By Pamela Levin, R.N.
Hormones have always been big news to people experiencing hormone imbalances. But hormones are big news in the media right now because of the Women’s Health Initiative Study, one of the largest preventive studies of its kind in the United States. The goal of the study had been to discover risk factors and prevention strategies that would reduce coronary heart disease, breast and colorectal cancer, and osteoporotic-fractures among postmenopausal women.
The study was stopped in its tracks because early results showed that the women who were taking HRT (hormone replacement therapy) had increased incidence of heart disease, breast cancer, strokes, blood clots and endometrial cancer!
There are three female sex hormones that may be out of balance: progesterone, estrogens and testosterone. The risks of taking “unopposed estrogen”, in other words, estrogen without progesterone, had already been known. However, it had been thought that balancing estrogen with synthetic progestin, a treatment now being given 6 million women in the U.S. to prevent menopausal symptoms would prevent these risks. But what the new study showed is that such combination HRT has more adverse than beneficial effects.
For example, synthetic Progestins (but not bio-identical natural progesterone) result in breakthrough bleeding, weight gain, fluid retention, depression and low thyroid.
The depression has prompted some doctors, to prescribe Prozac for depression. Even if they didn’t know how to provide natural, safe, effective female hormone care, they could have chosen a bio-identical progesterone which is free of all these negative effects. Prozac blocks the liver’s ability to break down estrogen, leading to estrogen dominance, a condition associated with 80% of women who develop breast cancer.
In reporting about the study being stopped, Tim Johnson, M.D., ABC’s medical correspondent, stated that acute menopausal symptoms, including night sweats, are now OK for the first year or two. He probably meant OK with the medical profession, not with the women experiencing them. But can it be true that the bodily effects of menopausal symptoms are really OK for our physical heal th and well being? After all, we’ve been told for years that we should take estrogen, and then estrogen with Progestins, to prevent the dangerous effects of such symptoms.
We were told to take estrogen prescriptions not only to control hot flashes, but also to protect us during the time of rapid bone loss immediately following the onset of menopause. And estrogens do play a key role in the female body. They not only regulate fertility and reproduction but also stabilize the bones, protect against arteriosclerosis, preserve the elasticity of the skin, strengthen the immune system and increase general well-being.
Are we now to believe that none of that is important? If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of hot flashes, or finding you’re getting colds and flu frequently, get vaginal or bladder infections due to thinning of the mucosa, if “I just can’t remember” is your motto, or you feel depressed, or your arteries are hardening, you may disagree with Tim Johnson’s statement and think that having adequate estrogen levels is mandatory.
How can that be achieved safely? Are all hormones dangerous? The answer is, without question, No. First, the hormones that produce these unwanted and dangerous side effects are synthetic, patented ones. In other words, they are not bioidentical. They simply do not perform in the same ways as do the ones either that the body naturally produces or that are bioidentical to the ones the body produces.
However, using bioidentical products are not without their problems either. Keeping the levels where they need to be, not too low or too high, and keeping the ratio of one hormone to another correct is a full-time job – one the body carries out 24 hours a day. It’s just not possible to do enough lab work to maintain the levels correctly.
Then there’s the problem that all hormone replacement, whether bioidentical or not – bypasses the body’s natural feedback system altogether. That’s the process that tells the different hormone factories to produce more or less of any given hormone, and tells the liver to activate some hormone or break some down.
Then also, providing exogenous – in other words, external hormones causes the body’s feedback system to ‘read’ that enough hormones are present, so it stops producing them in its own factories. If this goes on long enough, the hormone factories can shut down altogether, and it can become very difficult to get them going again. (That’s why it may take a number of months or even longer for a woman’s body to readjust to normal after taking birth control pills.)
The clinical nutrition approach for menopausal symptoms is different. It includes:
Finding food sensitivities that can unbalance the hormonal system. For example, wheat and corn are big hormone imbalancers to O and AB blood types.
Rather than just replacing just one hormone, taking the entire bodily environment into account. For example, many women with low thyroid results on blood tests are actually low in sex hormones, and it is this primary weakness that causes the secondary one. This situation is addressed by feeding the body concentrated nutrients for the hormone factories, so they can balance themselves whenever possible. Female sex hormone factories thrive on whole organic foods and supplements made as whole food concentrates – these are what feed sex hormone factories.
When the body cannot balance itself through nutritional and herbal support, using bioidentical hormones rather than synthetic imitations of hormones that have been chemically altered to make them patentable. Such examples include natural progesterone cream, phytoestrogen cream and herbal chaste tree. Bioidentical hormones are free of the unwanted side effects of synthetics whose chemical structure has been altered. To promote estrogenic activity, phytoestrogens may be recommended such as red clover, licorice, Dong Quai, soy beans, flaxseeds, black cohosh or alfalfa. Animals have been known to graze selectively on these plants that enhance or diminish fertility.
They are a relatively safe way to affect estrogen activity in the body. To find out what your hormone levels are, you can contact a hormone testing laboratory that will send you a saliva test kit to find out your current hormone
Saliva tests, according to the late John Lee, M.D., are more accurate than blood tests in assessing hormone balance because they test tissue hormone levels rather than blood levels. (What Your Doctor May Not Tell You about Menopause and What Your Doctor May Not Tell You about Breast Cancer)
Why does the body need hormonal help, anyway? Some languages don’t even have words for menopause; some women never experience menopausal symptoms? Why?
One thing we do know is that malnourished follicles can shut down, requiring nutritional support to produce hormones. Well nourished follicles are in the best position to produce the hormones necessary for balanced functioning is a precondition for preventing or reversing osteoporosis.
A word of caution, however. Don’t just take some product because you have a symptom, or because your blood or saliva test shows particular results. You have to find out what the symptom means. Just because you have hot flashes, for example, doesn’t mean you’re low in estrogen. It may mean you have a food intolerance, or that your thyroid is low, or that you are insulin resistant. or that some nasty bug has taken up residence in your thyroid and hijacked its functioning.
Each of these situations calls for a different approach. Work in partnership with your health professional, asking questions and reporting symptoms until both your questions and your symptoms are satisfied.
Pamela Levin is an R.N., an award-winning nutritional journalist and author with 500+ post-graduate hours in clinical nutrition, herbology and applied kinesiology. In private practice 42 years, she has worked extensively and effectively with female hormone issues and has shared her expertise with colleagues and lay audiences in 10 countries and four continents.
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