Why Are My Hormones Out Of Whack? - Blog # 57
Hello Everyone! Welcome back to another Friday blog. Today I wanted to take a look at our hormones, hormone imbalance and what we can do to fix it. Hormones, including thyroid, sex, and stress affect many aspects of our health. There are over 50 different hormones made by the human body, and as we get older our hormone balance can get out of whack. Low thyroid affects women more than men and is under-diagnosed about 50% of the time. Pesticides, herbicides and heavy metals impact our thyroid function. As we age our sex hormone ratios get out of balance. Many of our hormone levels drop, like growth hormone, sex hormones and melatonin levels that lead to weight-gain, loss of muscle mass and sleep issues. Have you ever noticed how aging couples start looking like each other? Men start to lose hair, gain belly fat and get man-boobs and women gain weight, lose hair on their heads while growing hair on their faces and other unwanted places. Contrary to what you are thinking, this is not normal!! After age 40 most of us lose muscle mass and bone density, gain weight and enter a pathway of slow decline until we die. What if we can reverse this process and balance our hormones without medications, maintain bone density and muscle mass? Let’s delve in!
Estrogens are a group of hormones produced by the adrenal glands, fat tissue, ovaries and testis. “In women, estrogen is the main sex hormone in charge or puberty and fertility. Outside of these roles it also helps to control cholesterol levels, improve bone health and affect the brain, heart, skin, blood vessels and other body tissues.” There are 3 types of estrogen: estradiol (primary estrogen pre-menopause), estriol (only with pregnancy) and estrone (post-menopause). Estrone is the weakest form of estrogen. Estrogens can be synthesized from tissues other than the ovaries and adrenal glands. They can be made from fat cells, male sex hormones and even skin cells. The enzyme amomatase, catalyzes the conversion of steroids to estrogen. It is required for estrogen production and is found in ovarian granulomatous cells, placenta, fat, skin, bone, as well as brain tissue.
“Aromatase expression in adipose tissue and possibly the skin primarily accounts for the extraglandular (peripheral) formation of estrogen and increases as a function of body weight and advancing age.” Increased production of estrogen, aromatization to estrone followed by subsequent reduction to estradiol can be sufficient to “cause uterine bleeding, endometrial hyperplasia and cancer in obese anovulatory or postmenopausal women.” Aromatase is also highly involved in determining sex in the developing fetus. Men with insufficient estrogen tend to gain weight around their abdomen and have low sexual desire. So both men and women need sufficient estrogen to experience peak physical fitness!
Many of the symptoms women experience around menopause can be really uncomfortable and hard to manage. Hot flashes, insomnia, night-sweats, weight-gain, irritability, depression, osteoporosis and many other symptoms befall us. Our metabolism slows down, we gain weight, we are hungry more frequently, tired and exhausted and have more brain fog. Low estrogen levels recently have been tied to Alzheimer’s Disease, which is more prevalent in women. We reach for that glass of wine every night to calm our nervous system and relieve stress. Many of these symptoms are actually biomarkers of much more serious problems, such as dysfunction of our blood vessels as well as bone loss. Traditional western medicine has normalized this. When we talk to our MD about it, they usually say “it’s normal, you are getting older.” If your symptoms are really bad, sometimes they will give you estrogen or progesterone. However, giving these hormone replacements increases your risk of breast cancer and stroke. Not always a good solution and doesn’t address the root cause of the imbalance!!
“Menopausal hormone therapy (MHT) has been used to counteract the drop in estrogen during menopause and lessen symptoms. However, this therapy negatively affects the fatty acid profiles of these individuals. A study published in 2019 looked at 156 healthy women and determined MHT elevates saturated fatty acids (SFAs) and decreases unsaturated fatty acids (UFAs), thus increasing the risks of cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance, NAFLD (non-alcoholic fatty liver disease) and other metabolic diseases.” To further complicate things, as estrogen is broken down through aerobic metabolism, they become either “good” metabolites and have anti-oxidant properties, or “bad” and are tied to cancer and weight-gain.
When your body’s sex hormones are not balanced, women can have the following symptoms of “estrogen dominance” including:
- swelling and tenderness in your breasts
- fibrocystic lumps in your breasts
- decreased sex drive
- irregular menstrual periods
- increased symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
- mood swings
- anxiety and panic attacks
- weight gain
- hair loss
- cold hands or feet
- trouble sleeping
- sleepiness or fatigue
- memory problems
Then, factor in stress. Stress hormones, such as cortisol, increase heart rate, blood pressure and down-regulate metabolism. We have all been under so much more stress since the pandemic started with separation from friends and family, political conflict, financial problems, our job or lack of a job, and even isolation. We are designed to function very well under short-term stress, but not long-term. With short-term stress, cortisol turns off digestion and turns on the fight-or-flight mode. Adrenalin and norepinephrine kick in to allow us to run away from a dangerous situation. The problem is long-term or chronic stress. Cortisol and other stress hormone levels remain too high, affecting our metabolism, brain function, nervous system, cardiovascular system and digestive system. Unless we are actively working to manage stress, cortisol is an issue for just about everyone. It is the reason many of us reach for that glass or two of wine every night to “de-stress” and try to calm our nervous systems.
So, why are we experiencing such a high level of hormonal imbalance here in the U.S.? Could it be from the conventional dairy or meat we are eating that is chock full of hormones? Did you know that there are more than 60 different hormones (growth hormones, estrogens, progesterones…) just in conventional milk? Our body has to process, get rid of and manage these dietary hormones, as well as the endogenous hormones made by our bodies. Not to mention antibiotics, pesticides, herbicides, GMO, plastics, phalates, PCBs, dioxins, flame retardants and forever chemicals like PFAs (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) that have found their way into so many things. These chemicals negatively affect our hormones and cause hormone imbalance. They affect our metabolism and cause major issues with the thyroid.
To complicate this issue, roughly 30% of low thyroid function is due to gluten. Seriously??? “The molecular structure of gliadin, the protein portion of gluten, closely resembles that of the thyroid gland. When gliadin breaches the protective barrier of the gut, and enters the bloodstream, the immune system tags it for destruction.” The resulting symptoms can be missed because they may present as joint pain or inflammation, respiratory tract, brain and skin problems. So, the food we are eating is actually causing the problem.
Further, when we eat the hybridized high-gluten wheat grown here in the U.S., a chemical called zonulin is released. Zonulin triggers the tight-junctions in the intestinal lining to open, allowing intestinal contents to leak out into our body. What happens? Infections from microbes and even sewage, inflammation, migration of these harmful molecules into other areas of the body. Researchers found increased bacterial endotoxin and LPS (lipopolysaccharides) that have migrated from the gut into the menstrual fluid of patients with endometriosis. So, our microbiome and health of our gut lining is of utmost importance. Even if you have no symptoms of gluten intolerance, you can be causing a lot of damage to your gut without realizing it. Individuals with T2D (type 2 diabetes) and metabolic syndrome have high levels of zonulin.
It’s no wonder that our hormones get out of whack. Check out blog #13 on hormones. So what can we do to balance these hormones, normalize our weight, maintain muscle mass, bone density and feel amazing? First, understand what is required by your body to create as well as remove and maintain homeostasis of these necessary hormones. To make hormones we need good healthy fat!!! Fat is the backbone of all hormones. If you are struggling, I have a book to recommend. “Women, Food, and Hormones” by Sara Gottfried, MD. She recommends a 4-week plan of high good fat, like 60-70%, very low carb, 20% good protein to kick-start your body into nutritional ketosis and start balancing hormones. This helps get us to a place of metabolic flexibility. Our bodies get stuck in a carbohydrate-burning mode and keep us craving more carbs. This leads to huge swings in blood sugar that contributes to hot flashes and other unwanted symptoms. Insulin levels rise, causing havoc in our bodies. Nearly 90% of Americans are metabolically unhealthy, and we are not even aware!! We want our body to be able to flex between burning fat and burning carbs. Sort of like a hybrid car that is able to use gas or electricity. When we switch to a fat-burning mode, we have a very renewable fuel source. Consuming the proper amount of healthy fat does soooo many good things for our brain too!!! We require much more fat in our diet than what we have been told by our physicians and by the current dietary guidelines from the US Department of Health and Human Services. We need good fat to absorb our important fat-soluble vitamins as well!
Fat leaves us feeling more satiated, decreasing gastric emptying and puts us into a nutritional ketosis or “fat-burning” mode. When we combine this with good low starch vegetables, cruciferous and methylating veggies, as well as moderate protein we can literally change the path we are on. High carbohydrate diets tend to make hot flashes and other symptoms worse and more frequent. It also keeps us in a “fat-storage” mode. That bagel with cream cheese may be what we are craving, but is not what we need.
So, what foods actually work to balance our hormone levels?
- Aromatase inhibiting foods: Estrogen production is dependent on aromatase. Aromatase activity is increased by age, obesity, alcohol, insulin and gonadotropins. It is elevated with endometrial cancer, endometriosis and uterine fibroids. These include HP-EVOO, mushrooms, cruciferous, dark green leafy vegetables, blueberries, artichokes, radishes, walnuts and several herbs. Aromatase inhibitor drugs are typically prescribed with estrogen-dominate cancers.
- Cruciferous vegetables - contain dietary indoles that target “bad” estrogen metabolites!!!
- Omega 3’s - eat ground flax seed, mackerel, herring, sardines, oysters, wild-caught salmon
- Eat good protein - grass-fed organic beef, pasture-raised chickens and eggs, wild-caught fish, legumes
- Healthy fats: Nuts, seeds, avocados, olives
- Get your B vitamins! Nutritional yeast, liver, beef, shellfish, nuts, beans
- Go Organic and non-GMO - eliminate pesticides and herbicides that are full of heavy metals and hormone disrupters. Glyphosate is causing many of the diseases we are seeing here in the U.S.
- Eliminate gluten (at least for a bit) to help heal the gut
- Manage stress - mindful meditation, journaling, deep breathing, rest
- Sleep - we need 7-9 hours every night. See blog # 47 on sleep
- Hydrate - drink 1/2 your body weight in ounces/day
- Sea salt - Himalayan or Hawaiian red clay for optimal trace minerals without plastics
- Limit alcohol - just 3 drinks/week increases risk of breast cancer for women
- Exercise - 2/3 strength training 1/3 cardio = cardio-metabolic health
- Wear a continuous glucose monitoring device - you can actually use it to test how your body reacts to different foods. If you eat a “healthy” food, but it spikes your blood glucose by 40 points, it’s not healthy for you!! This allows you in real time to manage how your food is affecting you.
- HP-EVOO - high polyphenol extra virgin olive oil - a 2013 study on 60 healthy men 20-40 demonstrated increased free testosterone by 19.9% in 3 weeks! (FYI, most studies are on men). Guess what? Estrogen is made from testosterone!!! We ALL need this. Estrogen is known to “play an important role in the regulation of fatty acid-metabolizing enzymes.” This suggests a feedback mechanism exists between fatty acids and estrogen levels. Giving the body the right fatty acids helps to balance our estrogen levels. So, can Oleic acid (OA) help with estrogen dominance? Let’s take a look at a study in 2016. Researchers noted that increasing OA concentrations did not effect apoptosis (pre-programmed cell death), necrosis (cell death) or proliferation, but “significantly reduced the transcript abundance of the gonadotropin hormone receptors...”. OA also increased the transcription levels of fatty acid transporters, decreased production of estradiol and progesterone, altering the functionality of granulosa cells, reducing expression and responsiveness to FSH (follicular stimulating hormone). Since estrogen production is dependent on the enzyme aromatase, you can lower estrogen production and theoretically prevent or treat estrogen driven breast cancer by consuming aromatase inhibitors. By this rationale, you should be able to prevent and treat endometriosis as well. Flavonoids and lignans are known anti-aromatase agents and are found in higher quantities in high-polyphenol EVOO. “White button mushrooms (Agaricus bisporous) are a potential breast cancer chemopreventive agent, as they suppress aromatase activity and estrogen biosynthesis.” They noted a fatty acid in the mushroom called ‘conjugated linoleic acid’ (CLA) that was the most potent in the suppression of aromatase. And...guess what? You can also get CLAs in EVOO!! They also reported that the polysaccharides in white button mushrooms inhibit tumor growth and stimulate immune response. CLA can also be found in meat and dairy products derived from ruminants. It has been well-documented that fatty acids have a very important role in regulating endocrine activity. “The most potent lipids are generally long-chain unsaturated fats like Oleic, linoleic, and arachidonic acids.” They can inhibit binding of hormones to receptor cells as well as modulate enzyme activity within the cell, thus affecting the ratio of bound/free hormone available for cellular uptake.
Okay, so there are so many things that affect our hormones. The simple take-away is omit processed foods that have a list of ingredients. Eat whole single-ingredient organic foods. Consume lots of high-polyphenol EVOO and omega 3 fats and eliminate the high omega 6 seed oils that are promoting dysfunction. Increase your consumption of dark leafy greens, cruciferous veggies and fresh herbs to clear heavy metals from our bodies. By targeting the root cause of our imbalance, we can take control of how we feel. If you are experiencing hormonal issues, try modifying what you are giving your body for a few weeks and see how you feel. We have the power to literally reverse much of the damage done to our bodies
So, until next time my friends, heal your gut! Drink, Drizzle, Digest HP-EVOO, eat the rainbow of veggies and fruits organic or wild-sourced, eat wild-caught, pasture-raised, grass-fed, get plenty of sunshine + supplement zinc and vitamin D3, get your trace minerals and electrolytes with good sea salt *Himalayan was formed before plastics, eat foods high in lutein, drink 1/2 your body weight in oz of water, get a good pre/probiotic, eat some adaptogens and methylation donors (kale, lion’s mane…) to detox, enhance overall health and reverse aging and disease, exercise your body and mind, add a few minutes of mindful meditation to your day to combat stress, remove EMF (electromagnetic frequency) devices and blue light, use IR (infrared) from candles, fire or incandescent lights in the evening to enhance sleep and...turn off the light!! #HP-EVOO