September 28 marks the annual National Women’s Health and Fitness day. Our society does many things to honor women’s health—health fairs, health screenings with annual Papand Mammograms, and other tests, all with the goal of encouraging women to have vibrant health due to the screenings. This is commendable, but often misses the mark on what is truly underlying a potential major health problem. Most of these tests do not routinely take into consideration women’s hormones.
Obesity is one of the top current health issues of our time. Current research indicates 33% of adults and 17% of children are obese. And according to AARP, 70% of the nation is regarded as overweight. Standard care of treatment has been diet and exercise. As simplistic as this sounds, it does not work for the majority of people. $40 million are spent on some kind of weight loss diet annually, yet statistics continue to stagger upwards. Weight loss schemes abound promising unsuspecting women to lose weight quickly, only to gain it back later.
If diet and exercise alone were the answer, why have the statistics not decreased? What is the missing piece of this puzzle? There are many factors to take into consideration. The standard American diet, overeat- ing, medications and sedentary lifestyles are several of these factors. However, the crux of the missing piece of this health issue puzzle, that is rarely assessed, are hormones.
What are the hormones and how do they affect weight gain?
There are various hormones categorized by their deriva- tives. They are either derived from cholesterol, glycopro- teins, amino acids, long chain fatty acids or derived from neurotransmitters. All hormones are chemical messen- gers in the endocrine glands. They regulate rebuilding and use of chemicals and keep metabolism working. The main cholesterol derived hormones are estrogen (three
forms), testosterone, progesterone and DHEA. Glyco- protein derived hormones are FSH (Follicle Stimulating Hormone) and LH (luteinizing hormone). An amino acid derived hormone is TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone).
As estrogens are cholesterol derived, if we eliminated cholesterol from the diet what would happen to our hormones? In order to maintain optimal metabolism, all hormones have to be kept in balance. You can’t have one out and not affect the others. Nutrition that addresses and balances one hormone will help balance the others. A low or non-existent hormone may be the reason that health and weight is not improving. Take estrogen. Estro- gen stores fat. The biosynthesis of estrogen occurs in fat tissues. Extra estrogen causes an increase in the size of estrogen-sensitive fatty tissue. Enlarged fatty tissue pro- duces more estrogen which induces more fat gain. Too much estrogen, called estrogen dominance, compared
to progesterone leads to weight gain and is also impli- cated in breast cancer as shown in many studies. One of these studies in a post by Dr. Steven Hotze, explains the results of a study conducted by John Hopkins University’s School of Public Health. The study was originally set up to research infertility in a group of women who were having trouble conceiving. The group was divided in two; those whose fertility issues were caused by non-hormon- al reasons and those who were deemed infertile because of progesterone deficiency and estrogen dominance. For more than 30 years, the researchers also recorded the cases of breast cancer among the women. The end result? The premenopausal women with estrogen dominance turned out to have a whopping 540% greater risk for developing breast cancer than the other women.
Where are these extra estrogens coming from?
We call these xenoestrogens and they come from hormone injected meat and dairy, parabens in cosmetics and lotions, soy, pesticides, petroleum based chemicals, artifi- cially scented products, dryer sheets, sunscreen, Bisphe- nol A, phthalates in plastics (such as in water bottles), food containers, protein powder cans, PVC, solvents or adhesives. These synthetic estrogens metabolize into estrone which can damage DNA. Low estradiol with low testosterone may also lead to weight gain.
Why is soy considered a xenoestrogen? First of all, soy is one of the top Genetically Modified (GMO) food crop. Our bodies do not recognize genetically altered foods and sees these foods as foreign invaders. When this occurs, the body will naturally launch an attack and a by-product of this is inflammation. According to Leo Galland, MD, soy is also considered to further accelerate the existing harmful effects of xenoestrogens. The body recognizes the highly bioactive form of soy isoflavones as harmful toxins that need to be neutralized and eliminated. High intakes of soy may rob the liver from its pool of glucuronic acid leaving it vulnerable to the ongoing assault of other environmental and endogenous estrogens.
Another piece of this puzzle of estrogen dominance is that it affects another hormone; the thyroid. Estrogen dominance affects the thyroid receptor making it less sensitive to thyroid hormone. Low thyroid means less thyroid activity, which means less body activity, which means more fat, which equals weight gain.
In addition, melatonin, a hormone produced after one falls asleep, plays a part in the puzzle. The Harvard Women’s Health Watch suggests that chronic sleep deprivation may cause women to gain weight by affect- ing the way we process and store carbohydrates and may impact the hormones that affect appetite. Accord- ing to this study, too little sleep can also ultimately alter
immune function, making one more susceptible to disease. According to Sherrill Sellman, ND, melatonin inhibits the release of estrogen. If there is low melatonin, then there is the possibility of higher estrogen levels. High estrogen levels, weight gain.
As part of a woman’s healthcare screening I advocate having women’s hormones tested as a way to measure cur- rent levels of hormonal health so that early intervention can support imbalances. Hormone assessment panels are helpful for women with fertility concerns, weight gain, carbohydrate cravings, fatigue, dry skin or other pre- peri- or postmeno- pausal symptoms. Nutritional support for hormone imbal- ances may include the following:
• Reduce xenobiotics (environmental pollutants or foods that mimic estrogens or contain synthetic hormones).
• Consume whole foods such as seeds, raw nuts, brown rice, greens, chicken, fish, turkey, eggs, healthy fats, colorful fruits and vegetables for hormonal health