Hormones. If you don’t happen to think hormones make huge changes in your body, just think about puberty. Do you remember puberty? Do you remember how emotional you were? Your body was sort of a mess from time to time, either with cramps, pimples or oiliness? During those times, we thought we were doing something wrong, but for the most part, it was just a natural change in our bodies.
Hormone changes are a natural thing that happens for both women and men. From puberty to pregnancy, to perimenopause and post menopause, and the little heard of andropause; during these times, there are drastic things that happen to our bodies. I hope to touch on a few of these, and give a brief explanation for what is going on. I am not going to address puberty or pregnancy, except to say that we can clearly see the effects of our hormones on everything from our physical appearance to our mood swings. I will start with men, because their issues are a bit more straightforward. Then I will address perimenopause, and postmenopause, because women and men both have traditionally had so little support in these phases of life. Still today, women over 40 are often prescribed strong narcotics to “stabilize their moods”, or help them with depression. I hope in the following article, you will realize there are better options.
Testing. If you have either a mix of symptoms and are confused, or you just want to know for sure, there are saliva and blood tests for these hormones. Since adrenal issues (cortisol) and thyroid issues can also increase or add to symptoms, it may be helpful to have those also tested. There are some resources at the end of the article for testing. However, do your research, this area can get pretty confusing, since hormones affect each other.
Men have hormonal changes, too. We often think of women with hormone changes, but often forget what they do to men. Remember, boys are also very strongly effected by puberty.
Testosterone is the hormone that affects men the most. It helps them build muscle, stay lean, recover faster and even produce more red blood cells. So when that decreases, they are challenged with having to fight the belly fat, don’t recover as well from exercise or stress, and they can even get depressed.
Not only that, men can also be affected by too much estrogen, which can negate any testosterone supplements, so even they may be benefited by getting their estrogen levels tested as well as their testosterone. It is just as important for men to know what is happening in their bodies.
Both men and women are helped by improving their overall lifestyle; from diet to stress and exercise. At the end of this article, there are ideas for improving lifestyle factors as well as herbal supplements for men. Some of the resources listed can also be valuable for men.
Women and the Peri-menopause years:
When we reach our mid 40’s or sometimes earlier or later, (it can happen as early as mid 30’s), changes in our hormone levels cause some changes in our bodies. Most of us are done having children. Remember puberty? Well, welcome to what I call “reverse puberty”. That is basically what menopause is, it is the reverse of being able to be pregnant, with all the hormone changes in reverse. Except now we have so many people and things in our lives that depend on us (at 12, we depended on our parents, for the most part). We also have the baggage of years of bad eating habits, emotional turmoil, traumas both physical and emotional, as well as stress. We are going through a huge transition, and for most women it take 5 – 10 years to do it. For those who have hysterectomies, they have about 12 hours to go through it, so it hits them so incredibly hard.
At this time, our main hormones affected are estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. Our estrogen and progesterone levels start dropping, but our progesterone drops faster than the estrogen, causing an imbalance in these two hormones. Our adrenal glands start producing a form of estrogen, to alleviate the drop in this hormone, but it doesn’t always get the timing correct, causing estrogen levels to go really high or really low, which can cause both estrogen dominance and low estrogen symptoms.
Some of the symptoms you experience from peri-menopause can give you an idea of what the issue is. If you look at the following list of symptoms for high estrogen (which can also just mean low progesterone), and low estrogen, you can see which one might be your problem.
Symptoms of high estrogen:
rapid weight gain
tenderness in the breast
gallstones (estrogen concentrates the cholesterol in the gall bladder)
thyroid effected—low thyroid (estrogen can block TSH receptors)
Symptoms of low estrogen:
hot flashes/night sweats
So, we women go to the doctors complaining that we are depressed, stressed, anxious and want them to fix it. We also want our hot flashes to go away. But the doctors can only try to treat the symptoms. If a woman is depressed, the doctor gives them anti depressants, so women take them, thinking it will “fix” their problem. Then there are those who are anxious, and those who are both. So the doctors give them something for all of that. Zoloft, Xanex, and whatever the latest drug the drug companies have produced, because we want to feel better. No guilt or blame here, it is normal in our society to go to the doctor to feel better. However, the side affects of these drugs often lead to a huge downward cascade of general health. I once had a friend that went to the doctor because she was very depressed. He gave her an anti-depressant and she gained 30 pounds in two months. What do you think that did for her depression? Many of these drugs are strong narcotics which are meant to only be used in the short run. If someone needs them to get over something traumatic, or an acute problem they can be a life saver. However, they are not designed as long term solutions. Long term solutions need to support the body and restore it’s natural balance.
There are several different directions women can go to support their bodies and lessen the symptoms of perimenopause. Here are some ideas for you to research and see what may feel “right” for you:
Progesterone for perimenoause:
In his book What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Menopause, Dr. Lee made the use of natural source progesterone a popular solution to turn to. Many wonderful companies stepped up to provide good quality progesterone that can be found “over the counter”, because the dose is a gentle dose for most people with lowering levels of that hormone. Over the years, I have seen women greatly helped by these products, but I have also seen women who were not helped at all. It can help greatly with the mood swings, but it doesn’t help everyone.
For those of you who suffer from migrains, Dr Christine Northrup says that premenstural migraine happen as a result of low progesterone. This is just something you can try for yourself.
Amy has had great support from homeopathy, and a great resource for this is a website: homeopathyforwomen.org. Search your symptoms and you can find great support not just for homeopathic remedies, but lots of great information, too.
During the fun times after menopause, we have all of our hormones dropping to a lower level. Estrogens, progesterone, and testosterone even in women) all have significant reductions.
Some of the side effects of these low hormone levels are:
dry skin, dry hair
Depending on your symptoms, there are different approaches you can take. Besides some of the herbal remedies and lifestyle changes I list later, another approach that has become popular is to take bio-identical hormones.
First let me tell you what bio-identical hormones are:
Bio-identical hormones —are derived from naturally occurring sources, such as yams and soy, and are designed to replicate the same chemical structure as the hormones that are produced naturally by our bodies.
Bio-identical hormones are more natural to the chemical makeup of the hormones our bodies produce.
I know that bio-identical hormones are very controversial. Should I mess with these hormones? What are the side effects? You need to do your research and make your own decisions.
First of all, you will either need to get a doctor who specializes in bio-identical hormone therapy, or you need to really do your research. Either way, you will need some testing done that will help identify the hormones that are deficient or dominant. Sometimes doctors work a lot with what your worst symptoms are, to try to alleviate those first. They will also stress the lifestyle aspects of your health, your diet, stress, toxins; everything I mention below. Sometimes you can alleviate some of your worst symptoms just by these lifestyle/habit changes and a few over the counter supplements and herbs. However, if your symptoms are enough for you to seek advice of a doctor, be prepared, the tests and the doctors may be a bit expensive. You have to weigh the costs and benefits to see if it is worth the investment. However, if you are taking prescription medications for your symptoms, you may want to calculate the long term health consequences of those medications.
Bio-identical hormones have not been used for a long time, so the long term results are not known. The FDA would rather you use their “approved drugs” that have been shown to cause cancer, but say you are running a risk with these new products. Do we have any long term studies? Not really. Suzanne Sommers has written books about the wonders of bio-identical hormones and their benefits. So when it is your time, do the research and make the decision that fits you.
Just to note: I have friends who have started bio-identical hormones before menopause and feel much better. They have struggled with severe issues without any solution, and found it worth whatever risk they may have to deal with down the line. When your doctor wants to prescribe Zoloft or some other narcotic, bio-identical hormones don’t seem so dangerous in the long run.
Suggestions for Hormone Support:
Here are some ideas to get you started. All the factors that we have talked about in the past still play a huge roll in your overall health, as well as your hormone health. In the past we have talked about diet, foods to avoid, food sensitivities, toxins and how to reduce them, reducing stress, exercise and attitude or mind set. These factors not only affect your overall health, they also affect your hormone health; and your hormone health also affects your overall health.
Lifestyle ideas for both men and women:
Move your body:
The endocrine system is a very vascular system, so blood flow is very important in keeping it healthy. Stagnation is a bad thing in this case, and movement is important. It doesn’t have to be a cross fit workout daily; just walking is a great way to improve the blood flow. Simple things like this in our day are actually essential to overall good health. Make sure you have a self care practice.
Lifestyle changes to help with excess estrogen in both men and women:
- Reduce your stress load. I know it doesn’t sound easy, but there are things you can do to reduce the effects of stress on your body.
2. Reduce toxins/endocrine disruptors/xeno-estrogens
Do NOT heat foods in plastic!
Don’t cook in Teflon pans!
Remember the toxin factor of xenoestrogens, they block the estrogen receptors, but don’t do the work of an estrogen. We need something that will actually do what an estrogen is supposed to do.
3. Reduce synthetic estrogens
birth control pills
hormone replacement therapy
hormones in conventional meat and dairy
4. Eliminate Soy protein isolates (soy in general, too)
non GMO fermented soy products are ok (miso, natto, tempe)
Support your body with a good diet to support healthy hormones:
1. Eat cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, kale, collard greens, even seaweed)
2. Eat green vegetables for the potassium (important electrolyte)
3. Eat plenty of healthy fats (avoid rancid oils)
(hormones are made from cholesterol!) but don’t get carried away.
avocado, olives, real olive oil, coconut oil, nuts and seeds
4. Liver enhancing foods
lemon juice, greens, vegetables (organic if possible)
5. Limit refined sugars and flours (avoid white powders!)
Supplements and herbs to consider:
Herbalists, those who study herbal remedies, traditionally have several suggestions for hormone imbalance. The ones that I have heard repeatedly are:
Black cohosh (hot flashes)
One note: never take estrogen without opposing progesterone! That is what they think went wrong with birth control pills and HRT causing cancer.
Some other things you can take to support your body during this time are:
Iodine—it supports your thyroid and blood cells
DHEA—it is an androgen support and can help increase energy levels
Pine pollen tincture (helps with testosterone)
Iodine (sea kelp) increases testosterone
ZRT labs: zrtlab.com
There is some great information on this site as well.
Bio-identical hormone MD:
Dr Warner: bodylogicmd.com
Dr Dinklemann (Wood River): (618) 254-2260
Tiffanie Jones, ND (St Louis): DrTiffanieJones.com
Dr Axe website: draxe.com
Dr Berg website: drberg.com
YouTube videos: Hormones Made Simple—Webinars Pts 1 – 3
Symptom checker, by Dr. Lee: http://www.johnleemd.com/hormone-balance-test-symptom-checker.html
What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Menopause, by Dr John Lee
Trim Healthy Mama, by Serene Allison and Pearl Barrett
Ageless, The Naked Truth About Bio-Identical Hormones, by Suzanne Summers
Life Extension Magazine, support for men: http://www.lifeextension.com/Protocols/Male-Reproductive/Male-Hormone-Restoration/Page-les