Do I need hormones? This question seems to come up when we notice the signs of aging and start to feel our energy wane. We all need hormones for optimal health and vitality but whether or not someone needs to supplement their hormones to feel well really depends on the individual. There are a number of criteria that I like to consider when assessing whether hormone supplementation is the best choice.
The first things to consider are the patient’s general health and the reasons why the person is considering hormone therapy in the first place. In order to make sure that there is not an underlying illness causing the deterioration in health, a full and detailed medical history, physical examination and laboratory assessment are very important.
Part of the initial assessment includes hormone testing to see if, indeed, hormone levels are low. Comprehensive testing includes assessment of thyroid, adrenal and gonadal (ovarian, testicular) hormones. These three systems work together in very important ways. It often seems that the woman who is having the worst time getting through menopause also has the worst adrenal function. The adrenal glands are our stress glands and if we have had many years of stress, sometimes they stop working the way they should, becoming either over active or underactive. If the adrenal glands are not working well, thyroid function can be affected which in turn affects the estrogen function.
Testing also lets us know if the individual’s metabolism is able to process hormones in a healthy way. There are certain nutrients that the body needs in order to metabolize hormones properly. Estrogen metabolism, for example, requires nutrients such as vitamin B6, indole-3-carbinol and calcium-D-glucarate. If our diet has been less than optimal and/or our digestion is poor, these nutrients may not be available in the quantities needed and may result in production of the kinds of metabolites that can cause cancer. Fortunately, if the metabolites are not in proper proportion, supplementation with these nutrients can correct the balance.
Finally, it’s important to look at the individual needs of the patient. Hormones are there to help us function in our day to day lives. As we get older, our lives slow down and become simpler, so our need for high levels of hormones becomes less.
Some of us, however, are not slowing down. At age 50, or even younger, some of us are still managing a full career, often with children still at home, and are simply not able or willing to slow down to retirement pace. Hot flushes, sleep disturbance, poor memory, muscle ache and fatigue are just a few of the sometimes disturbing and frightening symptoms that suggest the hormone levels may not be adequate. Hormone supplementation taken in proper proportion and in conjunction with nutritional support can be safe and effective. With hormone balance and function restored, we can get back to living our lives with the quality that we deserve.
By Dr. Karla Dionne, MD
Balance Medical Center