Important Hormones for Your Health

OK, today I want to talk about hormones – which ones are important and why. Hormones have just as much impact on your health as the three other big pieces of the puzzle – physical health, mental health and nutrition. Don’t believe me? Well, you will by the end of this, so keep reading! This will be a very broad overview and I haven’t included all hormones, just what I call the big hitters. In later columns, we’ll dive deeper into individual hormones.

Vitamin D
Vitamin D is technically a pro-hormone that we get mainly from being out in the sun. Other sources include cod liver oil, calcium-rich foods, egg yolk and supplementation. Almost everyone is deficient in Vitamin D. I take a Vitamin D. The biggest areas of benefit include significantly decreasing risk of cancer (by blocking progression of pre-cancerous cells) and lowering heart disease rates. It can also improve testosterone levels, calcium absorption, bone health, blood pressure control and lower autoimmune disease rates. It’s one of the first areas I recommend for a quick improved health intervention in most of my patients.

Your thyroid is important, and low levels of thyroid hormones can significantly impact health. Your thyroid regulates metabolism, energy and body temperature. When it’s healthy, it increases protein synthesis, lowers cholesterol, increases fat breakdown and improves cognition. When it’s low, there are over 200 symptoms you could have. The most significant include fatigue, depression, weight gain, dry skin, brittle nails, thin hair, brain ‘fog’, constipation and high cholesterol. Women, especially those ages 40-60, are more prone to low thyroid levels compared to men although we do see it in men as well.

Another common area impacting health is your adrenals (you have two of them – they rest just above your kidneys). When you are startled and have that ‘body shock’ feeling, that’s the adrenals releasing adrenaline. When there is longer term stress, the adrenals release cortisol. When stress continues and cortisol gets depleted, you move towards what we call adrenal fatigue. Unfortunately, due to our inherent culture of go-go-go, adrenal fatigue syndrome is very common. Also, it usually takes a long time (4-12 months) to resolve once addressed. Stress management is a key to reducing your risk for adrenal fatigue and improving your health. We’ll discuss stress management techniques in a later column.

Sex Hormones
Testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone are all considered sex hormones. The name is misleading as these hormones are definitely not just about sex. That’s not even how the word sex is meant here. Anyway, I could go on for many moons on this subject as I’m passionate about it but we’ll hit some highlights here. In general, women need estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. Men need testosterone and estrogen. People usually think of testosterone as only for men and estrogen as only for women but that’s not the case. Men and women need estrogen and testosterone to benefit their health but the levels needed are different. As an aside, sex hormone optimization is complex and you need a healthcare provider who specializes in this to address and manage it properly as there are risks to mismanagement. Testosterone helps your body with sex drive, erections (in men), muscle strength, mood, energy, bone strength, as well as decreasing heart disease, cholesterol and diabetes risks to name a few benefits. Estrogen and progesterone can affect mood, sex drive, breast growth (particularly in women), urinary tract infection risk, cholesterol, bone strength, cognition, Alzheimer’s risk, skin health and sleep…again, to name just a few areas. Progesterone, in particular, is good at helping with sleep.

For women, these sex hormones can be deficient before menopause, but definitely deficient after. Ten to fifteen years ago, there was concern for hormone replacement after menopause and several post-menopausal women abruptly stopped hormone replacement. We now know that likely put them in a higher health risk category than if they’d stayed on them. Also, since then, we’ve learned more and really see where there’s a benefit in maintaining these hormone levels with appropriate surveillance by a qualified healthcare provider.

For men, testosterone in particular got a bad rap 4-8 years ago with a concern for worsening heart disease risk, and historically there has been a concern for prostate cancer risk. We will address these individually at length in upcoming columns but the short of it is this: there does not appear to be an increased risk for prostate cancer with normal compared to low testosterone levels (the data actually shows an increase incidence in the low testosterone groups) and, in most patients, there’s an improvement in heart health and lowering of heart disease risk with normal testosterone levels compared to low (similar to above, the data points towards increased heart disease risk at low testosterone levels compared to normal).

I know I threw a lot at you here, but that’s a super-high bird’s eye look at the impact of hormones on health. Keeping hormone levels optimized naturally, or if needed through supplementation, improves your chance for more functional years and an improved quality of life!

Dr. Thomas is a board-certified physician who operates Complete Health Integrative Wellness Clinic and Thomas Urology Clinic in Starkville, Mississippi.

This column is for informational purposes only and is, under no circumstances, intended to constitute medical advice or to create or continue a physician-patient relationship. If you have a medical emergency, you should immediately seek care from your nearest emergency room, and if you have specific health questions, you should consult your own physician.


Four Big Areas That Affect Your Health

My dad had a triple bypass when I was a first-year medical student, or M1 as we call it.  I remember the months leading up to the day.  My father was (and still is) a big hunter and I remember us walking through the woods and he’d have to stop, as he said, ‘to catch his breath’.  Sometimes he’d even stop and act like there was something he wanted to look at or listen to there in the woods but we both knew he just couldn’t breathe and he had to stop.  He’s like me and every other Mississippi man – when it comes to our health, we’re going to rationalize away and be in denial eventually to the point of crisis.  As his shortness of breath got worse, he visited his family doc and a chest x-ray revealed fluid on his lungs which led to a visit to the cardiologist.  Turns out it was his heart.

Your heart is the pump for your body, bringing blood in and pushing blood out.  Ironically, my father worked as an electrician on pumps at a local paper mill!  Anyway, his pump wasn’t working and fluid was backing up.  I was in Jackson in medical school and getting most of these updates from my mom.  When she said he would need open heart surgery, I rushed over to Meridian to see him.  He was justifiably nervous and, interestingly, in that life crisis moment, as much as he loves hunting, he made me promise to sell all his guns to make sure my mother could pay the bills if he didn’t make it through surgery.

As they whisked him down the long, sterile hall towards the operating room, I settled into an uncomfortable chair, pulled out a highlighter and tried my darnedest to read Guyton and Hall’s Textbook of Medical Physiology and not think about my dad.  The surgery and recovery yielded a couple of hiccups but ultimately he rebounded and has done reasonably well since that scare in 2003 although his heart is still not in great shape and he takes a potpourri of medications now to adjust for that.  I look back and reflect on this life crisis for him.  He loves hunting just about as much as the rhinestone cowboy loved rhinestones (another family story for another day)!  In that moment, though, he was willing to give it all up to ensure the long term safety of his family.  It got me thinking.  Why does it take a crisis for us to flesh out and act on our highest priorities?  This question is difficult to answer so, just ponder it for your own life – are you stuck in the everyday or are you looking at and prioritizing for the big picture?

As it turns out, that crisis was a turning point for me as well.  It planted the seed of thinking what I could do for my family, present and future, to make sure I stay healthy to be there and provide for them.  The answer is one word: prevention.  My grandfather (my dad’s dad) died of a massive heart attack in his early 50’s.  My father had open heart surgery at age 53.  I knew the statistics.  Genetically, I was at increased risk simply from the cards I was dealt.  This, as we call it in the South, come to Jesus moment for my father turned out to have the same effect on me.  I was starting to learn more about medicine and I picked up on other factors – like that my dad was diagnosed with diabetes eight years prior.  How he then acquired what we call metabolic syndrome.  How all of this was a predictable unfolding revelation leading up to his open heart surgery.  I realize now that while sitting in that hospital with my yellow highlighter, waiting (and praying) for him to get out of surgery, I made a vow to myself to learn more about prevention.  I didn’t want to get to the point my father or grandfather was in their 50’s.

Through years of study, I’ve found four big areas that impact your health and wellness.  Let me say this as an aside – it’s not just one thing.  Yes, diet is important but it’s not the only thing.  Yes, sleep is important but it’s not this only thing.  And exercise and supplements and so on.  Your body is beautifully complicated and anyone selling a one-size-fits-all or do-this-one-thing approach to health and wellness is someone to stay away from.  The four key areas of importance are physical, mental, nutritional and hormonal health.  Each area has several subcategories.  To name a few, physical health includes exercise and sleep.  Mental health includes areas like stress management, time management, self-confidence, and mind-body medicine.  Healthy eating and supplements fall under nutrition.  And there are several hormones that make a big difference in your health.

I started my own journey with consistent exercise.  I was able to maintain it over time because it flat out made me feel better and I had more energy.  What was your starting point to better health and wellness?  What will it be starting this week?  This weekly column will address key topics within those four health and wellness categories to move you towards a better lifestyle.  It is not a door.  It’s a road.  I’m passionate about the journey!  Will you walk the road with me?!

Dr. Thomas is a board-certified physician who operates Complete Health Integrative Wellness Clinic and Thomas Urology Clinic in Starkville, Mississippi.

This newspaper column is for informational purposes only and is, under no circumstances, intended to constitute medical advice or to create or continue a physician-patient relationship.  If you have a medical emergency, you should immediately seek care from your nearest emergency room, and if you have specific health questions, you should consult your own physician.

MHA Names OCH Administrator to Board of Governors

The Mississippi Hospital Association recently named Richard G. Hilton, Administrator/Chief Executive Officer of OCH Regional Medical Center, to serve on the Board of Governors as the Prairie Council Representative through June 2020.  This is Hilton’s second time to be appointed to the Board.

Hilton has a long tenure with OCH, serving as the Chief Financial Officer/Associate Administrator from March 1983 to February 2012, when he was named CEO/Administrator by the OCH Board of Trustees.

An active member of MHA, Hilton currently serves on several MHA committees including retirement oversite, political action, and Medicaid advisory committees.

Hilton has also been involved in the Prairie Hospital Council, MHA Quarter Century Executive Forum, and currently serves on the Board for the North Mississippi Trauma System as the treasurer and for Vizient Gulf States Region. In 2010, Governor Haley Barbour appointed Hilton to the Mississippi Hospital and Equipment Facility Authority (MHEFA) Board of Directors, representing the 3rd Supreme Court District.  Hilton is also a Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives (FACHE) and has been a member of the Hospital Financial Management Association and the American Hospital Association since 1983.

Serving on the board of directors of the Greater Starkville Partnership Development and as a member of the Starkville Rotary Club, Hilton is very active in his community.  His philanthropic efforts also extend beyond the United States. He and his wife, LaRue, are the founders of Family Life Missions Inc., a benevolent ministry operating children’s homes in Catacamas, Honduras, where he served as president/CEO and board chairman from 1992-2005.

Hilton holds a B.S. in business administration from Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas, and an M.S. in hospital and health administration from the University of Alabama in Birmingham. He and his wife have seven children and 13 grandchildren.


OCH Center for Breast Health & Imaging Adds Surgeon, Expands Access to Care


OCH Regional Medical Center is pleased to announce Charles “Chip” Wall, MD, FACS, to its medical staff and the OCH Center for Breast Health & Imaging.  Dr. Wall is a breast-health specialist and will provide increased access to care as he joins Travis Methvin, DO, and Dana Brooks, FNP-C. 

“My family and I are so excited to be coming home to Mississippi and joining the team at OCH,” said Dr. Wall.  “Being able to come to an established breast center that’s affiliated with a hospital that offers so much to its community is an incredible opportunity. I love getting to know my patients, and I look forward to continuing the excellent care Dr. Methvin, Dana and the entire staff provide to the Center’s patients.” 

Fellowship trained in surgical breast oncology, Dr. Wall most recently worked at the Alabama Breast Center in Montgomery. He received his bachelor of arts degree from the University of Mississippi and his medical degree from the University of Mississippi School of Medicine.  He completed his internship and surgical residency at Mercer University School of Medicine, where he became a member of Alpha Omega Alpha honorary medical society and received the Resident Achievement Award for both surgical resident of the year and overall resident of the year in 2006.  After practicing as a general surgeon in Hattiesburg for seven years, Dr. Wall moved to Dallas, Texas, to pursue fellowship training in surgical breast oncology at the University of Texas Southwestern, which he completed in 2015.

“We are really excited to be adding Dr. Wall to our practice,” said Dr. Methvin.  “Dr. Wall comes with high recommendations and is highly respected in his field. We look forward to being able to continue to care for the breast health needs of this region in a compassionate and timely manner.”

The Center for Breast Health & Imaging provides digital mammography, breast ultrasound, stereotactic breast biopsy, breast MRI, and other such breast health services.

Dr. Wall is certified by the American Board of Surgery and is a member of the American Society of Breast Surgeons, Sealy Surgical Society, and American College of Surgeons.  He also holds the honor of being a Fellow of American College of Surgeons.  He and his wife, Rachel, have three children.

For additional information or to make an appointment with Dr. Wall, call (662) 615-3800.



OCH Job Shadowing Day Offers Students a First-Hand Look at Careers in Healthcare

          OCH RegiDSCN3791onal Medical Center is excited to announce a career shadowing opportunity on Wednesday, July 26 from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. Students who are at least 16 years-of-age and have completed the 10th grade level or higher are welcome to participate.

            This experience is observation-only and will include following a healthcare professional for the day and learning the responsibilities and rewards of a career in healthcare. Opportunities are available in clinical and non-clinical areas, with DSCN3786spots filled on a first-come, first-served basis. 

            Lunch will be provided for attendees.  Those interested in the shadowing program should contact the human resources department no later than Wednesday, July 19 by calling 662-615-2507 or 662-615-2511 Monday – Friday from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.

OCH to Host American Lung Association’s Asthma Educator Institute

OCH Regional Medical Center will host the American Lung Association’s Asthma Educator Institute Thursday, July 20 and Friday, July 21 from 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. each day. This is a two-day preparatory course for those qualified to take the National Asthma Educator Certification Board (NAECB) examination.

Developed in January 2003, the Asthma Educator Institute was recently updated to reflect the National Asthma Education and Prevention Program Expert Panel Report 3: Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Asthma. The curriculum covers the content outlined in the NAECB Candidate Handbook and includes case reviews, hands-on skills demonstration and practice. The course is delivered by asthma experts in the community, including Certified Asthma Educators (AE-C).

“This course is a top-notch program that we are so happy to bring to OCH and our community,” said OCH Respiratory Therapist and Certified Asthma Educator Eddie High. “The material covered over the two-day period will not only increase the participants’ knowledge about asthma, but it will also build confidence in asthma educators so that they can better care for their patients.”

This course will take place at OCH located at 400 Hospital Road in Starkville. The course is funded by the Mississippi State Department of Health Asthma Programs and is free to participants; however, registration is limited to 40 and is on a first-come, first-served basis. Registration deadline is Friday, July 14.  To register, visit  Attendees must participate in the full two day course to receive the continuing education hours.


OCH Receives Gold Standard of Excellence in Nursing Award

Hurst Ratings and Analytics has recognized the nursing staff at OCH Regional Medical Center with The Hurst Gold Standard of Nursing Award for achieving excellence in quality nursing, which significantly contributes to the hospital’s overall patient satisfaction rating. 

“Being recognized with The Hurst Gold Standard of Nursing Award is an honor for our nursing staff and hospital,” said Richard Hilton, Administrator/CEO of OCH. “Receiving this award demonstrates the level of dedication and commitment to quality patient care that our patients, their families, and the community can expect at our Medical Center.”DSCN4749

Nurse communication directly impacts outcomes and hospital patient satisfaction ratings. Hurst Ratings and Analytics reviews key quality indicators from HCAHPS surveys specific to hospital nursing services in the categories of nurse communication, staff responsiveness, medication communication, pain management, discharge information, and care transition. 

The Hurst Gold Standard of Nursing Award is given to hospital nursing staffs that achieve top tier weighted scores, significantly above the national average on these performance measures.

“Nurses make up the majority of hospital staff and are the primary providers of patient care in our hospital,” said OCH CNO Martha Fulcher, DNP, MSN, RNC.  “Around the clock, they not only attend to patients’ clinical needs, but they also provide emotional support for patients and their families. It is wonderful that nurses are being celebrated, and we are grateful to Hurst for honoring our staff with this special award.”

DSCN4756“As experienced nurses, we know the hard work and dedication it takes to achieve the highest standards of patient care,” said Marlene Hurst, RN MS CCRN ANP-C, founder of Hurst Review Services. “Our congratulations to the nursing staff, and we hope to see the great work continue.”

  For more information about Hurst Ratings and Analytics, visit



OCH Receives an “A” for Patient Safety in Spring 2017


hss-grade-a-2016            The Leapfrog Group, a nonprofit organization committed to driving quality, safety, and transparency in the U.S. health care system, today released new Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grades, which assign A, B, C, D and F letter grades to hospitals nationwide. OCH Regional Medical Center was one of 823 hospitals nationwide and one of 13 in the state to receive an “A” for its commitment to reducing errors, infections, and accidents that can harm patients.

            “This ‘A’ rating from Leapfrog is a reflection of the hard work by our entire staff,” said OCH Administrator/CEO Richard Hilton. “Patient quality and safety is an on-going process, and we believe in continually monitoring performance in order to improve patient care and outcomes.  When benchmarked with larger Mississippi hospitals, OCH performs very well, and we are proud of the safe, quality care we provide to our patients every day.”

            “Hospitals that earn top marks nationally in the Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grade, ‘have achieved the highest safety standards in the country,” said Leah Binder, president and CEO of The Leapfrog Group. “That takes commitment from every member of the hospital staff, who all deserve thanks and congratulations when their hospitals achieve an ‘A’ Safety Grade.”

            Developed under the guidance of an Expert Panel, the Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grade uses 30 measures of publicly available hospital safety data to assign A, B, C, D and F grades to more than 2,600 U.S. hospitals twice per year. It is calculated by top patient safety experts, peer-reviewed, fully transparent and free to the public.


MSU Researchers Partner with OCH to Reduce Hospital Readmissions with Freezer Meals

Mississippi State University and OCH Regional Medical Center are working together to find out if freezer meals could help reduce hospital readmission rates. The purpose of the study, “Meals Enhancing Nutrition after Discharge” or “MEND”, evaluates the efficacy and feasibility of a frozen meal program designed to improve nutritional intake and reduce hospital readmissions for older adults who have been recently discharged from the hospital and are at a higher risk for poor nutritional status. While some might find it strange and even a bit far-reaching to connect freezer meals with fewer hospital readmissions, MSU researcher Dr. David R. Buys and OCH Registered Dietitian Nicky Yeatman, RD, LD, CDE, believe it’s worth a try.

“The most critical time after discharge are those first few days back at home,” said Dr. Buys.  “Research shows when older adults go home from the hospital, many are living on a fixed income and having to make the decision to either get their prescriptions filled or purchase food. These meals are intended to bridge the gap from the hospital to the later phase of recovery,” explained Dr. Buys.

The program begins with OCH Registered Dietitians identifying patients who fit the criteria for the study, and those patients are given the opportunity to voluntarily participate or opt out. Participants are then contacted by a researcher from the university who conducts further assessments at the bedside and continues to track the patient’s progress over 45 days.  A total of 24 older adults will be selected for the study, with half of the group receiving standard of care nutrition education and the other half receiving the education plus 10 frozen meals provided by Morrison Health Care.

“In the first two days of this study, Nicky called with two patients who were willing to participate,” said Dr. Buys.  “OCH is a very friendly environment and logistically, the employees there have made it very easy to conduct this study. We could’ve partnered with a larger hospital, but we wanted to work with our hometown hospital.”

“Being involved in this study is a great opportunity not just for our hospital but also for our patients,” said Yeatman.  “So often, this population of people with medical conditions return home from the hospital without much family support, and they don’t feel like cooking a healthy meal so they eat canned soups and meats with a high sodium content.  These frozen meals are not only nutritionally balanced and low in fat and sodium, but they also taste good so patients will actually eat them.”

This program may not only prove beneficial for patients, but it could also keep hospitals from losing reimbursement.  In October 2012, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services began penalizing hospitals with excessive readmissions by reducing Medicare payments. Excess readmissions are measured by dividing a hospital’s number of “predicted” 30-day readmissions for heart attack, heart failure, pneumonia, hip/knee replacement, and COPD by the number that would be “expected,” based on an average hospital with similar patients.  While OCH Regional Medical Center’s readmission rates are lower than other hospitals in the area, Yeatman said it’s important to identify and address contributing factors for readmissions.

“Studies show poor nutrition is a significant risk of hospital readmissions within 30 days of discharge, so we’re hoping this program can intervene and help decrease those numbers. If this study proves beneficial for patients and lowers readmission rates, hospitals may be willing to invest in this type of frozen meal program,” explained Yeatman.

Dr. Buys explained this study is considered a feasibility trial and services by Morrison and OCH have been provided “in kind.”  He said if this study proves to be successful, further research will be conducted.

“I wanted to find out if this program is even feasible before requesting the funds for this type of project at a larger scale,” said Dr. Buys.  “Sending patients home with meals is not a magic bullet, but it does address one of a cadre of issues. With hospital stays being shorter than ever before, our goal is to send patients home with the resources they need to make a full recovery.”


OCH Wound Healing & Hyperbaric Center Recognized with National Award

             The OCH Wound Healing & Hyperbaric Center has been recognized as a Center of Distinction, aIMG_6268 national award for clinical excellence, given by Healogics, the nation’s leading and largest wound care management company. 

            “This award was achieved by our entire team working together to provide advanced, personalized care to our patients,” said Caroline Hearnsberger, program director.  “Our focus is not just on healing wounds, but also providing a better quality of life for our patients.”

            In its first full year of operation, the OCH Wound Healing & Hyperbaric Center provided over 3,000 treatments to more than 350 patients. The Center achieved outstanding clinical outcomes for 12 consecutive months, including patient satisfaction higher than 92% and a wound healing rate of at least 91% in less than 31 median days. Out of 630 Centers eligible for the Center of Distinction award, 334 achieved this honor in 2017.

            “Receiving this prestigious award is further evidence of the quality care that our patients consistently receive,” said Richard Hilton, OCH Regional Medical Center Administrator/CEO.  “By providing this program that’s the only one of its kind in our area, we are empowering patients to take control of their health and receive the care they need right here at home.”

            The Center is a member of the Healogics network of nearly 800 Centers, with access to benchmarking data and proven experience treating approximately 2.5 million chronic wounds.  Located inside OCH Regional Medical Center, the Wound Healing & Hyperbaric Center offers highly specialized wound care to patients suffering from diabetic ulcers, pressure ulcers, infections and other chronic wounds which have not healed in a reasonable amount of time. Some of the leading-edge treatments offered at the Center include negative pressure wound therapy, debridement, application of cellular-based tissue or skin substitutes to the wound, offloading or total contact casts and hyperbaric oxygen therapy.

            Patients do not need a referral from a physician to make an appointment.  For more information, call 662-615-2791 or visit the web page


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