, our complete metabolic blood work is priced at $1800 through insurance billing. We offer it at $395, passing on our physician pricing to you. Many of our patients have tried to use their insurance to run the blood work, and with deductibles and co-pays have ended up paying at least $600-800 for the same work.

Furthermore, many insurance companies and PCP’s will not cover some of the hormonal blood work evaluations we consider crucial to accurately understanding your metabolic and hormonal health. By having all of your blood work arrive in time for your initial visit, we are better able to serve you in a timely and effective manner. Laboratory, physician and clinical services can all be claimed as health expenses on your taxes, and can be part of your deductible.th

Can I use my Health Savings Account or Flex Spending Account?

Yes. Age Management Center services are billable through HSA and FSA’s.

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LGB Trans HRT ~ New Program, Fresh Vision, New You

imagesWIDJJQD2The flame of Trans* Health has been burning steadily brighter in my life over the past 3 years. I was keen on the practice while still living and working in Toronto, ON but without a scope of prescribing hormones, my work with the Trans* community was peripheral medicine – acupuncture, restoration of transman fertility, anxiety support etc. I continued to take trainings in the hormone and lab protocols to better understand the medical aspects of transition, without the vision of guiding transition myself.

Once I moved to Maine in 2011, my scope of practice as a ND changed. Naturopathic Doctors have different abilities to prescribe and order diagnostic lab work in each state and province. Most of the west coast states plus British Columbia have full prescribing rights, can do IV therapies, and can act like primary care docs for their patients. In the more conservative middle North America and east coast, Vermont and New Hampshire are the only states/provinces with a full scope of practice. However, for me, from Ontario, the ability to prescribe most hormones and antibiotics was a big change of pace!

I mentored and practice with Dr. Michael Bedecs, an Osteopathic Doctor specializing in hormone therapies for the past  3 years. Under his guidance (plus several conferences on trans health, anti-aging and hormone optimization) I have come to better understand the intricacies of the endocrine system, and how they interrelate through reproductive, thyroid, adrenal, pancreatic and pituitary pathways. All this time, my brain has been making subtle connections in Trans* health, drawing pathways to hormonal optimization the bridges the cultural and gender fluidity required with treating the LGBT community with medical advancements in metabolism, subclinical hypothyroidism, fertility, adrenal exhaustion, cortisol excess, insulin resistance and more.

Dr. Bedecs and I have created a new program called LBGT HRT that includes the dynamic possibilities of gender and hormone variation, bioidentical hormone replacement, transsexual transition and transgender health. We will be offering this through our concierge style practice at Age Management Center in Portland, Maine.

Age Management Center is a cash based practice. We do not accept any insurance plans for visits, medication or laboratory services. Some patients are able to pay for our services through Health Savings Accounts, or get third party reimbursement. Working outside of insurance allows us to provide a standard of care far above  the norm. We offer blood work here in our clinic, at physician pricing. Because we are not limited by the current scope of insurance, we are able to test for and evaluate metabolic parameters that are essential to our complete understanding of hormonal health and wellness.  We spend an average of 90 minutes for first visits, and offer a free 30 minute consult before any commitment is required. Furthermore, within our framework of concierge medicine, each visit is not priced and ticketed; rather, the ongoing support of our doctors, nurses and medical staff is included in the program, allowing you unlimited access for questions, concerns, and follow up until your program is fine tuned and ship shape.

We know this style of medicine is not accessible for all members of the LGB and Trans community. Therefore, I created a monthly sliding scale clinic at Justice in The Body the first Monday of each month from 9am – 12pm to meet the needs of the lower income members of the gender queer and Trans* community here in Portland, Maine, and beyond. This clinic is limited in that a prescribing MD, NP or DO is still required to Rx the Testosterone for FTM and Spironolactone or Cyproterone for MTF; however, I am able to order lab work through insurance in Maine and can work with your prescriber to optimize current hormone protocols and work on supporting the Integrative aspects of general health and wellness that come with transitioning. Many of my patients at the Trans* Health Clinic have been fully transitioned, and we are working on other aspects of preventative medicine and optimized health through the lens of Trans* medicine. I am currently working on expanding the scope of the JITB Trans * Health Clinic by finding a prescriber to work directly with us in house. Stay Tuned!

Follow me on Twitter for Trans* Health @LGBTHRT

Follow me on Facebook for monthly updates about the Trans Health Clinic at JITB

Note: Trans* is a new-ish term. The asterisk denotes that the term is encompassing the entire transgender, transsexual and gender fluid spectrum of individuals without having to write all of that every time.

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Women need Testosterone

When I say Testosterone, what do you think?

Most people think: men, male. Some people think trans,*  transgender, or FTM. Very few people will think “the most abundant sex hormone across a women’s lifespan and an important sex hormone for all genders.”

All of the above is the correct answer.

Estrogen and Testosterone have been sequestered into gendered boxes, but both are equally important sex hormones for human health. Functional and biologically active androgenic receptors are located throughout the body in both sexes. Testosterone receptors are found in the breasts, heart, blood vessels, digestive tract, lung, brain, spinal cord, nerves, bladder, uterus, ovaries, skin, bone, bone marrow, muscles and fat cells of all women. This wide diversity of receptor locations illustrates the panorama of body systems that rely on adequate levels of testosterone for optimal female  function.

And yet, this important hormone is routinely ignored in women of all ages and especially those in their 30’s and 40’s who are exhibiting signs of testosterone deficiency including: dysphoric mood, muscle loss, cognitive decline, insomnia, breast pain, rheumatic and other pain, incontinence and sexual dysfunction.

Think you might be T deficient? Take our Eve test now! http://www.agemanagementcenter.com/eve-scale/

Around menopause, testosterone and other pro-androgens like DHEA, DHEA-S, and androstenedione become the primary hormones available as estrogen and progesterone levels decline. The ovaries stop becoming the major source of hormonal production, and the adrenal glands take over. As early as 1937, testosterone was used as a successful and important bioidentical hormone replacement option for menopausal women.  Seventy-seven years later, doctors still do not routinely address testosterone deficiency in this population, nor do they even test for it!

Symptoms are not enough to assess hormonal balance. Accurate bloodwork including Total Testosterone, Free Testosterone, Sex Hormone Binding Globulin, Estradiol, Total Estrogen, Progesterone and DHEA-S must be assessed to have a clear picture of hormone health for all genders.

Many endogenous hormones can be converted into other hormones, like Testosterone being aromatized to Estradiol and DHEA-S into Testosterone or Estrogen. Understanding these pathways and monitoring the blood levels over time is the best way to achieve optimized hormone status. No hormone should be ignored based on presenting gender or sex, as it is the delicate interplay of hormones that creates vibrant wellness.

For more information on women and testosterone make an appointment to consult with Dr. Wright now. To schedule bloodwork to assess your testosterone and other hormone levels, call Kristen at 207 774-1356. Free initial consults are available.  www.agemanagementcenter.com

References:

Transdermal testosterone therapy improves wellbeing, mood, and sexual function in premenopausal women. Goldstat, Rebecca MPH1; Briganti, Esther MD2; Tran, Jane MD1;
Wolfe, Rory PhD2; Davis, Susan R. MD, PhD1 Menopause. September 2003 – Volume 10 – Issue 5 – pp 390-398

Testosterone therapy in women: Myths and misconceptions Rebecca Glasera,b,∗, Constantine Dimitrakakisc, Maturitas 74 (2013) 230– 234

Current perspectives on testosterone therapy for women. Susan Davis MB, Bs, FRAC-P, PhD., Sonia Davidson MB, Bs, FRAC-P, PhD.  Menopausal Medicine. Volume 2 0 , No. 2 — Ma y 2 0 1 2

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