Hormones are one of my favorite things to discuss, and they are intimately connected to the topic of inflammation. I’m going to explain how.
If you missed my last article on the basics of inflammation, it’s a good idea to check it out before or after you read this. It’ll give you some context, so you better understand what you’re reading here.
The hormones that are the biggest offenders when it comes to inflammation are:
These hormones exist in our bodies for a reason, but as with anything, they can become problematic when we have too much or too little of them.
Let’s start the discussion with estrogen, the female hormone you hear about most often. It also happens to be the most inflammatory hormone, especially bad estrogens.
Yes, you read that correctly – there are bad estrogens.
Estradiol is our good, happy estrogen, while estrone is a bad estrogen.
If the ratio of good estrogen to bad estrogen is balanced in our bodies, estrogen is actually a very helpful hormone. It helps protect our heart, supports brain function, promotes healthy cell development, and acts as a natural anti-inflammatory.
However, if estrogen levels are out of balance, or if there are more bad estrogens present that good, it becomes an inflammatory agent. This increases your chances of developing breast and uterine cancer are increased and puts you at greater risk of developing inflammatory conditions, like heart disease, fibroids, and endometriosis.
How do you know if your levels of good and bad estrogen are balanced?
If you’ve been to my clinic or have read previous blog articles, I’m sure you know the answer to this, but for anyone who’s not familiar with me and my work, the answer is testing!
In this case, I recommend having your estrogen metabolism levels tested. This test allows me to see what the ratio of good and bad estrogens are in your body, and the results of this test will inform treatment.
If you have more bad estrogen than good, I recommend trying a hormone detoxification diet.
On this diet you’ll avoid:
- Inflammatory oils, like canola, corn, cottonseed, and peanut
- Hormone-disrupting foods, like soy, dairy, wheat, corn, and grains
And you’ll incorporate:
- 3-6 cups of vegetables each day, especially green leafy veggies, beets, broccoli, artichokes, onions, and garlic
- Protein in the form of organic, pasture raised meats, legumes, nuts, and seeds
- Healthy fats, like cold-pressed olive oil and avocado. Your body creates hormones from fat, so these are essential!
I’ve had incredible success using this diet in treatment, especially with patients whom I am unable to support with hormone therapies.
Specifically, I had a patient with breast cancer. She was having horrible hot flashes and her blood work indicated that her levels of inflammation were high.
Additionally, her estrogen metabolism test showed that she had high levels of bad estrogens – this is not unusual for someone with breast cancer.
We were unable to stabilize her hormone levels with hormone replacement therapy because of her cancer, so I recommended the hormone detoxification diet and offered her a few high-quality supplements – a high dose of turmeric to lower the inflammation and diindolylmethane (DIM), to help balance her estrogen levels.
After three months, her hot flashes disappeared and her inflammation levels were significantly lower. At the end of treatment, she also had more good estrogens than bad in her body, meaning using diet and supplements to treat her hot flashes and inflammation were a success!
There are times, however, when hormone replacement therapy is necessary. In addition to diet and lifestyle changes, of course. In these cases, I recommend natural hormones, instead of synthetic, and frequent testing to be sure that your body is metabolizing the hormones well and they are having the desired effect.
The second hormone that contributes to inflammation is cortisol. Similar to estrogen, and all the other hormones mentioned, cortisol can be both anti-inflammatory and inflammatory, depending on how much we have in our bodies.
Cortisol is a stress hormone. It gets secreted by your adrenal glands when we experience stress. This cortisol stimulates your body’s natural stress response, also known as fight, flight, or freeze. When you are exposed to stressful situations more often than not, your body will continuously secrete cortisol, causing your levels to be higher than is normal.
High levels of cortisol contribute to internal inflammation.
If you don’t do something to manage the stress, your adrenal glands will eventually tire out and your body will be unable to produce normal amounts of cortisol. This also contributes to inflammation and weakens the immune system.
Individuals that have low levels of cortisol and adrenal fatigue tend to get sick easily and have a hard time fighting off infections.
Healthy cortisol levels are the best anti-inflammatory, so it’s important to keep this hormone balanced. The best way to do this is:
- Manage and reduce stress
- Support your adrenal glands with adaptogenic herbs, like the ones found in Cortisol Balancer
When needed, I will prescribe cortisol injections or creams, but your body can naturally produce and regulate cortisol levels with the right support, so I try to mediate with natural measures as much as possible.
The third hormone I want to discuss in this article is insulin. It often gets a bad rap, but for good reason – too much insulin can cause a host of issues, ranging from premature aging to weight gain. Excess amounts of insulin can also cause cortisol levels to become elevated.
Your body may produce too much insulin if it is unable to properly metabolize sugar. To keep your insulin levels balanced, it’s best to limit your consumption of refined sugars and focus on eating a variety of green leafy veggies, high-quality protein, and healthy fats. This will not only help to keep your insulin levels in check, but it will also help you maintain an alkaline, or ph balanced, environment in your body.
An alkaline environment is preferable – when your body becomes too acidic it can lead to a host of issues and disease.
Hormones that help with inflammation
As I mentioned earlier in this article, there are some hormones can cause inflammation when imbalanced. There are also hormones that help to regulate estrogen, and other inflammatory hormones, namely:
- Thyroid Hormones
Testosterone and DHEA are androgens and typically understood to be male hormones since men produce it in larger amounts than women. It also happens to be an anti-inflammatory hormone, which is why men tend to suffer from chronic inflammation and autoimmune disorders less often than women – at least until they go through andropause when their testosterone production decreases.
When a patient comes into my practice with a hormone imbalance, especially one that is menopause related, I find that one of the fastest ways to remedy their symptoms is to prescribe testosterone as part of their treatment.
In addition to decreased levels of inflammation, patients who undergo this course of treatment experience greater clarity as well as increased brain function and energy.
This anti-inflammatory hormone is produced by the adrenal glands and helps to modulate the immune system
Since individuals with adrenal fatigue tend to have low levels of DHEA, it often works well to supplement with DHEA. I recommend doing this slowly – gradually increasing the levels in order to decrease internal inflammation.
As these levels start to come back into balance, patients may begin to burn fat and build more muscle than they were able to previously. They may also notice an improvement in their energy levels.
Remember, it’s best to undergo this type of treatment with a medical professional who can monitor your progress symptomatically as well as with regular testing.
If your thyroid hormones are too low, your inflammation levels will be high. You may also experience weight gain and frequent illness since your metabolism slows down and your body’s ability to fight off inflammation and illness is impaired in this state.
To that end, if thyroid issues are creating inflammation in your body, I recommend natural thyroid support, like Nature Throid or Thyroid Support to naturally decrease inflammation and help facilitate the healing process.
This will eliminate symptoms like water retention, weight gain, and constipation.
Hormones are intimately linked inflammation and inflammation contributes to the development of disease, so it’s important to work with a doctor or naturopath get your hormones tested regularly and for treatment recommendations.
Please do not try to diagnose and treat suspected hormone issues on your own.
Hormones can play an important role in the development of inflammation but aren’t the only factors that contribute to inflammation, so next week I’m going to discuss another contributing factor – one that is often overlooked, sleep.