Part 2 of our Hormone Series
As we discussed in the previous article, hormones are involved in all kinds of important processes in the body. It is also important to understand that as part of the aging process, typically hormone levels begin to decline, usually in the thirties (but sometimes even in our twenties if we are not taking good care of ourselves!) and beyond. We should note that the body depends on hormones as signaling agents for all kinds of cellular processes, so when these levels start declining, those messages on a cellular level become dimmer and quieter, and that has repercussions on a cellular level for our functioning that are far-reaching!
Thus today we are going to talk about the importance of hormone optimization and balance as it relates to this fact! Let’s get started!
Basics About Hormone Balance
A. Estrogen and Progesterone Balance:
While this balance is also relevant in men, it is especially important in women, since these are much more major and significant hormones for women’s health and primary functioning. As we briefly discussed in the previous article, progesterone and estrogen tend to have a complementary relationship. In other words, they need each other in optimal levels to ensure the actions of the one don’t become too primary in the body (for example, such as estrogen promoting over proliferation of hormone responsive tissues, which can happen with fibroids or more seriously, breast-cancer). Interestingly, it is typically more common for progesterone to decline first in women. This may often be due to the fact that when individuals are stressed, the body can ‘steal’ hormone material that would otherwise be made into progesterone and divert it for producing the stress hormone cortisol. So, yet another reason to manage our stress levels!! Supporting the body’s natural production of cortisol through using vitamin C or licorice extract for instance, may allow progesterone levels to replete and balance if it isn’t being ‘stolen from’ due to unrelenting stressors triggering a high cortisol demand.
B. Testosterone and Estrogen Balance:
Interestingly, in men in particular, the vast majority of estrogen is produced via enzymatic action on testosterone. While getting into the particulars of the hormone breakdown metabolic pathway is beyond the scope of this article, all you should be aware of is that the body is capable of converting testosterone into estrogen and that with aging, often more testosterone gets converted into estrogen, primarily in men. So for aging men, testosterone levels often decline and then estrogen levels start to rise. As we’ve touched on before, when these youthful ‘balances’ start going out of balance, problems can arise, as excess estrogen levels in men are linked to a number of health-related issues, including increased risk of cardiovascular disease! Supplements such as chrysin can be helpful in slowing this conversion.
C. Cortisol and DHEA balance:
Both of these hormones are adrenal hormones and not surprisingly, what tends to push these out of balance with each other often has something to do with chronic stress. While there are other adrenal disorders that can cause issues with abnormal cortisol levels such as Addison’s or Cushings disease, these orders are relatively uncommon in comparison especially to the number of individuals who are dealing with and often manifesting signs of chronic stress!
Optimizing Hormone Levels
Well first and foremost, it should be obvious by now how important it is to not be chronically stressed and to take time out regularly in your week for self-care, to take yourself out of the fight/flight mode, and to eat optimally and get enough sleep (I tend to suggest a MINIMUM of 7.5 hours of actual SLEEP time, not just lying in bed for 7.5 hours). Deep breathing exercises, mindful meditation and High-intensity interval training can all prove incredibly powerful for helping to balance cortisol levels, change brain-wave patterns to a more relaxed state, and spur growth hormone production respectively.
Using supportive vitamin and herbal therapies may also be especially helpful with more considerable hormonal imbalances, such as dong quai and chasteberry for women, and tribulus and pine pollen extract for men.
As we continue to age, it is common for many people to need bioidentical hormone replacement to maintain more youthful levels and subsequently optimal functioning. Seeking out a qualified healthcare provider skilled in using botanical and bioidentical (not synthetic, note!) supplements and hormones is essential to doing this in a safe and most beneficial way.