How Low Hormones Affect Health
In modern mainstream medicine endocrinologists are considered the specialists of hormone therapy. Volumes of scientific literature attest to the crucial role hormones play in the physiological and psychological processes that are required to maintain homeostasis in the body throughout the entire life cycle. However, traditional endocrinology focuses only on diseases related to individual hormones. Doctors are not trained and so do not focus on how hormones relate to wellness and disease prevention.
There is even controversy in modern medicine related to the use of various hormone therapies to support and maintain the aging patient. The general thinking of many in the medical community has been that decreasing hormones is a normal part of aging and so restoring hormone levels is not necessary.
The diagnosis is usually only made once the level drops below the huge range that modern mainstream medicine has decided is "normal for age", which is unfortunate in my opinion. Although some of their aging patients are having clear symptoms of insufficient hormone levels some physicians refuse to help these ailing patients because they barely fall within the wide range of within normal limits (WNL). Such patients are missing out on therapy that could alleviate or at least improve their symptoms.
We in anti-aging and functional medicine focus on keeping hormone levels optimum as age progresses in order to help prevent disease and maintain a high quality of life.
Hormones We Need Throughout Life
Human Growth Hormone: Made by the pituitary gland HGH is quickly converted into IGF-1 by the liver. Growth hormone and IGF-1 prompt cell rejuvenation and tissue repair throughout the entire body. They regulate the muscle/fat ratio by increasing lean muscle and decreasing fat. They also strengthen the cardiovascular and immune systems, improve enzyme production, enhance energy levels, strength and stamina, improve bone density, decrease cholesterol, enhance sexual function and libido, improve sleep, increase sense of well-being, and more.
Pregnenolone: Secreted by the adrenal glands it is known as the "grandmother of all hormones". It is essential to the proper functioning of the body's many physiologic and metabolic functions. It is also an important precursor to important hormones such as DHEA, cortisol, testosterone, the estrogens, and progesterone.
Thyroid: The thyroid gland produces several hormones including T1, T2, T3, T4, and calcitonin. The active thyroid hormone is called T3. It regulates metabolism, cerebral function, and body temperature, contributes to energy levels, increases fat breakdown and so reduces weight, reduces cholesterol levels, and is essential to the prevention of cognitive decline.
Testosterone: Released by the adrenals, testes, and ovaries this hormone is vital to both men and women. It increases muscle and decreases fat, contributes to strength and stamina, enhances libido, and increases a sense of well-being. In men it protects the cardiovascular system, protects against hypertension and arthritis, increases muscle mass and bone density, etc. In women testosterone decreases fat and increases lean muscle, improves energy and stamina, and increases libido.
The Estrogens: Made by the adrenals, ovaries, testes, liver, and fat cells and consisting of estradiol, estriol, and estrone the estrogens are considered female hormones but estrogen is important for men also. Estrogen is necessary for optimal function and protection of the heart, brain, and bones in both sexes. It helps to prevent heart disease, cerebral vascular accident (stroke), osteoporosis, Alzheimer's, and memory issues. Lack of estrogen may also cause dryness of the skin, eyes, and vagina.
Progesterone: Even though progesterone is considered a female hormone it is very important for males also. It is made by the adrenals, ovaries, testes, fat cells, and in the brain. It is important for brain health. It helps protect women from breast and uterine cancer, fibrocystic breasts, uterine fibroids, and ovarian cysts. It helps protect men from prostate cancer and benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). It can enhance testosterone by opposing estrogen and also helps to block testosterone conversion into DHT. In men it provides some of the same benefits as testosterone. Progesterone also helps to keep estrogen balanced in both sexes.
Ways We Can Improve Our Hormones
There are basically three ways to improve hormone levels. We can take pharmaceutical doses of synthetic or bioidentical hormones, we can take bioidentical hormones in homeopathic form, or we can take nutrients and/or herbs that in certain situations can help to improve the body's own release of a specific hormone.
The first option is full hormone replacement therapy. HRT requires a prescription by a medical doctor. The physician may prescribe either a man-made (synthetic) or bioidentical hormone.
Doctor's usually prescribe HRT with the intention that the patient will continue on the therapy for the remainder of their life. The reason is because hormone replacement therapy can cause the body to stop making its own hormone. This is why many view HRT as their last option.
Other issues regarding HRT are the risk factors and side effects that can occur. There are varying opinions among doctors as to whether the benefits of HRT outweigh the risks.
The second option involves taking hormones in homeopathic form. Homeopathy is the safest form of medicine known to man. Homeopathic products are not a full hormone replacement and so are not meant to provide all the hormone a person needs. For this reason they will not shut down the body's own release of hormones. They will provide a small amount of the hormone in homeopathic form, and also help the body to increase and balance its own release of that hormone.
The third option is taking nutrients and/or herbals to help the body produce more of its own hormone. For example, if a person doesn't have enough selenium they won't be able to convert the storage thyroid hormone T4 into active T3. Also, the adrenal glands require certain vitamins and minerals to function properly. A deficiency of these vitamins and minerals will decrease adrenal function and so can affect all the hormones made by the adrenals. Providing the body with the needed nutrients in situations like these can help to bring about needed improvements.
Although all the hormones mentioned above decrease with age, in my opinion there is no reason why we shouldn't try to prevent or at least delay the damaging effects of hormone deficiencies, if we can do it safely.
When having your blood or saliva levels checked please keep in mind there is a difference in the hormone level that is considered normal for your age and the level at which your body functions best at. Your doctor may tell you that you are fine, however, some doctors pay too much attention to lab values and not enough attention to patient symptoms and complaints.
The so-called normal lab ranges of most hormones are so wide that even though your level may fall within the low normal range, you would feel, look, and function so much better if your value was at the higher end of the scale.
Click to see just how wide the ranges of some of the normal hormone levels are.
Lastly, I would like to say that we usually know better than anyone when we are not feeling or functioning as well as we did in the past, and many times hormones are involved.
Lisa Wells, RN
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