Almost every day I get a question from someone regarding hormones. The questions range over many areas, such as; loss of libido or sexual ability, low energy, hair loss, hot flashes, cold sweats, loss of muscle strength, low energy and stamina, cardiac arrhythmia’s, erectile dysfunction, inability to have an orgasm, insomnia, breast growth in men, menstrual irregularities in women, and many, many others. While some of these symptoms can be due to other problems, hormones play a huge part in them.
Hormones are the chemical messengers of the body. They interact with every organ of the body telling each one how to do its job. When there is too much of one hormone OR too little of another, symptoms are inevitable. An imbalance in one hormone typically causes an imbalance in one or more of the others. Thus, it is imperative that hormone testing encompass a group of related hormones, not just one! Unfortunately, my male questioners are typically interested only in talking about testosterone, and the women are mostly interested in estrogen. This rather simplistic approach ignores the fact that the actual hormone levels are not as important as the balance between them!
There are many different hormones and hormone families in the body. Most are controlled by signals from the pituitary gland that tell various organs what to do and when to do it. This article discusses only those hormones that are considered to be in the “Sex Steroid Hormone Family.”
The family consists of the key hormones progesterone, DHEA, androstenedione, testosterone, dihydrotestosterone (DHT) and the estrogens—estriol, estrone and estradiol. The family is generally the same in both men and women and controls reproductive and sexual organs as well as their characteristics. These hormones are present in differing levels in both males and females but they carry similar messages for both sexes. For example, the male hormone testosterone has a lot to do with sexual desire (libido)—higher testosterone levels usually result in increased libido in both sexes.
Certain enzymes in the body, notably 5-alpha-reductase and aromatase convert testosterone to dihydrotestosterone (DHT) and/or estradiol, and an excess of either of these hormones can cause detrimental effects.
Excess estradiol or DHT in a man can cause undesired breast or prostate growth (BPH). In a woman, excess estradiol can increase the risk of breast or uterine cancer and excess DHT can cause a condition known as “Androgenetic Alopecia” or hair loss similar to male pattern baldness.
In a healthy person, all hormones in the family are in proper balance and within their biological normal ratios, and the person exhibits no significant hormone related symptoms. But, as soon as one or more go too high or too low, various symptoms start, and overall health suffers.
While the body is quite good at regulating its hormone balance—nutritional deficiencies, stress, illness, generally poor health and especially certain prescription medications, can cause a significant imbalance in hormone levels. Such an imbalance can cause long-term symptoms that may be difficult to diagnose and often result in additional tests and/or medical treatment that do little to solve the problem
Some typical clinical examples of this include the following:
A man suffering from serious erectile dysfunction and/or anorgasmia (inability to have an orgasm) receives a prescription for testosterone, but it does not solve his problem or even makes it worse. If a salivary hormone panel indicates his levels are properly balanced, subsequent testing of hormones outside of the sex steroid family may help determine and rectify the problem. However, it is rare that such subsequent testing is done. More often, the sufferer is told it is a problem of aging and he should learn to live with it!
A woman getting close to menopause, suffers pain related to her menstrual cycle. She is diagnosed with benign fibroid tumors and a hysterectomy is recommended to resolve the problem. In this case, a salivary hormone panel often uncovers a hormone imbalance that can easily be corrected, resulting in reducing her pain and eliminating the need for debilitating surgery.
When the results of a salivary hormone test are analyzed, the level of each hormone is examined in conjunction with its relationship to other hormones. In both the above cases, a salivary hormone test could have led to a solution of the problem rather than long-term discomfort or disability.
Hormone Replacement Therapy
Testosterone therapy is prominent in today’s news, as evidenced by the myriad of “Low-T” commercials. Indeed, low testosterone can cause a man or a women to experience various sexual inadequacies. However, a testosterone prescription without first running a hormone panel, can result in a dangerous increase in either DHT or estradiol, both of which can exacerbate BPH and increase the risk of prostate cancer in a man. In addition, excess testosterone increases a man’s red blood cell count and thus increases risk of stroke or cardiac complications.
In a woman, excess testosterone can result in unwanted facial hair and scalp hair loss and excess estradiol may increase the risk of breast, uterine or ovarian cancer. A hormone panel test can help determine if hormone supplementation can be used safely without excessively increasing risk.
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) for women has fallen out of favor in recent years due to the discovery (in the Woman’s Health Initiative study) that the women participants using HRT had an increased risk of cancer and stroke. Much of this risk was attributed to the synthetic hormones used in the study. Bio-Identical hormones (identical to those produced by the body) have not been associated with similar risks.
While some of the symptoms of hormone imbalances are the same in men and women, they also vary from person to person. Some women and men will immediately notice symptoms from out-of-balance hormones, while others will be symptom free. Thus, if one is having symptoms that may be related to hormone imbalances, it becomes critically important to evaluate hormone levels with a saliva test. Subsequent action can then be based on the results obtained.
Aside from supplementation using bio-identical hormone creams, there are many natural products that can aid in balancing hormones. Such products can help normalize the body’s conversion processes and alleviate symptoms in both men and women. For example, by lowering conversion of testosterone to other elements, symptoms related to high values of estradiol and DHT can often be relieved. In a man, this may help with some prostate issues, low libido and erectile problems, as well as undesired breast growth. In a woman, it can include relieve certain menopausal symptoms (like hot flashes and night sweats) as well as thinning of scalp hair, as well as lower risk of some cancers.
Also, lowering the conversion of testosterone to other elements invariably results in a bonus of somewhat higher levels of free testosterone and a healthier libido. Combining herbals that inhibit undesired conversion with bio-identical precursor hormones like progesterone and/or DHEA, as well as adding an herbal testosterone booster cream, can help enhance the overall results.
Summing it up
Everyone expects low hormone levels to be producing their symptoms, but this is not always true. Sometimes the problem is hormone levels that are too high rather than too low. The only way to know for sure is to order an appropriate hormone panel. While you can guess at hormone imbalances and attempt to re-balance yourself with over the counter supplements or even prescription hormones, it is always best to test first to get a starting reference point.
After measuring hormone levels with a home saliva test kit, you can adjust yourself back to balance with bio-identical hormones, herbal products, and professional advice.