The body is composed of 75 trillion cells in 200 different categories, only a few produce hormones, but virtually all those cells are targets of one or more of the known 50 hormones produced. Nature has programmed the body to diminish its capacity for activity as we age, yet we continue in our attempt to outsmart our body’s built-in engineering through hormonal manipulative therapies.
Reproductive and growth hormones take quite a hit as we get older, and it is the reproductive hormones and their replacement/ manipulation that is the topic of this article. Birth control pills, which are composed of estrogen/progesterone or progesterone by itself, manipulate the cycles of menstruation by inhibiting development of the Graafian follicle and subsequent ovulation. Taken for long term, this can lead to many problems, such as abnormal bleeding, clot emboli, endometrial proliferation (endometriosis), and increased breast cancer risk, suppression of menstruation, weight gain, yeast infections, as well as vaginal discharge.
For women in the perimenopausal and menopausal phases of their lives, symptoms such as mood swings, hot flashes, irritability, insomnia, and night sweats are common and extremely stressful and uncomfortable. Weight gain, especially around the middle is also troublesome. Of course, media adds to your distress with information that decreased estrogen levels result in bone loss, and an increase in heart disease. What they don’t reveal is the increased cancer rate for breast, uterine, and ovarian malignancies, yet they recommend raising estrogen levels in order to be symptom free. Also, remember that bio-identical hormones are still hormones. Who can really tell what your body needs once you stop producing? As Naturopathic doctors, we feel it’s just putting a spin on HRT.
Still considering HRT? Remember to ask your doctor to keep it at the lowest dose, and for the shortest time necessary to rebalance hormone levels. And for those of you on birth control, take a break now and again, in order to let your body cleanse and re-balance itself.
Consider natural approaches (herbal, homeopathic, and dietary changes). Natural methods do not have any dangerous side effects (cancer), can be used long term, and are cost effective. However, you must be patient, as these take time to work.
Hormone replacement therapy may be necessary when the body is thrown into shock from surgery or illness, such as hysterectomy or endocrine imbalances. At these times HRT may become a viable option.
Dietary changes can have a big impact when it comes to hormone health. Certain foods, such as yams, soy products, flax seeds, chestnuts, almonds, peanuts, pistachios, walnuts, cashews, and hazel nuts are high in phytoestrogens. The American Indians used yams as a birth control measure, and later in those who were menopausal to prevent hot flashes. While these foods are healthy choices, women should exercise caution in over indulging in these items, especially in the presence of cancer.
Let us not forget the men. As men age, testosterone production diminishes, and the conditions associated with this can be daunting. Erectile dysfunction, decrease in muscle mass, loss of body hair, and bone mineral loss (calcium) go along with andropause (male equivalent to menopause). This would lead folks to believe that replacing testosterone would solve these problems, but the same risks exist for men as for women.
Testosterone replacement therapy is necessary for Klinefelder’s Syndrome and other acquired conditions that comprise male hormone deficiency, but the risk of cancer remains. Some foods that naturally support testosterone production are oysters, chicken liver, and pumpkin seeds for their high zinc content; also, broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower contain an indole compound that rids the body of excess estrogen, garlic (when coupled with a high protein diet for a month), bananas and pineapple for their bromelain content (boosts libido), Brazil nuts and other foods high in magnesium), and eggs for their vitamin D content. Vitamin D stops aromatization which converts testosterone to estrogen.