As many readers of Nutrition & Healing already know, comprehensive bio-identical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT) got its start in North America at the Tahoma Clinic in the early 1980s. However, if you’ve read Stay Young and Sexy with Bio Identical Hormones: the Science Explained by Lane Lenard Ph.D. and me, you know that BHRT really got its start in China in the 11th century, where it continued to be used and improved until the 19th century! (You also read that Chinese BHRT was even more comprehensive than what we have now, but that’s a discussion for another time.)
From the very start, BHRT has had dual goals: effectiveness and safety. Copying, as closely as possible, what nature has been doing for hundreds of thousands of years is the most likely way to be both as effective and as safe as possible. This is true not only with BHRT, but with any approach to health care. That’s why patent medicines (the vast majority of ‘prescription drugs’) are so far off the mark for health care. You see, if it’s a patented molecule, by definition it can’t be found in nature, and if isn’t found in nature, it’s extremely likely it will have adverse effects in human bodies.
Researchers have confirmed time and time again that copying nature is best. That’s why I’m so surprised that there are still so-called ‘authorities’ on BHRT who haven’t yet learned that unless there’s solid research that says it’s not necessary, copying nature is always the best approach
While teaching part of a BHRT seminar earlier this year, several participants told me that they had attended another BHRT seminar recently during which they were advised that women should swallow their daily oestrogen replacement. Even worse, they were told it should be swallowed every day with no monthly breaks. Another attendee said she’d attended a seminar where she was told that the only oestrogen needed in BHRT is oestradiol, as it’s the most potent bio-identical oestrogen, and ‘can be turned into all the other oestrogens’.
Frankly, I found it nearly impossible to believe that anyone could actually be teaching those three fundamental BHRT errors in 2013. Surely the attendees must simply have misunderstood the instructors, right. But when I expressed my doubts that these risk-increasing practices were actually being taught, other seminar attendees assured me that they had heard the same things.
BHRT Error #1: Swallowing oestrogen
From the ‘copy nature’ point of view, all three errors are glaringly obvious. But let’s start with the concept of swallowing oestrogen (of any kind) first. During menstrual cycling years, the vast majority of oestrogen originates in the ovaries, is secreted into the veins of the pelvis, and then it is transported to the heart. The heart then pumps it to every cell in a woman’s body, including a small amount that goes to the liver. The liver excretes some of that oestrogen via the bowels, and another small amount is routed to the kidneys for excretion. Most importantly, every organ… the brain, heart, bones, lungs, etc… and every cell in a woman’s body receives some unaltered, unmetabolized oestrogen, and uses it as nature intended.
By contrast, when a woman swallows oestrogen, all of it goes straight into the stomach and intestines. All the blood vessels from the intestines flow to the liver, not the heart, so the liver receives 100 per cent of the oestrogen. The liver naturally does what it is designed to do… it tries to rid the body of it through the intestines and the kidneys. This phenomenon is so well known that it’s been given a name: ‘first-pass’ metabolism. While first-pass metabolism is obviously normal for food and food components, the only way it could possibly be normal for oestrogens would be if a woman’s ovaries were located by nature and Creation on the inner surface of her intestines!!
Research has already proven that swallowing oestrogen is a very bad idea for several reasons. Swallowing the hormone can lead to liver inflammation, and raises your risk of thrombosis (blood clots, in English) and strokes. In fact, the proof of this is so abundant I’m not even going to bother with footnotes. While rubbing oestrogen into a ‘mucous membrane’ (preferred) or skin surface, is not exactly what nature and Creation have designed, it still mimics nature in that it allows the oestrogen to flow with the bloodstream to the woman’s heart first – NOT her liver – and, as a result it reaches every cell in the body, just as happens to oestrogen that originates in the ovaries.
BHRT Error #2: Never taking a monthly ‘break’
Which brings us to the fundamental BHRT error number two: Using oestrogen every single day (along with progesterone and for many, testosterone, commonly known as ‘continuous combined’ treatment) of every month increases a woman’s cancer risk. Nature and creation certainly don’t supply a woman’s body with the same quantities of these two hormones every day from her teens through to her 40s or 50s. Everyone knows that there is a significant drop in these two hormones – and testosterone, too – that occurs approximately once a month during the menstrual years except during pregnancy, and even then ‘continuous daily hormones’ are normal for only nine months.
Similarly, the receptors for these hormones are accustomed (you could even say ‘programmed’) to that monthly break from all but a small amount of oestrogen (and progesterone). If, instead, oestrogen and progesterone receptors are stimulated every day for years, even decades, that clearly deviates from ‘nature’s plan’ by a very significant margin, and quite predictably, something can and will go wrong.
In 2011, researchers confirmed that nature’s (and creation’s) plan for ‘taking a break’ from these hormones approximately every month is the safer way to go.1 In a review of data from over 130,000 postmenopausal women during 1,153,447 person-years, it was found that ‘continuous combined regimens conferred a 43 per cent greater risk compared with sequential regimens.’ That 43 per cent greater risk refers to breast cancer! And, as you likely have already guessed, ‘sequential regimens’ are the ones that take a break every month.
BHRT Error #3: Not using oestriol with oestradiol
Now, about that third fundamental BHRT error, recommending oestradiol as the only oestrogen to be used in BHRT… you may be wondering why I insist that oestriol must always be included, and in greater amounts than oestradiol. From the ‘copy nature’ point of view, it’s because the majority of women have more oestriol in their urine tests than oestradiol. (Urine testing is used instead of blood testing because oestriol has a very short ‘half-life’ in blood,2 so testing blood levels of oestriol is quite unreliable.)
Dr. Henry Lemon, was a gynaecologic oncologist at the University of Nebraska who published from the 1960s through the 1990s. Dr. Lemon showed us that oestriol – even though a much weaker oestrogen than oestradiol – is an anti-carcinogenic oestrogen.
Subsequently, researchers have reported that oestriol stimulates only ‘oestrogen receptor beta’ (ERβ), a receptor that maintains normal structure and function of oestrogen responsive cells. Other researchers have reported that oestriol stimulation of ERβ in a woman’s brain is responsible for helping to maintain mood and attitude and normal function in areas of the brain responsible for emotions. By contrast, oestradiol stimulates both ‘oestrogen receptor alpha’ (ERα) and ERβ, so although it’s the oestrogen most responsible for breast and hip development, and reproductive functions in the brain, it can be pro-carcinogenic and must be offset by the entirely anti-carcinogenic oestriol.
In the 1970s, Dr. John Myers taught many doctors – including me – that fibrocystic breast disease can always be eliminated with iodine, when properly applied. Many women being treated for this problem at Tahoma Clinic had before and after urine tests performed for oestrogens, including oestrone (E1), oestradiol (E2), and oestriol (E3).
Dr. Lemon had previously established that levels of oestriol higher than the combined levels of oestrone and oestradiol (technically E3 > E2+E1) were protective against cancer and cancer progression. An unusually high percentage of women being treated for fibrocystic breast disease at Tahoma Clinic had the opposite result before treatment, lower levels of oestriol than the combined levels of eostrone and oestradiol (technically E3 < E2+E1). But after treatment, nearly all these women’s tests had ‘flipped’ to greater levels of oestriol (E3 > E2+E1). Hundreds of similar observations over the last 35 years have established that both iodine and iodide help the vast majority of women’s bodies make more of the anti-carcinogenic oestriol.
So if a woman’s body can make more oestriol, why do I insist that oestriol must be in any BHRT prescriptions? Primarily, it’s for safety, because so many women (and men and children too) have lifelong suboptimal iodine/iodide intake, and secondarily because over the years I’ve observed that a very small minority of women’s bodies can’t synthesize enough oestriol no matter how much iodine and/or iodide they take. For these few women, it’s likely a genetic problem, and without specific testing for every woman, there’s no way to know which ones have this problem. Since oestriol is anticarcinogenic, is beneficial for mood and attitude, and can’t hurt except in enormous overdose, it should be included as the major oestrogen in all women’s BHRT prescriptions.
Men can be victims of BHRT errors too
Also in 2013, two excellent magazines which focus on anti-ageing and a primarily natural approach to health care published articles suggesting that the same basic kind of error can be made almost automatically in prescribing testosterone for men. With differing degrees of emphasis, both magazines suggested that ‘aromatase inhibitors’ (the patent medicine Arimidex® and the botanical compound chrysin) be prescribed right along with the very first testosterone prescribed for any man.
Aromatase is the name of the enzyme present in female and male bodies which transforms testosterone into oestrogen in one step. Aromatase obviously normally functions more rapidly in women than men, but with age, some men’s aromatase enzymes become increasingly active or, in technical terms, their aromatase enzyme is induced. Have you ever been on the beach and seen an older man with what appear to be breasts? That’s a man whose aromatase enzyme activity has been way overactive for way too long!
One third of us have a genetic tendency for type-2 diabetes
But that’s an ‘endstage’ problem of overactive aromatase. Unfortunately, approximately one-third of all men develop aromatase over-activity, a few as early as their late 30s, the majority in their 40s and 50s, and a lesser number at older ages. The reason why so many men have this problem may surprise you. It’s because approximately the same proportion of all of us – one third of both men and women – have the genetic tendency to develop type-2 diabetes.
Decades ago, it was discovered that people who have this genetic tendency respond to sugar and refined carbohydrates with significantly greater insulin output than those who don’t have it. Over the years a diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates causes persistently higher insulin levels leading to our bodies developing insulin resistance.
To overcome that resistance, insulin secretion goes higher, causing even more insulin resistance. To overcome the increased resistance, insulin secretion goes even higher, causing the resistance to increase again, and on and on the upward spiral continues, until the insulin resistance is so strong that even very high levels of insulin can’t break through to efficiently help transfer sugar (glucose) from the bloodstream into the cells, to be burned for energy.
When that stage of insulin resistance is reached, the concentration of sugar in the blood starts to increase – remember, it’s not getting into the cells because of that very strong insulin resistance – and we’re diagnosed with type-2 diabetes.
It’s the ever-increasing insulin signal which activates the aromatase enzyme, making more and more testosterone turn into oestrogen. That ever-increasing insulin signal can also stimulate the production of more cholesterol and triglycerides, increase blood pressure, and contribute to the accumulation of abdominal obesity.
None of this information is new. This grouping of symptoms, and the increasingly high insulin signal that causes them, were first called ‘syndrome X’, a name which has since evolved into the inter-changeable terms insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and pre-diabetes. As I mentioned earlier, the genetic tendency towards type-2 diabetes and all of these ‘precursor’ problems is shared by one-third of all of us, including one-third of all men.
This means that approximately two-thirds of all men do not need a natural or patented aromatase inhibitor. For the one-third of men who may need one to lower the testosterone-to-oestrogen transformation rate, an aromatase inhibitor automatically prescribed with testosterone does nothing at all to reduce the increasingly high insulin signal, so those men continue down the metabolic path towards type-2 diabetes.
That’s the problem with automatically prescribing aromatase inhibitors along with testosterone prescriptions. It often delays a potential diagnosis of insulin resistance until it becomes type-2 diabetes! A doctor’s responsibility is to dig deeper, do a physical examination looking for high blood pressure (even ‘just a little’), abdominal obesity, ‘skin tags’ (80 per cent risk of future type-2 diabetes if they’re present), osteoarthritis (another 80 per cent risk of future type-2 diabetes, even higher risk if the individual is in his 40s or early 50s, based on four published research reports and one as yet unpublished report from Tahoma Clinic), and to ask about any family history of type-2 diabetes or any of these individual signs or symptoms.
If enough of these signs or symptoms add up, then it’s the doctor’s responsibility to recommend very specific insulin resistance testing, which I’ve named ‘the Kraft test’ after its originator. If the ‘Kraft test’ found on page 7 is positive, then an overall programme of diet (Paleo diet), exercise (interval training), and supplementation… featuring adequate quantities of chromium, biotin, magnesium, vitamin D, and the botanical berberine… will progressively reduce the excess insulin signal and accompanying insulin resistance towards normal. Not only that, it will also go a long way towards bringing down elevated blood lipids and blood pressure, reducing weight (particularly central obesity), and gradually reducing the excess testosterone to oestrogen transformation, which is only a small part of the overall metabolic disruption, and not a problem of its own.
If the insulin resistance test is positive, this programme will prevent type-2 diabetes! Yes, this reversal of type-2 diabetes or pre-diabetes takes time, and a temporary recommendation for an aromatase inhibitor is then justified only until the overall programme does the job. But blindly prescribing aromatase inhibitors to go with testosterone without bothering to check for insulin resistance – the cause of the problem – is totally unnecessary for approximately two-thirds of all men with low testosterone, and irresponsibly incomplete for the rest.Wishing you the best of health,
Dr. Jonathan V. Wright
Nutrition & Healing
Volume 7, Issue 8 – August 2013
Full references and citations for this article are available in the downloadable PDF version of the monthly Nutrition and Healing issue in which this article appears.