Hormones direct how the body metabolizes the myriad of chemical reactions taking place every second. They are made in various places in the body and send messages to other organs and tissues, directing them how to behave. We need to figure out how to create hormonal balance in order to be healthy.
I just finished listening to Dr. Sara Gottfried at the Women’s Weight Solution. She is a Harvard educated physician and she wrote a book called The Hormone Cure. She offers advice on how to balance hormones naturally.
Top 7 Hormones of Metabolism
These are, estrogen, insulin, leptin, cortisol, thyroid, growth hormone, and testosterone. There are other important hormones, but these are the top seven.
Among these seven there are the three “Charlie’s Angles” which stand out as the most important. These are: cortisol, estrogen and thyroid. We’ll talk about them when we talk about menopause below.
When there are health problems or weight problems, you need to reset those 7 hormones. This can be achieved with the way you move, eat, think and supplement.
Food and Detox
Life is a cycle of detox, retox, and detox. Use an elimination diet and get rid of common food allergens, such as grains, dairy and food additives. When you these add foods back into the diet, you will see how your body responds and if you gain weight after eating certain foods.
It’s important to use high quality real food first, to crowd out bad processed foods and hormone influencers, i.e. sugar and high carbohydrates. This is a way of doing a gentle detox – just by cleaning up the diet.
Dr. Gottfried advocates essentially a Vegan/Paleo food plan consisting of one pound of veges a day and healthy sources of protein from pasture raised meats and poultry, wild fish, (no soy) etc. While seemingly contradictory, this can be a clean way of eating.
Fiber is important in getting rid of bad estrogens and it also aids in weight loss. You can include carbohydrates (not refined) in amounts of about 75 – 125 grams per day.
We need to nurture the estrobalome – which is the microbiome that controls estrogen levels. If you don’t have the diversity of bacteria that controls estrogen (through their production of certain molecules) – you keep circulating and recycling the bad estrogen. This keeps stimulating estrogen receptors and is more likely to induce breast, ovarian, and uterine cancers.
Estrogen dominance can also lead to weight gain.
Hormonal Drivers of Weight Gain in Women
The number one reason for infertility in this country is women having too much testosterone. In polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), you can have weight gain and resistance to weight loss, as well as, infertility, acne and insulin resistance. (You don’t have to have cystic ovaries to have this).
PCOS is linked to insulin resistance and obesity and according to Dr. Gottfried occurs in 30% of the population.
Insulin resistance can be toxic to the ovaries and lead to too much testosterone and this leads to acne, rogue hair (facial) and will also disrupt the menstrual cycle and lead to infertility. It’s all driven by hormones.
When you reduce the glycemic index of foods you eat, you can reduce testosterone by 20% and this will help to lose weight.
Now that’s an important piece of information for women who struggle with weight loss.
Cortisol dominance will deplete sex hormones (this is called the pregnenalone steal) and you will not make enough sex hormones. Cortisol also raises blood pressure and blood sugar and modulates the immune system. If you are a high cortisol person, that can raise blood sugar too high and lead to insulin resistance.
Cortisol comes from the adrenal glands and will fluctuate during the day and night, but if it falls and does not recover well, there can be problems. Symptoms from thyroid and adrenal problems can be similar, which makes it difficult to differentiate. Adrenal function can be measured with a saliva test at four points during the day — usually 8am, 12pm, 5pm and 11pm.
In most people, cortisol levels are out of balance. These are the stress hormones. When we are first stressed cortisol goes up. Then it is supposed to go down – but because of pressured lifestyles, cortisol will stay high. People need to learn how to manage time and say NO. Life should not be a busy contest.
It is critical to address why the cortisol is so high. This is usually related to stress.
Hormones shift as get we get older. Menopause actually starts in the late 20’s and goes through the 30’s and 40’s. It will be harder if you are high cortisol and stressed.
There is a confluence of hormones Dr. Gottfried calls the Charlie’s Angles. These are: cortisol, estrogen and thyroid. Cortisol tends to go up, estrogen goes down (although you can still have estrogen dominance because it is relative to the amount of progesterone), and thyroid slows down. This is also called Thyropause.
There are receptors for thyroid hormone on every single cell in the body and they control metabolism. As you age, you gain weight, have trouble sleeping at night, have hot flashes, night sweats and the sudden appearance of visceral fat around the middle. If there is poor sleep, there will most certainly be difficulty losing weight. This is a perfect storm that makes you likely to gain weight.
Well, that exactly describes what I have experienced…
Visceral fat cells (abdominal fat) have 4 times the number of receptors for cortisol as fat elsewhere on the body. So if you have high cortisol, you are stimulating cells of belly fat. That is why that “spare tire” appears almost overnight, especially at times of stress and as we age.
What You Can Do
On your own, you can address this with diet and exercise. Some women are doing what we call chronic cardio – more than one hour of cardio exercise a day. While this will burn calories, this is not a good choice. You are better served doing interval training and resistance weight training instead. Interval training also raises growth hormone which helps in body repair and anti-aging.
The high amounts of cardio will drive the cortisol higher. (I raise my hand here – something I am working on changing). High cortisol is the forerunner for autoimmunity. This must be addressed to prevent worse problems.
Dr. Gottfried just wrote a new book on this called Your Body Cure (coming 3/15), which has separate chapters on all these problems. I can’t wait to read it.
Diet can greatly affect hormones and health – eat:
- Balanced proteins from pasture raised animals, including lamb which has a lot of omega 3 fats
- Good carb from vegetables and fruits
- Balance carbs with proteins — never eat starches alone
- Manage blood sugar
Keep insulin levels low by never eating sweet foods alone and limiting sweet foods.
Get appropriate saliva testing of cortisol and sex hormones from a functional medicine doctor. You can work with a functional medicine provider and get hormone tests (MyMedLab.com) to get a road map.
Bio-identical hormones can be used for the shortest amount of time. But there are actually fewer studies with bio-identical than with synthetic hormones (we now know major risks with synthetic hormones, i.e., increasing risk of breast cancer after 5 years, heart attack after 1 year, blood clots, stroke).
It seems to be the more natural thing to do to do bio-identicals, but it should be used with caution. It doesn’t have to be a life sentence — you keep tract of what your body needs as you use them.
We can and should assume the risk of bio-identical hormones are similar to the risks of synthetics. You must look at your personal risk factors and lifestyle, especially after 5 years of use. According to Dr. Gottfried, you can use these hormones safely for a period of time.
Thyroid hormone is something most people stay on for life, although lifestyle changes can help you keep the dosage low – go gluten-free and keep a clean diet.
A Word on Birth Control Pill
According to Dr. Gottfried,
nobody should be taking oral estrogen
It is NOT GOOD for the female body. Oral estrogen raises SHBG (sex hormone binding globulin) which sucks up testosterone. This helps with acne but reduces confidence, vaginal dryness, shrinks the clitoris by 20% — something they don’t tell young girls. These are problems that are being created by using these hormones.
Hormones are the Drivers of Weight
Hormones are the driver of weight gain and weight loss and the more you understand about the 7 key hormones the better you will be able to create a balance – and weight loss will follow.