Hormones and the human complexity
You might have noticed those bodily changes in recent years. Somewhere along the line those pounds just kept piling up around your mid-section. Yet nothing in your lifestyle seems to have changed.
Around the same time your sex drive seems to have calmed down a bit too much for your (and your partner’s) liking. The desire that was once just about always there in full force doesn’t really seem to be there much at all anymore.
And what about those moods? Life just doesn’t seem as colourful as it was – with that “joie de vivre” and your “mojo” nothing like they once were.
All of this has to do with hormones. The endocrine system and exocrine system (in this article I will use the term hormonal system) in humans is complex and mysterious, and perhaps no area of medicine stirs as much discussion and indeed debate.
How it works
Hormones influence just about every cell, organ, and function of our bodies. They affect our energy levels, sleep patterns, skin health, muscle tone, general appearance, how we age, and much more. Imbalance can lead to serious illness, including cancer and diabetes.
The endocrine system is a collection of glands (small organs throughout the body) that secrete different types of hormones into the circulatory system to be carried to target areas, as well as the exocrine system, which secretes its hormones via ducts (essentially a channel leading from a hormone-producing gland or organ).
There are more than 80 known human hormones and probably many more yet to be properly identified. Some of the main ones you may have heard of include testosterone, growth hormone, thyroid, DHEA, and cortisol.
What causes hormones to be secreted in the first place? There are almost endless scenarios here. For example, low levels of calcium in the blood can signal the parathyroid gland to secrete parathyroid hormone (PTH), which causes calcium to be extracted from bone and therefore increases blood calcium levels.
Another example is sexual desire. What exactly is happening here? In males, the body releases the sex hormone testosterone, produced by the male reproductive glands, the testes. Once these hormones are released, a series of physiological responses occur in both the body and mind leading to very strong feelings of arousal.
Hormones and disease
Severe hormone imbalance can lead to diseases and conditions you probably thought had nothing to do with hormones themselves – and many diseases can lead to hormone imbalance which, in turn, cause further problems. Alzheimer’s, autoimmune disease, allergies, heart disease, polycystic ovary syndrome, and many more, all have links to improper hormone function or imbalanced hormone levels.
Type II diabetes – levels of which are skyrocketing around the world due to the high-carb Western diet – is when the body does not produce enough of the hormone insulin or when insulin stops having the effect it should have. This hormone is produced in the pancreas in response to food intake, and its main role is to lower blood sugar (glucose) levels by signalling the cells in the muscle, liver, and fat to take up sugar from the blood stream. Without a proper insulin function, your blood glucose levels remain too high, and this can lead to stroke, heart attack, kidney damage, blindness, and more.
Hormones and “well-being”
But while hormone imbalance and impairment can lead to serious disease and exacerbate existing disease, much of the interest in hormones that has developed over the last decade or two has to do with improving what we can call that feeling of “general well-being” in an individual. As a physician specializing in bioidentical hormone replacement therapy, the majority of my patients come to me because they want to address issues such as low energy levels, mood swings, poor sleep, reduced muscle tone, weight gain despite no major change to diet or lifestyle, menopausal and “manopausal” symptoms, low libido, depression and anxiety, and so on.
These conditions are all very much linked to the aging process. What we have learned is that starting around the age of 30 our hormone levels start to drop, and by the time we hit 40 the effects of depleted hormones can for some of us be quite severe. It can be hard both physically and mentally, and it can sneak up on you over the years until one day you just don’t feel yourself anymore.
Testing and treatment
If you are in the late thirties and up age bracket, I am quite sure that you can relate to some of the symptoms of hormone imbalance. I recommend every one of my clients do a full hormone screen at some point in their late thirties (or earlier if symptoms are there) to begin monitoring if and how fast their hormone levels are declining year on year.
A lot can be done if levels are down or imbalanced and you are genuinely suffering as a result. Treating with bioidentical hormone therapy (never synthetic) is very effective in keeping your levels balanced throughout your life so that you can maintain your sense of well-being throughout.
In addition, you will want to adhere to a low-carb diet that follows a Paleo-framework. This is because your high-carb diet leads to chronically high insulin levels which will negatively affect the impact of other major hormones such as cortisol, thyroid, and the sex hormones.
It is indeed one of the more complex and fascinating systems of the human body, and an area of medicine that is receiving more and more attention as we discover how powerful a role the hormonal system has on just about every aspect of our physical and mental well-being.
Graham Simpson, MD is Chief Medical Officer and Founder of Intelligent Health, a preventive medical centre located in Jumeirah. Dubai. He graduated from the University of the Witwatersrand Medical School in Johannesburg, South Africa, and is board certified in Internal Medicine and Emergency Medicine. As a founding member of the American Holistic Medical Association (AHMA) Dr Simpson is also a licensed homeopath.