Article: Natural Is Nice: Seeking Alternatives For Your Hormone Health

By Ann Vlass N.D; B.Sc (Hons)

Naturopathic Doctor and Medical scientist Ann Vlass shows us how we can increase our hormones naturally without the side effects of synthetic hormones.

In recent years we have come to realise about the risks of oestrogen/progestin hormone replacement therapy (HRT), oral contraceptive pills (OCP), IVF/ART fertility drug treatments and other forms of synthetic hormones and hormonal administration. Because there are so many different hormones circulating about the body, supplementation of just one or two hormones causes an imbalance and side effects do occur. Consequently, many of us are now looking to so-called "natural" ways to enhance the biochemical pathways that promote the production of hormones in our body. 

Let’s take a closer look at an example hormone and how we can naturally increase its levels in the body, without all the harmful side effects.

 

DHEA is produced by the adrenal glands and is a precursor of both testosterone and oestrogen as well as a regulator of our hormone pathway. Some call it the “youthful” or “anti aging” or “mother hormone”, as it is promoted as anti-aging, energy and libido enhancing, fat  burning, cancer preventative, improves female vaginal dryness/tissue atrophy, protects against cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis. However, the researches into its anti-cancer and anti-cardiovascular disease effects are not conclusive at this stage. So we can see with these examples, there are potential benefits for this fabulous hormone. 

Synthetic DHEA (which has unfortunately, been given the trade name DHEA just to confuse us) is not the same as your own endogenous DHEA, and there are many negative side effects associated. This is what is prescribed by the medical profession. It's important to note that synthetic DHEA is a combination of synthetic chemicals that are toxic to the body, and these toxins can be stored in the body tissue for long periods. 

As DHEA affects the entire endocrine system by regulation through enzyme inhibition or activation it can stimulate the production of other hormones (hence the term “mother of hormones”), of most significance, oestrogen by the ovaries and testosterone by the testicles. This downstream biochemical response may not provide the outcomes originally intended, if DHEA is administered, as there may have been hormonal imbalances already in place that DHEA supplementation may further disrupt. So it is best to respect hormones, and the biological pathways, and not administer them without very careful observation and continuous measurements (something that I have not seen done too often unfortunately). 

Administering DHEA has different effects in women than it does in men. Unlike women, men tend to convert DHEA to oestrogen, more than they do testosterone, and this may be a risk factor for prostate cancers. It also can cause acne and increase facial and body hair in women, and rather than preventing cancer and heart disease, some research indicates it may increase women's risks for these chronic diseases. 

One study found that DHEA supplementation in women reduces sex-hormone-binding-globulin (SHBG) levels, a protein that is needed to capture excess hormones floating in the bloodstream and rendering them inactive. However, less of this important regulating protein means more hormones such as oestrogens floating around which are associated with higher risks of breast cancer.

Because of the possibility that DHEA may increase women's risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer, it cannot at this stage be considered a safe alternative for women seeking menopause relief even for those indications for which some efficacy has been demonstrated.

So what are some alternative ways to improve DHEA levels in the body? 

1. Reduce refined carbohydrates in your diet. 

Human studies have shown that a decrease in carbohydrate consumption, which leads to lower blood sugar levels, increases DHEA in the body. A supporting study using the blood sugar lowering drug metformin (Glucophage), which also enhances insulin sensitivity in men and women, 

saw an increase of 50% or more of DHEA levels in the blood. 

2. Eat good quality fats and calorie restriction

DHEA, like all our steroidal pathway (sex) hormones, is made from cholesterol and your body uses fat to make cholesterol. In fact, we will check all clients at our clinic for hormone imbalance, who are on long term cholesterol lowering medications. So eat plenty of good quality fats from grass fed beef, cod liver oil, flaxseeds, cold water fish, walnuts, wild yam, soy (in forms of tofu and tempeh are healthiest) and extra virgin olive oil. 

The increase in good fats in the diet, make us feel less hungry and we will calorie restrict as a consequence. Studies in primates have shown that a restricted diet in calories will actually increase DHEA.

3. Meditate

Stress increases the hormone cortisol, which decreases blood levels of DHEA. Recent research performed by Dr. Vincent Giampapa, M.D., a prominent anti-aging researcher and past-president of the American Board of Anti-Aging Medicine, revealed that regular deep meditation (slower Alpha and Theta brainwave patterns) dramatically affects production of DHEA. Other studies have supported this research.

4. Maintain a Healthy Body Weight

People who maintain a healthy body mass index between 19 and 25 have the highest blood levels of DHEA. Some women, who are overweight, and have the ‘apple-shape’ body, are prone to a hormonal endocrine disturbance known as polycystic ovarian syndrome, which can be associated with elevated DHEA.

5. Sleep

Schedule downtime in your life; something we have to learn to do these days with the age of technology and information ‘overload’. The aim is to get between 7-8 hours of quality sleep every night, and get adequate levels of sunlight during the day to engage our body’s natural day-night biorhythms. Interestingly, an increase in plasma concentrations of DHEA can be seen during the winter months.

6. Exercise at least 3 times weekly

We all know the benefits of exercise. Exercise regularly, as exercise has been show to increase DHEA levels in men and women, and will elevate moods while you are at it. How good is that!

7. Certain herbs may encourage the body to produce more DHEA

At our clinic we compound specific herbal formulas to encourage the production of DHEA and support the adrenal glands, and every client case is unique to their health picture and hormonal profile and quality-controlled and appropriately dosed herbal medicines are needed. So don’t just shop for herbs yourself unless you have years of knowledge and experience in herbal medicine manufacturing and dispensing. 

 

References available on request.