Dr. Harris continues the 6 root causes of disease in this episode with a discussion of hormone dysregulation. Hormones are so vital to our overall health, but unfortunately there are a lot of causes that can send our hormones out of whack. Learn what you can do to holistically protect your hormone health!
Lifestyle Medicine with Dr. Harris
Hello, and welcome to the third episode of the Striving for Great Health podcast. I hope everyone is doing quite well today. I wanted to start with, leaving off where we did the first week, on dysbiosis.
I was reading an article yesterday that actually looked at the lung microbiome. We had talked about the intestinal microbiome and its benefits and what happens when things go wrong, but this article is actually saying that there is a lung microbiome. There’s a lung diversity, which is really, really, really interesting. Most of what we’re taught is that the lungs are sterile, meaning that there’re no bacteria in that environment. Well, this study said that there’s actually bacteria in a microbiome in our lungs, as well.
The really interesting part was that that microbiome also talks to our other microbiome, our intestinal microbiome. So not only do the cells in our body talk to each other, not only do the cells and the bacteria in our bodies talk to each other, but the bacteria across our bodies talk to each other. This means our body’s a wonderful ecosystem, where everything is taking inputs, outputs, everything is talking, coordination. It’s just mind blowing that we’re finding out new information like this all the time.
So what’s our agenda for today? Well, today we’re going to talk about root cause of chronic disease number three, hormone dysregulation. So we had talked about dysbiosis. We had talked about toxin exposure. Today, we’re going to talk about what happens when your hormones go wrong.
To start off the conversation, of course, we’re going to have to say, what is a hormone, right? Hormones are very, very powerful molecules that our bodies make, that have many, many different effects. We like to say it’s a cascade effect, that one hormone activates a lot of stuff underneath it. Think about it like a pyramid, and the hormone is at the top of that pyramid. It goes to where it needs to go, and then a lot of stuff happens down a level, down a level, down a level. It has multiple different effects. These are very, very powerful molecules, and thus they’re regulated very closely.
Hormones that we tend to think of, cortisol is a big hormone that you’ll hear about. It’s the stress hormone, the fight or flight hormone. A lot of the chronic diseases that we see are linked to cortisol dysregulation. Cortisol dysregulation can increase blood sugars, increase central obesity, and cause a lot of other ill-wanted effects in the body. I believe we talked about the amygdala and the fear center and how cortisol can increase the responsiveness of that fear center, so you start to take normal signals and interpret them as abnormal over time.
Another hormone that we hear frequently is insulin. Insulin is the hormone that we mainly think about as regulating our blood sugars, but insulin also has anabolic effects. Anabolic, we think bodybuilders and steroids, right? That’s what people think of, when they think of anabolic. Insulin also helps with growth, muscle growth, fat growth. Insulin is very important in that regard, as well.
Thyroid hormones, that’s another thing that we hear about, especially hypothyroidism or low thyroid hormone, which is becoming more and more frequent, even at a younger age. Sometimes that’s due to auto-immunity. We’re seeing a lot of, actually, iodine deficiency leading to thyroid deficiency. Himalayan rock salt and Celtic sea salt have a lot of great principles. That’s what I use myself. I use Himalayan rock salt when I cook. The problem is, it doesn’t have iodine added to it.
The US government does add iodine to table salt because we don’t eat the foods that are high in iodine anymore. Anybody out there eat fish heads? Because I don’t eat fish heads, right? That’s primarily where we got a lot of our iodine from in the past. So we’re seeing cases where people are diagnosed with hypothyroidism, put on medication, and really, you check their iodine level and realize they were just iodine deficient. Iodine is essential and absolutely necessary to generate thyroid hormone. You replace the iodine, and all of a sudden their thyroid is functioning optimally. So what’s the fix for that? I get asked that a lot. What I do is, I use Maine Coast’s kelp flakes. I use it like salt once or twice a week in my food. It’s very high in iodine. People who like seaweed, that’s also a very good source of iodine.
Another hormone, sex hormones. Testosterone, estrogen, progesterone are the main ones that we think of. There are other ones. These do deal with sexual function in our sex organs, but they have lots of other different effects. We think of testosterone for muscle growth, decreasing central obesity, also improving mood. Testosterone is very important for blood counts, as well. In women, we think of estrogen also with mood and the brain. We think of temperature regulation, of course the ovulation and the cycle. Same thing with progesterone. Progesterone is actually very important for maintaining normal brain function.
So even these hormones that we think do one thing, and that’s what they may be primarily for, they have a lot of other effects, as well. Vitamin D is a classic example. Vitamin D is actually a hormone, and vitamin D has many, many effects in the body. Low vitamin D level is very apparent in today’s society because we don’t get enough sunlight, and when we do get out in the sun, we’re usually covered up, or we’re using sunscreen to block out the sun. More on sunscreen later. Vitamin D is involved with everything from cholesterol metabolism, to blood sugars, to thyroid function, to brain function, you name it. Vitamin D is very, very important. Again, as you can see, these hormones have lots of different effects. They don’t just have one effect. It’s that cascade model.
What are diseases linked to hormone dysregulation? If you look at the list of everything these hormones do, and that’s not all the hormones, there’s multiple other hormones. I just chose a few that we tend to hear a lot in the news and we tend to focus on. Diseases linked to hormone dysregulation, you name it, Altzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer, autoimmune disease. The list goes on and on.
What are things that dysregulate our hormones? There’s a lot of things that, unfortunately, disrupt our hormones. A lot of that is related to lifestyle factors. One of the big ones that we see chronically is lack of sleep, right? Things like testosterone get made while we sleep. Lack of sleep can elevate your cortisol levels, which will throw out some of the body systems into dysregulation. Stress, against stress is very prevalent in our modern lives. Most people feel like they’re stressed out, and a lot of us don’t do the things we need to do to deactivate, to lower our stress levels, to relax. That’s very important for our hormones. That elevated level of cortisol can throw off the thyroid hormones, can throw off the sex hormones.
A lot of these hormones, specifically like the sex hormones and cortisol, are made from cholesterol. We only have a certain amount of cholesterol around any given time, right? So what will happen is, if the cortisol levels have to elevate, it will shut down production of the other hormones to make more cortisol. So you can get hormone dysregulation and deficiencies just by having another hormone that’s out of whack.
Other things that can cause hormone dysregulation, endocrine disruptors. This is a heavy, heavy subject in the news right now, endocrine disruptors. You hear about them all the time. Well, endocrine means hormone. It’s another name for hormones. So when you see endocrine disruptor, just think this is something that’s putting my hormones out of balance. The big thing that we see with endocrine disruptors now is skincare products. A lot of these products are now being tested and shown that they can alter the levels of hormones in the body, specifically the sex hormones. Unfortunately, a lot of these products are loaded with all kinds of chemicals, and these chemicals either look enough like the hormones to cause problems, or cause inflammation that lowers hormone levels, or they compete with the hormones for action.
There’s a lot of different ways that these endocrine disruptors can disrupt hormones. One specifically people ask a lot about is sunscreen. There was that recent study that showed that some of the components in sunscreen get more in our bloodstream than we thought. We’re worried that, in animal studies, some of these molecules do show that they can be endocrine disruptors.
Nutrition. Nutrition of course always comes back to the forefront. It’s always, always, always, always about nutrition. To me and a lot of other practitioners, nutrition is the most important thing. So what about nutrition can disrupt hormones? Number one, high processed foods. We’ve talked about this before, the dangers with processed foods, but these processed foods have in them chemicals that can function as endocrine disruptors, that can lead to inflammation, that can lead to dysbiosis, that can alter some of the precursors to some of the molecules that our bodies make, that turn into hormones. All of this can lead to hormone dysregulation.
Also, if you’re eating a high carbohydrate, high processed food diet, that’s especially dangerous because that can cause insulin dysregulation, and insulin dysregulation, again, is linked to a lot of chronic diseases. Diabetes is the one we think of the most, but there are also other inflammatory processes that happen when you have insulin resistance and insulin dysregulation.
One of the classical ones you’ll hear about now is Alzheimer’s. Some people call Alzheimer’s type three diabetes. One of the types of Alzheimer’s is caused by hormone dysregulation, and insulin is one of those hormones that’s very important, to maintain normal brain health. One of the things that you see in Alzheimer’s is a disruption in glucose, sugar, carbohydrate metabolism, where the brain becomes less efficient at using carbohydrates, at using glucose for fuel.
This is why things like the ketogenic nutrition plan, drinkable or exogenous ketones, and MCT oil have shown a lot of benefit for people with Alzheimer’s disease, because they help with that insulin dysregulation. So the brain, therefore, is using another fuel source, ketones, a very clean burning fuel source, instead of having to depend on glucose. It lowers that insulin dysregulation, it lowers that insulin resistance, and that helps a lot in Alzheimer’s disease, and numerous other insulin pathways, insulin diseases.
Obesity. Again, obesity can lead to insulin dysregulation, insulin resistance, but also obesity tends to mess with some of the molecules that hold the hormones in the bloodstream. So because hormones are so powerful and have so many different effects, that cascade model, these things typically aren’t in high concentrations, just floating around in the blood, right? So what the body does is, it makes binding molecules. It makes things that carry the hormones around. Then when they get to where they’re supposed to be, or based upon concentration levels, the hormones will come off those binders and then be free to enter cells and do what they need to do, or bind to membranes and do what they need to do. That’s more of a biochemical thing. I try to stay away from that and keep everything at a level that we can all understand.
The takeaway here is that hormones are carried in the blood by certain molecules, and even obesity can disrupt some of these molecules. One that we classically use is sex hormone, binding globulin. It binds the sex hormones, and obesity can affect the levels of that. Drugs can affect the level of that, medications, other hormone levels can affect the levels of these binding molecules.
Another thing is sedentary, not being active. We’re not as active a society as we used to be. We don’t walk as much. We don’t exercise as much. Exercise is very important, but so is our non-exercise movement time. Basically not sitting in one place for too long. Again, this can disrupt your hormones, specifically insulin. When we are active throughout the day, that does help with that insulin sensitivity.
So what are some holistic strategies to treat hormone dysregulation? Well, number one, again, back to nutrition, eat whole foods. Avoid the processed foods, avoid the refined sugars. I’m a big fan of either low carb paleo or a ketogenic nutrition plan. Those are what I follow. The main thing there is just eating whole foods. For most people, say if you don’t have insulin sensitivity issues, if you don’t have diabetes, if you don’t have Alzheimer’s, if you’re pretty much a young, healthy person, the data shows there’s really no difference in the nutrition plan that you choose, as long as you choose one that’s backed by whole foods, that you eat whole foods.
Some people will say, just eat real foods. I like to tell people if it doesn’t walk, swim, run, or come from the ground, don’t eat it. If it has a commercial, don’t eat it. If it comes in a box, don’t eat it. If you have to have a PhD in chemistry to understand what the label says, don’t it. Those are kind of my quick and dirty recommendations, as far as eating whole foods.
Well, what does that leave? A little quick heuristic you can use is, eat like your grandma used to eat. What did grandma eat? Meats, vegetables, fruits, use cooking oil like lard and butter and tallow. Those are some basic nutrition advice. If you want more in-depth nutrition advice, I highly suggest you head to my private Facebook group Strive for Great Health. I have a pillar one of what I call my five pillar system, pillar one is nutrition. It goes into depth about nutrition and some nutrition recommendations, to get you started on your lifestyle journey.
Second thing, meditation. If stress can cause hormone dysregulation, then controlling stress can improve our hormone levels. One of the best ways to control stress is meditation. I’m a big, big fan of meditation. I try to get in at least 20 minutes of mindfulness a day. Mindfulness, it can be meditation, it could be yoga, it could be Tai Chi, it could be breathing exercises, it could be listening to relaxing music, whatever is your centering place. Meditation has been shown to lower stress levels, along with some of the other benefits of meditation, including improving empathy, concentration, mood, there’s numerous benefits to meditation.
What’s funny about meditation is, if you look back ancestrally, every society used to meditate, they used to have some type of meditation practice. It wasn’t until recently that we just got rid of that. We knew that meditation was helpful, that it was beneficial, that it did all these things, before we even had the science behind it. I’ve seen a dramatic improvement in my own life with meditation, and in the life of people I’ve referred to start meditating.
So what’s a good place to start? There are lots of great apps. I usually recommend Headspace or Calm. They can teach you how to meditate. It sounds weird thinking about, I have to teach myself how to meditate or have some mindfulness, but like just about anything, there’s a right way to do it and a wrong way to doing it. Meditation is not, “Oh, I just need to shut my brain off and be quiet and not think.” That’s not what it is. These apps can teach you the right way to meditate, to start reaping those benefits of meditation.
I like to tell people two of the quickest things that you can do to start improving your health tomorrow are not eat, intermittent fasting, and start meditating. It is a beautiful, profound practice. The days that I don’t meditate, I can feel it. I can feel it, and so once I get time, I’ll meditate. I usually do mine in the morning, when I wake up: say my prayers meditate, and then start my day. If I can’t get it in the morning, or if I have to be up super early, the first time I can get five or ten minutes to myself, I hammer out that meditation practice.
What else? Sleep. Sleep is severely underrated. It’s one of the problems that we see in our society leading to chronic disease, and it’s something that we don’t address enough of. I like to tell my story. Personally, I’ve always been someone who dealt with insomnia, ever since I was a little kid. It got really, really bad when I was in pharmacy school. I don’t even remember why. I went from sleeping kind of normally, five hours a night to me was normal at that time, to only being able to sleep two hours a night and waking up 13 times a night. I went from doing well in school to doing very, very badly in school. It was because I wasn’t sleeping, and I was falling asleep everywhere. Well, I went on prescription medication for a while, until we got to the class in pharmacy school that looked at the studies on these prescription sleep aids. I was like, “Well, these things don’t work. Why am I taking this when all I do is it makes me feel groggy and out of it?”
Luckily, one of my professors mentioned sleep hygiene. I Googled sleep hygiene. Then I went to the studies on sleep hygiene, and sleep hygiene saved my pharmacy career. Without sleep hygiene, I don’t know what I would have done. I realized that I had a lot of harmful habits that were keeping me from sleeping well. Sleep hygiene is very important. Getting good quality sleep is very important. One of the things that a lot of people don’t realize is those plaques, those tangles that cause Altzheimer’s disease get clear from the body when we sleep. So if we’re not getting enough deep sleep, enough restful sleep, that’s a huge risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.
Sex hormones, testosterone, in men it’s very important. Testosterone is made when we sleep. It appears the first three hours when we go into sleep are the most important, as far as generating testosterone and making sure that that time period is uninterrupted. Sleeping by itself, some studies show can increase testosterone levels by 30%. That’s huge.
Cortisol and what we used to call adrenal fatigue, now we call HPA axis dysfunction. That’s a long name for organ in the brain, but basically it just means that the stress access is off. Lack of sleep can be one of the things that causes that.
So the first step I always recommend to people is sleep hygiene. That’s very, very important. Supplements, people ask me what they can take for sleep. Valerian root is one that’s been used for a long time. L-theanine is another that’s been used. Most recently, CBD oil is something that people use for sleep. I use it for sleep. There’s a little bit of controversy in the literature. Some studies say it decreases deep sleep. Others say it increases deep sleep. For me and myself, when I track it, I do get more deep sleep with it. So that’s something that we’ll hopefully continue to flesh out with research and determine. But as far as sleep, I love CBD oil. Elixinol is the brand I use for myself, and I really like CBD, as far as for sleep.
Exercise. Again, exercise is very important to a holistic lifestyle. Exercise can help regulate the hormones, mainly insulin, that insulin sensitivity, that insulin dysregulation. That’s very important to prevent chronic disease. It also helps just with our mental wellbeing. Of course, if you want to decrease your risk for every single disease under the planet, exercise.
What do I do for exercise? I do four days a week of weightlifting. I do two days a week of high intensity interval training cardio. Then I’ll try to just get some steps in whenever I can. I’ll go walk around the neighborhood, walk on the treadmill later at night, just try to make sure I don’t stay too sedentary all throughout the day.
Supplements. This is a little bit trickier thing to tackle, supplements, because it really depends on the underlying reason for the hormone dysregulation. If it’s due to inflammation, anti-inflammatories will improve. If it’s due to nutritional deficiencies, taking the right nutrients will improve that, especially, like I said, eating enough good fats. We need that cholesterol to make our sex hormones, so making sure they’re eating enough cholesterol.
Cholesterol isn’t the boogeyman. I’ll go on a tangent on this really quickly. Cholesterol is a transport system. That’s all it is. You have something called apolipoproteins, which are just proteins that carry fats. Then you have your LDL, your HDL, your triglycerides. They’re all the molecules that are being carried around by these proteins. Well, all LDL does is carry these molecules, carry nutrients and other fat soluble things, from the liver to tissues, and then HDL carries it back from tissues to the liver. That’s what it is. Cholesterol is a transport system.
So when we think of LDLs as boogeymen, as this harbinger of all these horrible diseases, no, it’s not the cause of disease. It’s a marker that something else is going wrong. There’s something else wrong. We’re raising that cholesterol up, usually to try to help our body heal itself from an attack. So making sure that you get enough cholesterol in is one thing that can help, especially with the sex hormones. You know, you’ll hear people talk about, especially for testosterone, eating three to six eggs at night before they go to bed, to help their cholesterol go up, or to help their testosterone levels go up, because they have enough cholesterol on board. For most people, dietary cholesterol, it’s not impacting total cholesterol levels that much. 25% may be from dietary. 75% is from your body just recycling its own cholesterol. Sorry for the tangent, but that’s just who I am. I’ll go on tangents, if we mention something.
Supplements. So what I typically will recommend for men and for postmenopausal women, I have it right here, it’s Alpha Male X and Alpha Female. These two components here, you can order them from www.alphatherapeutics.com. I actually take the Alpha Male myself, not because my testosterone levels are low, mainly because of the ashwagandha that’s in it. It’s a powerful regulator of the adrenals. Being a physician, I was working a night job before, and now, working on all my businesses, things get a little hectic. So this really does help regulate my stress levels, my hormone levels. It’s a great product for men and women, to help overall just regulate the hormone ecosystem. What’s in it that helps with that? Like I said, the ashwagandha. Tree bliss is another herbs that people use a lot. For men, longjack and ginseng, stinging nettle is used a lot in these situations, for helping with hormones.
For women, dim is one that you’ll see a lot. It really helps with estrogen metabolism and making sure we turn estrogen into the good type of estrogen and not the bad type of estrogen. That’s the best kind of way to explain it. There’s one type of estrogen is metabolized from the main estrogen molecule, that is linked to breast cancer and other inflammatory States, and there’s one that actually lowers that risk. Dim helps prevent that. It helps the conversion to the good type, not the bad type. Dim is from cruciferous veggies. Your mom always told you to eat your Brussels sprouts? Well, that’s one of the reasons why it’s important to eat your Brussels sprouts.
Other things, especially supplements that may help. It depends if there’s, like I said, a deficiency in them, but zinc and magnesium are very important in helping with hormones. They’re both very important for all kinds of reactions in the body, and their deficiencies aren’t that rare? I typically recommend the glycinate versions. The molecules, the zinc and the magnesium, are bound to amino acids, and they’re much, much better absorbed than the traditional forms. So where can you find these? I do have zinc and magnesium available in my e-store, that’s store.theGHwellness.com. Or you can head to our website, theGHwellness.com, and click on Store. Those are two supplements that can help with hormone dysregulation, if they are caused by nutrient deficiencies.
As far as blood work and blood testing, I do recommend getting a complete blood evaluation. Look at the blood counts, look at your kidney function, liver function, electrolytes. If that doesn’t work, then getting a nutritional eval, like a Genova NutrEval, can be important determining, do you have a low in certain fats that may be causing hormone dysregulation? Are you low in key minerals or vitamins that could be causing hormone dysregulation? Therefore, you can target your supplement regimen specifically to something that you may be low in.
All right. To finish, let’s talk about the articles. The articles will be posted in our private group, Strive for Great Health, on Facebook. The first article actually talks about cholesterol. I guess it was fortuitous that I went on that tangent. This article, and it’s echoes what we’ve seen in some of these studies, is that actually too low cholesterol is dangerous for you, as well. Again, cholesterol is very, very important to our bodies. It’s in our cell membranes, the outer portions of our cells. It helps with making our sex hormones. Cholesterol is absolutely essential to life.
When cholesterol levels get too low, that actually increases your rates of mortality, death. This article talks about how low cholesterol increases your rate of brain bleeding, especially when the LDL levels are below 70. There’s an increased risk of what we call hemorrhagic stroke. Hemorrhagic strokes are strokes that are caused by a bleed in the brain. Sclerosis or ischemic strokes are caused by plaque. So again, cholesterol is not that boogeyman. In the functional medicine space, if we see elevated cholesterol levels, we look at that as a symptom and not a disease, and we try to find the root cause, to get that cholesterol back in range, to figure out what is actually causing the elevation. What is the body trying to fight off? What is the body trying to heal from?
The second article talks about toxins. We had talked about toxins last week, and this one is about paint fumes. We have talked about toxins before, the impact that they can have. They’re everywhere. One of the things that is in paints, that the article talks about, is benzene. Benzene is a very, very toxic molecule. Unfortunately, Houston has very high benzene levels in the air, and this has been linked to cancer. Some of these components in paint have been linked to autism. The best thing you can do to protect yourself is, of course, if you are painting, wear a mask, wear a protective covering, try not to get it on your skin, and, of course, clean yourself up afterwards.
Again, as we talked about in toxin exposure, we mentioned some strategies to help with toxins, especially glutathione. Glutathione is very important to helping our body detoxify. For more information on that, you can see our toxin exposure podcast. That was episode two.
All right. As usual, the links will be posted in Strive for Great Health. Any comments, questions, concerns, you can post it in the group. Next week we’ll come back and talk about inflammation. Inflammation, immune system dysregulation, that is a root cause of chronic disease number four. I will also be having a guest speaker soon. I’m lining up my guest speakers, to get that by monthly podcast, where we have one episode talking about health and wellness and lifestyle and we have one that is an interview. So that should be coming soon, okay? Well, hope you guys have a blessed evening, and thank you for listening to the Strive for Great Health podcast.