From Dr. Ellsworth’s Desk: The Hormonial (Im)Balancing Act


We now know that our hormones do not decline as we age but that we age because of declining hormones.  When restoring hormones in the human body, it is only logical that human identical or bio-identical products are the only acceptable products. Why use a synthetic product that acts like the real thing when you can use natural bio-identical hormones? There is a real need to help women and I should add men who suffer from symptoms of hormonal imbalance. We often see the focus turn to symptom management of things like hot flashes, mood swings and waning sex drive. These are certainly important when looking at quality of life issues but some of the bigger concerns should be about the protective role that balanced hormones play in cardiovascular health, cancer, brain and bone health. Many think that these imbalances only occur in our later years but I am seeing an alarming increase in the number of young people that suffer from hormone imbalance. Your lifestyle is a major player in many aspects of your health, and that includes keeping your hormones balanced.

Hormones are proteins or steroids that are secreted directly into your bloodstream, playing a role in many body functions such as:

Responses to stress

Mineral Absorption

Metabolic Function

Regulation of fluids


Sexual function

The endocrine system, which includes glands such as the pituitary, hypothalamus, thyroid, parathyroid, pancreas, adrenal cortex and medulla, and ovaries, produce hormones in women.  If your hormones are in balance, you likely sleep well,  have great energy, a strong sex drive, and your immune system and digestive system should be functioning smoothly.

Unfortunately, it’s relatively easy to push your hormones to become unbalanced, leading to an array of varied symptoms and hormone disorders including:

Adrenal fatigue: The adrenals are your stress fighters. It is their job to enable your body to deal with stress from every possible source, ranging from injury and disease to work and relationship problems. Your resiliency, energy, endurance and your very life all depend on their proper functioning. When your adrenal glands are fatigued, a condition known as adrenal fatigue or adrenal exhaustion, your entire body feels it and suffers from extreme exhaustion as well. It’s estimated that up to 80 percent of adults experience adrenal fatigue during their lifetimes, yet it remains one of the most under-diagnosed illnesses in the United States. The Adrenals work hand in hand with the Thyroid gland to manage your metabolism and the rigors of everyday life.

Hypothyroidism and Hyperthyroidism: The thyroid gland is also adversely affected by chronic stress. This gland’s roles include regulating calcium metabolism and glycolysis, the breakdown of glucose for body energy fuel. Under normal conditions, the fight-or-flight response causes the thyroid to increase glucose breakdown. In conditions of chronic stress, however, the thyroid is continually over stimulated and eventually becomes depleted. Thyroid function is also dependent on adequate amounts of iodine in the daily diet because thyroid hormones are all based around this mineral. Other body tissues that have high concentrations of iodine are the breasts, ovaries and uterus. Low levels of iodine along with hormone imbalances promote fibrocystic breasts and uterine fibroids. Besides having low levels of iodine in the average American diet, we have many elements in our environment that are competitive inhibitors of iodine. I think that these all contribute to the epidemic rise in Thyroid dysfunction that I am seeing in my practice. The classic symptoms of hypothyroidism include sluggishness, fatigue, cold extremities, lowered basal temperature, dry skin, dry hair, constipation and menstrual problems, including scanty periods.

Adrenal and other hormonal gland dysfunctions can cause some of the above symptoms and more, including cravings for sweets, weight gain, allergies, heart palpitations, insomnia, depression, fatigue, poor memory, foggy thinking, headaches, nervousness, inability to concentrate, recurrent infections and glucose intolerance

You can also experience symptoms of imbalanced hormones without having a specific “disorder.” It’s important to understand, however, that hormone problems typically do not pop up overnight.

In a small number of cases, women’s hormone problems may be the result of a direct malfunction with your ovaries or other aspect of your endocrine system. But most commonly the problems are the result of a combination of lifestyle factors. Female hormonal imbalances are often related to stress response. The more stress you’re under, the more it unbalances your cortisol levels. Not only is cortisol your primary stress hormone, it is a primary hormone in general, helping your body convert food into energy, normalize blood sugar, respond to stress and maintain your immune system’s inflammatory response.

When your cortisol levels become unbalanced due to chronic stress, this in turn deregulates your female hormones as well.

So what types of “stress responses” will interfere with your hormonal balance?

Emotional stress

Dietary stress

Pain and/or inflammatory stress

Stress on your lifestyle can negatively impact the way your body’s hormones function, and that includes:

Too much work

Job loss

Financial trouble

Relationship or family problems

Eating a highly processed diet, too much junk food or fast food

Hidden inflammation from exposure to chemicals and toxins in your environment

Depletion of antioxidants or not consuming enough from your diet

Addressing Hormone Problems Begins With Changing Your Lifestyle

Treating hormone problems requires a whole-body approach, one that addresses the excess stress and unhealthy lifestyle habits that created the hormonal imbalance in the first place.

For example if you were to only measure female hormones and then replace them with bio-identical hormone therapy, you will virtually be guaranteed to fail because you have not addressed the underlying issues.

In this case it will likely only offer a short-term benefit and your symptoms will probably return.

So first start to address your hormone problems by making lifestyle changes, including:

Have powerful tools and strategies to address the current and past emotional traumas in your life. Prayer and meditation and can be very helpful here.

Listen to your body and rest when you feel tired (this includes during the day by taking short naps or just laying down, or sleeping in if you feel like it)

Exercise regularly using a comprehensive program of strength, aerobic, core, and interval training.

Eat a healthy nutrient-dense diet and have a nutrition plan. Once your lifestyle is healthy, then evaluate and balance your adrenal hormones. It’s very important to take this step because weakened adrenals will not allow your hormones to equilibrate properly.

Then, only after changing your lifestyle and addressing your adrenal function, should you evaluate and balance your female hormones.

At this point you may want to see a physician well versed in bioidentical hormone replacement, and get tested to see if you could benefit from the use of adrenal and thyroid balancing and support. Because your hormonal health is so important to your overall health and well-being, I highly recommend you work with a knowledgeable natural health care practitioner to help you rebalance your system.

Risk in women? Many women consider hormone replacement but worry about the risks, especially of breast cancer, strokes and heart attacks.  Actually women are the most protected during their 30’s when they have the highest (balanced) hormone levels. It is only after menopause that women have increased risk of stroke, heart attack and breast cancer. Hormone imbalances are what contribute to breast cancer. We know that, most breast cancers occur after menopause; this is the time when the ovaries stop producing the normal balance of hormones.

Progesterone, which prevents breast cell division, declines beginning in your late 30’s. Second, approximately 10 years later comes an imbalance of the estrogens. Estriol (E3) , which is breast and clot protective, decreases from 80% to 10%. Estrone (E1), which is breast and clot stimulating, goes up from 10% to 80%. The increased E1 is undesirable as E1 is converted to forms of estrogen (i.e. 16-OH E1) which are carcinogenic to the breast. So, restoration of protective hormone levels needs to be considered a possible preventative step against breast cancer.

Large studies so far have used, synthetic, hormones (not bio-identical hormones) with a ratio of estrogen weighted towards E1 like the large Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) study published in 2002, which was followed by much confusion. Re-analysis of this study and many others has eventually led to the following three solid conclusions on hormone restoration in women.

1. When started within 10 years of menopause, hormones are protective to the heart and brain.

2. “Progestins” (not identical to bio-identical progesterone) have been shown to increase clots and breast cancer in 5 trials compared with natural “progesterone” which is associated with protection.

3. Bio-identical Estradiol (E2) delivered through the skin has been shown to decrease clots and risk of stroke and heart attacks, as opposed to E1, delivered through the mouth (i.e. Oral PremarinTM used in WHI) which increases clot heart attack and stroke risk because of the first pass through the liver which makes clotting factors.

So, when restoring hormones, we aim to use protective forms (E2, E3) and protective delivery routes (transdermal). The goal is to provide protective levels for the heart, brain, bone, skin and organ systems.

There are many long term studies on bio-identical hormones.  There is also a very good reason why pharmaceutical companies are currently busy developing new “bio-identical” hormone products at an increasing pace. They can not patent the hormone, since it is a natural product, however they patent the delivery systems ( i.e. patch, dot, spray, gel). We should ask ourselves why they are not patenting the “other” hormone products.

In conclusion:

With the knowledge that we will live longer than those before us, comes the quest to live better than those before us.  Remember – Our hormones don’t decline with age, we age because of declining hormones. Personal health and wellness is an interactive endeavor. The results you get out are directly related to the effort that you put in. We all have choices in life. Will you spend your “golden years” in a nursing home or will you be enjoying energetic and vibrant health?

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