The Health Hydra (2 of series): Hormonal Roulette

This is part 2 of a 3-part series. The other posts are here and here.
The more I read, in search of illumination on my path to better health, the more I encounter the same words: Hormones. Gut flora. Toxins. Thyroid. One leads to the other, and back again, a hydra chasing its tails.

Search, Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V, read, read, read, Ctrl-X, scroll, Ctrl V. No no, Ctrl-Z, scroll – there! That’s where that fits in this polymorphous narrative about food and bodies and health. So many rocks looked under, so hard to tell who’s legit and who’s on pixie dust, but it seemed unfair – a waste – to not share the collected works, so to speak, in case they speak to someone else who is connecting the dots with a laptop in the late hours.

These words, then, are not really mine. I have pushed them around, tinkered, spliced, and occasionally added a composite phrase, but this would rightly be labelled plagiarism in any academic institution. The sources of these ideas are listed below for you to click through at your leisure and whim. Well-respected and shamanistic are there side by side because they are hard to tell apart sometimes and frequently agree with one another (case in point is how often what is assembled here agrees with the first post of the series). Selection bias, or thread of truth? Your assessments are welcome in the comments.

Hormones are powerful. To tamper with nature's finely-tuned messengers of life's processes is asking for trouble, especially for Woman, whose body and psyche are intimately connected to the monthly waxing and waning of hormones.

Besides controlling sexual development and function, hormones also help to control growth and muscle building, and regulate the digestive system, blood sugar levels, blood pressure and fluid balance. Hormones hold the key to subjective feelings and changes in blood chemistry associated with stress. Hormonal imbalances therefore not only create problems with physical health, but impact mental health too.

Modern science has convinced women that their reproductive system is unacceptably pernicious, and promotes new scientific developments to liberate them from the age-old yoke of menstruation, just as they have been freed from uncontrolled reproduction. The discomforts of puberty and menopause have now been medicalized. Nature often requires several years to help balance out a woman’s hormonal cycle in each season of life, but science offers shortcuts. The intricate and profoundly complicated female reproductive system, which has undergone many hundreds of thousands of years of evolutionary fine-tuning, has now been declared obsolete.

Meanwhile, nutritionally depleted diets, stress and environmental toxins—the real culprits of menstrual irregularities and hormonal imbalances—have been all but ignored by doctors.

We know that the way the Western world eats is sad. In fact, the diet is known as the SAD – the Standard American Diet – and it’s having its eponymous effect on the physical and mental health of all who consume it. But that is a well-trodden path; I point it out here as an important prerequisite for the mess we find ourselves in when we think we are smarter than our own biology.

The modern Western/Global Northern/white affluent diet not only lacks sufficient nutrients to fuel the human organism, parts of it – like components of grains – leach nutrients from our bodies when we consume them. Adding insult to injury, the Pill actively depletes the body of vitamin B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B6 (pyridoxine), B12 (cyanocobalamin); vitamins C, E, K and folic acid; zinc, selenium, magnesium and the amino acid tyrosine, which is essential for proper thyroid function.

Mineral and vitamin deficiencies, especially deficiencies of folic acid, have been linked with cervical cancer. Stress, zinc deficiency and lack of protective antioxidants increase the chance of developing moles; those who supplement with estrogen via the Pill and HRT (hormone replacement therapy) are known to be more likely to develop melanomas. Zinc deficiency has also been implicated in a wide variety of neuropsychiatric disorders, including dyslexia, epilepsy, mental depression, and attention deficit disorder. As a result, to ensure that zinc levels are normal, women getting off OCPs (oral contraceptive pills) should wait at least 6 months before conceiving as low zinc is associated with lowered IQ and birth defects.

More sinister is that the U.S. government’s 2002 Report on Carcinogens added all steroidal estrogens used in hormone replacement therapy and oral contraceptives to the list of known human carcinogens.

The Harvard School of Public Health published a review paper in Cancer stating: “studies revealed a statistically-significant positive trend in the risk of premenopausal breast cancer for women exposed to oral contraceptives … for at least four years before their first term pregnancy." The British Medical Journal reported in 1989 that women who used progestin [such as in the mini-pill or Depo-Provera] before the age of 25 increased their relative risk of breast cancer by 50%. For women using it for six or more years the risk increased significantly to 320%.

It’s not just cancer; estrogen increases copper levels, which causes depression. Plasma copper levels often are increased considerably in women using birth control pills. A copper-carrying protein called ceruloplasmin can destroy vitamin C by an oxidative process, leaving OCP users deficient or with a magnesium/vitamin C imbalance which can lead to severe cramping. Pill users have an increased risk of ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. In Nutrition and Vitamin Therapy, Michael Lesser, M.D., points out that birth control pills cause an alkaline imbalance in the vagina that may lead to increased susceptibility to infection.

The pH also affects the bowels: alkalinity causes a slowing of intestinal peristalsis (muscular contractions that move the intestinal contents along), leading to constipation. (The inverse is also true.) With constipation the bowel cannot eliminate toxins in the usual way, leaving them to be re-absorbed into the blood stream. The liver is then under a very heavy load to process these toxins, often leading to feeling sluggish and having foggy thinking.

A typical modern woman was born when breast-feeding was out of fashion. It is now well known that formula-fed babies develop gut flora that is significantly different to that of breast-fed babies, and that these differences increase a formula-fed baby’s lifetime risk of diabetes, eczema/psoriasis, depression and obesity, as well predisposing her to various infections in childhood and youth, likely leading to repeated courses of antibiotics. Antibiotics cause serious damage to gut flora. At puberty many of these formula-fed girls will be offered OCPs to “correct” their menstrual cycles or alleviate mood or skin disorders (which may well be caused by gut disbiosis), and which they will then take for quite a few years, - further devastating their beneficial gut bacteria - before starting a family of their own.

Imbalance of gut flora, or gut disbiosis, reduces the ability to digest food and absorb nutrients. As a result, even if a woman eats spectacularly well during pregnancy, if she has taken OCPs beforehand she and her baby are not reaping the full benefits of her diet. Beneficial flora actively synthesize nutrients including vitamin K, pantothenic acid, folic acid, thiamin (B1), and cyanocobalamin (B12). Our bodies are evolutionarily adapted to expect this. An imbalanced gut cannot provide these essential nutrients, so both the woman and her growing baby risk deficiency.  She’s probably also constipated now, if she wasn’t before, because the body relaxes all muscles in response to pregnancy – even those responsible for peristalsis.

Pathogenic, opportunistic flora produce toxic substances which are the by-products of their metabolism. The longer these toxins sit in excretory traffic in the gut, the higher the chance that they will be reabsorbed into the woman’s blood and can cross the placenta. In this way gut dysbiosis exposes the fetus to toxins even if the woman eats and lives in a pristine environment.

Most people with abnormal gut flora also suffer from various stages of anemia, because some of the most common pathogenic strains of bacteria that take hold in an imbalanced gut are those that consume iron:  Actinomyces spp., Mycobacterium spp., pathogenic strains of E.Coli, Corynebacterium spp. and others. Anemia during pregnancy can deprive the fetus of oxygen, leading to low birth weight and pre-term birth and their concomitant life-long health risks. A patient with gut dysbiosis supplementing iron is only feeding these pathogenic, ferrophilic strains. The cure for gut dysbiotic anemia is to heal and seal the gut, not iron supplements.

Not counting Neolithic agents of disease, the most significant of the common toxins we are exposed to today are heavy metals. Lead, mercury and cadmium exert most of their toxicity by destroying important proteins, many of which are enzymes, hormones, or cell receptors. Mercury binds to sulfhydryl groups, which are used in almost every enzymatic process in the body, and therefore has the potential to disturb all metabolic processes. One of the primary ways the body gets rid of metal compounds is through the following pathway: 

This same pathway is affected when mercury reduces the available taurine needed to produce bile acid (taurocholic acid). The bile thickens and its flow becomes too slow to provide proper stimulation of intestinal peristalsis. A rough analogy is when the oil in your car's engine is sludgy and needs changing.

Heavy metals also damage nerves, including those of the intestines, which contributes to sluggish elimination. When the microflora of the intestine has been reduced through stress, poor diet, use of antibiotics and other drugs, fecal content of mercury is greatly reduced. Instead of being excreted in the feces, the mercury gets recirculated back to the liver, which gets even more sluggish as a result. This person will tend to maintain a higher body burden of mercury derived from dietary sources. So reducing the mercury load in your body will help to get rid of constipation, but the chelation process required will worsen the constipation. Sufficient bile flow is vital for proper elimination so it is important to monitor and support liver function.

Aiding the body’s elimination of metals through supplementation is called chelation.  Before I have to get an ISBN for this post I’ll stop here, but I’ll continue with my findings about chelation in the near future.

It is vital that women fully inform themselves of the full range of consequences to their health and that of their children – and children’s children – before deciding to skip a poop, take OCPs or antibiotics for acne control, or receive amalgam fillings. Instead of relying on science for a quick fix to any uncomfortable condition, we would be much better off to recognise the wisdom of the body and correct the problem at its source through improved diet, nutritional supplements, exercise and attention to emotional stresses.

But you knew that.

REFERENCES (relates particularly to IV chelation)

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