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Hormone Balance

Hormone imbalances can occur at nearly any age. Normal pathway for estrogen production starts with compounds, called acetates. Acetates convert to progesterone, which then forms in to estrogens. Though progesterone also antagonizes estrogens to help maintain proper hormone balance. Estrogen converts in to testosterone. When estrogen takes this pathway for production a woman is progesterone dominant, and the hormones are in proper balance. The alternate pathway for estrogen production is from acetates to the adrenal hormone DHEA, then in to estrogen. In this case the production of sufficient levels of progesterone is being bypassed creating a condition known as estrogen dominance. Symptoms of estrogen dominance include endometriosis, fibroids, ovarian cysts, weight gain, thyroid suppression, depression, lack of libido, insomnia, and an increase of facial hair from the excess testosterone formed from the unopposed estrogen. External hormone sources can aggravate these problems such as birth control pills, estrogen replacement therapy, estrogens found in farm raised meats, and xenoestrogens (dioxins, DDT, PCBs, etc). The best ways to balance the hormones is to limit exposure to estrogens, increase progesterone levels to regulate estrogen, and to antagonize estrogens produced by the body or external hormone sources. Here are some methods for maintaining proper hormone balance:

1. Progesterone is both a precursor and an antagonist to estrogens, and therefore balances estrogen levels. Progesterone also stimulates bone growth and has an antidepressant action. The best way to raise progesterone levels is with the herb chaste tree berry (vitex). Vitex stimulates the pituitary gland to form progesterone. Though vitex does take a minimum of 2 months to kick in. Recommended dosage is 1,000mg 3 times daily on an empty stomach. Progesterone creams can be used short term in conjunction with the vitex for faster results. Long term, or high dose, use of hormones will cause the glands that normally produce those hormones to atrophy (shrink). The body then becomes dependant on the external source of hormones. This is true of all hormone therapies (birth control pills, estrogen replacement therapy, DHEA, melatonin, etc.), and raw glandular therapy, since the glands must be forced to work to maintain their health and activity. By substituting for the glands the glands become lazy, and if hormone levels go too high the brain will atrophy the gland to try and return hormone levels to a proper level. Therefore I recommend that progesterone creams not be used for more than 2 weeks a month and for 2 months at a time. This allows sufficient levels of progesterone to build up in the fat tissues, which will meet the body's progesterone needs until the vitex can take effect allowing the body to generate its own progesterone. Progesterone creams are applied to the fatty areas of the body in a rotating manner. For instance: Day 1 apply 1/2 teaspoon of the progesterone cream to the right breast and rub it in. Day 2 apply the cream to the left breast. Day 3 apply the cream to the left upper arm. Day 4 rub the cream on to the stomach. Day 5 apply the cream to the left inner thigh. Day 6 apply the cream to the right inner thigh. Day 7 apply the cream to the right upper arm. For the next 7 days you should remain off of the cream. Then the same 7 day application cycle is repeated. Repeat for 2 months then it is recommended that women discontinue the cream. After several months off the cycle may be repeated if needed. Wild yam creams are a safer alternative to progesterone creams. Wild yam, and fenugreek seed, contain a substance, known as diosgenin, which exerts a weak progesterone-like effect. In fact diosgenin is the building block for the synthetic progesterone used in progesterone creams. Diosgenin does not convert in to progesterone in the body though. If wild yam or fenugreek are taken orally the diosgenin will go from the stomach through the liver where much of the diosgenin will be metabolized. By using extracts of these herbs topically the diosgenin will absorb through the skin and bypass the liver, yielding a stronger effect.

2. Phytoestrogens are estrogenic compounds found in plants. They exert a weak estrogenic effect, on average 200 to 400 times weaker than the estrogens produced by the body. They actually function as estrogen regulators in the body by exerting their weak estrogenic effects while also locking up estrogen receptors to prevent the adverse effects of stronger estrogens in the body. The highest herbal source of phytoestrogens is alfalfa. Other excellent sources are red clover, black cohosh, dong quai, fennel, fenugreek, licorice root, kudzu, and Japanese knotweed. There are some dietary sources of phytoestrogens. These include soy, sage yams, parsley, peas, and seaweeds.

3. Keeping the liver in proper working order is essential because one role of the liver is to break down excess estrogens. Poor diet, alcohol, and medications including pain relievers (ibuprofen, naproxen sodium, et.), cholesterol lowering drugs, Rogaine (minoxidil), and steroids can damage the liver. My favorite herbs for supporting the liver are bupleurum, turmeric, schisandra berry, artichoke leaf, and milk thistle. Bupleurum would be my first choice since it also cleanses the liver. Schisandra berry and artichoke leaf also cleanse the liver if they are allowed to come in contact with the tongue since they act as digestive bitters in this manner. Turmeric and milk thistle are more supportive to the liver, but not detoxifying. The best way to cleanse the liver is with digestive bitters. Bitters are bitter tasting herbs, which are best taken in liquid form since they must come in to contact with the tongue to work. When bitters are swallowed they come in to contact with the bitter receptors on the back of the tongue. When these receptors are stimulated the vagus nerve is in turn stimulated. This in turn stimulates a cleansing of the liver, which allows the liver to work more efficiently. The name digestive bitters is derived from the fact that digestive bitters stimulate the production of stomach acid, bile secretions, and pancreatic digestive enzymes, thereby improving digestion. They are sold in health food stores under names such as Swedish Bitters, Grape Bitters, and Ginger Bitters.

4. The intestines contain beneficial flora (bacteria) that also play a role in estrogen regulation. When the liver breaks down the excess estrogens in the body estrogen metabolites are formed. The intestinal flora break down these estrogen metabolites in to harmless substances that are passed in the feces. If these estrogen metabolites are not broken down and eliminated they can be reabsorbed through the intestinal wall back in to the bloodstream where they will add to the estrogen load. The flora feed on fibers and other long chain sugar molecules, known as fructooligosaccharides (FOS). Fruits and vegetables are the best sources for fibers and FOS. Elecampane is the highest herbal source for FOS. Yucca root and seaweeds also benefit the flora by holding moisture in the colon making a suitable environment for the flora to grow in. For the same reason drinking plenty of water throughout the day is recommended. Live culture yogurts and probiotic supplements can help replace some of the strains of intestinal flora, but not all of them. There are over 4,000 strains of beneficial flora that inhabit the colon, so they cannot be replaced in a probiotic supplement. Therefore, fibers and FOS should always be used in conjunction with probiotic supplements.

5. B vitamins, especially vitamin B6, are very important. B vitamins are required for the liver to break down excess estrogens. And high levels of estrogens, such as with the use of birth control pills or estrogen replacement therapy interfere with the actions of B vitamins and deplete vitamin B6 from the body. In fact many of the side effects of taking estrogen-based birth control pills, such as depression, are believed to be due to the depletion of vitamin B6 and the interference with the utilization of other B vitamins.

6. Preventing bone loss is the only advantage of ERT, though the risk of cancer, heart attacks and stroke all increase with the use of ERT. Earlier studies claimed that ERT could help prevent heart disease, though it was later proven that these earlier studies were flawed.

7. The mineral boron helps to balance female hormones, and it helps maintain bone strength. As little as 3mg of boron daily has been shown to prevent bone loss even in the absence of estrogen replacement therapy (ERT). Preventing bone loss is the only advantage of ERT, though the risk of cancer, heart attacks and stroke all increase with the use of ERT. Estrogens increase the risk of strokes and heart attack because estrogens can increase the risk of developing blood clots.

8. Avoid farm-raised meats, such as beef and chicken unless organically grown. Dairy products should be avoided as well. Farm animals are often given estrogens to fatten them up for market and to increase milk production. Some of this estrogen remains in the meats and milk, which will contribute to the estrogen load increasing the risk of cancer and aggravating hormone imbalances.

9. Finally, it is important to keep the adrenal glands healthy. Though the ovaries are the primary source for the production of progesterone, estrogens, and testosterone the adrenal glands also produce these hormones. The adrenals do this to help maintain hormone balance, and to help act as a cushion for when the ovaries start to shut down during menopause. Stimulants (caffeine, ephedrine, and nicotine), stress, and steroids are the biggest killers for the adrenal glands, and therefore should be avoided. The adrenal glands use more vitamin C than any other part of the body, and should be supplemented. Stimulants and stress increase the need for vitamin C. I prefer natural vitamin C to synthetic vitamin C, which is synthesized from sugar. Amla berries are the highest herbal source for vitamin C, followed by camu camu and acerola cherries. The second most important nutrient for the adrenals is pantothenic acid. The highest herbal source for pantothenic acid is bee pollen. Various herbs have a strengthening effect on the adrenal glands. Some of my favorites are schisandra berry, licorice root, suma, Siberian ginseng, astragalus, and nettle leaf.


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