Female hormones: Achieving balance | Precision Nutrition

Female hormones:
Achieving balance

By Bryan Walsh

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With the complexity of a female’s hormonal system, why does conventional medicine take such an overly simplistic view of it?  Check out this article for a deeper understanding of female hormonal physiology.

“The man is the head, but the woman is the neck. And she can turn the head any way she wants.”
— Big Fat Greek Wedding

Women, you are beautiful, graceful and complex creatures. I have the utmost respect for you. It is my honest opinion that without you, the world would have fallen apart a long, long time ago.

As women, you have a multitude of depths to you emotionally, mentally and not surprisingly, hormonally.  And therein lies the problem.

With the complexity of a female’s hormonal system, why does conventional medicine take such an overly simplistic view of it?  When a woman goes to the doctor complaining about hormonal symptoms, I’m sorry, but it’s not as easy as putting her on hormones (birth control, hormone replacement therapy, etc.).   There is much more to it, which hopefully you will learn from this little article.

Female hormones 101

When talking about female hormones, there is no simple 101 course. Hopefully this video will offer an initial explanation of how your hormones work. It is my opinion that every woman needs to have a broad understanding of how their hormonal cycle works before visiting a doctor for testing.

Hormones gone wild

Now that you have a general understanding of your hormonal system, here are a few of the many, many things that can go wrong.  Incidentally, very few of these require hormone therapy. In fact, almost none of them do.

Hormone replacement therapy is one of the most over-prescribed, abused and damaging drugs a woman can be prescribed. Yes, it has helped some women and yes, some women legitimately need it. But just because something makes you feel good doesn’t mean it’s good for you.

Why you want balanced hormones

Hormones are critical to the function of virtually every system in the body; specifically:

  • Estrogen and progesterone are neuroprotective, meaning they help brain function, reduce brain inflammation and help with cognitive function. There is also evidence that estrogen may prevent Alzheimer’s.
  • There is an intimate relationship between hormones and neurotransmitters, which means hormones can have a major impact on mood, will power and motivation
  • There is a strong correlation between hormone and bone metabolism
  • Thyroid hormone, your metabolism hormone, works better when progesterone is functioning optimally
  • Estrogen is cardioprotective in women
  • Progesterone helps regulate the immune response

Most importantly, the beneficial effects of hormones occur when they are in balance. In excess or in deficiency, all hormones can have negative consequences.

What to do

If I didn’t have any scruples I would simply say, “Everyone needs chaste tree berry or black cohosh,” or “Every woman needs progesterone cream.”  But that would be wrong. Very wrong. In fact that would be downright ignorant.

Instead, if you have hormonal symptoms, you need to get tested.  When it comes to testing, you have a few different options – blood, saliva and urine.

  • Urine hormone testing measures hormone metabolites and not the hormones themselves. It is great for looking at what hormones are being converted into, but not good at evaluating precise hormone levels.
  • Blood testing can measure two types of hormones – free and bound. Free hormones are considered to be “active” hormones, in that they can enter into cells and impart their metabolic effects. Bound hormones on the other hand are attached to a protein molecule and are therefore unavailable for use in the body until they detach from their carrier.
  • Lastly, salivary hormone testing only measure free hormones.

All tests are valid, but have a different place clinically.

When it comes to female hormone testing, I believe the only option is salivary testing. Reason being, you can inexpensively take multiple samples throughout the month and evaluate the entire month of hormones, rather than simply taking a single blood draw and making assumptions about what hormones are doing the other 27 days of the month. The lab I particularly like is Diagnostechs simply because they also include pituitary hormones in their samples.

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What to do… Today

When a woman comes into our office with hormonal issues, we rarely run a hormone test . . . initially. Reason being, there are four things that will completely wreck a woman’s hormones, a few of which have already been discussed.

1. Blood sugar

Blood sugar must be balanced. This has been discussed in a previous article, but in women, blood sugar imbalances cause increases in testosterone, which will wreak havoc on the hormonal system.

2. Adrenals

The adrenal glands must be healthy. As you saw in the video, adrenal dysfunction can suppress pituitary function and rob the sex hormones of the necessary precursors for hormone production. Dysfunctional adrenal glands are paramount in hormonal balance.

3. GI function

Gastrointestinal function must be working properly. This is an often missed component of hormone balance. Gastrointestinal dysfunction can raise cortisol, cause hormone detoxification issues, and produce damaging hormone metabolites, to name a few. If your guts aren’t working properly, neither will your hormones.

Each of these systems must be working properly if hormone balance is desired. Put another way, you will not have optimal hormone balance if any of these systems are not working properly.

Summary

Female hormones are as complex as . . . well . . . female hormones. There is nothing quite like them. But women are easily the most mistreated patients in medicine today. If you have hormonal symptoms, fixing them is not as simple as giving you more hormones. Your body needs to be functioning correctly and when it does, hormones have a magical way of properly regulating themselves.

About Dr Walsh’s Fat Is Not Your Fault

Dr Walsh’s new program is designed for those folks doing everything right – but are experiencing sub-optimal health and body composition.  All because of some underlying physiological problem.   Fat Is Not Your Fault provides everything you need to test for – and correct – the most common – but undertreated hormonal and foundational health problems.   So if you think you might be experiencing “abnormal physiology” – and would like to get to the bottom of it – Fat Is Not Your Fault is definitely for you.

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