Balance your hormones to burn fat
Dr. Jonathan Wright is called the father of bioidentical hormones because he was the first physician to prescribe them in the United States twenty-five years ago. He teaches other doctors the art of individualizing natural hormones and has been one of my greatest teachers. According to Dr. Wright, “Diet and exercise are always of primary importance, but a little-known fact is that it is easier to control and lose weight if bioidentical hormones are used. This applies to perimenopausal women, menopausal women, and andropausal men. Replacing hormones with real, natural bioidentical hormones reduces our risk of cognitive decline (foggy brain), heart disease, and Alzheimer’s. Bioidentical hormones also help maintain women’s lung function, control weight, and restore sexuality.”
Sounds pretty great, doesn’t it? Isn’t this what we all want?
I am living proof that it is achievable. With balanced hormones and my detoxed body, weight is no longer an issue, but if I get lax and allow myself to be overly exposed to chemicals and eat badly, or ignore my newly found food intolerances to eggs and yeast (sigh), I gain it back in the wrong places. (I’ll tell you a little more about that later in this post. When I hit forty, I experienced much of what I suspect you may be going through right now.)
Now I never let my hormones become imbalanced. Without balance I feel awful, and that includes bloating and lethargy. I am not a thin person in a supermodel-type body. I am rounder (those big breasts) and I have small hips. But I have had trouble keeping my waist at the trim desirable size I once was in my Three’s Company days.
I often speak of aging as aspirational, meaning that you can achieve optimal health by maintaining perfect hormonal balance, regardless of the chronological clock. It is very difficult for women and men to wade through all the untruths, myths, and lack of understanding relative to hormone replacement. For example, the most widely used estrogen replacement, Premarin, is made from pregnant mare’s urine. Why would we want to take horse estrogen? Instead, bioidentical hormones (biologically identical to the human hormone, an exact replica of what our bodies make or made) are the perfect answer. I have been restoring my lost hormones with bioidenticals for almost fifteen years. I believe that it has arrested the aging process for me dramatically.
I had three years of agony that no one seemed to understand. “It can’t be menopause,” I thought; “I’m only forty! But it sure seems like my thighs are growing.” When I was a kid, I was always the skinny one—people called me Bony Mahoney (Mahoney being my maiden name) or Beanpole. I was so skinny I was embarrassed to be seen in a bathing suit. The boys made fun of me, saying I was “flat as a pancake.” I grew out of that, but when I reached my fortieth year, suddenly I was struggling to button my pants and self-conscious about my growing waistline.
What happened? Two things: the changing toxic planet coupled with declining hormones. A lethal combination if you are trying to stay thin.
Hormones! Declines in levels of hormones start early now, often in the mid- to late thirties, with some lucky ones making it to their forties intact. But eventually we all get there. Come to think of it, once I hit my forties I wasn’t very interested in sex either. When did that happen? I had always loved it!
But did I make the connection? Noooooo! I suffered through another ten years before I understood, and during three of those years life would be a living hell due to dramatic symptoms of declining hormones. I remember saying to my husband one day that my clothes were shrinking. Ha! I was now two sizes bigger, but I hadn’t changed the size clothing I was buying. I would delude myself into thinking I was just bloated and that when it went away the outfit would fit. Denial! And I got good at hiding it. If I had to appear on TV I would literally starve myself for a couple of weeks to slim down, but this kind of weight loss is always temporary and confuses your body. Missing meals makes you fat because the body readjusts to expect less food. When you go back to normal eating the body doesn’t know what to do with this extra food, so it stores it as fat.
LET’S TALK ABOUT SEX
It’s not over just because you have hit middle age. Not at all! I talk about sex because a healthy person is a sexual person. You will not feel sexual if you are not hormonally balanced, and an imbalanced person is not healthy. It’s important to work at achieving hormonal balance. Feeling “in the mood” will be a good indicator that all is well again.
At middle age a woman’s sex hormones—estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone—start to decline. The more these hormones decline, the less interested she becomes in sex. When these hormones completely drain out, that’s when you hear women say things like, “Oh, I’m past that.” Not a good sign. It’s an indicator that decline and deterioration have begun. It’s all downhill from there. The medications begin (and in the western medical world they have a pill for everything—although did you ever notice that there is no Viagra for women?). The perfect way to restore your sexuality is to balance your hormones.
My life is not about deprivation. I enjoy delicious meals with healthy fats, I eat until I am full and satisfied, and I remain thin. I enjoy a robust sex life. I sleep eight hours nightly. And while I avoid chemicals in my home and eat organic food, none of this good feeling would be possible without natural bioidentical hormone replacement.
Hormones are the juice of youth. Hormones are a language instructing the body to feel good, have energy, and be healthy and sexual. Hormones regulate our body heat and our ability to think and feel good; hormones keep our bones strong, our brain sharp, and our organs functioning. Hormones are what give us our good health, and the symptoms we associate with aging are often simply related to this decline in hormones. That is why menopausal women experience hot flashes, sleepless nights, tremendous weight gain, and a loss of libido. Without enough sex hormones you can’t feel sexy.
When it comes to aging, the only choices are to accept deterioration or to choose restoration. I have chosen restoration. What does that mean? First of all, I recognized that I needed to restore all of my hormones to optimal levels.
In this post, with the help of Dr. Jonathan Wright, I briefly explain how the hormonal system works and why imbalanced or declining hormones lead to weight gain and feeling like you are no longer the person you used to be.
It’s important to understand that hormones are like a symphony that requires all the instruments to be in tune in order to be harmonic. Stress disrupts this harmony and causes changes in your hormones. It makes your body out of tune, then your adrenals go on high alert, which starts a cascade of hormonal imbalances, and symptoms then begin to occur. Over time stress and hormone changes cause hot flashes, weight gain, and an inability to sleep.
Stress and toxicity blunt hormone production. This is why younger and younger women are experiencing hormonal decline.
The problem is the way our high-stress lifestyles affect our adrenal glands. The adrenals, in simple terms, produce the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol, whose job is to rev up the body when needed. In paleolithic times this would be when being chased by a saber-toothed tiger, but in today’s world we live the equivalent of being chased by that tiger all the time. Our adrenals are on overload. When this happens, a cascade of bodily problems begins.
High adrenal outputs can cause dizziness, which usually sends people to the nearest neurologist. I have seen girlfriends go through this over and over again. I always tell them, “Before you agree to all those expensive tests, why don’t you do a twenty-four-hour urine test and check your adrenal levels and all your other hormones?” When high adrenal output is evident from a twenty-four-hour urine test, the next thing to do is to look at the levels of progesterone and estrogen. Most likely they will be in decline, and restoring those to optimal levels usually balances out the adrenals. If you flatline your adrenals from extreme stress (overwork, death, divorce, financial upheaval), then natural bioidentical cortisol (hydrocortisone) may be required.
This is why I stress that starting from age forty you should obtain the services of a qualified antiaging doctor one who is current on the effects of declining hormones. Most often, though, declining hormones and the resulting symptoms are not understood by your regular doctor, who may order a battery of expensive tests and unnecessary CAT scans. (CAT scans carry with them large amounts of radiation, which is carcinogenic. Recently a report came out saying that CAT scans carry many times more radiation than originally thought. Remember, all toxicity is a route to weight gain and disease, and unnecessary radiation is just another toxin.) How many times has a woman been diagnosed incorrectly with a neurologic or autoimmune disease like lupus, MS, or fibromyalgia when she was simply hormonally imbalanced?
Conventional medical treatment of these symptoms requires huge amounts of toxic pharmaceutical drugs, which cause side effects requiring more drugs … raising cortisol levels further. High cortisol makes sleeping impossible (you’re running from the tiger, remember?), so now you need toxic sleeping pills. This inability to sleep raises production of the stress hormone cortisol, and when cortisol levels go up, your blood sugar increases, making it difficult to burn stored body fat.
When cortisol and insulin levels are off, the thyroid (the gland that produces the fat-burning hormone) acts up and lowers the energy in the body. Hormones produced by the thyroid regulate cells and organs by stimulating the mitochondria, the cells’ little powerhouses.
When the thyroid gland works correctly, it warms the body, stimulates energy by freeing heat and energy, and prevents sensitivity to hot and cold (especially in the extremities). Thyroid also stimulates fat burning, helps dissolve cholesterol, and makes the arterial walls more supple, thereby opening the arteries and moderating blood pressure. The symptoms of a low thyroid are pretty easy to spot: dry skin, constipation, stiff joints, sensitivity to heat and cold, and fatigue—you feel very tired … exhausted.
As I’ve noted, this cascade of symptoms is often a result of declining hormones, starting with estrogen and progesterone. Estrogen and progesterone are the minor hormones, but why they are called minor makes little sense because when these molecules get out of balance life becomes very, very difficult. Nothing minor about it. I call this imbalance the Seven Dwarves of Menopause: Itchy, Bitchy, Sleepy, Sweaty, Bloated, Forgetful, and All Dried Up!
There are three well-known components to what we understand as estrogen:
- Estriol (cancer protective)
- Estradiol (pro-carcinogenic)
- Estrone (pro-carcinogenic)
This is why there is much confusion about estrogen replacement causing breast cancer. Even conventional doctors now acknowledge that horse-urine-derived estrogen (Premarin) increases risk of cancer and other diseases. The carcinogenic effect is worse when a synthetic progestin (like Provera) is combined with estrogen. That is why so many women got breast cancer and estrogen got a bad rap. It was never made clear that the study was done on horse hormones like Premarin, not on hormones identical to those produced in the human body. There has not been a single reported case of cancer as a result of bioidentical hormones.
Women using natural-to-the-human-body estrogens should also use natural progesterone (not synthetic progestin) and follow other steps to reduce cancer risk such as ensuring optimal vitamin D status. This usually requires supplementation with at least 5,000 IU of vitamin D each day—far more than is found in conventional multinutrient products.
Natural progesterone opposes the cell-proliferating impact of estrogen on female reproductive organs. In our younger years, we naturally produced abundant amounts of progesterone two weeks out of every month. Menopause unfortunately results in the rapid decline of production of natural progesterone. So when doctors prescribe estrogen without natural progesterone, they are creating an imbalance whereby there is not enough natural progesterone to oppose the estrogen drugs they are prescribing. Remember that the drug they too often prescribed contained Provera, which is not natural progesterone and has in fact been linked to numerous health problems. But when estrogen is opposed with progesterone two weeks of every month (like we used to make when we were having a period), we are more protected from getting cancer. When estrogen and progesterone are replaced with bioidenticals in normal physiologic levels in the right ratios, individualized for each person, the effect is amazing.
My doctor keeps track of my estrogen levels with urine and blood tests once or twice a year. He checks for balance not only in the ratio of estrogen and progesterone but also in these three well-known components and all the minor components that make up what we know as estrogen. Through testing, my doctor (Jonathan Wright) was able to determine that my body does not make the usual amount of the essential component of estrogen known as estriol. This is a major factor because estriol is a very important cancer-protective part of estrogen. Without it a woman is set up for cancer. There is no defense. I am one of those women. Lucky for me, Dr. Wright was able to figure this out and very likely has prevented me from a recurrence. Along with my bioidentical estradiol, from the Wiley Protocol, which also contains estrone, he prescribes the right dosage of daily estriol.
I am certain that a huge contributing factor in why I got breast cancer was a lack of estriol in my body (along with twenty-two years of so-called safe birth control pills). I see estriol, which sits at the estrogen receptor site (guarding against too much pro-carcinogenic estrogen), as a little ninja warrior protecting me.
When your levels of estrogen and progesterone begin to decline, imbalances may arise in other hormones: thyroid, insulin, adrenals, and cortisol. Imagine a teeter-totter: when one hormone drops other hormones rise. Imbalanced hormones lead to weight gain. You see it all the time, and until you understand this you will be in a constant battle with your weight and the symptoms of hormonal decline.
What the body wants is “just right,” like Goldilocks—not too much, not too little. For instance, if you don’t have enough estrogen or progesterone you will experience bloating and other symptoms. If you have too much estrogen or progesterone, you will experience bloating and other symptoms including weight gain. Just-right levels of hormones create optimal health, but when those levels aren’t right we can get symptoms big-time; depression, sleeplessness, foggy thinking, brittle bones, heart disease, and high blood pressure are all part of the signs of imbalance. Conventional medicine most often treats these symptoms with an array of drugs: for depression, Prozac; inability to sleep, Ambien or Lunesta; foggy thinking, Alzheimer’s medications; brittle bones, Fosamax; heart weakness, Lipitor (a dreadful dangerous drug. Add to this the caffeine and alcohol women are consuming to get up and then to come down and you can see why the present template of aging is a long, slow march to the nursing home; that is, if their overweight bodies don’t do them in first.
What a crappy way to enter midlife! With hormones restored, life gets better and better and you get thinner.
Hormones are not understood by most conventional doctors. At present in our medical schools, our doctors receive only four hours of instruction in prescribing hormones, which is why it is essential to work with a doctor who has chosen to specialize in bioidentical hormone replacement. You will find one nearest you.
LOSE WEIGHT BY BALANCING YOUR HORMONES
Hormonal health is the key to losing weight; you can’t do it any other way. Dr. Wright explains in this next section why you are getting fat as a result of hormonal imbalance.
It is also important to understand that men have hormones that become imbalanced due to the aging process or stress. When men decline hormonally they begin to fall apart just like women. Couple this with the chemical onslaught of everyday life and the result is disastrous: men gain weight, their skin sags, their guts become compromised, they develop food intolerances, they don’t sleep well, and they lose their sex drive. But it all happens gradually, so no one really pays attention until the symptoms appear. And then it is not pretty. Men, too, get sick as a result of hormonal decline. Cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s are rampant among men.
Premenstrual syndrome results from the dipping and falling of estrogen right before your period when the progesterone is not rising quickly enough. A similar type of hormone imbalance occurs during perimenopause, a very undertreated phase of initial hormonal decline. During perimenopause, estrogen and progesterone are dipping and surging out of control, and they trigger the brain that we are about to be no longer reproductive. Biologically speaking we are only here for one reason: perpetuation of the species. When the brain perceives us to be nonreproductive, its job is to eliminate us. Nature wants to make way for the healthy reproductive ones—perpetuation of the species. As hormones diminish, the body tries to compensate for the loss. It fattens up to protect our now brittle bones from lack of estrogen and progesterone, our brain loses its edge (a lack of estrogen getting to the brain can trigger migraine headaches and foggy thinking). Then our cortisol goes so high we can’t sleep. Chronic high stress hormones can lead to heart attack or stroke (the leading killer of women … hmm, chicken or egg?). All these symptoms are a result of declining and imbalanced hormones.
Let’s hear what Dr. Jonathan Wright says about this issue:
Let’s examine each hormone and its effects on weight gain. Balance is what is desired. Balanced hormones make weight loss possible; without balance you are climbing uphill.
DHEA. DHEA is another important hormone to understand, especially in relation to belly fat. In an article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2004, a double-blind study showed that people taking a DHEA supplement lost two pounds, while a placebo group gained one pound, which is not an impressive difference. But the women in the DHEA group lost 10 percent of their abdominal fat (this was tested through an MRI study) and the men in the DHEA group lost 7 percent of their abdominal fat.
There is a strong benefit regarding metabolic syndrome (a precursor to type 2 diabetes), which is a condition of insulin resistance, high cholesterol and high triglyciderides, high blood pressure, and obesity (especially abdominal). Multiple studies show that DHEA reduces insulin resistance. DHEA also has great value for people who have already progressed to type 2 diabetes. DHEA helps transform cortisol (the active, weight-increasing form) back into cortisone. And the DHEA speeds cortisol inactivation (bringing it down, which is a good thing).
Progesterone. This is a vital hormone known to have thermogenic (heat- and temperature-increasing, fat-burning) effects. When a woman has a progesterone surge (a normal part of her menstrual cycle), it causes the body temperature to rise at midnight. An ovulating woman’s body temperature remains higher during the second half of her menstrual cycle. Higher body temperature means slightly more energy burned (this is good if you want to lose weight). There are no studies at present on bioidentical progesterone and weight loss, but it is highly probable that bioidentical progesterone, when studied, will be found to help in weight loss.
Testosterone. Testosterone is an important hormone for many reasons. It decreases abdominal fat and builds muscle in many older men. In some people, it also improves insulin sensitivity and improves blood sugar control. But there is one hazard: as many as one-third of men who use supplemental testosterone also make excess estrogen from testosterone itself, a condition called hyperaromatization. This works against weight loss, and in some cases causes weight gain. Plus, it is dangerous for the prostate gland. Careful testing will usually reveal insulin resistance, a forerunner of type 2 diabetes. This is all completely reversible with diet, exercise, and proper supplementation.
Human growth hormone. HGH is a very misunderstood hormone. It gets a bad rap in the media from those who usually have no comprehension of the incredible benefits of supplementation in proper dosages. Instead, they report on athletes who may take a hundred times more than physiologically required, which is dangerous to the body.
Human growth hormone is something we all make in our own bodies, even as adults. If HGH levels are low or low normal then raising them to within the normal adult range helps reduce fat and increase muscle, and is very unlikely to be harmful. Testosterone, DHEA, and thyroid (and probably estrogen) all stimulate the internal production of HGH. Estrogen also regulates growth hormone use in the body.
HGH itself is injectable and expensive. Substances that stimulate the body’s production of HGH are available in oral or injectible forms and are less expensive. HCG (human chorionic gonadotropin; see next section) also stimulates HGH production.
Human chorionic gonadotropin. HCG suppresses your appetite by causing low-level nausea (the nausea associated with pregnancy is believed to be due to the surge of HCG during pregnancy). Some practitioners claim HCG is an effective weight loss tool, but success requires severe calorie restriction (fewer than 500 calories per day). HCG is injected but much less expensive than HGH. HCG can stimulate production of testosterone, especially if LH (luteinizing hormone) levels are also low.
Insulin. Insulin is the fat-storing hormone. High levels of insulin lead to weight gain. Insulin production is overstimulated by consumption of sugar and carbohydrates, especially refined carbohydrates. This is a special problem for individuals from families with a predisposition to type 2 diabetes. In men, high insulin levels are also very bad for the cardiovascular system and prostate gland. DHEA and testosterone (along with vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, chromium, biotin, and many other nutrients and botanicals, especially the natural plant alkaloid berberine) lower insulin resistance and therefore insulin levels for both men and women. With women the decline in estrogen and progesterone shoots insulin levels high. (Remember the teeter-totter?) As the minor hormones (estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone) dip, the gender-neutral hormones (insulin, thyroid, adrenals, and cortisol) rise.
So for women, by allowing your estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone levels to decline, you set yourself up for weight gain from high insulin and cortisol. In addition, you no longer have the fat-burning benefits of a properly working thyroid. And your adrenals are high (cortisol again), so now you can’t sleep, and are putting yourself at risk for a heart attack. This entire cascade is due to declining estrogen, progesterone, and DHEA (which declines in both sexes starting at age thirty to thirty-five, allowing cortisol to start a slow upward creep well before menopause). So you can see that all the hormones are affected when one is off. When your doctor says you have high insulin levels, take the information seriously. (You may need to check with a doctor who knows how to do proper insulin resistance testing with a sugar challenge to get this information, though.)
Cortisol. High cortisol levels make sleep impossible. On the other hand, if your cortisol is low, weight is lost in excess (but this is unhealthy weight loss). If cortisol is overactive (high), either systemically or intra-cellularly (in fat cells), it promotes weight gain.
When estrogen drops, cortisol rises, because the inhibiting effect estrogen had on the enzyme that transforms cortisone into active cortisol is now mostly gone.
High cortisol can be rectified by estrogen, DHEA, and testosterone supplementation in a bioidentical form. Because high cortisol promotes the formation of new fat cells from connective tissue cells, you want to get that down, and can do so by replacing the hormones that have declined with age.
Thyroid. Thyroid is the fat-burning hormone. If thyroid levels are low, thyroid supplementation can promote weight loss. Blood tests frequently miss weak thyroid function, and doctors often don’t even check rT3 (reverse T3) levels, so it is important that you find a doctor who does not rely solely on lab results and will conduct a thorough clinical evaluation. And you need a doctor who understands how to read the overly broad ranges of normal, an example being the “shrinking TSH range.” If you’re scratching your head, let me explain.
Kathy Simpson wrote in her book The Woman’s Guide to Thyroid Health: “With hypothyroidism [low thyroid], we don’t metabolize food effectively and the calories we consume turn into fat instead of energy. This weight gain is insidious, and neither diet nor exercise resolves it. When weight gain is caused strictly by low thyroid function and not other endocrine deficiencies as well, fat tends to be symmetrically distributed on the body.… When low pituitary function is at the root of low thyroid function, weight gain is generally confined to the area from your abdomen to just above your knees. The skin of a person with hypothyroidism also takes on a flabby look, as overall musculature is affected, too.”
Symptoms of an underactive thyroid can include yellow palms, yellow bottoms of feet, missing the outer third of the eyebrows, constipation, slow pulse, cold hands, frequent infections, sensitivity to heat and cold, reduced sweating, dry skin, tongue swelling, and others. You don’t need to have all of these symptoms for thyroid to be a factor. Any one of these can be an indicator of low thyroid.
Constipation is extremely common with low thyroid. Both digestion of food and excretion of wastes are slowed along with everything else in the body. The specific cause is deficient muscular action of the abdominal walls and intestines. Bowel movements should occur every twelve to twenty-four hours, but if your thyroid is low they may occur much less frequently, in some cases just once a week. This results in painful hemorrhoids and painful bowel movements, and causes a buildup of toxins because waste products are not excreted as they should be. The fermentation of wastes caused by the extended time it takes for food to move through your digestive tract often results in a lot of gas, which further distends your abdomen.
Imbalanced hormones can cause mild to severe bloating. Thyroid, if low, could be your culprit.
Many environmental chemicals have structures very similar to certain hormones and are toxic to the thyroid. These chemicals can fit into the cellular receptors for these thyroid hormones, with serious consequences. Many of these chemicals mimic estrogen, but some also interfere with the usage and metabolism of thyroid, testosterone, and other hormones. When thyroid function is affected by these chemicals, it can’t do its job of destroying poisonous substances and infectious agents. Dr. Davis Lamson, a colleague of mine at Tahoma Clinic, has shown that toxic metals such as lead, mercury, cadmium, and many others can cause elevations of the “blocking” thyroid hormone, reverse T3 or rT3. A chelation test will measure metal toxicity to determine if this is your issue.
Fluoride, heavy metals, chemicals like perchlorates (found in drinking water), and X-rays all can negatively affect the thyroid. Also, certain medications damage or suppress thyroid function, including lithium (at prescription doses), birth control pills, beta-blockers, phenytoin, theophylline, antacids that contain aluminum, sulfa drugs, antihistamines, and chemotherapy drugs. Imbalances of estrogen and progesterone can suppress the thyroid, too.
TO WOMEN WHO HAVE HAD A HYSTERECTOMY
If you’ve had a hysterectomy, you must find a doctor who understands the importance of replacing progesterone along with estrogen. Taking estrogen without natural progesterone creates imbalances in the body that can lead to cancer and unwanted weight gain. Estrogen and progesterone should be replaced in a cyclical manner, mimicking nature. The prevailing thought of most doctors is that after a hysterectomy women no longer need progesterone because they do not have a uterus. But this ignores the biological reality that whenever we have estrogen in our bodies we must have progesterone taken cyclically to balance it or our entire endocrine system can be thrown off. Balancing your hormones correctly, even if you have had a hysterectomy, will return your metabolism to normal, and (provided you detoxify and eat properly) you can regain your perfect weight.
When your thyroid is working as it should, you’re more able to withstand massive assaults from our environment. And it will assist in ridding your body of its toxic burden, and in turn will have a positive impact on your ability to lose weight.
The incredible impact of replacing declining hormones is that you get to feel like you did when you were young, when weight wasn’t difficult to take off. Why was being thin so easy when you were young? You had balanced hormones! The difference between then and now is the imbalance.
To rectify the matter, you need to go to a qualified doctor who specializes in bioidentical hormone replacement.
Working with a doctor who has not specialized in bioidentical hormone replacement is like going to a plumber for a heart bypass.
Before you go, it makes sense to have your blood tested for essential hormones ahead of time, so the doctor can accurately and immediately prescribe bioidentical hormone replacement that’s right for you. They have a nationwide network that enables people to have their blood conveniently drawn without the need for an appointment. Life Extension’s prices are far more reasonable than what commercial laboratories charge.
I take great pains (and I have had the patience) to find and keep hormonal balance. If I can do it, so can you. The effect of balance on my life is fantastic. Every day is a good one and as a result of my choices I am healthy, I’m thin, I have energy, and I feel involved and vital. Plus as an added bonus I have the benefits of youthful hormonal protection against cancer—a win-win.
You have a choice: you can continue to deteriorate, continue to eat an unhealthy diet, continue to surround yourself with chemicals, continue to eat chemicals, continue to take unneeded over-the-counter or prescription drugs, or you can choose health and change your life!
Now that you understand how important a role hormones play in the body, you can see that as we age, having a doctor who can help us keep an eye on these systems is very important. If you don’t take hormones seriously, what do you expect will happen? Hormonal imbalance leads to weight gain and poor health. Fat is a language. Fat is your body talking, screaming, to be heard. Tell yourself the truth. Stand naked in front of the mirror. Do you like what you see? Do you want to lose weight? Do you want optimal health? Balancing your hormones is a big part of the answer to health and to the weight that just doesn’t seem to want to come off. Once your hormones are balanced, the battle will become easier. Without balanced hormones you are fighting a losing battle.
Again, it’s a choice: deterioration or restoration!
Choose health and balance, and weight loss will follow!
It’s a new concept to go to the doctor when you are well, but as a result of my doing this, I am never sick. I don’t remember my last cold or flu, or ache or pain. Not since breast cancer ten years ago, when I changed my whole approach to my health, have I been sick. I have made a commitment to wellness and optimal health and I have never looked back.
LOSE WEIGHT BY SLEEPING
Every time I give a lecture, the first thing I do is ask for a show of hands, “How many in this room sleep five hours or less?” Inevitably nearly every hand in the room is raised. It seems like no one is sleeping these days, and the big winners are the pharmaceutical companies who continue to come up with sleeping pills that appear to take care of this problem. Unfortunately sleep induced by sleeping pills is not real sleep. It is a suspended state and none of the natural healing work nature has meant to take place during sleep can happen. Sleep is essential for health and sleep controls appetite.
You ask, What does sleep have to do with losing weight? If you don’t sleep, losing weight becomes a losing battle and it all has to do with your hormones, especially the very important hormone cortisol. When you reach midlife, as we’ve discussed, your hormones estrogen and progesterone begin to plummet. As these hormones fall, your cortisol rises. You cannot sleep when your cortisol is high. When cortisol is high, insulin rises, and high insulin leads to weight gain because insulin is the fat-storing hormone.
Sleep has been provided by nature to do the body’s healing work. It takes seven to eight hours for this process to happen. The first three and a half hours are when melatonin is secreted. Then prolactin, which is a pituitary hormone, is released. The National Institutes of Health concludes that six hours of prolactin production in the dark is the minimum necessary to maintain immune function. When prolactin is released, other hormonal functions happen: cortisol goes down, insulin goes down, your thyroid gets a rest as do your adrenals. But if you are imbalanced because your estrogen and progesterone are low or missing due to aging or stress, much less of this healing process can happen.
This is the teeter-totter again: estrogen and progesterone dip, so insulin, cortisol, thyroid, and adrenals rise. One goes down, the others go up.
As a result, insulin stays high, so you gain weight, which can lead to obesity and diabetes—even if you are eating correctly. That is why dieting alone is no longer working for people forty and older. The hormones are no longer in balance and, coupled with your toxic burden, the result is inability to lose weight.
Inability to sleep makes your cortisol rise, making you anxious, and your heart becomes stressed. If your cortisol is high, you can’t sleep well. Cortisol is your stress hormone, which is meant to be high only in times of prolonged stress, and even though high cortisol is natural with high stress, it slowly wears away body tissues and good health. High cortisol gives you a “steroid high”; your brain is overactive and you feel pumped up all over. (It’s actually adrenaline itself—an entirely separate adrenal hormone from cortisol—that makes the heart pound, not cortisol. And of course adrenaline provides the adrenaline rush. One way to keep these two categorized is to think of adrenaline as the “sprinter’s hormone”—rapid onset, only lasts a little while—and of cortisol as the “long distance runner’s hormone”—takes longer to get started but can be sustained against stress for much longer before becoming exhausted.) Inability to sleep also diminishes your thyroid, so now you have also diminished fat-burning hormone. Plus the thyroid is responsible for dissolving cholesterol and low thyroid can contribute to autoimmune diseases such as MS and lupus. This cascade, this hormonal crash, throws off your entire system, causing your adrenals to stay revved up and making your heart race, and now sleep becomes impossible.
You can’t sleep because you are in hormonal decline.
Lack of quality sleep leaves you fatigued and depressed and open to disease. It also leads to multiple bodily symptoms, some of which are bloating, hot flashes, and constipation. Your body needs sleep to repair itself and to keep the immune system strong. Yet no one is sleeping and it is happening to younger and younger people. This is a disaster for your health and your weight.
Did you know we were meant to sleep in complete darkness? A recent study put subjects in a completely dark room and then shone little penlights on the backs of their knees. As a result, all the subjects showed raised cortisol levels. Even the smallest amount of light can raise your cortisol levels and just a little extra light could be the thing that is interfering with your ability to sleep. It’s important to cover your phone, computer, and TV lights. But most of us keep our lights burning well into the night. We go to sleep surrounded by light from our electronics, phone, and street lamps, and all this light keeps our cortisol from going down.
All of these factors are not conducive to sleeping. They are anti-sleep. This is why millions and millions of Americans are padding around their houses late into the night because they don’t sleep in the dark and/or because of hormonal imbalances, and as it is happening, you are getting fatter and fatter.
Think about this. Chronic high cortisol can lead to heart attack or stroke. If you connect the dots, now you understand why the leading killer of women is heart attack … but is it?
Hormonal imbalance plays an important role in heart disease in women. Yet daily I hear doctors on the news channels (remember, most doctors only get four hours of instruction in prescribing hormones) speak about the dangers of hormone replacement. These professionals never mention that the hormones they are referring to are artificial hormones, not the natural bioidentical hormones I passionately write about and have personally used for the past twelve blissful years.
So put it all together: We leave the lights on too long, we stay up too late, and we sleep surrounded by lights. We are stressed beyond compare, causing our hormones to decline rapidly. The declining hormones raise our cortisol levels, making sleep impossible. The raised cortisol is accompanied by increased insulin levels, which forces the body to store fat. Then as an added bonus, the thyroid goes low, so there is much less mechanism for fat burning.
And, again, you wonder why you can’t lose weight?
EXPERTS WEIGH IN:
A BRIEF INTERVIEW WITH BILL FALOON
The only way to know for sure if your hormones are below optimal levels is to have a blood test or a twenty-four-hour urine test. I have provided numerous resources for doctors on my website, but I have also asked Bill Faloon and his scientific advisory board at Life Extension magazine to supply you with an easy and inexpensive way to test your hormone levels. Bill has also given me his thoughts on the connection between balanced hormones and weight loss.
BF: It is true that eating less and avoiding toxic foods addresses many of the underlying causes of weight gain and the accumulation of surplus fat pounds, but it is also partially attributable to the severe alterations that occur in our hormone levels as we age. For instance, a substantial percentage of aging women (and many aging men) have less-than-optimal thyroid levels that predispose them to weight gain. Youthful thyroid hormone levels are needed to maintain healthy metabolic rates, so your body is able to remove fat stores. Those who suffer from a deficiency should be prescribed thyroid hormone replacement. Medications to consider are Armour natural thyroid complex (containing both T4 and T3) or Cytomel (containing T3).
Trying to lose weight in the face of a thyroid deficit can be particularly challenging. However, taking excess amounts of thyroid hormone will not burn away body fat. The objective of testing your blood is to make sure that free T3 levels are in the upper one-third range of normal and that your other thyroid hormone markers are in optimal ranges.
SS: So what should men and women do for optimal balance … and weight loss?
BF: A large percentage of men today suffer from abdominal (visceral) obesity, the most dangerous kind of body fat. It is often difficult, if not impossible, for aging men to lose inches off their waistlines if they are deficient in free testosterone, especially in the presence of excess estrogen. Low levels of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) can also contribute to undesirable fat accumulation in men and women.
A comprehensive blood test panel can reveal free testosterone and estrogen levels, and a physician can prescribe a topical testosterone cream and an aromatase inhibitor (to suppress estrogen if necessary) to restore a man’s sex hormone profile to a youthful range. The same blood test panel can also detect DHEA blood levels to enable a man to take the proper dose of this over-the-counter dietary supplement.
The benefits of restoring testosterone to youthful ranges extend far beyond losing belly fat. Published scientific studies document a reduction in heart attack risk, alleviation of depression, enhanced sex drive, and a lot more.
A blood test panel for men should also measure prostate-specific antigen (PSA) to help screen for hidden prostate cancer. Those with prostate cancer usually cannot restore their sex hormones until the PSA numbers are lowered.
Some men are able to reduce excess estrogen and simultaneously boost free testosterone by taking nutrient formulas that contain plant extracts to help inhibit the aromatase enzyme (which converts testosterone into estrogen) and decrease levels of sex hormone-binding globulin (which binds free testosterone).
SS: What about women?
BF: A common problem women experience during menopause is an increase in belly fat mass. Estrogen levels plummet during menopause, and some studies correlate this estrogen deficiency with greater abdominal adiposity in women.
While treatment with high dosages of horse-urine-derived estrogens and progestin drugs (Premarin and Provera) may contribute to weight gain, evidence suggests that individually dosed natural (bioidentical) estrogen replacement facilitates a reduction in abdominal fat in women who are estrogen deficient.
Excess levels of testosterone in women can be particularly troublesome, as it can cause abdominal weight gain, which is the opposite of how testosterone works in men. If a woman’s blood tests reveal excess levels of free testosterone, there are safe medications that can rapidly bring this hormone into normal ranges.
Restoring hormone balance in aging females requires the intervention of a health care practitioner with specialized expertise in prescribing bioidentical hormone replacement therapy. Men are more fortunate in that most doctors can prescribe the proper dose of testosterone (and aromatase inhibitors if needed).
SS: Anything else you can share?
BF: There is a massive body of scientific data supporting the role that hormones play in regulating body fat storage. To put it simply, hormones tell our cells what to do. In the presence of too much or too little of each of these hormones, aging individuals risk accumulating fat pounds that are difficult to shed.
Fortunately, folks don’t have to guess what your hormone status is. Plus the experts will provide information about the results, and even get you started on a natural hormone balancing program that’s right for you.
Here’s the solution:
GET HEALTHY, STAY SEXY
- Retrain yourself to go to bed early. Move your bedtime up a little every few days, until you’re in bed by 10:00 p.m., or even earlier.
- Try melatonin nightly as a natural sleep aid. Melatonin is a very important hormone we make much less of after around age forty. (It is also a highly potent antioxidant.)
- Take chewable GABA, which can help make sleep deeper and more pleasurable.
- Get a great doc. Find a qualified doctor to prescribe bioidentical hormones and replace what you have lost due to aging and stress.