December 04, 2018 at 03:45AM
Once synonymous with PMS (as in, “I’m feeling so hormonal!”), there’s now a growing understanding of hormones’ role in every system of the body, affecting everything from your heart health to your sleep quality. And with a new wave of startups offering at-home hormone testing, which was once only available at a doctor’s office, you can now have direct access to the health clues your hormones are providing.
Because of this, the general market for home testing is predicted to grow by three- to four-fold over the next few years, says Jacqueline Jacques, SVP of medical affairs for supplement brand Thorne. Thorne launched a line of at-home hormone testing kits in early 2018, with options for stress, sleep, thyroid, in addition to fertility intel. Home testing pioneer EverlyWell also offers a range of hormone tests—its comprehensive Women’s Health Test is the most popular in its entire catalog. Other testing providers include FLO Living, LetsGetChecked, and the newly launched Modern Fertility and Mira, which help women keep tabs on their fertility-impacting hormones.
“Some of the lines between what people are doing themselves and what’s happening in the doctor’s office are starting to blur,” Jacques says. And with growing awareness of the medical research gender gap—only one-third of cardiovascular clinical trial subjects are female, for example—more women are seeking to arm themselves with information about their specific physiology before they make an appointment with their doctor.
With a new wave of startups offering at-home hormone testing, you can now have direct access to the health clues your hormones are providing.
Home hormone testing can come with a financial advantage—some tests cost less than $100 (and most top out at around $400), so using a kit is often far cheaper than going the traditional diagnostic route. And with health care costs predicted to continue rising in 2019, consumers will increasingly take their health into their own hands in the year to come.
“Half of Americans now have an insurance deductible that hovers around [$1,000],” says Marra Francis, MD, executive medical director at EverlyWell. “[Our clients] will often Google their symptoms, figure out what they think they need to test for, find a panel on our website that matches their needs, and if they find something abnormal, that’s their initiative to pay for a [doctor’s] visit. We’re finding that people need affirmation that the money they’re going to spend at the doctor will be worth it.”
Plus, thanks to the growing ubiquity of services like 23andMe, people have gotten more comfortable with the idea of spitting into a tube (or taking a blood or urine sample, in some cases) and mailing it to a lab, says Jacques.
There are a few catches, however. “You don’t always know what actually should be tested, so you can end up wasting a lot of money on irrelevant tests or miss the tests you actually need,” says Kerri Masutto, MD, of Parsley Health San Francisco. “I definitely want my patients empowered and knowledgeable about what’s going on in their bodies, but manipulating your hormones shouldn’t be a DIY project you do on a weekend.”
What’s more, even if you do take an at-home test in cahoots with your doctor, they may not have the specialized knowledge to interpret the many nuances of a hormone panel, beyond diagnosing serious illness. “The concert of hormones and the cyclical dance they do every month is complicated,” says Honore Lansen, MD, of New York City’s One Medical.
That’s why, she says, it’s critical to partner with a doctor who’s specially trained in the intricacies of hormone testing and can help you make sense of your home-test results. “If we find out progesterone is a little low, what does that mean? I worry that just having this info without appropriate context might aggravate a patient’s already-stressed psyche,” Lansen says.
For what it’s worth, most at-home testing kits do include broad diet and lifestyle recommendations based on the results, and all come with the disclaimer that you should discuss the results with your MD. Thorne’s kits also include supplement recommendations, raising interesting questions about whether biomarker testing is the future of personalized nutrition.
And, in the best case, these kits may end up leading to more diagnoses that women might not otherwise seek out. “We need to get the message out to physicians that this is a great option for a lot of people,” says EverlyWell’s Dr. Francis. “Not just for the people who are curious but people who, for other reasons, don’t get the lab work done that they need to.”