The Symphony of Women’s Hormones
To achieve healthy body equilibrium, it is essential for women’s hormones to be in sync.
Dr. Nedic discusses the key role that integrative medicine plays in identifying the various causes of hormonal imbalance while revealing how it can re-establish harmony in the body.
Well-balanced hormones are essential for body health, as they affect every bodily organ and tissue. The endocrine glands produce hormones that act as messengers, traveling through the bloodstream to instruct various organs on how to function. Receptors in the organs are designed to bind with a specific hormone, and there is also a subtle communication between all hormones. When these processes are in sync, they function and feel like a well-played symphony, presenting the body in a healthy equilibrium.
Why do you feel bad when your hormones are out of balance?
When hormones are balanced, metabolism is stable without any appetite or weight problems, hair is full and shiny, nails are strong, skin is clear, moods are stable, and periods are regular. One also gets adequate sleep, is stress-resilient, has a robust libido and exceptional digestion. Does this not sound like a perfectly harmonious symphony?
However, once hormones are out of sync, the opposite is true as many bodily functions are affected. In such cases, it is confusing what to address first: anxiety and irritability, irregular and painful periods, weight issues, cravings, insomnia, stress, etc. Desperately seeking to circumvent the hormonal imbalance, women see multiple specialists, getting numerous chronic medications, yet continue to experience many symptoms.
How hormones work together
It is essential to understand that our hormones are incredibly vulnerable to unfavorable environmental factors such as toxic chemicals, pesticides, plastics, heavy metals, additives, makeup and cosmetics, alcohol, etc. These factors can be strong enough to alter our body’s hormone level, hence the term endocrine disruptor.
Many pesticides and xenobiotics (xenoestrogens) can mimic estrogen effects as they have a structure that fits on the estrogen receptor. This can cause estrogen dominance and, subsequently, the whole endocrine system malfunction.
Similarly, the high toxic load can affect cortisol levels by adding chemical stress to the body, and increased cortisol can affect almost every hormone.
Thyroid hormones are also overly sensitive to toxin exposure. Pesticides, high mercury, and aluminum toxicity can block T4 (inactive thyroid hormone) conversion into an active form -T3. Many women on thyroid medication can thus still experience all symptoms of low thyroid, despite blood results being normal. Bromide and fluoride toxicity from the environment can additionally affect thyroid hormone production. Therefore, it is especially important to include the toxic load into our thyroid investigations – and not just the isolated thyroid hormones.
Consuming alcohol, by far the biggest endocrine disruptor is sure to lead to some hormone imbalance. This is a challenging area for Integrative medicine doctors, including myself, as patients struggle to comply with advice to avoid alcohol. Studies have shown that just 3 glasses of alcohol daily increase the risk of breast cancer by 40-50% by inhibiting estrogen detoxification.
There are a number of dietary ‘hormone disruptors’ that people unknowingly consume on a daily basis. Non-grass-fed meat and non-organic dairy products contain excess hormones which disrupt the normal human hormonal pathways. Additionally, excess coffee decreases thyroid and growth hormones and increases cortisol and insulin. And lastly, sugar – which, in excess, can have detrimental effects on the hormonal symphony. It increases insulin and cortisol, leading to insulin resistance, high testosterone production in females, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), and even estrogen dominance via aromatization of testosterone. Simply put, sugar is responsible for hormonal chaos!
There is no silver bullet for hormone imbalances. It is a process of education by the integrative medicine physician about the complexity, elimination, and decluttering of endocrine disruptors, failing which, there will be no healthy hormonal balance. This is particularly problematic in the younger generation who are treated with the contraceptive pill to “regulate hormones,” whilst the emphasis should be on removing environmental toxicities.
Hormones constantly communicate with each other to keep the symphony in tune, for example:
Progesterone: The main reason why so many young women struggle with anxiety, heavy periods, cravings, weight gain, painful breasts – the whole PMS spectrum – could be due to low progesterone (not only estrogen dominance). Progesterone is produced in the second phase of the menstrual cycle (in corpus luteum). However, high cortisol levels or low thyroid (low T4-T3 conversion) can impact its production. Addressing cortisol and thyroid is paramount to stimulating healthy ovulation and restoring progesterone production.
Estrogen: High estrogen in the body, especially toxic estrogen metabolites due to insufficient genetic pathways, bad detoxification, gut dysbiosis, and alcohol consumption, can decrease thyroid activity by as much as 35%. Therefore, in addition to estrogen dominance symptoms, a woman will suffer from thyroid symptoms such as morning tiredness, constipation, weight gain, hair loss, stiffness, depression, and low libido.
Cortisol: Very high cortisol levels, as a result of prolonged stress, inhibits all hormone activity including melatonin, growth hormone, thyroid, DHEA, and progesterone. In addition, it increases testosterone production and can contribute to insulin resistance, and therefore causes insomnia, tiredness, depression, infertility, obesity, and PCOS.
It is evident that hormones communicate with each other, which must be considered when trying to keep them in balance. This is particularly important with hormonal replacement therapies. There is simply no medical rationale to replace one hormone if several are missing – a scenario that we frequently see in conventional hormone replacement for age declining hormones. If by the age of 50, estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, DHEA, growth hormone, and thyroid are low, what would be the rationale to only replace estrogen? Before replacing any hormones, a fully integrative approach should be adopted while recognising specific priorities when it comes to the order in which hormones are replaced. For example, an individual with low thyroid may only receive thyroid hormones once ‘cortisol deficiency’ (adrenal fatigue / HPA axis dysregulation) is excluded.
Healthy lifestyle and nutrition
To keep hormones in balance, one should opt for a healthy lifestyle with moderate physical activity, adequate sleep, sufficient natural light during the day, limited night-light exposure, positive emotions, and proper nutrition.
Vitamins, trace elements, and minerals promote the production and effects of many hormones, while a high potassium diet increases growth hormones. Moreover, a high animal protein intake of more than 250g a day strengthens the action of steroid hormones such as DHEA, cortisol, and sex hormones, and can also reduce high insulin levels. Conversely, to optimize thyroid hormone treatment in women with low thyroid, we always need to decrease animal protein intake and increase organic fruit and vegetable intake.
To keep hormone symphony in tune, we always approach each woman with integrative medicine, understanding her unique genetics, toxicities, lifestyle, and nutrition.