By Mark Hyman, MD


This article originally appeared in The UltraMind Solution.

These are the beliefs that we all unconsciously accept.

“Seventy-five percent of women found to have a mutant gene that threatens their relationships, work, and well-being.”

“Over half of aging men will lose their sexual function, their testosterone levels will drop, and their estrogen levels will rise, making men more like women.”

Women are defective, flawed, and broken and destined to suffer throughout their reproductive life from the curse of mood and behavior swings that are the result of the three P’s: Puberty, PMS or premenstrual syndrome, and perimenopause. This is the “genetic flaw” that supposedly threatens them.

As they age, men, if you believe all the television commercials, supposedly need the little blue pill just to be men again.

Is this just a “normal” part of being a woman or man? Is it the product of some defective, mutant gene?

Why do sex hormone levels drop up to 90 percent through the aging process?

Are we destined to suffer from impaired mood, muscle loss, poor sleep, memory loss, and sexual problems?

Of course not!

This suffering related to your reproductive life cycle is unnecessary, and it is not bad luck, but bad habits such as drinking and smoking, our high sugar and refined carbohydrate diet, environmental toxins, and chronic stress which depletes our adrenal glands.

These glands are the ones that produce most of the sex hormones later in life. Beat them to death with chronic stress and poor diet and lifestyle habits and your sex hormones may suffer. Let’s look at the result of these bad habits.

PMS is a condition that causes mood swings, irritability, depression, anxiety, fluid retention, bloating, breast tenderness, sugar cravings, headaches, and sleep disturbances affects 75 percent of women.

In 20 percent it is so severe they need medical treatment, and about 8 percent have extreme symptoms that have been given a new name: Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD). Of course, a new drug has been “discovered” to cure it called Sarafem (which is just Prozac with a new label). This was a great slight of hand by the pharmaceutical industry that is skilled at producing new diseases to match their drugs.

What about menopause? The brain fog, memory loss, mood swings, sleepless nights, vaginal dryness, low sex drive, palpitations, and anxiety common in menopause are simply signs of hormonal imbalances (estrogen, progesterone and testosterone). But are you truly destined to suffer?

And how about andropause? Although men experience a more gradual drop off in hormones, they too experience “andropause”—the slow decline in male (testosterone) and energy (DHEA) hormones which leads to depression, fatigue, loss of mental sharpness, not to mention loss of sexual desire and function.

What’s wrong with this picture?

It is based on the assumption that these symptoms are an inevitable part of aging and require “medical intervention” with serious medication to correct.

Which is simply untrue.

To think that 75 percent of women have a design flaw that gives them PMS and requires medical treatment to live a normal life is just absurd. To think that we all have to dwindle, shrivel, and lose our emotional, physical, and sexual vitality is a burdensome self-fulfilling prophecy.

We now have endless examples of balance and thriving at any age. One of my 81-year-old female patients with a twinkle in her eye recently told me about her new boyfriend and their wonderful love life.

PMS, menopausal symptoms, and andropause, are all signs of imbalances in your sex hormones. They are not the result of mutant genes that destroy our sexual vitality as we age. Instead, they are treatable symptoms of underlying imbalance in one of the core systems in your body. Get the sex hormones back in balance, and these problems usually disappear.

The emotional strain that comes with these conditions is a telling way to understand the connection these hormones have to your mind, your body, and your reproductive cycle. It is yet another example of the way the body affects the brain.

Depression or Hormonal Imbalance?

Let me tell you the story of a patient of mine with PMDD. She was barely able to function. She suffered three weeks out of every month with severe physical symptoms and debilitating depression. Was she Prozac deficient? I think not.

She was 37 years old. Many women feel worsening PMS symptoms as they get in their later reproductive years because of changes in hormonal cycles. Part of what this particular woman experienced was severe depression, fatigue, anxiety, and food and sugar cravings that lead to overeating and weight gain.

She also had joint pains, breast tenderness, heavy bleeding, hot flashes, dry skin, acne, hair loss, trouble with memory, poor sleep, and no sex drive.

She didn’t drink alcohol, but was a big coffee drinker. She started the day with a bagel and cheese, had a cafeteria lunch, chocolates in the afternoon, and a healthy dinner followed by binging on ice cream, chips, and cheerios.

She also complained of gas and bloating.

She also ate a lot of dairy.

This is a story I hear all too often. The good news is that there was a simple solution for her that didn’t involve taking medication.

We know that sugar, caffeine, alcohol, stress, and lack of exercise all contribute to worsening PMS and all hormonal imbalances including menopause and andropause.

It is also true that dairy consumption can worsen hormonal imbalances because of all the hormones in milk. Even organic milk can come from pregnant cows—jacking up hormones levels.

I helped her change her diet, cut out the sugar and caffeine, eliminate her food allergens, take a few supplements and herbs, do a little exercise and within one menstrual cycle her life changed.

All her symptoms resolved, she lost weight, and dramatically increased her energy. Her mood stabilized (meaning her depression evaporated), and her acne and dry skin went away. All without medication.

The approach I take to this problem is part of the overall approach of functional medicine. Define the imbalance (in this case severe hormonal imbalances), address the causes first (namely diet/lifestyle in this case), and then help the body repair and regain balance. The body’s natural intelligence takes care of the rest.

When you use this method to rebalance the hormones, not only do the physical symptoms of PMS disappear, but the mental symptoms usually go away as well. That’s because sex hormones act on various parts of your brain that influence your mood and behavior.

How Sex Hormones Act on the Brain

What many people don’t know (although they experience this all the time) is that sex hormones act on the brain directly to affect mood and cognition.

For example, estrogen promotes the production of neurotransmitters, especially serotonin, making it a wonderful anti-depressant (not to mention a great sleep aid).

In fact, there are receptors for all hormones, including estrogen in the brain. And estrogen in the brain seems to be neuroprotective potentially reducing the risk of dementia. But a little too much can cause breast, uterine, and cervical cancer. Getting the balance right is essential.

Progesterone is another important sex hormone. Levels drop in PMS and in peri-menopause leading to increases in anxiety and insomnia. There is evidence that natural, bio-identical (hormones that are identical to those produced by the body) progesterone reduces this anxiety and stress through its action on GABA receptors, the relaxing neurotransmitter. It is your body’s natural valium.

Testosterone is also a wonderful brain boosting hormone improving mood, memory, motivation, and overall cognitive function. It drops significantly in women and men with age and has an enormous impact on quality of life. But it drops mostly because of weight gain, lack of exercise, stress, and high sugar diets—not because we are genetically designed to have less testosterone as we age.

The biggest reason I see low testosterone in men is insulin resistance. High belly fat drives insulin up and testosterone down. That’s why men start looking like women and lose hair on their bodies, grow breasts, and have round, soft skin. It is because they are actually producing less testosterone and more estrogen. At the point that their estrogen levels exceed their testosterone levels, they sort of become women!

Correcting insulin problems by eating whole foods, cutting out sugar and flour, and doing some exercise to build muscle may naturally raise testosterone levels. And if you are a man, be sure you root for the winning sports team, because when your team loses, your testosterone levels drop!

Especially in older men, I find that giving them a little topical bio-identical testosterone helps them build muscle and bone, lose weight, relieve depression, stabilize mood swings, improve memory and concentration, and improve sexual function. Even women benefit from the use of bio-identical testosterone.

Hormone replacement therapy must be carefully administered under a doctor’s supervision after adequate testing. I strongly advocate the use of “nature made” molecules to support normal function, rather than “new to nature” or man-made substances, which often have many unwanted and dangerous effects.

That means supplementing your system with substances it already uses, like vitamins or minerals, is usually a better treatment than using medications.

This applies to hormones as well, which is why I only recommend “bio-identical” hormones. Used intelligently, at the right time, for the right patient, in the right dose, for the right amount of time, they can be lifesaving.

But 80 percent of the time simply changing your diet, lifestyle, detoxifying, addressing stress, and rebalancing your biology you can you regain balance without taking hormones.

To do this, you need to know what is sending your hormones out of balance to begin with.

Why are Our Sex Hormones Out of Balance?

Sex hormones can become imbalanced in both men and women. But why does this happen?

PMS and peri-menopausal symptoms most women experience are because their hormones are out of balance. Estrogen levels actually increase, especially from the age of about 30 to 50, and progesterone levels decrease either relatively or absolutely. Testosterone levels drop off in men and women leading to a loss of energy, depression, and low sex drive.

Many things promote these imbalances in hormones such as a high sugar, refined carbohydrate diet, caffeine, stress, dairy, hormones in the foods supply in dairy products and meat, and estrogen-like toxins from pesticides, plastics and pollution.

Exercise also helps keep hormones in balance. If you don’t get enough of it, they will get out of balance.

Alcohol damages the liver and prevents it from excreting excess estrogen, yet another factor that influences hormonal imbalance. Men who drink too much literally grow breasts along with their beer bellies!

In addition, constipation and imbalances in the gut bacteria can lead to the reabsorption of estrogen from the gut back into your blood, even after your liver has tried to get rid of it.

How to Get Your Sex Hormones Back in Balance?

The reality is that if you clean up your diet and lifestyle, which is exactly what you are doing on The Daniel Plan, sex hormones often rebalance themselves. For a small percentage of people bio-identical hormones provide a helpful boost. Start with the diet and lifestyle modifications in this plan. If they don’t work to reduce your symptoms of menopause and PMS, talk to your physician about this kind of hormone replacement therapy.

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