Many of you got to meet Dr. Fischer, our naturopathic doctor, at our fabulous 2 year anniversary party in April. Those of you who know me or have gotten referrals from me in the past know that I’m very picky about my health care providers so I only refer out to people I’ve personally used. Dr. Fischer is no exception.
I have gained A LOT of weight over the last few years even though I’m a healthy eater… I knew something wasn’t right and wasn’t looking forward to my 4’11” frame turning into a beach ball. Dr. Fischer did an incredibly thorough lab workup on me and, low and behold, I’m in the throes of peri-menopause and some of my hormones were practically non-existant. I started on supplements and bioidentical (plant based) hormone therapy, and within a couple of weeks I already have more energy and the scale is moving down instead of up for the first time in three years! Dr. Fischer is a science and ingredient geek like me so I really connect with him because he explains how everything works and, as you all know, for me, knowledge is power. Dr. Fischer is giving me back control over my body and I’m so grateful!
by Dr. Jeremy Fischer
We have a variety of different hormones in our bodies. They each play an important role in regulating our health, helping to keep us feeling vibrant, healthy, and youthful.
They are important for maintaining a healthy weight and retaining muscle mass, regulating the female menstrual cycle, maintaining libido and energy, reacting to stress, suppressing inflammation, regulating the immune system, and more. However, due to various factors, such as stress, chronic disease, dietary factors, environmental toxins, physical traumas, as well as due to normal aging, you can have problems with hormones – whether imbalances, or frank deficiencies. Maintaining hormone balance goes a long way in terms of optimizing your health and vitality. Therefore, in this series, I’ll be addressing several key hormones, why they matter, what sorts of problems they might cause, and what you can do about it.
In this first article of the series, I will address cortisol.
Many of you may be familiar with the anti-inflammatory uses of cortisol, also known as hydrocortisone. Cortisol is used as a medicine to suppress inflammation, for example when someone has a painful swollen joint, or when they have an autoimmune disease or allergic reaction that is raging out of control.
When the body is stressed, the adrenal glands release extra cortisol to help maintain fuel for energy production. This is good in the short-term. However if the stressor continues for too long, and your cortisol levels are chronically elevated, this can cause problems, such as an impaired immune system, bone loss, elevated blood sugar and insulin resistance (the precursors to diabetes), impaired memory, infertility, menstrual irregularities, weight gain, insomnia and anxiety. Chronic stress can even cause the adrenal glands to produce excess testosterone in women, causing hirsutism (excess facial hair).
If the stress is intense enough, or lasts long enough, the adrenal glands can become worn out, and unable to create enough hormones– not only cortisol, but also aldosterone, testosterone, DHEA, to name a few. This can show up as depression, weight gain (notice this one shows up with both high AND low cortisol), chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, low blood pressure, etc.
If it sounds like a patient has cortisol irregularities, I may order some lab tests to see what the actual cortisol levels are. It is possible we may order other labs as well, since hormones interact with each other in a complex web of relations. My goal as a naturopathic doctor is to treat the underlying cause of disease. In this case, it means I look at all the potential factors that might be causing cortisol elevation/depression, including lifestyle factors, diet, diseases/infections, stress, etc. Sometimes we can regulate cortisol with lifestyle change alone. Other times, we may need vitamins and other nutrients, acupuncture, herbal medicine, or even prescription cortisol.
I’ll often use a combination approach since life is multifactorial, and therefore our treatments ought to be multifactorial as well. What I mean is that there are often various factors that go into creating a given condition. If we address all the factors and underlying causes, we get better results than just giving a drug that treats just ONE aspect of the condition. For example, when I treat high blood pressure, I don’t just want to make sure the blood pressure goes down. That’s an important goal, but I want to look at all the underlying factors contributing to the high blood pressure. Similarly, with high cortisol, I want to help induce relaxation, support a healthy diet that doesn’t cause cortisol elevations, optimize sleep as sleep issues can also affect cortisol, etc. Also, every patient is a unique individual, and so we adjust the treatment to their particular condition.
That’s all for now. Stay tuned for the next installment of Heeding Your Hormones. It’s going to be an interesting one. I’ll be writing about testosterone.
Dr. Fischer is a Naturopathic doctor, practicing at Peace of Mind, in Studio City, CA. His passion is helping people to overcome chronic disease and attain their maximum state of vitality.