Why do we eat? Some would say we eat because food tastes good or that we enjoy eating but the fact is if we didn’t eat we would die. We are designed to eat so we can extract the nutrients from our food to help our bodies thrive. These nutrients are vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, carbohydrates, fiber, antioxidants, proteins and amino acids.
In a perfect world where the food is organic and grown in nutrient rich soil or uncontaminated waters and eaten shortly after harvesting with a perfect digestive system maybe we would be able to survive solely on our healthy choice of foods. But we live in a world that is not perfect. Our food is often grown in soil that is deficient in essential nutrients. Our foods are subjected to chemical pesticides, fertilizers and additives many that have not been thoroughly tested for safe consumption. Our vegetables and fruits, although they may look good, may not have sufficient quantities of vitamins and minerals necessary to promote good health, reverse disease or counteract all the toxins that surround us.
There are also many health conditions requiring a higher level of specific nutrients than would normally be needed for healthy people.
Thousands of chemical reactions are taking place in our bodies all the time. These are complex reactions that require many co-factors (nutrient molecules from our food e.g. vitamins, minerals, amino acids, etc.) in order to proceed.
Hormones are no exception. The chemical reaction necessary for the body to construct the hormones and the chemical reactions that are a result of the action of these hormones are dependent on the availability and sufficient supply of these nutrients. Our food sends signals to our body. Depending on the food and its breakdown and absorption this signaling can have positive or negative results.
Most processed foods have additives that are foreign to our bodies. Some contain refined white sugar or other substances with minimal nutrient value. These have to be metabolized and eliminated and require many vitamins and minerals to do so which are then not available for other reactions, reactions that are necessary to maintain a healthy body.
When we supplement with bio-identical sex hormones (BHRT) they have to work in concert with other hormones in the body. Eating too much sugar or high glycemic index foods will increase insulin levels. Chronic increased insulin levels can increase cortisol levels. Increased cortisol levels can negate many of the actions of the sex hormones as well as thyroid hormones. Low activity of thyroid hormones can contribute to weight gain. Weight gain can affect the balance of sex hormones as well as insulin levels.
In addition to this example of interplay between the hormones, as mentioned previously, food nutrients are necessary for hormones to exist and carry on their influence. Thyroid hormone is composed of iodine and an amino acid called tyrosine. If the body has too low a supply of either of these nutrients the amount of thyroid hormone will suffer. The Great Lakes area is known for being a low iodine area and in fact is the reason why iodine was originally added to salt. So without getting enough iodine in food or without supplementing with iodine the results will be the same. In addition tyrosine is needed for making many of the hormones and neurotransmitters produced by the adrenal glands, so in times of stress the adrenals will have preferential use of tyrosine resulting in a possible tyrosine deficiency for producing thyroid hormone.
For those of us that are at that stage of life where supplementation with bio-identical hormones (BHRT) is necessary to maintain hormonal balance for symptom relief as well as total health it is imperative not to look at this in isolation. It is important to look at our food and lifestyle that in most cases involves the ingestion of supplements to make up for deficiencies in order to maximize the benefits of BHRT. Everyone is different. Their genetic makeup is different and so the hormonal and supplement mix needed to optimize their health will be different.
As women approach peri-menopause and menopause their hormone levels become deregulated. They stop ovulating or ovulate infrequently causing their progesterone levels fall. Their estrogen levels no longer follow a menstrual pattern.
Stress is quite often an issue affecting DHEA and testosterone levels. These all can lead to a variety of well-known symptoms e.g. hot flashes, night sweats, etc. Bio-identical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT) to rebalance hormones to the level they once were goes a long way to alleviate these symptoms as well as preventing chronic health issues of unbalanced hormones.
However even if you use BHRT, other approaches such as dietary modification, the use of nutritional and dietary supplements, herbs, as well as other naturopathic elements can be used to great advantage.
Many different plants contain phytoestrogens. These are ingredients that exert a mild estrogenic effect in humans. Examples include Dong quai, black cohosh, chaste tree, and licorice all of which can help with hot flashes. Omega 3’s, vitamin A, vitamin E, selenium and vitamin C can help with dry itchy skin and vaginal dryness. Passionflower, valerian root, skullcap, vitamin B complex, pantothenic acid can help with anxiety, irritability and insomnia. Vitamin A, vitamin D3, calcium, magnesium, vitamin K, zinc, boron, and manganese can help with aging skin, thinning hair, brittle nails, and osteoporosis.
It is important to note that many medications deplete the body of essential nutrients that may help with menopausal symptoms, energy levels, and disease prevention were they not being depleted. It is also important to note that when using supplements the advice of a knowledgeable professional is highly recommended.