Hormonal imbalances have broad implications and increase the risk of chronic fatigue, overweight, impaired fertility, dry mucosa, hot flushes, slow metabolism, breast cancer, and many other problems. Lack of essential nutrients contributes to such disruptions of the sensitive hormone system. This is also the case with hormone-disrupting compounds.
Hormones are like chemical messengers that promote or inhibit different processes. It is therefore vital that they are present in the exact right balance. The pituitary gland functions as a "conductor" that controls the thyroid gland, the adrenal glands, and the ovaries. Hormones produced by the pancreas help maintain stable blood sugar levels that are also important for a well-functioning hormone balance. But how do the individual hormones work together and what nutrients are involved in the different enzymatic processes?
The important construction and breakdown of hormones
Cholesterol is an essential compound and the basic component of the so-called steroid hormones, namely progesterone, estrogen, testosterone, and the stress hormone cortisol. The different steroid hormones are converted into other steroid hormones, kind of like building blocks. Depending on the central cholesterol component they are assembled, separated and reconstructed in accordance with the body's needs. The sex hormone balance as such is particularly dependent on vitamin A, B vitamins, folic acid, iodine, selenium, zinc, and the essential fatty acids omega-3 and omega-6.
Simplified overview of the steroid hormones
Cholesterol (ground component)
Because the long-term stress hormone, cortisol, sequesters progesterone, it also sequesters the sex hormones. That is why stressed individuals often have problems with their hormone balance.
Pay attention to the three different types of estrogen
Estrogen is just a common term that is used indiscriminately, but it is tremendously important to distinguish between the three most important forms of estrogen: Estradiol, estrone, and estriol, all of which have entirely different functions.
The role of different types of estrogen
|Estradiol||The only "female estrogen". It is primarily produced by the ovaries. Estradiol is responsible for female curves and pregnancy. It helps the body store fat and stimulates cell growth. Too much estradiol increases the risk of overweight, inflammation, and cancer.|
A storage hormone in fatty tissue. Estrone can be converted into estradiol and estriol.
|Estriol||Helps keep mucosa moist and healthy. Important for skin, bones, mood, and sex drive (libido). Counteracts the cancer-causing effect of estradiol. Estriol is produced in the liver, the adrenal glands and the ovaries.|
Iodine has a crucial role in the metabolism and the estrogen balance
It is commonly known that thyroid hormones require iodine. However, iodine also plays a role in the estrogen balance and possibly also influences testosterone, insulin, and other hormones. The largest concentration of iodine is found in the thyroid gland, followed by the ovaries. Lack of iodine may have a negative effect on the estrogen balance and the estrogen receptors in the breasts. In an American state where people had a pronounced iodine shortage, researchers observed an increased production of estradiol and increased sensitivity towards estrogen in female breast tissue. Increased estradiol production and increased estrogen sensitivity both increase the risk of breast cancer. According to the research, which is published in the International Journal of Medical Science, iodine appears to have an anti-estrogen effect, at least as far as the powerful and potentially carcinogenic estradiol is concerned.
Nonetheless, both men and women need adequate amounts of estriol, as it is important for the mucosa, skin, mood, and bones. Many women suffer from an estriol shortage after their menopause. Thin women are particularly prone. Dr. Jonathan Wright once conducted a study where he gave iodine supplements to women with low estriol levels. Afterwards, measurements showed that the iodine supplements had stimulated the estriol production, thereby improving the balance between the three types of estrogen.
The thyroid gland and the metabolism both depend on iodine and selenium
The two thyroid hormones are named T3 and T4, depending on how many iodine atoms they contain. The trace element selenium helps regulate the metabolism in a process where the selenium-containing enzyme deiodinase removes an iodine atom from the inactive T4 atom and converts it into the active T3 hormone. If too little T3 hormone is produced, the metabolism slows down. Conversely, if too much T3 is produced, the metabolism speeds up. It is therefore vital to have enough selenium to make sure that the T4-to-T3 conversion runs smoothly.
Evidence points to selenium deficiency as being a contributing factor in metabolic disorders like Hashimoto's disease that causes slow metabolism (hypothyroidism), and Graves disease that leads to elevated metabolism (hyperthyroidism).
Infertility may be caused by slow metabolism
Female infertility is often associated with thyroid disturbances. Slow metabolism and its early stage known as subclinical hypothyroidism not only makes it difficult to become pregnant, it also increases the risk of miscarriage, preeclampsia, premature delivery, low birth weight, and stillbirth.
As mentioned earlier, our metabolism depends on selenium. For decades, it has been standard procedure for farmers to supplement their livestock with selenium to avoid these complications, but for some reason this is not common practice among doctors. It is beyond doubt that a healthy pregnancy and successful childbirth require that the metabolism functions well and is in balance.
Chromium stabilizes the blood sugar
Cravings for candy, chocolate, cake, coffee, and stimulants typically occur as a result of low blood sugar. The intake of these quick "energy fixes" offers fast relief. However, it easily turns into a vicious cycle if things get out of hand, as this may increase the risk of insulin resistance with impaired cellular glucose uptake and diabetes.
Insulin works by helping glucose enter the cells, but chromium is also needed in the process. Chromium supports insulin in its actions, thereby making it easier for the cells to absorb the optimal amount of glucose for their energy turnover.
It is not only necessary to get energy-providing substances (macronutrients) from the diet when you want to stabilize your blood sugar. It is also important to get enough chromium to help the energy-providing substances reach the cells where they get converted into energy. Chromium is officially approved by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) for its role in supporting normal blood sugar levels and normal macronutrient metabolism. The best source of chromium is organic chromium yeast which has been seen to provide up to 10 times better bioavailability than other commonly used chromium sources such as chromium picolinate and chromium chloride.
Chronic stress increases the need for vitamins, minerals, and Q10
Chronic stress increases levels of the long-term stress hormone cortisol, which feeds on the nutrients in various body tissues and then gets broken down. This may cause depletion of several of the important nutrients that are needed for other purposes, as well. As described earlier, cortisol is a steroid hormone that gets produced from progesterone. However, because the amount of progesterone is limited, and because progesterone is a precursor of all sex hormones, chronic stress may have a huge impact on the entire hormone balance.
In periods with stress it is vital to eat blood sugar-stabilizing main meals and also to focus on your intake of nutrients like vitamin C, magnesium, and B vitamins, all of which are important for the adrenal glands and the nervous system. Many people can benefit from supplements of Q10 to boost their cells and also because of Q10's important role as a powerful antioxidant.
Hormone-disrupting substances and selenium
Different hormone-disrupting substances from the environment upset the hormone balance in different ways. Because the body has difficulty with breaking down and secreting the hormone-disturbing compounds, they tend to accumulate in our fatty tissues.
The most common hormone-disrupting substances are mercury, chlorinated pesticides, dioxins, phthalates, PVC, parabens, bisphenol A, birth control pills, and other hormone pills (mainly those with estradiol). Although it is almost impossible to avoid hormone-disrupting compounds entirely, we should at least make sure to limit our exposure as much as possible.
Also, it is vital that we get plenty of selenium, especially because one of selenium's advantages is that it binds and neutralizes heavy metals like mercury. Put differently, the more you expose yourself to mercury, the more selenium you need to consume. Selenium binds mercury on a one-to-one basis (one selenium molecule can bind one mercury molecule), but you also need selenium for other things such as the immune system, metabolism, cancer prevention etc.
Scientists in China are aware of the huge problems with heavy metal exposure from air pollution and are currently investigating if supplements of organic selenium yeast can be used to protect the population.
Hormone disturbances are spreading like rings in the water
Because the hormone glands work closely together, disturbances one place may easily lead to disturbance elsewhere. For example the symptoms of slow metabolism bear similarities to the symptoms seen with low blood sugar levels. It is therefore always to treat the underlying cause, not just the symptom.
Pernille Lund. Sund & Smuk - hele livet. Ny Videnskab 2016
Frederick R Stoddard et al. Iodine Alerts Gene Expression in the MCF7 Breast cancer Cell Line: Evidence for an Anti-Estrogen Effect of Iodine.
International Journal of Medical Science 2008
Drutel, A et al: Selenium and the thyroid gland: more good news for clinicians. Clinical Endocrinology 2013
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