Tennee | April 25, 2017
Healthy steroid hormones make a healthy happy body. Just ask anyone who is exhausted, looking to shed some resistant weight and reboot their sex drive... are their hormones happy? Probably not. Growth, reproduction, sleep and energy production are all byproducts of steroid hormone production. When the body is strong and healthy, it is likely that hormones are balanced and working for you. When our bodies go out of balance from influences such as too much stress, chemicals in the environment and poor nutrition, symptoms such as weight issues, adrenal dysfunction, PMS, estrogen dominance, thyroid issues, dwindling sex drive and sleep problems can wreak havoc on your life. The art of keeping your hormones balanced with nutrition and detoxification support is of utmost importance in this day and age. As we become more adept at biohacking our bodies physiology for better health, not only is it possible to change our chemistry, it will ultimately support a better quality of life as we age.
What are steroid hormones?
Your endocrine system houses a collection of glands that produce hormones. Operating within the endocrine system, the hypothalamus and pituitary are the master regulators of metabolism. The Adrenal glands, testes and ovaries (and placenta during pregnancy) are next in line, being in charge of regulatory function and maintenance of metabolic efficiency.
Steroid hormones are little chemical messengers that are produced by these three very important steroid glands and are the focus of this blog. The steroidal hormones that govern so many vital functions that keep us operating like a well oiled machine include:
- DHEA - Regulatory hormone, responsible for reversing the effects of stress, regulates hormone balance and helps maintain libido, energy and strength.
- PREGNENOLONE - Produced in the brain. Known as the grand precursor, this hormone has many beneficial effects including enhancing memory and reducing stress induced fatigue.
- MELATONIN - Neurotransmitter hormone that regulates your circadian rhythm (sleep cycles).
- TESTOSTERONE - Hormone vital to both sexes. Contributes to muscle mass, strength, endurance, decreased fat, increased exercise tolerance and sex drive.
- ESTROGEN - Instrumental in orchestrating the menstrual cycle and works in harmony with progesterone. Protects against heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis, Alzheimers disease, memory disorders and prevents symptoms of menopause.
- PROGESTERONE - Protects against uterine and breast cancers, osteoporosis, fibrocystic disease and ovarian cysts.
These chemical messengers direct the body the way a conductor directs an orchestra. With that in mind, balanced hormonal health is similar to the structure of a symphony with all hormones working together to produce a harmonious outcome. In fact, the adrenals and steroid hormones are involved in regulating virtually every aspect of body function. Learning to support your body’s individual needs will optimize your health on many levels ultimately increasing the quality of your life.
Is dysfunction the new normal?
If you are reading this and wondering how or why this is relevant to you, I would like you to consider that we often don’t realize how out of balance we are until we are in state of imbalance or “dis” ease. Too many people think its normal to be overweight and fatigued with fibrocystic breasts and heavy periods. Just because its the “norm” does not mean its healthy! In fact 80% of women over the age of 35 have estrogen dominance.
Dr Sara Gottfried M.D. a hormone expert and author states:
“You see in mainstream medicine, we tend to have either/or thinking. Either your liver is working or you have liver disease. Either your thyroid is working or you have thyroid insufficiency. Either your adrenals are working or you have adrenal failure. There is rarely a ‘middle ground’. The truth that most of us exist in a wide range between those two extremes which I call dysfunction or dysregulation. I believe it’s not only worthwhile but ultimately your responsibility (along with the help of a trusted clinician) to intervene before your organs become diseased. Intervention before failure, before insufficiency, is proven to contribute to lasting health and longevity.” - The hormone cure
Steroid hormone testing is an important tool to gain a better understanding of how your hormonal “orchestra” is working. While saliva and blood tests have been standard practice for years, there are many limitations to these tests and they simply don’t provide enough information when it comes to looking at how hormones are breaking down and detoxifying.
Looking at hormone “metabolites” through tests such as the DUTCH (dried urine test for comprehensive hormones) provides information that is on the cutting edge of the functional medicine and nutrition frontier. This is the next generation of hormone testing using GC and LC tandem mass spectrometry technology to look at both free and metabolized cortisol, estrogen metabolites, androgen metabolism, basic hormones and melatonin. The difference between the “standard” saliva hormone testing and urinary metabolite testing is that the DUTCH doesn’t just measure the free hormone, it also measures the 24 hour hormone output as well as metabolites. For example, when looking at cortisol (your stress hormone) free cortisol is only 1-3% of the total cortisol that your adrenal glands are producing, yet this is what is measured in saliva. The urinary DUTCH test looks at both what your body produces and what it is able to use and breakdown.
Looking at estrogen metabolites is another advance in hormone testing. Estrogen metabolites can only be measured in urine. When the metabolites are broken down they have varying degrees of estrogenic activity and the stronger the estrogenic effect the greater the risk of developing estrogen related imbalances. The DUTCH test has paved the way to assess individual hormone pathways to help modulate your ability find the right balance for your body. I have found that understanding both hormone pathways and metabolites is key when trying to troubleshoot your individual hormonal health for longevity.
Where do you start?
Detoxify and Support the Liver!
When looking at hormone function, it is important to remember that hormone support starts in the liver.
This is because the metabolism of estrogen takes place primarily in the liver. As your “master organ of detoxification”, the liver acts as a hormone processor; manufacturing and regulating hormone levels as well as directing various hormones to perform their proper function in other parts of the body.
The liver has two phases to process excess hormones as well as toxins. In phase I, aka hydroxilation, the liver prepares the toxins and excess hormones for phase II. In phase II, there are six reactions that the toxins go through, however, glucuronidation, methylation and sulphation allow estrogen to be detoxified and excreted from the body.
Why is the liver so important?
Your liver operates like a water filtration device. Essentially, it takes everything we put into our bodies, whether its swallowed, inhaled or absorbed through the skin and filters it. The filtration system separates the nutrients that the body needs for energy and other functions and prepares to dispose that which the body does not need.
Its main job when it comes to hormones is to protect your body from toxins but if it is not able to do so, it will store the toxins away in your fat. This may be belly fat, organs, glands, brain and myelin sheath. So if you are not overeating and you are exercising and gaining weight, take a look at your liver and your detoxification pathways.
Diet and nutritional support for Phase I in the liver
Phase I pathway is the main metabolic pathway for estrogen hormones, otherwise known as transformation phase. In this phase, enzymes begin the detoxification process by chemically transforming lipid soluble compounds into water soluble compounds in preparation for phase II. The bulk of the Phase I reactions are performed by a family of enzymes called the cytochrome P450s. In order to support Phase I it is essential to support the body nutritionally with cofactors and enzymes such as riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), and magnesium. To neutralize the free radicals that are produce during Phase I, the body requires antioxidants and vitamins such as vitamin A, C, D3 and E and selenium. Herbal sources of support such as quercetin and milk thistle are very important for Phase I.
Phase II in the liver
After estrogen metabolites go through phase 1 detoxification, they undergo a conjugation through phase II where they are combined with nutrients such as amino acids that allow for their excretion in the form of urine and stool. Key nutrients that are required by various Phase II pathways are glutathione, B5, B12, Vitamin C, amino acids such as cysteine, glycine, taurine, carnitine and NAC.
There are 6 phases that toxins go through, however methylation, glucuronidation sulfation and glutathione-transferase are most noted for hormone metabolization.
Methylation - To help with the methylation pathway, you need several methyl donors, which include folic acid, B-12, SAMe, methionine and cysteine. Proper methylation prevents the formation of quinones. Quinones can cause DNA damage in estrogen sensitive tissues. In the wake of genetic testing, a large number of people are finding that they have genetic markers that cause a sluggish methylation pathways. This means additional support is needed in order to detoxify. Snps, or genetic polymorphisms such as COMT and MTHFR and others can affect phase II estrogen metabolism. It is important to support any enzyme snp’s with nutritional support to offset their expression. Genetic testing through labs such as 23andme.com will provide information regarding your specific genetic snps.
Glucuronidation - Phase II process that conjugates estrogens. This process requires glucuronic acid, magnesium and B vitamins to work properly. It is important to note that glucuronidation is affected by the condition of the gut. If the gut has an abundance of abnormal bacteria, the enzyme produced by these bacteria may cut off the conjugated part from the estrogen. When glucuronidation is not working properly, estrogen that would have been excreted is then reabsorbed back in to the body creating a buildup of estrogen. The supplement Calcium D Glucurate (found in fruits and vegetables) can render the enzyme inactive and prevent this buildup.
Sulfation - When going through the sulfation phase, sulfur groups are added to estrogen to prepare them for easy excretion. You can help the body make the sulfur and the sulfation pathway more effective by eating more sulfur rich foods like animal proteins such as egg yolks, garlic, broccoli, kale, cauliflower, cabbage. You also need nutrients like amino acids and vitamins like B-12, folic acid and B-6.
Glutathione Conjugation - Phase II needs an antioxidant called glutathione to neutralized DNA damaging estrogen quinones. Glutathione is the most powerful internal antioxidant that will protect you from free radical damage. A common genetic variation is in a defect in the enzyme called glutathione s-transferase which is needed to synthesize glutathione from essential components. Whey protein, Vitamin C, N-Acetyl-Cysteine all help glutathione conjugation.
It is ideal to learn about your personal detox pathways and find ways to support individual needs so that your body can maintain a better balance through life’s up’s and down’s.
Ultimately if you want healthy hormones, you must take care of your liver!
7 Steps to take to improve liver function
1. Improve gut health
Healing and sealing the gut is key to optimal health and will profoundly affect the health of your hormones. Any toxicity brought about by dysbiosis in the gut has to be filtered throughout the liver and the liver will prioritize clearing toxins over clearing hormones.
2. Eat organic and non GMO food
Consuming organically and non genetically modified food is a no brainer for hormone health as it decreases the toxic load on the liver.
3. Sweat out toxins
Toxins such as heavy metals, pesticides, BPA are all stored in the fat. Sweating will stimulate a toxin dump. Infrared saunas are a favorite tool for sweating and studies link frequent sauna use with activating longevity genes.
4. Consume cruciferous vegetables
Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower etc...contains Indol-3-carbonol or I3C which converts to DIM in the body. DIM is necessary for breaking down excess estrogen from the body.
5. Limit or eliminate caffeine
Most people love caffeine, but too much caffeine can wreak havoc on the endocrine system and overstimulate the adrenals. Caffeine also stimulates phase 1 and can slow down phase 2 in the liver. Substituting with herbal teas are ideal but cutting the caffeine with fat such as coconut oil and or collagen will create more of a “slow burn” effect and is less damaging to the adrenals.
6. Remove alcohol
Alcohol damages the liver and causes chronic inflammation. Removing alcohol from the diet can significantly lighten the burden on the liver which frees it up to work on filtering necessary toxins and hormones.
While you sleep, your body is actively removing toxins and creating hormones. Getting to bed before 10 has shown to be more effective for deeper and better sleep and better detoxification capacity.
At the end of the day, do your due diligence and become your own biohacker. I have come to realize that we must all take it upon ourselves to take responsibility for our own health and find ways to support our individual needs by troubleshooting and mastering our own biochemistry. When you take it upon yourself to do your research and make changes that better support your health, you will not only be healthier but you will inspire those around you to make changes as well. So get inspired, learn and take steps to support your body for health and longevity.
Wishing you a radiant reality.
Modulation of metabolic detoxification pathways using foods and food derived components. A scientific review with clinical application (July 16, 2015)
F. Peter Gwengerich (1995). Influence of nutrients and other dietary materials on on cytochrome P450 enzymes, Amj din Nutr, 61(suppl) 6515-85
Chandradhar Dwivedi, Wendy J. Heck, Alan A Dainle, Saroj Larroya, and Thomas E Webb (1990.)
Effect of Calcium Glucarate of B-Glucuronidase activity and glucarate content of certain vegetables and fruits, Biochemical Medicine and Metabolic biology.
Dr Mercola Interview with Precision Analyticals founder Mark Newman.