OK, today I want to talk about hormones – which ones are important and why. Hormones have just as much impact on your health as the three other big pieces of the puzzle – physical health, mental health and nutrition. Don’t believe me? Well, you will by the end of this, so keep reading! This will be a very broad overview and I haven’t included all hormones, just what I call the big hitters. In later columns, we’ll dive deeper into individual hormones.
Vitamin D is technically a pro-hormone that we get mainly from being out in the sun. Other sources include cod liver oil, calcium-rich foods, egg yolk and supplementation. Almost everyone is deficient in Vitamin D. I take a Vitamin D. The biggest areas of benefit include significantly decreasing risk of cancer (by blocking progression of pre-cancerous cells) and lowering heart disease rates. It can also improve testosterone levels, calcium absorption, bone health, blood pressure control and lower autoimmune disease rates. It’s one of the first areas I recommend for a quick improved health intervention in most of my patients.
Your thyroid is important, and low levels of thyroid hormones can significantly impact health. Your thyroid regulates metabolism, energy and body temperature. When it’s healthy, it increases protein synthesis, lowers cholesterol, increases fat breakdown and improves cognition. When it’s low, there are over 200 symptoms you could have. The most significant include fatigue, depression, weight gain, dry skin, brittle nails, thin hair, brain ‘fog’, constipation and high cholesterol. Women, especially those ages 40-60, are more prone to low thyroid levels compared to men although we do see it in men as well.
Another common area impacting health is your adrenals (you have two of them – they rest just above your kidneys). When you are startled and have that ‘body shock’ feeling, that’s the adrenals releasing adrenaline. When there is longer term stress, the adrenals release cortisol. When stress continues and cortisol gets depleted, you move towards what we call adrenal fatigue. Unfortunately, due to our inherent culture of go-go-go, adrenal fatigue syndrome is very common. Also, it usually takes a long time (4-12 months) to resolve once addressed. Stress management is a key to reducing your risk for adrenal fatigue and improving your health. We’ll discuss stress management techniques in a later column.
Testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone are all considered sex hormones. The name is misleading as these hormones are definitely not just about sex. That’s not even how the word sex is meant here. Anyway, I could go on for many moons on this subject as I’m passionate about it but we’ll hit some highlights here. In general, women need estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. Men need testosterone and estrogen. People usually think of testosterone as only for men and estrogen as only for women but that’s not the case. Men and women need estrogen and testosterone to benefit their health but the levels needed are different. As an aside, sex hormone optimization is complex and you need a healthcare provider who specializes in this to address and manage it properly as there are risks to mismanagement. Testosterone helps your body with sex drive, erections (in men), muscle strength, mood, energy, bone strength, as well as decreasing heart disease, cholesterol and diabetes risks to name a few benefits. Estrogen and progesterone can affect mood, sex drive, breast growth (particularly in women), urinary tract infection risk, cholesterol, bone strength, cognition, Alzheimer’s risk, skin health and sleep…again, to name just a few areas. Progesterone, in particular, is good at helping with sleep.
For women, these sex hormones can be deficient before menopause, but definitely deficient after. Ten to fifteen years ago, there was concern for hormone replacement after menopause and several post-menopausal women abruptly stopped hormone replacement. We now know that likely put them in a higher health risk category than if they’d stayed on them. Also, since then, we’ve learned more and really see where there’s a benefit in maintaining these hormone levels with appropriate surveillance by a qualified healthcare provider.
For men, testosterone in particular got a bad rap 4-8 years ago with a concern for worsening heart disease risk, and historically there has been a concern for prostate cancer risk. We will address these individually at length in upcoming columns but the short of it is this: there does not appear to be an increased risk for prostate cancer with normal compared to low testosterone levels (the data actually shows an increase incidence in the low testosterone groups) and, in most patients, there’s an improvement in heart health and lowering of heart disease risk with normal testosterone levels compared to low (similar to above, the data points towards increased heart disease risk at low testosterone levels compared to normal).
I know I threw a lot at you here, but that’s a super-high bird’s eye look at the impact of hormones on health. Keeping hormone levels optimized naturally, or if needed through supplementation, improves your chance for more functional years and an improved quality of life!
Dr. Thomas is a board-certified physician who operates Complete Health Integrative Wellness Clinic and Thomas Urology Clinic in Starkville, Mississippi.
This column is for informational purposes only and is, under no circumstances, intended to constitute medical advice or to create or continue a physician-patient relationship. If you have a medical emergency, you should immediately seek care from your nearest emergency room, and if you have specific health questions, you should consult your own physician.