10 Common Causes of Chronic Conditions: Cause #4
4. Dysfunctional or exhausted hormonal system.
Hormones are amazing tools of the body. They work synchronistically so that the body runs smoothly and efficiently. When hormones are unbalanced, virtually every bodily system is affected. While it may be natural for our bodies to decrease the production of hormones over time, it is also possible that because of internal toxins, poor diets, and the like, our bodies lose the ability to produce these hormones as efficiently as they should too early in our lives. Our stressful, modern lives can trigger an imbalance of hormones, in particular cortisol, one of the key hormones the body produces in response to stress of any kind. The adrenal glands normally produce between 20 to 40 milligrams of cortisol per day, but they produce much more when the body is under a great deal of stress.
Cortisol does many things:
- It plays a major role in keeping blood sugar levels normal.
- It helps to control inflammation throughout the body.
- It helps to mediate allergies by controlling histamine in the body.
- It boosts the immune system when it is under any type of infectious attack.
- It helps regulate the thyroid hormones to control metabolism and body temperature.
- It significantly influences blood pressure.
The adrenal glands are part of an intricate system of glands called the HPA axis, made up of the hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal glands. The hypothalamus senses conditions in the body and when necessary, secretes a hormone that tells the pituitary to send yet another hormone to the adrenals. When the adrenals get this signal, they start secreting cortisol. When cortisol levels get too high, the HPA axis senses this, and sends a message to the adrenals to halt. In many cases, people with chronic conditions suffer from poorly functioning adrenal glands that don’t produce enough cortisol.
In addition, many people with chronic conditions—both men and women—experience low levels of DHEA, a precursor to testosterone. Testosterone and DHEA are crucial elements for many things, including the immune system and the brain. They are both key factors in muscle mass, energy, and have strong links to depression, weight gain, and cardiovascular disease. In fact, many times people gain weight because these two hormone levels drop so significantly. Thus, weight loss diets generally will not work without first balancing these hormones.
Another common hormone imbalance is due to an under-active or hyperactive thyroid gland. Many chronically ill people suffer unknowingly from hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism, yet their thyroid function will appear to be within the normal range on most standard blood tests. This is because the range for normal is so wide to begin with, and “normal” is measured against a population that is generally unhealthy. Small supplemental doses of thyroid hormone will usually make a chronically ill person feel better fairly quickly.
Saliva-based tests have advanced significantly in recent years and are quickly becoming the gold standard for determining virtually all hormone levels, including DHEA, testosterone, estrogen, progesterone, cortisol, and thyroid.
IMPORTANT: You should NEVER self-treat your hormone levels. This includes avoiding natural supplements containing DHEA, pregnenolone, progesterone, androsterone (all natural hormone precursors), UNLESS you are directed to do so by your healthcare professional.1
1Nylander M, Friberg L, Lind B. Mercury concentrations in the human brain and kidneys in relation to exposure from dental amalgam fillings. Swed Dent J. 1987; 11 (5):179-87. PMID: 3481133 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]