Hormone Havoc – from imbalance to bliss

One of my first cases in practice was a 51 year old female who was experiencing horrible symptoms from menopause. She wasn’t sleeping because of extreme hot flashes and night sweats, and this was affecting her ability to function at work during the day. I typically explain to patients that there are three levels of hormone therapy:

1) Synthetic – which is the most potent
2) Bio-identical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT)– which is still synthetic, but the chemical components in the cream are similar in molecular structure to human hormones which is why it is referred to as “bio-identical” and
3) Naturopathic treatment using diet, lifestyle suggestions, herbs, acupuncture, homeopathics and nutraceuticals.

I also explain that in Western medicine, we have medicalized our menstrual cycle and hormonal symptoms.

Instead of understanding that signals from the body – in terms of PMS or menopausal symptoms (i.e. menstrual cramps, heavy periods, irregular flow, abdominal bloating, cravings, increased appetite, weight gain, irritability, anxiety/nervous tension, crying, depression, forgetfulness, mood swings, breast tenderness/lumps, dizziness/faintness, fatigue, headaches, hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, and insomnia) – are messages that you are out of balance hormonally, Western medicine deems that you have a medical condition and the solution typically recommended is to take the birth control – a suppressive hormonal therapy that puts women at risk for other health issues including cancer if used for greater than 10 years.1 In terms of menopause, the mistake that many clinicians make is prescribing synthetic or BHRT hormone treatments on a daily basis with no regard to the bi-phasic monthly hormone cycle.

For most cases of hormone imbalance, patients are willing to take some form of therapy to restore hormone balance – either botanical tinctures, supplementation, acupuncture, etc. However, in the case mentioned above, the patient did not want to take anything to manage her symptoms and she was not keen on acupuncture, so her prescription was as follows:

1) Eliminate all stress in your life
2) See a counsellor/psychologist for stress management
3) Quit dairy and wheat
4) Quit caffeine
5) Follow up in 2 weeks

When I saw the patient at her next appointment, she was feeling 80% better and her symptoms had almost completely resolved. I asked her what she did to eliminate all stress in her life as in the initial appointment we had discussed what was causing her the most anxiety. In her case, the primary stress in her life was her marriage. The patient decided that she no longer wanted to work on the marriage and had verbalized to her husband that she wanted a divorce. She admitted that the dietary changes were difficult for her, but that she had been 100% compliant. The reason I find this case so remarkable is it highlights a few key points:

1. Less is often more
2. The role of stress in health
3. How the foods we eat and what we drink can either be supportive to our health or contribute to the decline of our health
4. There are physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects to health
5. The simplicity of naturopathic medicine

When working with patients, often a primary goal is to balance the neuro-endocrine system and I focus on that versus the label or diagnosis the patient has been given. Neuroendocrinology is the study of the interaction between the nervous system and the endocrine system, including the biological features of the cells involved, and how they communicate. Neuroendocrinology arose from the recognition that the hypothalamus controls secretion of pituitary gland hormones which maintain balance in the body by regulating reproduction, metabolism, eating and drinking behaviour, energy utilization, osmolarity, and blood pressure.2 The glands involved include the adrenal, parathyroid, pituitary and thyroid glands, as well as the ovaries, pancreas, and testes.

When hormone levels of progesterone, testosterone and estrogen decline at menopause, there are two back up systems in the body for production of these hormones: the adrenal gland and fat cells. If women are out of hormonal balance in the decades prior to menopause, and they have not taken care of their adrenal glands or learned to manage the stress in their lives – then the primary back up system for the production of these hormones from the adrenal glands may be lower at menopause. The key point to understand is that menopause can be a joyful experience as one enters into the next phase of their life. It does not have to be a difficult time for women. For this patient, the underlying stress in her marriage was contributing to compromised function of her adrenal glands and the dietary recommendations served to support the function of this important gland. A key step to healing for her was to verbalize and express how she was truly feeling, acknowledge how stressed she was in her marriage, and take steps to finding a solution that worked for her.

As Naturopathic doctors, a primary tenet of our medicine is to address the root cause of disease. It is important not to chase the branches (i.e. symptoms) but to figure out what is going on from a macro perspective in the body, where the imbalances are and restore the body back to function. Call us at 587-521-3595 if you feel your hormones are in need of help or to find a Naturopathic Doctor please visit cand.ca and give yourself the gift of health today!

1. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/oral-contraceptives
2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuroendocrinology

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