How Low Can You Go…With Cortisol?

Assessing Adrenals can be hit and miss, especially given that even more so than other labs, timing is everything.  That’s why endocrinologists typically won’t look at anything less than a 24hr urine collection. If the total output is deemed to be high = Cushing’s and if it’s low = Addison’s. Sounds simple right?  But to say only values outside of this reference range flag a problem might just be a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater (or urine in this case!). Especially given it has been established that humans frequently fail at correct & complete 24hr urine collection! Alternatively we can use saliva or blood assays and capture the cortisol at any given time point, comparing that to expectations based on diurnal rhythm – but again, how are the reference ranges for these ascertained and is there such as thing as low normal. high normal results for cortisol, that actually warrant follow up investigation?  I’m so glad you asked.

I see a number of patients who present with possible indications of flagging adrenals: from some distinguishing, but far from definitive features, in the clinical picture, to secondary lab markers. However, when they ‘limp’ over the line with their morning blood cortisol result I am often left talking to myself in an echo chamber about the need for more follow up.

But with the RCPA a.m. reference range of 200-650 nmol/L (Some seriously wide goalposts!) and some labs even going down to 150 with their minimum acceptable level for morning cortisol…are we right to still flag hypocortisolism (for any reason) as a differential in patients with low normal results?

Well Medscape yet again delivered Christmas 🤶 early last week with the largest study to date of blood cortisol, that has narrowed what’s ‘normal’ significantly…at least in terms of how low you can go before warranting further investigation.  In this study they tested blood cortisol in the morning and afternoon, in over 1200 individuals presenting at an endocrinology clinic to determine in real world terms how low is too low (and associated with an increased likelihood of genuine adrenal insufficiency). They then gave this new ‘minimum cortisol’ a bit of test-run in 2 other large cohorts of patients to check it really did work as an effective cut off and wham bang…we now have a fully validated bare minimum… and guess what…it’s 275 nmol/L in the morning and 250 nmol/L in the afternoon! 

Let’s be clear, their cut-off has what’s called a low ‘positive predictive value’ – which means most people (approx 2/3) with cortisol under this cut-off, upon further investigation (typically the ACTH stimulation test) will be found to be fine.  BUT the point of this study was to ensure we don’t miss patients with adrenal problems just because they have ‘within range’ cortisol…and this new cut-off delivers on that.

This is big helpful news actually.  Previously with patients who had am cortisol between 150- 275 we tended to find ourselves in ‘no man’s land’ – unable to provide enough of an argument about why adrenal insufficiency should still be on the differential list but unable to abandon that suspicion entirely.  Thanks Medscape!  Now if all the labs, RCPA and the referring physicians can just read this study and shift their goal posts…🙄

Our Group Mentoring 2020 Doors are just…about…to…close! 

TODAY!

So if you love labs (or want to learn to love them more), desire to be a better diagnostic detective than you already are and want truly independent mentoring in a collegiate and structured environment for next year and you haven’t applied yet…best shove your foot to hold that door open right now! We offer a range of different levels & types of special interest groups: from New Graduates & the Mental Health Primer group (for those wanting to upskill and focus on this area), from rotating case presentations in our regular groups which are a mix of funky similarly skilled clinicians, to our pure GP group…take our pick!  But get in quick by emailing us right this very second: admin@rachelarthur.com.au

Will Hair Testing Nail Your Patient’s Nickel Problem?

How might your patients’ Nickel exposure wreak havoc with their health?  What might that look like?  It may be lurking behind labels like IBS, non-coeliac gluten sensitivity, contact dermatitis of unknown origin,(with or without alopecia) or even CFS. “Then how does Nickel, which can’t even claim fame as a heavy metal, manage such diverse detrimental effects’? I hear you ask. In 3 easy steps 1) exposure…we’re all exposed, Ni is ubiquitous in our soil, our food, our environment so don’t bother trying to run from it 2) it hits our gut where our microbiome and intestinal lining may constitute the first fallen soldiers 3) exposure to our immune system can lead to sensitisation, and the subsequent development of a hypersensitivity response to each following exposure …and at worst precipitation of an autoimmune process.  You got all that?

So therein lies the big question: how can we help patients whose health problems stem from Noxious Nickel? We could run and hide…from our jewellery, our mobile phones, dental interventions, most food (!), but we’d be wasting our time…we’re surrounded!

As always, we go back to the science and we find others have done the work for us. Not google though.  Google ‘low nickel diet’ and like ‘low oxalate diet’, you’re likely to get a whole heap of hogwash!  How reassuring then that there is a validated dietary scoring tool to assist patients lower their dietary Nickel and that numerous other studies can show us the way in terms of use of mineral balancing strategies, probiotics etc.  These resources plus more are all included in the latest Update in Under 30: Noxious Nickel part 2 as well as a discussion of what assessments we have available to confirm nickel as the culprit.  But here’s something for free: hair nickel concentration (HTMA) is not by any means diagnostic in these cases, because it’s not necessarily about an issue of overall higher exposure it’s about an aberrant immune response to Nickel at any level.  Just saying.  You know me….not scared of controversy in the pursuit of improved patient outcomes. Ok a bit scared… 😁

In this instalment it’s time to get down and dirty and detailed about how to best identify those patients who may have Nickel related pathology and presentations.  We cover testing options, typical systems affected from GIT to autoimmunity and the most extreme form: Systemic Nickel Allergy Syndrome. We outline Nickel management strategies in a world full of it (!) and we include several key papers for additional resources and support. How noxious is Nickel for some of your patients?  Well by the end of this you’ll know and better still, know what to do once that’s established.
Hear all about it by listening to my latest Update in Under 30:
For all Update in Under 30 Subscribers, it’s now available in your online account and if you are not a subscriber you can purchase this individually here.

How Do YOU Take Your Coffee??

If you’ve not seen Kitty Flanagan’s skit on current coffee culture...it’s essential viewing.  In true Kitty-fashion, she wants to simplify coffee ordering down to 2 basic lines – White or Black – says all our pretentious coffee orders; macchiato, skinny, decaf, half strength, latte etc can essentially be reduced down to  a much faster 2 queue system. But she’s forgotten the line for taking your coffee rectally.  Sorry – did I make you just spill your coffee? Knowing How across health trends Kitty is, she’ll add this 3rd queue soon, if the number of patients asking me about this or telling me they’re already doing it. Now, while enemas had a place in naturopathic history, my training never covered them and, consequently, I’ve never included them in my practice. But the more hype I heard around coffee enemas specifically, the more I thought we better find out as much as we can, so at least we can better inform ourselves and our patients. And of course the monkey on your back, called FOMO, jumps up and down, incessantly asking, “Are you (and your patients) missing out on an amazing therapy?”

The first patient who told me they were using coffee enemas daily was a celeb.  A very anxious one. Who also told me she couldn’t possibly drink chai let alone coffee because of the caffeine.  This had me a bit stumped…I knew she wasn’t inserting decaff up there and I thought…well given the colon is SUCH an absorptive surface surely this is why she reported feeling, ‘so energised, more clear headed’ etc. with every enema?

But I wanted to find out for sure (more…)

Who is ‘Molly’??

doll-1828864_960_720

I keep hearing the name, ‘Molly’: “I think I’ll use ‘Molly’ for this patient” or “A bit of ‘Molly’ might go well with the zinc for their high copper”... a moment of confusion on my behalf, (Molly who?) and then the slightly late…’ooooooooh Molybdenum’. Gotta love a trace mineral that is having it’s heyday…right?…right?

There are often jokes made about how little time medical degrees dedicate to teaching nutrition in general – was it 1 lecture or 3? – but let’s be honest, who among any of us really knows the ins and outs of this transition metal.  I reckon we spent maybe 15 mins in my undergraduate on it and that was BC (Before Computers!) so I am guessing that 15mins has expanded about a gooooooogle times and we’ve come to a more comprehensive perspective.  What do we need to update on? (more…)

Hear ye, hear ye…Adrenal Fatigue is Dead!

town crier

That’s the word on integrative medicine street.  I had a sense this was coming, not just a tightening of our terminology but also a challenge of the very concept of ‘adrenal burnout’.  Hear me out.   (more…)

Learning the Language of Men’s Endocrine Health

 

We should all be as skilled in investigating & treating male hormone imbalances as we are female ones, yet this is often not the case.  A lack of confidence in this area, which seems to be an issue for many, in particular will compromise our ability to question male clients comprehensively and effectively about their reproductive health and ultimately reduce our capacity for making good clinical decisions and achieving the best outcomes for them.  If you’re female, how would you feel seeing a male practitioner who doesn’t ask you about your menstrual cycle in detail?

Many of us are at risk of committing similar crimes but we need not be. (more…)

Mental Health – The Real Story

“Two great speakers – inspirational in the first half and bang on in the second – I now know how much I don’t know”

Just out now in time for Christmas…no seriously though… this year I had the good fortune to team up with Biomedica and in particular Rachel McDonald and we delivered a 3 hour seminar called Mental Health in Holistic Practice.  The intention behind this collaboration was to shift the education focus for practitioners from a prescription based approach, to one really about the clinical reality of managing mental health clients.  Probably most of you will agree that the ‘treatment’ counts for only a portion of the positive outcomes in your patients and this is particularly true in clients challenged with mental health issues. After more than 20 years in practice working in this area, I’m keen to share what I’ve learned so other practitioners can get there much much faster! (more…)

When I grow up

When I grow up I’d like to be a few different things, forget any ballerina or astronaut aspirations, my list includes a clinical psychologist, an integrative psychiatrist and last but by no means least, an endocrinologist.  I’m fascinated by hormones, their regulation & incredible interconnectedness and the longer I’m in practice and the more patients I see with hormonal issues, the deeper I dive into the endocrinology texts (Endocrinology by Greenspan & Baxter is an absolute favourite of mine and you can now purchase this as a download to your computer which is super handy).  I think (more…)