Natural Hormone Therapy
It has been intensely satisfying to witness, in recent years, the increased interest in natural hormonal replacement therapy, and the deeper understanding we continue to gain of the role of hormones in our physical systems. It has in many respects become the focus of my practice, as both my male and female patients encourage me to explore all aspects of “anti-aging” medicine.
First, let’s define our terms. Just what are hormones? Hormones are substances released into the bloodstream from a gland or organ that affect activity in cells at another site. Most hormones are steroids, fatty substances derived from cholesterol. Small amounts of hormones can trigger very large responses in the body.
How do hormones work? The process is another miracle of our bodies. Hormones bind to receptors on a cell’s surface or inside a cell. The binding of a hormone to a receptor speeds up, slows down, or in some other way alters the cell’s function.
I work with very many of my patients first to assess the hormone activity and levels in their bodies, and then to introduce natural hormones-often in a very subtle way-to encourage the kinds of changes we are seeking.
One recent patient is a 44-year-old former aerobics instructor. She has chronic fatigue and the thin dry skin of an 8o-year-old. As a result of testing, we found out there was a dramatically low level of human growth hormone. That’s a hormone produced in the pituitary gland-the master gland-that controls growth and development and promotes the replication of healthy cells and discourages the replication of cells with damaged DNA. Six months after we began treatment, there’s noticeable improvement, through the careful replacement of hormones, healthy diet, and some nutritional supplements.
There are many hormones. A number that are of special significance in my practice include:
ESTROGEN AND PROGESTERONE.
When a woman becomes menopausal, it’s a given that she will be relatively low in certain hormones, but there are important individual variations.Estrogen and progesterone, produced by the ovaries, control the development of female sex characteristics and the reproductive system.Estrogens are important for women to decrease the breakdown of bone, reduce hot flashes, reduce vaginal dryness, improve cholesterol, aid in prevention of senility and possible Alzheimer’s, and aid in prevention of heart disease and stroke. Progesterone promotes bone growth, protects against fibrocystic disease, helps reduce depression, may help libido, helps protect against breast and uterine cancer, promotes fat burning and water retention, and is a precursor to other hormones. What I find in my menopausal patients is that in some instances, all they need is progesterone. Most women do not maintain progesterone levels. There is an unfortunate tendency to place menopausal women on estrogen replacement therapy when in fact it may not be appropriate to do so.
The issues around male hormone replacement are different than they are for women. In many instances, men may be producing an appropriate level of testosterone-but they may be converting too much of it to estrogen. In those instances, we want to intervene to stop that conversion to estrogen-and certainly not give them additional testosterone. When this is accomplished- offering testosterone replacement when indicated, or diminishing the conversion of testosterone to estrogen-men will feel increased energy, improved muscle tone and be less irritable, less moody and depressed, and their sexual performance will improve. For women, testosterone can be used to improve sexual interest. It can also be used to improve the muscle tone of the tissues, helping to improve stress incontinence.
In terms of sexuality, Viagra approaches the issue differently than does increased testosterone. Viagra helps circulation. In instances where erections are difficult due to poor circulation, it can be helpful -and testosterone is not necessarily going to help in those cases. There are also natural alternatives to Viagra without the potential side effects and cost of a drug.
is a critical hormone, which regulates growth, maturation, and the speed of metabolism. Lack of this hormone can cause fatigue, weight gain, dry skin, hair loss, constipation, brittle nails and hair, irregular and/or heavy menstrual cycles, low body temperature, and puffiness of the face, hands and feet, depression, and other health problems. Of critical importance in treating thyroid problems is the type of hormone used. Many women are treated with a synthetic product that has no benefits or very limited benefits.
is a naturally occurring “mother precursor” hormone that is converted into many full-fledged hormones. DHEA is thought to be a marker of age. The more you age, the lower your DHEA. Young people experiencing a lot of stress in their lives are very likely to have low DHEA levels, as well. In addition to being a precursor, there is evidence to suggest that DHEA has independent effects such as cancer protection, memory enhancement, immune system benefits and body fat reduction.
is a hormone considered a natural supplement that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. But actually, it does much more. It also acts as a brain antioxidant. Thus it follows that, if you produce more melatonin, you are less likely to suffer from neuro-degenerative problems because there will be less oxidative damage. Replacing melatonin can retard, and possibly even reverse, to some extent, oxidative changes that may be occurring in the brain.
This is a small sampling of what is, in fact, a complex set of factors that must be evaluated with care before any type of hormonal replacement therapy begins. In all instances, my choice is to use natural products rather than synthetic formulations, because they are compatible with the body’s own chemistry.