Hormone Health: How It Affects Your Life
Today we know that hormone health is the foundation of vitality. Whether you need to balance weight, blood pressure, sleep, moods, reproductive issues, libido or your ability to deal with stress, hormones are at the core.
“Many people believe that hormone dysfunction is experienced purely as menopause or erectile dysfunction; the truth is that sex hormones affect almost every function of the body,” says Dr Leila Sadien, an integrative medicine GP from Renascent Health in Cape Town. “Correcting hormone imbalances can be required at almost any age. Functional medicine allows doctors to use natural medicines to either increase or decrease hormones appropriately to restore balance,” suggests Dr Daphne Lyell, an integrative medicine GP based in Woodstock, Cape Town: “One of the key drivers for hormonal disruption is inflammation. And between fast food, work stress, lack of sleep and a lack of nutrients, most of us are living a pro-inflammatory lifestyle. Plus, endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome, adrenal fatigue and thyroid issues have also been scientifically linked to endocrine-disrupting chemicals.”
In endometriosis, the endometrial tissue, which lines the uterus, is also found in other parts of the body. When hormonal signals trigger menstruation, all of the endometrial tissue in the body becomes inflamed, which can be rather painful. Dr Malikah van der Schyff, resident gynecologist and obstetrician at Constantiaberg Mediclinic, explains: “If you are having excessively heavy or painful periods, go for a check-up with your gynae. Since it is a condition that is actively linked to inflammation, an anti-inflammatory diet and supplements can help.”
For instance, curcumin (turmeric extract) is now known as a potent anti-inflammatory substance. In a 2012 study on curcumin and endometriosis published in the journal Biochemical Pharmacology, researchers concluded that curcumin is an anti-endometriotic agent.
The hormone estrogen promotes tissue growth and has an inflammatory action on endometrial tissue. Therefore, there may be good cause to avoid exposure to estrogens in animal products, soya, plastics, pesticides and cleaning agents, as well as beauty and baby products.
A study published in the journal Endocrine Reviews, December 2008, found: “In utero exposure to DES (pesticide) makes a woman nine times more vulnerable to endometriosis.” In a 2015 research trial, scientists found: “Women who were regularly fed soy formula as infants had more than twice the risk of endometriosis compared with unexposed women.”
Van der Schyff explains that endometrial tissue can affect other organs, including the bladder and bowel. This calls for a laparoscopy, which removes rogue endometrial tissue through keyhole surgery. Without proper lifestyle management, the endometrial tissue may grow back years later.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
PCOS is a complex syndrome made up of many hormonal issues. Excess insulin (from high stress, saturated fats or starchy foods) can stimulate the ovaries to produce large amounts of testosterone, which can halt ovulation and increase your risk of PCOS. High levels of insulin also increase the conversion of testosterone to estrogen. This upsets the delicate hormonal balance, increasing weight gain, and can trigger the formation of cysts in the ovaries. Click here to find out more about this condition.
In excess, these hormones also bully progesterone, which is essential for ovulation, insulin balance, weight balance and energy levels. Therefore, unless support is brought in, a downward hormonal cycle begins.
Van der Schyff says: “PCOS needs to be streamlined for hormonal balance. One can look at lifestyle and dietary changes, like a low-carb diet.” The latest research is pointing towards liquorice root for testosterone reduction and insulin balance in women with PCOS.
“Fibroids are called ‘innocent tumors’ as, in the majority of cases, they are not cancerous,” notes Van der Schyff. Catching fibroids in time can prevent a hysterectomy. The non-invasive keyhole surgery called “uterine fibroid embolization” can reverse the growth of fibroids.
“What we do know is that obesity and a diet high in red meat increase the risk of fibroids substantially. The good news is fibroids do shrink during menopause.”
A study recently conducted across Europe and published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism in March 2016 found: “EDCs (endocrine-disrupting chemicals) may contribute substantially to the most common reproductive disorders in women, endometriosis and fibroids…”
Lyell reminds us that hormone health is really about self-nourishment: getting enough sleep, eating delicious organic food, using organic body products, and enjoying some hormone-healing rest and relaxation.