I get this question a lot in practice. Patients suffering from symptoms of hormone imbalance are often looking for a quick fix and let’s face it – today’s modern medicine is all about quick fixes…even to the long term detriment of the patients’ health.
Why do I say that? Just as an ibuprofen cannot fix a herniated disc, neither can adding (either orally, via patch or injection) a hormone to your broken system fix the broken system. Adding the hormone that is low will in many cases make the patient feel better – at least initially, but it doesn’t solve the problem of how and why that hormone is low. Look at it this way. If you were bleeding internally, it would be great if the emergency room can give you a shot or a pill that will stop the bleeding. But the exam and problem solving doesn’t stop when the bleeding does. It’s only sensible to find the source of the bleeding and find out why it began in the first place and fix the problem, right? If the problem is a leaky aneurysm, you’re likely looking at surgery to address the aneurysm and hopefully some lifestyle modifications such as eliminating alcohol and medications that contribute to bleeding and eliminating sugar as it contributes to vascular fragility and increasing intake of green vegetables that contain vit K and other important nutrients to help blood clot properly.
The endocrine system is a very integrated one.
- It is influenced by your diet and digestive system. Poor elimination such as in cases of constipation cause reabsorption of hormone that is meant to be excreted from the body. In cases of diarrhea, you may be excreting important nutrients that need to absorbed in order to give your glands the nutrition they need to produce proper levels of hormone.
- It is influenced and dare I say controlled by stress. Chronic physical, chemical and emotional stress deplete the adrenal system, which is, I’ve found, the root of all female and male hormone imbalances. Chronic stress forces your adrenal glands to pump out adrenaline aka cortisol. Cortisol triggers your muscles to give up glycogen to burn as fuel and dually causes you to crave sweets and carbohydrates (sugar). When excess carbohydrates and sugars are present, the action of the cortisol is to ‘save the glucose for later stress’ and these sugars get stored in the liver and muscles for fuel in case of an emergency. The problem is, today’s emergencies or source(s) of stress rarely require you to run at full speed for a couple of miles. Your emergency is happening as you sit at your desk at work (job stress), are riding in your car (traffic stress), or are juggling your endless list of responsibilities (over scheduled stress). What good is all that stored glucose to us while sitting in our cars or at our desks? It’s not helpful – in fact, it causes us to pack on the pounds, and guess what?
- Excess body fat is a storehouse for glucose and excess hormones. That’s right, the fat on your body is metabolically active and influences your endocrine system. It secretes glucose and hormone and actually prevents you from losing weight.
- When cortisol continues to run high for a long period of time, the symptoms can mimic hyperthyroidism, often time leading a physician to lower the dose of thyroid hormone a patient is taking or to start them on thyroid hormone to balance out this problem. The problem many times isn’t simply the thyroid – it’s cortisol and its influence on the thyroid.
- When the adrenal glands start to poop out…you heard it right, they poop out. The system becomes so overloaded and at the same time deficient is specific nutrients like B vitamins and magnesium that it just can no longer keep up with your stressed out life’s demand for cortisol. This is when cortisol levels start to drop. When this happens, look out – the fatigue REALLY sets in and you may even start to experience hot flashes and flushes, night sweats and poor sleep.
Hormone imbalances don’t happen overnight. In many cases the decline starts months or even years before the symptoms are really felt. And, the truth is, it’s going to take months or even up to a year to fix the problem.
So let’s go back to the first question: What about bioidentical hormones?
In my professional opinion, adding hormones now, rather than fixing the broken system is just a temporary band-aid to circumvent a much more complicated problem. And that band-aid isn’t going to hold when the adrenal exhaustion sets in.
Right now, you’re probably thinking you don’t know anyone with adrenal fatigue or exhaustion, but you do. These are the people you know who have chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, muscle and body aches, chronic pain, insomnia, PMS, menopausal symptoms, headaches, thyroid disorder, digestive issues, etc.. (Keep in mind cortisol is a pain relieving hormone…)
My approach is different. I do test my patient’s hormone levels, but I test cortisol too. Certainly of digestive issues are present these MUST be addressed immediately…after all, if you can’t digest your food and supplements and absorb those nutrients, you will never be able to fix the whole system. If I also see an issue with the cortisol levels, then we can simultaneously start those repairs. Often, the female and male hormone issues self-correct as the adrenal system is balanced, so there is no need to supplement with estrogen (and all its forms), progesterone and testosterone.
How do I do this? With Functional Medicine of course.
Here are 5 basic principles that define Functional Medicine:
1) Functional Medicine views us all as being different; genetically and biochemically unique. This personalized health care treats the individual, not the disease. It supports the normal healing mechanisms of the body, naturally, rather than attacking disease directly.
2) Functional Medicine is deeply science based. The latest research shows us that what happens within us is connected in a complicated network or web of relationships. Understanding those relationships allows us to see deep into the functioning of the body.
3) Your body is intelligent and has the capacity for self-regulation, which expresses itself through a dynamic balance of all your body systems.
4) Your body has the ability to heal and prevent nearly all the diseases of aging.
5) Health is not just the absence of disease, but a state of immense vitality.
Here lies the clear distinction and definition of Functional Medicine. Instead of asking, “What drug matches up with this disease?” Functional Medicine asks the vital questions that very few conventional doctors ask: “Why do you have this problem in the first place?” and “Why has function been lost?” and “What can we do to restore function?” In other words, Functional Medicine looks to find the root cause or mechanism involved with any loss of function, which ultimately reveals why a set of symptoms is there in the first place, or why the patient has a particular disease label.
A functional medicine practitioner uses food, nutritional supplements, stress management, and exercise to help their patients heal, balance hormones, overcome illness and Get Back to LIFE. While certain nutritional supplements may be reduced and discontinued over-time as the body’s systems correct, daily supplements like a multi and a probiotic and of course healthy lifestyle habits are required to keep you and all your systems working at their best.
Dr. Hoch (pronounced Hoke), is a 1988 Graduate of Peotone High School and a 1990 Graduate of Joliet Junior College. She Received both her B.S. in Human Biology (1991) and her Doctorate of Chiropractic (D.C.) (1993) from The National College of Chiropractic in Lombard, IL. She also received her graduate and post-graduate certifications in Acupuncture from NCC.