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Q Nutrition: Thinking of starting hormone therapy?

One would think Suzanne Somers is creating a conspiracy to overthrow the government by the reaction she gets concerning the idea of raising hormone levels as we age. But aren’t we all looking for that fountain of youth, hoping for the answer to a longer life? (Can you maybe say the word jealous?)

Well, yes, hormones happen to be a major part of the growth and decline of our prime, vital years, not to mention our sex lives. Count me in with all the beautiful people who want to stay that way.

But just signing up and beginning bio-identical or supplement hormone therapy does not mean all good things will happen. There’s more to know than just slapping on the testosterone or estrogen cream that most doctors don’t tell you or just do not look into.

America seemed to be aghast as Somers revealed taking estrogen during her cancer therapy, but the truth and corroborating evidence shows her to be right in what she did. Research reviewed at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium in 2010 revealed data suggesting that estrogen significantly lowered breast cancer risk in certain women. Dr. Joseph Ragaz, breast cancer specialist at the University of British Columbia, said these findings have long been ignored.

Testosterone increases libido, muscle mass, energy and memory. Estrogen lowers the risk of heart disease, memory loss and osteoporosis. These are all verified results.

Contrary to common belief, too much testosterone is not the culprit tied to prostate cancer, and estrogen is not the instigator of breast cancer; in fact, the decline in these hormones has been shown to put people at a higher risk of cancer and decline of health.

A University of Cambridge study concluded, “the men with lower testosterone levels had an increased risk of dying from any cause, but most particularly of cardiovascular disease. We looked at cancer too, and found no evidence of a link to cancer with higher testosterone levels." After all, if high testosterone levels were the culprit, then the majority of prostate cancer cases would be 20-year-old males.

It is a fact that every human -- men and women -- does and must have estrogen, testosterone and progesterone in their systems in order to function; it’s just that the ratios are different for each sex. These three are just a few of the hormone components we possess for good health. And there are still more to be discovered. In fact, even melatonin and vitamin D are actually hormones.

Other hormones that need to be watched for sexual function as well as health reasons include DHEA and pregnenolone. And since these and all hormones decline with age, it's a good place to start in the quest to impede the aging process. A simple blood test can reveal an individual’s levels of all hormones.

In the balance of things, hormones are most important. Not every doctor has researched the complexity of all the hormones for a proper balance beyond the popular few.

Specialized hormone doctors are becoming prevalent but expensive, since most do not accept insurance as yet, so it may be left up to us to monitor these, and at least ask our regular doctors for testing. Testosterone and estrogen are commonly prescribed without checking the status of the various other hormones. Pregnenolone is actually the mother of hormones such as testosterone, DHEA, and progesterone, yet rarely checked. Low pregnenolone can trigger health problems.

Sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) is a protein in circulating blood that stores testosterone for times of deficiency, relating to the amount of “free” testosterone. One main job of SHBG is to balance the bioavailability of androgens (testosterone) and estrogens. In men, SHBG levels should be low, and female levels should be higher. High or low levels can relate to such disorders as erectile dysfunction in men, and low sex drive, or polycystic ovarian syndrome in women.

For the males

Prostate cancer is a main concern with men and their hormones. Since it is not too much testosterone that is the concern, the two major factors found to be possible culprits are Sex Hormone Binding Globulin (SHBG) and estrogen. As men get older, testosterone commonly decreases with age, and SHBG increases with age. The more SHBG, the more free testosterone it will bind and render inactive; high amounts will stimulate the prostate to enlarge, and also accounts for hair loss.

Since men are supposed to have more testosterone than estrogen for their proper balance, the opposite will become a problem. The reason a male ends up with too much estrogen can be age, diet, environmental influences, and a major concern are the xeno estrogens we are constantly exposed to in plastics, toxins like BPA and triclosan found in personal care products like deodorant and antibacterial soaps; and some foods such as soy. Also, many prescription drugs have adverse effects on our hormone levels.

In older men, SHBG and estrogen levels should be low in order to increase testosterone, but again, they all must be within a proper range for proper balance.

For the women

There are three ways a woman can increase her hormone levels: through diet, pharmaceutical hormone replacement, and bio-identical hormone replacement.

Data published in 2003 by the Women's Health Initiative unveiled that the prescription hormone Prempro frequently prescribed for menopause symptoms such as hot flashes was causing more harm than good; compared to women taking nothing, there were more cases of breast cancer, more heart attacks, more strokes, and more blood clots.

The number of prescriptions plummeted after the report, lawsuits have ensued since, yet they have not yet been taken off the market. A European study found that women taking unnatural progestins with the estrogen had about a 70% higher risk of breast cancer.

There are several natural supplements and foods that can correct male and female hormone imbalances involving SHBG, estrogen dominance, and testosterone. They are DIM (Diindolymethane), chrysin, nettle, black cohosh and flaxseed; and many more can be investigated for each person’s situation.

Bio-identical hormones have not been afforded extensive studies because there is not much money put forth to make such studies on non-pharmaceutical products. But results over decades show positive results, as with myself who has taken them for over 12 years.

(One caution for men and women using cream hormones: wash hands thoroughly after application so you will not transfer estrogen to any male or testosterone to any female.)

There is a natural balancing act taking place within the human body at all times, and the balance of hormones is one of the most key factors in keeping us vibrant and well. For anyone interested in maintaining a sound and more youthful body, just as Somers intends, monitoring hormone levels and taking bio-identical hormones rather than pharmaceuticals has proven to be worthwhile, bringing much relief and less aging to our mature bodies.

Linda Bergersen, M.S., Holistic Nutrition, B.A., Communications, is a nutrition columnist for SDGLN. She is a Palm Springs nutritionist, and works with clients in the area, and conducts group discussions concerning nutrition. Contact her at 760-699-8765 or lifetrends@gmx.com for information on services.