This is an article that I wrote for the online health magazine http://www.greathealthguide.com.au/. A great magazine that you can download from the app store or from google play, check it out and you can get your first copy for free.
Ageing is inevitable there is not disputing that, but we can grow old gracefully living a full and vibrant life, active in both body and mind, or we can grow old ahead of our time restricted in what we can do, spending more time visiting doctors, and with a growing pile of medications to take each day. While our hormones naturally decline with age, it is many of our diet and lifestyle choices that speed up the process of declining hormones, and this speeds up the aging process. So what can we do?
Hormone replacement therapy or HRT as it is commonly called, was hailed as the wonder cure for all of our symptoms of the ageing process, this was a popular treatment in the 90’s and early 2,000’s until studies revealed a dramatic increase in ovarian and breast cancer, plus an increase in cardiovascular disease, these risks are unacceptable so HRT is not an option.
Rather than trying to fix hormones like estrogen, progesterone or testosterone that are out of balance, a better option is to treat the cause of the hormone imbalance, and this is usually caused by your adrenal glands. Cortisol and DHEA are the main adrenal hormones that affect the sex hormones, causing them to decline much quicker than they should, the adrenals also affect other hormones that are involved in the aging process like thyroid hormones and insulin.
• Irregular menstrual cycle and PMS symptoms
• Menopause symptoms like hot flashes
• Weight gain can be caused by cortisol, insulin or thyroid imbalance
• Hair loss and dry skin can be caused by adrenal or thyroid hormones
• low libido can be caused by low sex hormones and adrenal function
• Depression and mood changes can be caused by all of the hormones
• Cognitive decline can be caused by adrenal and insulin
• Fatigue can be caused by low thyroid and adrenal function
• Digestion problems can be caused by adrenal and thyroid hormones
• Cardiovascular disease can be caused by all of the hormones
Stress is the cause of the adrenal hormones cortisol and DHEA to go out of balance, not all stress is bad but when stress gets out of control this is when problems occur. When most people think of stress they think of emotional stress caused by work, relationships, and grief, however, there are many other types of stress that can affect the adrenal hormones. Stress also includes physical stress like pain, injury or an operation, poor quality sleep, infections, too much or too little exercise or dietary stress from processed foods, or low calorie/ low-fat diets.
Traditional blood testing is a poor way to diagnose adrenal problems because the adrenal hormone cortisol changes throughout the day, so a one off blood test will not see these changes. The best and most convenient way to diagnose adrenal problems is with a saliva hormone test or a urine test known as DUTCH, as both of these methods test the hormones at 4 to 5 different points throughout the day which can diagnose if cortisol is too high or too low, plus the cortisol rhythm which is equally important.
Cortisol controls your insulin levels, so when both of these hormones go out of balance it can lead to increased weight gain, in particular in the unhealthy area around the waist. This will also lead to insulin resistance and increased risk of diabetes, Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular disease. When you have your regular checkups it is a good idea to test your HbA1C levels, ideally, this will be under 5.5 which indicates good blood sugar control.
Besides addressing adrenal function it is important to include adequate amounts of protein in your diet ( 1 gram of protein per kilo of body weight ) which works out to be around 20 – 25 grams of protein with each meal. If you have excess weight on around the waist this is a sign of insulin resistance and it is important to reduce processed carbohydrates and sugar from bread, cereals and other processed food sources.
There are many different signs and symptoms of low thyroid function which will accelerate the aging process, but often when you go to the doctor and have your thyroid tested you are told everything is “fine”.
This is because doctors usually only test your TSH levels which are a poor indicator of low thyroid function when stress drives up cortisol levels this can lead the body to lower TSH levels and also cause the thyroid hormone T4 to be converted to the inactive form of reverse T3, rather than the active T3.
60% of thyroid problems go undiagnosed because women are not getting properly tested, this leads to fatigue, weight issues, hair and skin problems, mood and digestion issues all of which accelerate the aging process.
If it sounds like you have many of these symptoms of hormone imbalance it would be a good idea to see a Functional Medicine doctor or Naturopath who specializes in this area. knowing exactly what your hormones are doing can help to guide you on what the best treatment options are to bring them back into balance, this may involve lifestyle changes, diet, and nutritional supplements which will help you to feel at your best.
Hormone testing is available through Planet Naturopath and test kits can be sent anywhere in the world.
Michael is head consultant at Planet Naturopath - Functional Medicine and Nutrition Solutions. As Seen