Hormones and History
In the Victorian Age, self righteous male doctors condescendingly looked down upon female patients as lesser beings. Women experiencing mood disorders were labeled hysterical. The word came from the Greek word for the womb. And the prevailing notion was that women were prone to mood disorders because of the influence of their wombs.
And yet, in a crude and ironic way, these pompous old doctors were not so far off track. What we have learned since then is that hormones control most of our behavior, and that female hormones function very differently from male hormones. Regrettably, generations of male doctors have done very significant harm to their female patients by messing with their hormones, especially through the now discredited use of HRT, hormone replacement therapy.
Hormones and Memory
Many women experience short and longterm memory problems during peri-menopause and full blown menopause. This is attributable to fluctuations in hormone levels. During peri-menopause, there is a relative progesterone deficiency, whereas in later menopause, estrogen becomes deficient. With these hormonal deficiencies, it is very difficult to remember things as one used to. These two main female hormones influence more parts of the brain than just the memory. Estrogen helps maintain the blood-brain barrier, which protects the brain from toxins and infectious micro-organisms circulating in the blood. It also enhances the effects of two neurotransmitters, dopamine and serotonin, which respectively increase alertness and a sense of wellbeing. Estrogen also supports nerve growth factor, so it is a key influence in maintaining the health of brain cells. Progesterone supports GABA, which is the calming neurotransmitter that protects us against anxiety.
Your Hormones Are Vulnerable to Stress
Both male and female hormones are very vulnerable to stress. Under prolonged periods of stress, our adrenal glands produce streams of cortisol, the so-called stress hormone. Cortisol increases our blood sugar levels and depresses our immune system. The adrenal glands make cortisol out of cholesterol. Your body makes its estrogen out of progesterone and pregnenolone. So the adrenal gland is basically making one kind of hormone (estrogen) out of cholesterol in the mitochondria within cells of your nervous system, and from progesterone (the other key female reproductive hormone) in your adrenal gland. In other words, under normal conditions, pregnenolone and progesterone would be used in part by the body to make estrogen. But under periods of stress, these are shunted away to produce more cortisol. And prolonged production of cortisol will eventually cause your adrenals to crash, leaving you exhausted and unable to function. It will also cause your memory to deteriorate.
Cortisol and the Brain
Cortisol, when over produced by the adrenals, will disturb the part of the brain called the hippocampus, which enables us to place or retrieve our memories. If the hippocampus is damaged or distressed, we cannot either recall what happened to us, or form new memories for later recollection.
Because cortisol also uses up our supplies of pregnenolone, it also imbalances the brain, as pregnenolone is essential for overall brain balance.
Medications and Your Brain
Pharmaceutical drugs have potential side effects listed on the packaging. Many of these side effects are due either to toxins within the drugs. For example, antacids like Maalox and Mylanta contain aluminum which is a known neurotoxin associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s.
A second way that pharmaceuticals can damage your health is by disrupting essential metabolic pathways. For example, statins (cholesterol lowering drugs) will cut your body’s production of ubiquinol (Co-Q10.) Ubiquinol is essential for your brain function, your heart musle and for the overall energy production of all your cells. Pain relievers such as acetaminophen and Tylenol will interfere with synthesis of glutathione, which is your body’s key anti-oxidant and also vital fr your brain function.
Most drugs, including antibiotics, anti-depressants, antipsychotics and anti-inflammatories will interfere with you body’s production of key nutrients, its metabolic system. This means that medications cause cause internal malnutrition: your cells will not be getting what they need, and this included your brain.
Pesticides, herbicides, heavy metals and an array of other environment toxins can wreak havoc on a woman’s hormonal system and brain function. In particular, xeno-estrogens (estrogen like molecules found in plastics, car exhausts and other toxic compounds) will bind with estrogen receptors on the cells and disrupt the entire functioning of the body. This can easily lead to weight gain, diabetes, cysts, fibroids, depression or even cancers.
Inflammation From Food
Whenever there is a longstanding unresolved situation in a woman’s body, there is bound to be some kind of inflammation going on plus some hormone disruption. These factors will automatically affect mood and mental performance as well as reduce her energy levels, vitality and physical wellbeing.
Inflammation can be due to toxins in our cells, sub-clinical infections, pharmaceutical drugs, food allergies or psychological and emotional stress. Women are much more likely than men to realize that emotional stress is present, as they are much more attuned than men are to both emotions and hormonal fluctuations.
Foods which are highly processed will always lead to inflammation. Many women today are intolerant of gluten or wheat, which generate inflammation in gut tissue. This inflammation may also lead on to leaky gut syndrome. Since the gut has many neuro-receptors identical to those found in the brain, the health of a women’s gut is essential for her emotional and mental wellbeing. For example, serotonin, the key neurotransmitter associated with a sense of relaxed contentment, is mostly synthesized in your gut tissue. If your gut is unwell, you will be unwell, but in particular, your emotions will be unwell too.
What kind of medicine is best for addressing hormonal imbalances? It is not sufficient to only consider hormone supplementation, or hormone replacement therapy. Effective medicine always amounts to GETTING THE BAD STUFF OUT, GETTING THE GOOD STUFF IN. So the causes need to addressed and therefore inflammation, sub-clinical infections, chemical toxins, pharmaceuticals, food based allergens, xeno-estrogens, and chronic fear or negative thinking need to be reduced or eliminated as part of a multi-pronged approach.
Summary of Pro-Active Answers
1) An anti-inflammatory diet, full of antioxidant rich foods, healthy proteins, avoidance of excess carbohydrates and sugars, high quality Vitamin C, correct Omega 3- omega 6 balance, elimination of allergens and healing of gut tissue with probiotics and L-Glutamine.
2) Oral chelation of toxins that have built up over te years in your tissues and brain.
3) Avoidance of pharmaceutical medications that interfere with vital metabolism and synthesis of hormones, and replacing these with natural alternatives.
4) Acupuncture, herbs or other holistic methods to regulate the biological and hormonal systems of your body.
5) Mind body exercises and breathing techniques to calm the mind and reduce automatic over-production of cortisol in the adrenals.