Women's Health Clinic Vancouver BC
Dr. Luis’ naturopathic approach to women’s health encompasses all aspects of hormone balance and uses evidence-based medicine to develop individualized treatment plans. Full physical exams, PAP tests and breast exams are available in-clinic and are recommended to anyone with a cervix and breasts.
Naturopathic Treatments for Women’s Health Issues
Treatment options will differ depending on multiple factors. Bioidentical hormone therapy (BHRT) is commonly prescribed when both symptoms and test results reveal low levels. Replacement with natural (bioidentical) progesterone helps women feel less discomfort and PMS, have less anxiety, better moods, better sleep and improved menstrual cycles.
Bioidentical estrogen is most often prescribed once a woman no longer has a period and is experiencing menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, irritability and dryness. In situations where BHRT is not recommended or patient preference is to avoid, plant-based medicine with herbs can help to relieve symptoms. Less sugar and less processed foods with emphasis on vegetables are some of the commonly discussed ways to support hormone health through nutrition. Many vitamins, minerals and antioxidants help shift hormone levels into a balanced state and are usually included in a well-rounded treatment plan.
Polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS, is the most common hormone disorder in women. It presents in up to 10% of populations and impacts women of all ethnicities. The classic symptoms in PCOS are irregular periods that may or may not be painful, acne, hair loss, male-pattern hair growth such as facial hair and obesity. Women can experience all or some of these symptoms, yet there is no singular test that confirms PCOS. A woman with cysts on her ovaries found on ultrasound may be diagnosed with the condition, yet women without cysts can also be diagnosed if they have high levels of testosterone and/or DHEA with blood work. Because of the huge range of symptoms and severity, many women go undiagnosed for years.
Conventional medical treatment for PCOS is to prescribe oral birth control, sometimes a testosterone-blocking medication called spironolactone and sometimes an anti-diabetic drug called metformin. Naturopathic treatment takes a different approach and often works to establish balanced hormones by finding the root cause. The majority of women with PCOS are found to have insulin resistance which can be controlled using dietary strategies and natural supplements. When insulin is healthy, often cycles become regular, hair loss stops and acne clears up. Insulin levels can be tested using a simple blood test and is easily monitored to gauge response to treatments.
Estrogen dominance is one of the more common hormone imbalances. The relative amount of estrogen overall outweighs the relative amount of progesterone being produced. This leads to short menstrual cycles, heavy and often painful periods, fibroids, ovarian cysts and sometimes acne and difficulties with weight loss.
Using naturopathic medicine, the estrogen and progesterone balance can be restored and symptoms much improved or resolved. Proper testing with urine or saliva will uncover estrogen dominance and treatment protocols can involve liver detoxification, promotion of daily bowel movements to excrete excess estrogen and the addition of progesterone.
Once 12 months have gone by without a woman having her period, menopause has offically begun. The average age of menopause is 51 years old, however women can experience it in their 40s and up into their mid 50s. Symptoms of menopause may begin before periods stop and for some, can last many years past the end of their periods.
While menopause is a natural process that each woman will experience, no two women will be alike with their symptoms, severity of symptoms and duration of symptoms. Using natural supplements and prescriptive bioidentical replacement therapy (BHRT), women can feel more like themselves as their hormones naturally change. Not all women are good candidates for BHRT, so careful screening and testing must be performed prior to prescribing. Natural options such as herbs, dietary changes which involve elimination of refined sugar, reduction of coffee and more healthy vegetables can be really effective.
BHRT is the use of estrogen and progesterone to alleviate menopausal symptoms. Some women will use hormones during this phase in life while others will continue for many years. The choice is individual and as long as regular testing and monitoring is completed, BHRT is very safe.
Premenstrual syndrome has a wide variety of symptoms which can include pain, discomfort, mood swings, insomnia, tender breasts, sugar cravings and acne. Up to 75% of women have experienced PMS, and most believe that it is a normal part of being a woman. This is not the case! PMS is the result of a hormone imbalance in the body or a pre-existing condition such as endometriosis and it can be treated. Women should not have to suffer for up to 10 days prior to their periods, yet are often told or believe that it is normal.
In the second half of the menstrual cycle, progesterone levels rise. Women with PMS can have less than optimal progesterone levels for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it is due to excess stress and cortisol and sometimes it is related to estrogen dominance. A good history taking regarding details about the menstrual cycle along with appropriate hormone testing will lead to protocols that resolve or greatly improve PMS.
Women’s Health Exams
Pelvic and breast exams are important ways to prevent and discover conditions that affect women. Self breast exams should be performed every month around the same time of the cycle and in-office breast exams every 3 years. Some women have more fibrous or dense breast tissue and will have more regular breast exams or medical imaging to detect any tissue changes. Screening mammograms are available for women age 40 and up and do not require a referral by a doctor. There are many breast health clinics that offer this service, including BC Women’s hospital.
Pelvic exams include a physical exam of the vagina, cervix, ovaries and uterus. A small sample of the cervical cells, called a PAP smear, is sent for cervical cancer screening. This procedure takes place in-office and is recommended every 3 years to all people with a cervix between the age of 25-69. Both pelvic exams and breast exams are offered by Dr. Luis.
PAP Smear Test
George Papanicolauo developed the PAP test almost 100 years ago to help diagnose and prevent the development of cervical cancer. Prior to this, cervical cancer was considered a very deadly cancer because symptoms only started once the disease was very advanced. Today, cervical cancer is not as prevalent and a screening program exists to keep it this way. Every 3 years, women have a small sample of cervical cells swabbed and sent to the cancer screening agency. Prior to becoming cancerous, cervical cells move through distinctive stages of abnormality and this can be seen under the microscope. Women who have higher levels of cell change will go through procedures to remove the cells before cancer is developed.
Dr. Luis is a recognized provider by the BC Cervical Cancer Screening program to deliver pelvic screening exams and PAP exams.
Hormones can be tested by blood, saliva or urine. Extensive urine hormone testing includes cortisol, estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, DHEA and melatonin and the way hormones are broken down and metabolized by the body. The dried urine test is best used to understand the amounts and usage of hormones when not on hormone therapy. Over 30 different hormones and metabolites are included in this comprehensive test and it is required prior to starting hormone replacement therapy.
Thyroid hormones are best tested using blood. For the most accurate thyroid results, the blood should be drawn in the morning, fasting overnight and no thyroid medication taken prior that morning. Insulin, DHEA and testosterone are also accurately measured by blood testing.
It is important to have the right type of test for the right hormone. Sometimes all 3 bodily fluids are tested for the most accurate results.
About Dr. Jennifer Luis
In 2011, Dr. Luis graduated from Naturopathic medical school and began her new career. Rooted in education as a high school teacher in an alternative program for 10 years previously, it was a natural shift to become an alternative medical practitioner and teach patients how to live healthier lives. It was as a student that Dr. Luis was told she has Hashimoto’s thyroiditis by another student ND. Suddenly everything made sense and by retracing life events and illnesses, it is probable that she had this disease since the time of her first thyroid ultrasound at age 17 or the time her cholesterol levels were strangely elevated at age 18.
Navigating the world of auto-immune disease, hormone imbalance, digestive disturbances and mold illness has helped Dr. Luis to have first-hand knowledge in her areas of expertise. With the use of both naturopathic and conventional medicine, Dr. Luis has found balance and works hard to guide her patients towards their optimal wellness and balance. Herbs, vitamins, dietary guidelines, prescription drugs and lifestyle all play important parts.