Steroid Hormone Balance

Posted On: December 11, 2016

Today is a second in the new series on the blog to keep you apprised of what I’m learning in my studies.  As many of you know, I’m going to back to school through FDN (Functional Diagnostic Nutrition) online.  FDN is all about figuring out what is at the root of your health issues.  If you suffer from symptoms (eczema, insomnia, GI distress, etc..) there is a reason.  Instead of taking the allopathic route of treating the symptoms, we will dig deeper to find out why you have them to begin with.

My second lesson introduced how hormones need to be balanced in order for one to feel their best. In the first of these FDN blogs, I explained to you how the body responds to acute, and then prolonged stress.  There, you learned that cortisol, while necessary for many body functions, can become an issue as stress becomes chronic and unmanaged.  When the body starts having to try to produce more and more cortisol, the basic building blocks for other hormones end up being depleted.  And when there’s not enough of the key ingredients, one ends up with an imbalance of hormones.

Let’s start with a simple discussion of what we need to make steroid hormones.  The body takes B-5, and dietary fats, to package up into cholesterol (yes, we need some!) to create the master hormone: Pregnenolone.  Pregnenolone is then judiciously used to make DHEA (dehydro-epiandrosterone) which is then sent to produce testosterone and estrogen. We also get some of the pregnenolone sent toward progesterone to make cortisol.  In a healthy functioning system, there is sufficient pregnenolone to feed both sex hormones and stress hormones.  But when stress becomes chronic, we end up with a PREGNENOLONE STEAL toward the use of making cortisol.  This is why chronic stress so negatively impacts our vitality:  we are robbed of the basic building blocks needed to make us feel our best: testosterone and/or estrogen!

 

The body has “Fundamental Homeostatic Controls” (FHCs) that help it maintain it’s very intricate balance.  Ideally, cortisol and DHEA will be in a ratio of 5:1 or 6:1.  Progesterone and Estradiol will have a ratio of about 30:1. (1)  When these ratios are too far off, one will start to feel symptoms related to the “pregnenalone steal.” Here is a very simple diagram that explains how pregnenalone steal works:

Image from http://www.richelleludwig.com/adrenal-dysfunction/adrenal-dysfunction-part-2/

Understand that the body will do it’s best to achieve homeostasis, or as Reed Davis likes to call it,  “Vitalism.”  There must be compensations made in order for someone under chronic stress to continue to function, and if that means shutting down reproduction, that’s what will happen. There are three key areas that must be balanced for ideal vitality:  the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), the Oxidative System, and the Steroid Hormone Balance (SHB).  “A functional state in which the property we call vital reserve is at least meeting the challenge of, or even dominating, any contributors to Metabolic Chaos.”, Reed Davis, 2015. 

 

Stress can both internal and/or external.  External stressor examples would be things like:  a very cold winter when shelter is not sufficient; pregnancy on a weak body; excessive daily exercise.  Often, however, the stress is in the perception of our reality:  not having enough money coming in to pay bills; a looming deadline for which one is ill-prepared; a contentious relationship at home.  All of these force hormones into a deviation from homeostasis.

When those stressors are not managed or when there are no practices in play to help one relieve the stress, the lack of balance will require compensations long-term.  The body enters dysfunction/disease and symptoms will begin.

 

In the early stages of chronic stress, symptoms may be rather subtle:  irritation, foggy thinking, restless sleep, some digestive issues.  In the 2nd, 3rd and 4th stages, symptoms become more severe as the compensatory mechanisms begin robbing the body of its vital reserve:  muscle loss, lack of enthusiasm for activities once loved, severe digestive issues, lack of sexual drive, cessation of menstruation in women, etc..  The fifth and final stage of this hormone imbalance leads to complete failure of some vital functions.  At this point, the body cannot handle the changes/compensations.  

At FDN, we make a point of looking at the fundamental reasons for this metabolic chaos.  The symptoms are simply the result of the main issue.  We find ways to “coach up vital reserve,” and “coach down contributors to metabolic chaos.” If you are simply given some supplements to alleviate the symptoms you are feeling, there’s no solution to the original chaos of those symptoms!!

 

When we at FDN look at your results from hormone testing, keep in mind that we will not be using the reference ranges of that many doctors will.  Instead “individual optimums” are the goal.  If we just look at the “statistical norms,” we are then comparing your results against those of the general population that has been tested.  Think about this: these labs take years and years of results from all the people they’ve tested and then figure out the statistical mean.  Well, that translates to numbers that are “normal” for a rather sick population.  How many people do you know who feel amazing and go get blood work all the time?  Not many!  So, if your numbers are “borderline” it may mean that your hormones are not optimized for YOU!!  We look at the trend of your numbers over time, and in relation to how you feel.  

In that last blog I also showed you a sample of what a cortisol test looks like.  In those results, we get your cortisol from 4x throughout the day, and your DHEA.  When combined with the BioHealth 205, we then see what your estradiol, progesterone, testosterone, and melatonin look like. With all those data points, we can look at the various hormone numbers, compare them against each other, and how you feel/symptoms you report to figure out what might be out of whack.  For example, a high Cortisol to DHEA ratio would mean you’re burning the candle at both ends and starting to break down.  A lower progesterone to estradiol number may mean a woman is feeling less like herself and losing interest in sex.  A low testosterone number (higher than your doc would require) would mean not so great things for a man’s virility.  Also, if melatonin is insufficient, not only are you likely not sleeping well, but also might be dealing with some gut dysfunction. However, none of those numbers matter one bit if symptoms don’t match up.  

Below are a list of symptoms that one might experience with a deficiency in the various hormones.  These are here simply to raise awareness for you.  If you relate to any of these, please contact your nearest FDN practitioner to discuss various treatment strategies.

Estrogen Deficiency

  • hot flashes
  • night sweats
  • vaginal dryness
  • foggy thinking
  • memory lapses
  • incontinence
  • tearfulness
  • depression
  • sleep disturbances

Progesterone Deficiency:

  • all above from estrogen deficiency as well as:
  • bone loss
  • heart palpitations

Testosterone Deficiency: 

  • low libido
  • vaginal dryness in women
  • foggy thinking
  • fatigue
  • aches/pains
  • memory lapses
  • incontinence
  • depression
  • sleep problems

 

Remember, an FDN practitioner will not simply prescribe a pill to alleviate your issues, they will address your HIDDEN (hormone, immune, digestion, detoxification, energy prod, and nervous sys.) stressors and then instigate the DRESS (diet, rest, exercise, stress redux, supplementation) principles.  To find one in your area, just click here.  If you are reading this after Summer 2017, I am happy to help you on your way toward feeling your best!!

 

 

  1. “The Metabolic Typing Diet” by William Wolcottt, pg. 44

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