It’s not the first time I’ve tested my sex hormones. Three times in the past, I went through my OB-Gyn for hormone blood tests, covered by insurance; and then 3 times I did both saliva and blood spot tests through a Functional Medicine doctor, and payed a fortune out of pocket. I also tested my cortisol levels throughout the day.
Not this time! Same lab, same tests, I paid $70, and had the results sent right to me. Freedom! I’ll explain how you can do this at the end of this post. First, let me explain why I think it’s a good idea to know what’s going on with our hormones.
Hormones Rule Us. This isn’t a Post on menopause, it’s a Post about body weight, and how we can use information to really tailor that whole “Food is Medicine” thing. It’s also a Post to reinforce that our body is a Chemistry Set, not a Math Equation. The whole calories in/calories out….. we don’t run that way.
Let me bullet point some facts about food and hormones to illustrate the futileness of believing that weight loss comes from calorie deficits, and the hormonal effects when we employ traditional diet methods, or even a Standard American Diet.
* The thyroid gland slows down production of thyroid hormone – which slows down metabolism – as soon as it even suspects a lack of food. Our thyroid gland is supposed to protect us from starving. The result of a few rounds of dieting? A thyroid that stays sluggish even when calorie consumption rises.
* When we eat grains and sugar (all grains digest to sugar in the gut), the result is high blood sugar. High blood sugar induces high levels of the hormone Insulin. Insulin is a building, storage hormone, it’s also a caustic damaging hormone when in excess. For most Americans, insulin is in excess.
* Studies show that chronically high blood sugar actually destroys the thyroid gland, lowering metabolism even more via less thyroid hormone.
* When the hormone Insulin is elevated (say, after a breakfast of cereal, or a dinner of pasta), our cells are literally prohibited from burning fat for fuel. They’re only allowed to burn sugar. In our body, that’s a rule we can’t change. It’s part of our design.
* What happens when Insulin remains high – a la Insulin Resistance? Insulin resistance leads to Leptin resistance. Leptin is a satiety hormone. “Resistance” means the hormone can’t get into the cells to deliver it’s message. Leptin resistance means constant hunger.
* Ghrelin is a hunger hormone. It’s supposed to rise when our stomach is empty, and fall after we eat. Studies show that in people who eat “diet food”, ghrelin doesn’t fall, or fall properly. The result: we stay hungry. We need Real Whole Food to make the hunger hormones and the satiety hormones function correctly. Diet Coke with a Protein Bar won’t work; actually, that’s a recipe for hormonal disaster.
* Estrogen Dominance is pervasive today, in men, women, and children. Too much estrogen causes low testosterone in men. Excess estrogen causes low progesterone in women. These are both hormonal situations that lead to weight gain.
* Cortisol is a hormone produced in the adrenal glands in response to the brains perception of stress, any kind of stress, even fake stress as in a scary movie. Cortisol production inhibits sex hormone production. Chronically high cortisol means chronically low sex hormones. Chronically high cortisol is linked to insulin resistance ( it blocks insulin receptors on cells) and belly fat – and heart disease.
* Lack of sleep messes up more hormones than we can count. One of them is ghrelin. Lack of sleep raises ghrelin, which increases hunger.
* Thyroid hormone – again, responsible for our metabolism – is negatively affected by consumption of soy, fluoride, and chlorine. Think protein bars, processed food, and municipal water.
* Drinking alcohol, any alcohol, causes an enzyme called aromatase to convert testosterone into estrogen. This happens to both men and women, and it causes “estrogen belly”, formerly know as “beer belly”.
*A diet full of processed foods, flour, sugar, and chemicals, severely disrupts our gut flora (even if this diet is low calorie). Our gut flora are highly involved in whether we burn predominantly fat or sugar. One example, and there’s many, is that the more diverse our gut species are, the better our liver gets rid of old hormones, like estrogen. Poor gut flora means poor elimination, and those hormones stay dangerously high in the blood.
* Numerous studies show that Vitamin D – which is actually a hormone, greatly influences both weight loss and inflammation levels. Vitamin D deficiency is epidemic!
* Numerous studies show that excessive exercise and chronic dieting raise levels of cortisol in the blood. Just like when Insulin is high, when cortisol is high, the body doesn’t burn fat, it burns sugar.
* Both Fructose and Trans Fats (present in most prepared foods, “diet” or not) both cause Insulin Resistance and raise markers of inflammatory hormones, again, inhibiting fat burning in the cell.
All that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Hopefully it was enough to convince you that losing weight isn’t about starving yourself, mini meals, excessive exercise, and diet foods. All that stuff does the opposite of permanent weight loss; those kind of diet efforts put you into a hormonal state that makes weight loss impossible.
How does this tie in with me testing some of my hormones at home? My health doesn’t come from my doctor; my health – and a healthy weight – comes from me paying attention to my body and making changes when I need too. Having normal levels of sex hormones is really important, to my weight, my brain, my energy, my immune system.
Everything is so connected. We’re not a bunch of individual parts that work independently, not even close. I also test my blood sugar, at least a couple times a month, and just recently I did an A1C ( which shows a 90 day average of blood sugar – a great marker for Alzheimer’s and inflammation ).
Food is medicine, or food is poison. When I know what’s going on in my body, I can literally use food as my medicine. For instance, now that I know how low my estrogen is, and that I’m fully menopausal, I’m using particular foods and herbs to naturally raise my estrogen, and progesterone. I’ll test again this summer and see how that’s working.
Last year I got really into Bikram yoga. A friend of mind wondered if that level of heat stress caused a cortisol release, which causes high blood sugar. So I took my glucometer to the studio and tested a couple times. I’ve also tested after I’ve taught some tough boot camp classes. Exercise doesn’t stress me, I know that now because my blood sugar was good each time.
However, I’ve also tested after tornados blow through my house and seen that my blood sugar is high. ( we’re a big family who loves each other but … stress happens. )
Testing at home is fun, affordable, and while a full CBC panel can be confusing to interpret, a hormone panel, blood sugar numbers, and A1C aren’t, at all. And they give you some real black and white answers about the state of your health.
I encourage all my weight loss clients to regularly test their blood sugar as it’s such a strong tool for weight loss: if blood sugar’s high, the hormone Insulin is high. When insulin is high, fat loss doesn’t happen. Notice I said fat loss not weight loss. You can starve some weight off, but if insulin is high, and worse, if the hormone cortisol is high from the stress of dieting/hunger/excessive exercise, the weight comes mostly in the form of muscle tissue, not fat tissue. Less muscle tissue means a lower daily calorie burn.
Again, we’re a big cycle. Here’s the links to the tests, if you want help with using them to lose weight or get healthy, or both, contact me and let’s work together.
To order the hormone panel:http://www.johnleemd.com/store/prod_test_kits.html
To buy a glucometer/blood sugar meter:http://www.amazon.com/Diabetes-Testing-TrueResult-TrueTest-Active1st/dp/B00PX2T58I/ref=cm_cr_pr_sims_t
To buy an A1C:http://www.amazon.com/4303514-Bayer-hBa1C-Waived-Diabetes/dp/B00D7C6YWQ/ref=pd_sbs_hpc_1?ie=UTF8&refRID=0YN868HAH518CN8NCF45