This is the first blog in a series that will emphasize the importance of hormones and review the variety of hormone imbalances so common in the modern world.

Hormones are chemical messengers produced by glands that have an action somewhere else in the body. Endocrinology is the field in medicine that specializes in the intricacies of how so many different hormones—47 at last count—directly or indirectly affect every cell and tissue.

The endocrine system includes many different organs, glands, and parts of the body including the hypothalamus and the pituitary in the brain, the thyroid, the parathyroid, the adrenal glands, breast tissue, ovaries, testicles, and others. Once thought to be inert, lowly adipose (or fatty) tissue even plays more of a role than once thought.

Hormones can affect our frequency of urination (aldosterone, ADH, and others), blood sugar regulation (insulin, glucagon, and others), immune function (MSH, cortisol, and others), metabolism (many), and energy level (many). It may come as a surprise to know that vitamin D is not technically a vitamin, but a hormone. Some think it should be renamed “hormone D”, but that may only happen if Pluto is grandfathered in as a planet.

In reviewing the list of hormones, there were a few—kisspeptin, peptide YY, relaxin—I had never heard of despite my best efforts to keep up. Many important hormones never came up even once during my medical school experience in the 1990s including ghrelin and leptin that are important for weight management. This field, as with just about all areas of medicine, is an area of ongoing research and we need to maintain a level of humility when it comes to understanding the inner workings of the human body.

A cliché would be to refer to the interplay of hormones as a symphony, but it’s much more complex that that. It is like a symphony with thousands (ok, millions) of individual musicians playing 47 different instruments with changes to the notes and harmony every second. Each musician needs to make adjustments on a regular basis based on changes that each of the other musicians are making simultaneously.

Hormones are one of those foundational issues that need to be understood for you to regain or maintain optimal health.  For different reasons, the majority of people in a society like the United States have hormones that are out of whack.  Deficiency and excess.  Resistance and intolerance.

The reasons why you have hormone imbalances is similar to the usual list of suspects when it comes to chronic health problems: stress, toxins, lack of sleep, poor nutrition, microbiome disruption, and others. Toxins, in particular, play a central role in hormone imbalances and endocrine conditions. The Environmental Working Group (ewg.org) is a good source of information on toxin exposures and they list a “Dirty Dozen” of endocrine disruptors.

            These include:

  1. BPA from plastics
  2. Dioxin as an industrial breakdown product of bromine and chlorine
  3. Atrazine, an herbicide used on the majority of corn crops
  4. Phthalates, also from plastics
  5. Perchlorate, a contaminant in produce and milk
  6. Fire retardants
  7. Lead from lead paint, drinking water and other sources
  8. Arsenic from drinking water and other sources
  9. Mercury from silver amalgam fillings, fish like tuna and other sources
  10. Perfluroinated chemicals (PFCs) used in non-stick cookware
  11. Organophosphate pesticides
  12. Glycol Ethers in paints and some cleaning products

This is a daunting list and we have our work cut out for us, but this is all in our control. An estimated 70% of all toxin exposures come from our food supply so that is the primary area of focus.

The next few blogs will focus on the three main areas of hormone imbalance: estrogen/progesterone, thyroid/adrenal, and testosterone.

Andrew Lenhardt, MD