Chapter One: Why Natural Hormones?
There is nothing mysterious about aging. Aging is simply an inherited hormonal, neuroendocrine program...that can be modified, delayed or even reversed.
Walter Pierpaoli, M.D.
For two years, Carole had been gaining weight and experiencing abnormal periods and breast tenderness. She had become increasingly nervous. Her premenstrual mood swings were causing strains in her relationships.
Now, at forty-five, she had had enough. She decided to overcome her problems with aggressive lifestyle changes.
She hired a personal trainer and began a vigorous exercise program.
She hired a personal nutritionist and went on a special diet and supplement program.
She started yoga.
Carole's efforts gave her some relief, but not enough. Frustrated, she went to her physician, who offered her a birth control pill.
"This will rebalance you," her doctor said.
What Carole experienced was anything but rebalance.
Her weight ballooned. Her mood swings became worse. She lost her sex drive. The only regularity she achieved was an artificially normal cycle. Yet during the week of the cycle that she used the birth control placebo, she had migraines, couldn't sleep well, and started to have hot flashes.
Fed up, she stopped taking the pill. Within six months, her anxiety decreased, her moods swings lessened, and her weight dropped. Now, however, she was depressed.
"I don't enjoy waking up anymore and seeing the sun and look forward to what the day brings," she told me as she sat in my office during her first appointment. "I don't feel like going out and showing myself to the world."
Carole (not her real name) is an established actress. The constant changes in her body and outlook were affecting both her personal and professional life.
"Before I was showered with scripts and had my choice of roles," she said. "That's changed. Because I've changed so much. No one seems to want to audition me. I'm not the same person anymore. Some people think I am on drugs."
Carole's story was a variation on a theme I have heard many times. Initially, her body was overproducing estrogen and not producing enough progesterone. The birth control pill was the wrong choice for the wrong person. It accentuated the excess estrogen and aggravated the progesterone deficiency. When she stopped the pill and its payload of chemicalized hormones her own hormones had taken a new shift and she was in a different state. Her estrogen level had fallen significantly and her progesterone was lower than before. She showed classic signs of estrogen deficiency, even though she wasn't in menopause. Her estrogen level, rising and falling like a roller coaster, was still within the boundaries of the so-called normal range. Yet she would certainly ride that roller coaster right into menopause.
What she needed was a way to restore her lost stability and with the same hormone estrogen that had given her stability for many years.
I instructed Carole how to use natural estrogen, how to increase her dosage when she experienced signs of deficiency, and how to decrease on those days when her body produced more.
She went from being a woman whose hormones were controlling her and undermining her life to being a woman fully in control, and enjoying renewed vigor, clarity, and health.
Carole had been a victim of rigid medical thinking that too often fails to see beyond "normal range" blood tests and recognize the real turmoil that hormonal fluctuations and shifts can generate in a woman's body. Carole took control of her hormones and took control of her life.
* • *
Hormones are molecules that serve as messengers in an amazing system of inner intelligence that organizes your physiology. Life itself is based on this inner intelligence.
There are countless hormones generated within the body, many of which we don't yet clearly understand. They are secreted by glands such as the adrenals, ovaries, and thyroid that are governed by higher centers in the brain.
The hormones travel through your bloodstream in a communication network that links the higher centers of your brain to the DNA command posts operating in the several hundred trillion cells of your adult body.
On outer and inner membranes of the cells are receptor sites that function like locks on a door. In order to get in and tell the DNA what to do, you need the right key, and hormones are the keys. They travel to specific target cells, unlock the receptor sites, and deliver their biochemical message for processing. They turn on or turn off specific cellular functions, and measure cellular activity throughout the system.
As scientists probe deeper and deeper into the labyrinths of this molecular world and learn more about its countless parts and partnerships, the complexities of the system become more and more wondrous. The more we learn, the more we realize we don't know.
We do know, however, that the glands produce greater or lesser amounts of different hormones at different times of the day, month, and stage of life, and according to your activities. And we do know that nearly all of them start to decline after we reach our midtwenties.
This book is concerned about the rise and fall of major hormones that are of primary concern to women estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, melatonin, DHEA, human growth hormone, and pregnenolone and how natural replicas of these hormones can be used for health and antiaging benefits.
Yes, I did say testosterone. You might think of testosterone as something exclusively male, but female ovaries manufacture it as well for purposes that are very important to a woman.
In this book, you will learn how to use these pivotal hormones for personal improvements. You will learn to take control of them instead of being controlled by their fluctuations. You will learn to direct your hormones just as a conductor directs a symphony.
I often tell my patients to think in terms of a symphony of hormones. Each hormone produces a particular effect that contributes to the overall function of the physiology, just as individual instruments produce specific effects that contribute to the overall sound of a symphony.
No symphony can produce its majestic sound without a conductor, and hormones themselves cannot produce a beautiful melody of health if there is no conductor on duty. You are the conductor. You have the ability to control your hormones so that the "music" they make is sweet: hormonal balance and well-being.
Many women today are never in hormonal balance at any age. A woman who is hormonally imbalanced at twenty-five usually continues that way through perimenopause and menopause unless she gets proper help.
For many women, unhealthy aging is primarily a hormonal issue. The day they begin to deteriorate is the day their hormones start declining from a peak level. For some it is earlier, for others later.
I encourage my patients not to wait until they reach hormonal ground zero before taking action. An antiaging strategy has the potential to powerfully offset and delay the negative effects of hormonal decline on function and appearance. The deficits that take place within the body are often irreversible if you wait too long. For instance, wrinkling: you will probably not be able to significantly reverse the presence of serious wrinkling by using natural hormones, but you can significantly slow down the wrinkling process.
Some of my patients use all the hormones I will describe in this book; some use only one or two. Some start with one and then add another later for a specific need. After I make my recommendations, the options are up to each individual patient.
As I discuss each hormone, I will spell out its potential for relief of symptoms, better health, and antiaging benefits. I encourage you to take that information and measure it against what is going on in your body and what your individual health and antiaging goals are.
If a fifty-year-old woman sees her physician and complains of losing half the movement in her pinky finger, she will receive serious medical attention: prescriptions, X rays, perhaps an MRI. She will be referred to a hand specialist and perhaps undergo surgery.
This same woman has probably already lost half of her hormone production. She sits in front of the mirror and asks why she looks and feels like she does. The decline of hormones inside her body affects how she looks and feels, and also affects countless aspects of her physiology. If she complains of lost hormones, she will likely be told that it's natural to age, slow down, wrinkle, and lose sexuality. She might not be encouraged to start with hormones and certainly not replace the full range of falling hormones in her body.
But the availability of natural hormones makes this argument obsolete.
The Fountain of Youthfulness
Replenishing and balancing hormones reinfuses health and youthfulness into the aging process. It is a primary way to repair damage of the past, alleviate present symptoms, and redirect the body into a healthier mode for a more vital future. Because the role of hormones is so central, realigning them strengthens the entire physiology and all its systems.
This process is not a fountain of youth, but it is a fountain of youthfulness. We can never really be as we were at age twenty-five, but we can fine-tune and retool our internal machinery through natural hormones and other noninvasive methods. We can re-create health and longevity to the fullest level that our genetic programming allows. This is where hormonal replacement therapy and antiaging medicine merge.
The marvels of modern medicine have truly helped to extend life span, yet they haven't solved the problems of chronic disease. Nor have they really enhanced the quality of longer life. For many people, living longer lives than in the past involves a drawn-out ordeal. For them, there are no golden years, only years of rust. Natural hormonal replacement is a way to accentuate the gold and minimize the rust.
Preventive medicine has helped combat many diseases of aging. As the new field of antiaging medicine has emerged, researchers and practitioners have come together to prolong life and enhance its quality. Experts in physiology, biology, and biochemistry are sharing their findings with antiaging specialists who are applying the research to their patients.
Antiaging medicine seeks to correct the decline of important age-
related conditions. It also attempts to identify and arrest the initial physiological changes that cause accelerated aging or turn the body from healthy to unhealthy functioning. Those of us who practice antiaging medicine study and utilize nutritional and hormonal factors to accomplish these goals.
Not everyone will be interested in the antiaging aspects of natural hormones. Many may choose to use them for specific needs improving memory, becoming stronger, increasing energy, sleeping better, or overcoming gynecological disorders. As you will see, natural hormones work particularly well for all these concerns.
I have also seen natural hormones work effectively for many younger women whose own hormone levels are too high or too low. Such extremes can create many problems, but a touch of natural estrogen can put life back into a young woman with too little estrogen who is tall, flat-chested, and subtly depressed. Natural progesterone can help a young woman with an irregular cycle, heavy bleeding, severe breast pain, and water retention.
All of these possible benefits of natural hormones will be covered in this book. Young or old, the use of natural hormones represents an important advancement in our ability to optimize and protect our biological assets.
So What Exactly Are Natural Hormones?
Women are reading and hearing a lot about natural hormones these days. In fact, they are bombarded from all sides with information. New patients often say they have tried to make sense of it all but are confused. Many who look to the Internet for answers come away even more confused by the sheer volume of marketing hype. Women are being told they can replace hormones, but nobody is telling them how to do it on an individual basis.
Increasingly women ask their physicians for guidance, but most physicians don't have the answers or the experience with natural hormones. The prescriptions that physicians have written for years are largely patented, chemicalized hormonal substitutes. These products are not exact replicas of what you have in your body, and you will not be able to achieve optimum individual balance with them.
In recent years, natural hormone replacements have become widely available to women. What distinguishes these natural hormones is that they are exact replicas not just similar to the hormones in the body. This is what makes them natural. This is also what makes them preferable to the chemicalized hormonal substitutes that provide reassurance and relief for some, and fear and side effects for others.
According to a study conducted at South Dakota State University's College of Pharmacy, an estimated 2.01 million visits for medication-related problems were made to physicians in the United States during 1995. Such visits were greater among women. The leading therapeutic agents responsible for these visits were synthetic hormone substitutes (13.32 percent), followed by antibiotics (11.5 percent).
Many women don't take the hormones prescribed for them. They simply stop taking them after a while because of the side effects or stop because of the scare about hormones and breast cancer. In chapter 24, I will share some reassuring news with you: the scientific evidence overwhelmingly shows that estrogen hormonal prescriptions do not increase your risk of dying from breast cancer, and in fact, reduce the risk of fatal breast cancer.
The problem with most of the conventional substitutes commonly prescribed to women is that they are different in chemical structure from the hormones that your body produces. This difference aggravates imbalances existing with your own hormones.
Women always ask me whether the hormones I recommend to my patients are really "natural." The question is really how do you define natural, a term that is very appealing to the public. But in the world of commerce, the term is often abused.
For me, natural means that the hormone is the exact chemical replica of what is produced in the body.
Premarin, the widely used estrogen prescription, contains estrogens extracted from the urine of pregnant horses. It may come from a natural source, but it is far from the same hormone you have in your body. It has different chemistry, and that difference is what makes it unnatural to me. It contains a dozen estrogen compounds, only one of which is a replica of what we have in the human body, while the others are foreign estrogens. Premarin is not an ideal solution for humans, though it might be fine for estrogen-deficient mares.
Many of the natural hormones that I and other antiaging physicians use, and which have gained considerable interest among women in recent years, are made from soybeans and wild yams. These plants contain unique compounds that are processed chemically and made into the identical hormones you yourself produce. However, when you eat soy or yams, your body cannot utilize the compounds as hormones.
Why soy and wild yams? I would be equally as enthusiastic if we could make exact replica hormones from quartz or backyard weeds. But nature has truly given us great gifts in these plants. They are the cheapest and most abundant commercial sources from which to readily extract compounds and turn them into exact replicas of our own hormones.
Today, we have access to many of these exact-replica hormones, either through prescription or over-the-counter. The body recognizes them as its very own hormones. It is this acceptance by the body that gives us a remarkable tool to replenish what is deficient or fluctuating in the system and restore healthful and youthful balances.
Copyright © 2001 by Uzzi Reiss M.D. and Martin Zucker