There are various ways to assess the health and general functionality of your body. It is important to establish how your body is responding to life, and the daily rigours it is exposed to. Is your body able to handle the workload you are placing on it, is your body working to its optimum, and are there ways that you could improve its performance? Some of the main ways health professionals assess the condition of your body is via your blood and urine and electrolytes (U&E’s), however these can be somewhat invasive to the athlete. However there are some far less traumatic methods of assessing your body’s hormonal levels, one of the most useful ways is via your saliva! Thanks to the ingenuity of a group of researchers at Loughborough University, it is now possible for athletes to monitor their steroid hormones (not anabolics if that’s what you’re thinking). The steroid hormones include cortisol (a strong indicator of stress), testosterone (the main male sex hormone that is key to muscle growth and strength), oestriol (one of the 3 oestrogen hormones aka a female sex hormone), progesterone (a key hormones in the female menstrual cycle and pregnancy), dehydroepiandrosterone (a metabolic intermediate that is important in the development of androgens and sex hormones).
Why monitor the steroid hormones?
By looking at the concentration of these hormones in saliva, experts can ascertain the amount of free circulating steroid hormones in the blood... without having to prick someone with a needle! This method of checking hormones means intra workout testing can happen far less invasively, making it more realistic to a sporting situation. It is well understood that low levels of steroid hormones may reduce mucosal immunity, in turn increasing the risk of infection. These hormones may decrease due to prolonged physical or psychological stress. The method of testing saliva isn’t all that new, but it has been refined somewhat, sport scientists will use a technique known as rapid, sensitive enzyme linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). This method enables scientists to gauge the stress response to exercise, which when combined with stress and mood questionnaires can yield some useful information for sport scientists and team Doctors on the athlete’s immune and endocrine systems. If these areas are compromised due to excessive work load or stress, then the athlete could be at significant risk of overtraining. Hormones that have proven particularly useful in this regard are salivary immunoglobulin A, cortisol and testosrterone,
Application to the athlete
An athlete with low levels of immunoglobulin A, and an elevated cortisol/ testosterone ratio are likely to be metabolically stressed and in need of rest. Many professional football clubs use salivary analysis to monitor their players, premiership managers use this to give them an insight into a player’s mood and ability to manage physical and mental stress over the course of a season. The coach can then adjust lifestyle factors and training routines to help the player adjust both psychologically and physically. Ways to deal with physiological stress through over training might also include nutritional or medicinal interventions including an increase in vitamin and antioxidant rich foods, as well as supplements that are thought to reduce physiological stress such as Rhodiola, Zinc and Magnesium (consider ZMA).
Lewis, J, G. (2006). Steroid Analysis in Saliva: An overview. The Clinical Biochemist Reviews. Retrieved 2nd February, 2015, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1579286/