By Erika Schwartz, MD
When my editor gave me the topic for this month’s column, I thought it funny. Doesn’t everyone know how hormones affect everything we do? Doesn’t everyone know we are our hormone balance?
Unfortunately, the answer to these questions is still no.
To someone like me who has been working with hormones and specifically bioidenticals (human identical hormones) in women and hormones in general in men for almost two decades, who lives and breathes hormones, who totally understands their tantamount roles in our health and disease, it seems odd that our advanced society, our highly developed culture, has no understanding or insight into the role of hormones in our lives.
A primer: When we are young, it is the abundance and perfectly tuned balance of hormones that makes us vital, wrinkle-free, sexually turned on and quick to recover from colds and flu.
Hormones keep us fertile, and our joints limber and well- lubricated. It is our hormones that help us think well, remember where we put our keys and relate to others in intimate, connected ways.
As we age, hormones begin to fade, though exposure to toxins, eating badly processed foods, leading sedentary lives and not getting enough sleep also play their parts.
We can reverse or at a minimum stall the ravages of aging with hormone support. There are many types of hormones that work together to create the puzzle that becomes our lives and the more pieces (hormones) of the puzzle we put together in proper balance and in the right formulations, the more likely we are to age in a healthy, vibrant and beautiful way.
The best hormones to use are the bioidentical ones. They are prescription medications estradiol, progesterone, testosterone, thyroid and adrenal support, and they are pharmaceutically made to look identical to the hormones our own bodies make when we are young and healthy. These types of hormones can be found at drugstores in FDA-approved forms, and they can be made to order by compounding pharmacies that specialize in tailoring them to the individual.
Without hormones we get old and frail and become a burden to society and to an already overloaded health care system.
With the proper hormones, prescribed by doctors who are trained and experienced in how to use them and when to use them safely and effectively, we spend less money on health care, on going from doctor to doctor and test to test with no hope of improvement in sight.
With hormones in balance we don’t need yo-yo dieting. Our bodies stay at their optimal weight, and exercise is pleasant with results we can be proud of. With hormones we find ourselves getting sleep again and feeling refreshed in the morning.
Hormones are not snake oil. They are safe and they protect us from diseases of aging. They protect our bones from osteoporosis and our hearts and brains from deterioration.
Doctors who deny this fact are uninformed and don’t care about you or how you feel.
Yes, it may sound like hormones are the fountain of youth, but all you have to do is ask and look at those who take them and compare them to their peers who don’t.
Last night I had dinner with a physician. He is a highly successful radiologist who has run and owned multiple successful and technologically advanced radiological centers around New York City.
He told me that just like most physicians he always considered himself a skeptic when it came to hormone use in prevention and wellness. Unfortunately, he is not alone. Despite clinical research and scientific articles abounding on the topic, the majority of the conventional medical profession still has no knowledge of the role of hormones in prevention and wellness. That’s because disease is more lucrative to the industry than prevention. Indeed, conventionally trained physicians come out of medical school without insight into hormones, diet, exercise, lifestyle, sleep and supplements, all crucial connections to keeping us healthy well into old age.
So back to the physician I had dinner with last night. He was telling me how over two decades as he hit his 40s he started to gain three pounds a year and slowly found himself, old, obese, sluggish and pre-diabetic. His training would have ordinarily just sent him to the cardiologist to have his heart checked and the gastroenterologist to have his colon looked at; to take a few prescriptions to help his aching joints, rising blood pressure and sugar; and sent him home telling him it’s all part of normal aging. It’s not.
Instead, while on a plane he saw an advertisement for an anti-aging group catering to men and treating them with testosterone (a hormone, folks) and diet, exercise and lifestyle changes. Feeling downtrodden and unclear how to proceed but unwilling to just let Mother Nature take its course, he called the number on the ad and became a patient in the practice touting turning back the clock as the outcome of the treatment.
Skeptic (as he only mentioned three times during the conversation) that he was, he thought it would be a waste of money. But something pushed him to give it a try.
After a thorough evaluation of blood tests, biomarkers helping the doctors figure out how his heart, lungs, skin and general metabolism worked regardless of his age and an hour long consultation with the doctor who asked him more questions about himself than he had ever been asked, he was prescribed testosterone injections and given some supplements and recommendations on diet and exercise.
Within a week he felt better but had gained a couple of pounds and called the doctor. He was told that as his body was rebalancing and detoxifying (coming clean of toxins), he may be retaining water for a while but not to worry, just stick with the program. And that he did.
Within six months he lost the weight he had put on over two decades, became interested in sex again (he had lost that interest a decade before) and started building muscles when he exercised. His mood became upbeat again, his outlook positive and more than anything else, in his own words, “my brain came back.” He felt young and healthy again.
That was one and a half years ago. Since then, he has sold his radiological practices and has been taking courses to become proficient in the use of hormones in preventive medicine.
He is no longer a skeptic. He now believes, as do I, that everyone requires the proper combination of hormones to prevent disease, keep young, functional and healthy and reduce skyrocketing health care costs.
When I see patients for the first time I ask: If you didn’t know how old you are, how old would you think you are?
The answer from people on hormones is always 20 years younger. From those who don’t take hormones, it’s always at least 20 years older.
Which would you like to be?
For more information, email Dr. Erika at [email protected]