Understanding Your Needs With Saliva Testing

Bowhead Health
4 min readJul 24, 2018

How it Works

Your saliva contains your DNA and important biomarkers that can be assessed to diagnose systemic diseases, hormonal imbalances, genetic abnormalities, disease risk and even your ancestry.

Common uses for saliva are to test for the presence of disease markers, such as the BRCA breast cancer genes and for examining steroid hormone levels. Salivary testing is a non-invasive, easy-to-collect method that can be done from within your home, without the need for blood or needles.

DNA Testing

DNA from the saliva you provide can be used to create a profile of your genome to assess for nutrient imbalances, the presence of biomarkers for specific diseases, and to predict your ancestral background.

Nutrient Profile

Despite eating a healthy diet you may still be low or deficient in particular nutrients that are important for warding off chronic illnesses and maintaining long-term health and wellbeing. Your body has unique nutritional needs according to your underlying genotype.

DNA testing for a nutrient profile can provide you with valuable information on which nutrients your body might be under or over producing. Supplements and food-based recommendations can then be tailored to meet your own DNA-derived, personal dietary and nutritional needs. For example, your nutritional profile could help explain why you have had difficulty over the years metabolizing sugars or carbohydrates, thereby empowering you to change your dietary behaviors, which we know is not easy.

Disease Markers

Various biomarkers are screened for from the DNA sample to assess an individual’s susceptibility to a given disease. A list of disease biomarkers that are commonly examined include:

  • Breast cancer oncogenes (BRCA 1 and 2)
  • Parkinson’s (Alpha-synuclein and DJ-1)
  • Alzheimer’s (Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency)
  • Infectious diseases (ex. HIV, HPV, influenza, hepatitis, herpes)
  • Oral diseases (ex. oral cancers)

Early detection of diseases can be used to improve your long-term health outcome and can help restore a sense of wellness in your life. Although salivary tests can provide important genomic information, results should always be discussed with your healthcare practitioner.

Collecting Your DNA from Saliva

How it works is simple. First, the saliva sample is collected by spitting into a container or by an oral swab. A buffering agent is then added to the saliva sample to stabilize your DNA, and ensure the sample is protected during shipping. The lab will then evaluate your DNA and provide you with a detailed explanation of your results within a few weeks.

Ancestry

Discovering your heritage can connect you to a larger community and family who you had not previously known. Not only can it allow you to better understand and cherish your family history, but it can also be used to evaluate your risk for certain diseases. For example, women of Ashkenazi Jewish descent are more likely to be carriers of the BRCA 1 and 2 genes for breast cancer. Learning about your ancestry can help you and your healthcare practitioners in providing you with more customized preventative care.

Steroid Hormone Levels

Monitoring steroid hormone levels in your saliva can be used to diagnose underlying hormonal imbalances, and in assisting with fertility or menstrual cycle tracking. Glands such as the ovaries, testes and adrenals release steroid hormones into the blood.

Most of the steroid hormones that are released travel in the blood bound tightly to carrier proteins, with only a small fraction freely flowing in the bloodstream, or bioavailable.

Unbound steroid hormones are able to freely cross the blood into the salivary glands and then into the saliva. The amount of steroid hormone present within the saliva provides a representation of the hormone levels within the tissue, rather than the bloodstream alone.

Common steroid hormones that are analyzed include:

  • Estradiol
  • Estrone
  • Estriol
  • Progesterone
  • Testosterone
  • DHEA-S
  • Cortisol

Salivary tests assessing hormone levels can benefit individuals across a wide range of health needs. These tests may be used for those who desire to control symptoms of menopause or weight management, optimize hormonal levels for fertility, manage stress related to cortisol levels or diagnose adrenal diseases.

Summary

Salivary testing provides a unique alternative to blood testing that is painless and accessible, without requiring a hospital visit. Saliva can often provide similar results to blood tests, while also providing detailed genetic information that can be used to assess one’s disease risk and ancestry.

Hormone testing from saliva can be used to manage and monitor your health needs, through rapid diagnosis. Through a better understanding of your health and disease risks, greater emphasis can be placed on disease prevention and in maintaining optimal health for the long term.

References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3011946/
  2. http://www.zrtlab.com/sample-types/saliva/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3811231/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5730978/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1579286/
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4470107/
  7. https://www.michaeljfox.org/foundation/grant-detail.php?grant_id=902
  8. http://www.breastcancer.org/research-news/ashkenazi-jews-risk-of-other-genetic-mutations
  9. https://www.23andme.com/
  10. www.pexels.com
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5224962/
  12. http://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/publications/trs916/summary/en/

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Bowhead Health

Bowhead Health believes people can live longer and healthier lives with personalized wellness. We develop diagnostics, dispensing and data management technology