During the average 24-hour period, we sleep, wake, eat, feel a broad range of emotions, and make over 35,000 decisions. Some decisions are subconscious, many take place with full awareness and deliberation. However, behind the scenes, working tirelessly is a symphony of hormonal inputs, reactions, and fluctuations. Last month, we dove into the ins and outs of the adrenal and thyroid glands, and their role in hormone balance. Long time stress (cortisol) can rob us of proper sex hormone levels and create poor thyroid function. Hypothyroidism can rob us of our energy and ability to regulate blood pressure, as well as diminish our output of reproductive hormones . And reproductive hormones do a whole lot more than regulate the reproductive aspect of life.
As its name implies, this hormone is pro-gestational and spikes at ovulation, although its effects are far more widespread than making the womb a pleasant place for a fertilized egg. Progesterone creates a sense of well-being, it raises body temperature (metabolism), and helps buffer high blood pressure. Even the downstream metabolite of progesterone, allopregnanolone, has positive effects such as calming and inducing sleep. Low progesterone and hormonal dysregulation is one of the main components of PMS. Low progesterone can lead to other issues as well:
- Endometriosis: Nearly half the women with endometriosis have low progesterone or a shortened luteal phase. This can be a classic form of progesterone resistance as well. Women that develop endometriosis have fewer progesterone receptors to balance and counteract the relentless estrogen signal to build endometrium .
- Endometrial cancer: Low progesterone = too much estrogen, which creates too much tissue growth that drives cancer risk up.
- Anxiety: Progesterone binds and activates GABA receptors (our happy receptors). When progesterone is low, we no longer get this effect to the extent we need .
The female brain becomes exquisitely sensitive to estrogen around puberty, rapidly increasing production of oxytocin, the hormone that drives feelings of affiliation and love, and dopamine, the chemical that drives satisfaction and reward-based learning. Estrogen also creates female characteristics, buffers mood, dominates the first 14 days of the menstrual cycle, and potentiates the reproductive urge. Estrogen causes water retention, whereas progesterone drives water elimination. In today’s world, excess estrogen is the usual offender, wreaking havoc with our hormones. The cause is multifactorial, but one thing is clear: our environment is becoming more and more toxic to hormone balance. There are synthetic substances and chemicals, practically ubiquitous in our environment, that play tricks with our bodies. They’ll increase or decrease our production of hormones, cause one hormone to change into another, imitate hormones, compete with essential nutrients, or block a hormone signal from entering a cell . A list of the largest, most well studied offenders can be found here: https://www.ewg.org/research/dirty-dozen-list-endocrine-disruptors#.W6zFFWhKi00.
Testosterone plays a vital role in men and, when properly balanced, improves confidence and energy levels. Testosterone levels aren’t free of environmental influence. Fertility, sperm count, and sperm viability has been declining in males over the past 70 years. Here are a few of the factors contributing to such a substantial decline :
- Toxins found in cigarette smoke
- Alcohol and drugs that lower sperm count (cocaine, marijuana, [certain antifungals, antihypertensives, and antibiotics] cimetidine, methotrexate, sulfasalazine and others)
- Heavy metals
- Heavy metals act as mitochondrial poisons, decreasing testosterone production
- Obesity - excess body fat converts testosterone to estrogen
- Environmental toxins - BPA, phthalates, pesticides, dry-cleaning agents, and many others
- Oxidative stress - sperm are especially sensitive to oxidative stress, due to the high amount of polyunsaturated fatty acids in their membranes
- Celiac disease and food allergy
- Insulin resistance and stress - cortisol and excess insulin lead to less testosterone, which leads to increased production of a protein that deactivates testosterone, leading to a vicious cycle .
At the end of the day, proper hormone balance is a complex, multifaceted issue. But, as complex as it is, the foundational ways of improving or changing that balance are quite simple. Remove things that function as endocrine disruptors from the home; clean up the diet by staying away from pesticides and eating plenty of organic vegetables; cut back on simple carbs and processed sugars; and start a good, well balanced exercise program. At DBC, we have developed multiple approaches to balance hormones:
Most hormonal imbalances stem from diet and lifestyle, such as exposure to pesticides, eating too few antioxidant-rich foods or too many things we’re sensitive to, and carb-heavy diets that lead to insulin resistance. There are many ways to improve hormonal balance with lifestyle changes, here are a few that we’ve found to be really effective:
- DBC NOURISH, among many other things, is designed to manage insulin levels and improve mitochondrial function.
- DBC Keto is geared for healthy weight loss, neurological function (an important aspect of hormone regulation), and blood sugar balance.
- DBC Bootcamp, with a focus on healing, phytonutrient-rich foods, is a powerful overhaul for those of us who who have multiple systems that need improvement and healing.
- Axis Endo: Formerly called Estrium, this has been reformulated to target hormonal imbalances in both men and women. This a medical food that improves hormone metabolism and excretion via anti-inflammatory actions, liver support, and blood sugar buffering .
- Chasteberry Plus: Chasteberry has been proven to increase fertility rates by 32%, reduce PMS among women with low progesterone, and restore balance with estrogen .
- SpectraSoy: Isoflavones, extracted from soy have been shown to decrease risk of breast cancer, improve vascular function, increase bone density, and limit the amount of hot flashes in menopausal women .
- Saran S, Gupta BS, Philip R, et al. Effect of hypothyroidism on female reproductive hormones. Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism. 2016;20(1):108-113. doi:10.4103/2230-8210.172245.
- Zhang YW, Ji H, Han ML, et al. “Luteal function in patients with endometriosis.” Proceedings of the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences Peking Union Medical College 4 (2) (1989): 96-101.
- Freeman EW, Purdy RH, Coutfaris C, et al. “Anxiolytic metabolites of progesterone: correlation with mood and performance measures following oral progesterone administration to healthy female volunteers.” Neuroendocrinology 58 (4) (1993): 478-84.
- De Coster S, van Larebeke N. 2012. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals: associated disorders and mechanisms of action. Journal of Environmental and Public Health Article ID 713696. http://www.hindawi.com/journals/jeph/2012/713696/cta/
- Male Infertility: Exploring Causes and Treatments, Townsend Letter, January 2010, Ingrid Kohlstadt MD, MPH, Alan Gaby, MD
- Textbook of Medical Physiology, 11th ed., Guyton and Hall
- Hall, Douglas C. "Nutritional Influences on Estrogen Metabolism." Applied Nutritional Science Reports, Jan. 2001.
- Westphal LM, Polan ML, Trant AS. “Double-blind, placebo-controlled, study of Fertilityblend: a nutritional supplement for improving fertility in women.” Clinical and Experimental Obstetrics and Gynecology 33 (4) (2006): 205-8.
- Williamson-Hughes PS, Flickinger BD, Messina MJ, Empie MW. Isoflavone supplements containing predominantly genistein reduce hot flash symptoms: a critical review of published studies. Menopause. 2006;13(5):831-839.