Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Hormone Solution


Your body contains more than one hundred different types of hormones, and they pour into your bloodstream at the rate of thousands of billions of units per day. Hormones regulate your heartbeat and your breathing. Hormones make men men and women women. Hormones put you to sleep at night and wake you up in the morning. They control your blood pressure. They build bone, maintain muscle tone, and lubricate joints. Hormones govern growth. They make the body produce energy and heat. Hormones burn fat. Hormones govern the menstrual cycle and allow pregnancy (and birth) to occur. They fight stress, prevent fatigue, calm anxiety, and relieve depression. Hormones make and keep memories. Hormones maintain the correct level of sugar in the blood and tissues. They resist allergic reactions and infections. They soothe pain. Hormones control your sex drive, virility, and fertility. They stimulate your brain and your immune system.

It is by no means an exaggeration to say that hormones are crucial to every single function of the human body. You can't live without them.

But in the environment we live in at the opening of this new millennium--and particularly as we ourselves age--rarely do our bodies have the optimum levels of hormones. So we don't enjoy optimum health, whether that means arthritis or heart disease or flagging sex drive or gray hair and wrinkles or out-of-control weight gain. The program in this book, a combination of nutrition and hormone balance, can bring anyone into optimal health. The Hormone Solution is not a miracle cure or an empty promise. It is a reality. It is for anyone who feels tired all the time.Or forgets things. Or isn't sleeping well. Or feels more depressed and anxious than he used to. Or who is at risk for osteoporosis or cancer--among many, many other things. We've accepted these things as inevitable, especially as we age. We didn't like it, but we thought we had to live with it. But we've been wrong.

You probably know that some hormone levels decline with age. What's less well known is that almost all hormone levels drop, across the board, in men as well as women. Your endocrine glands cannot maintain the same production of hormones they did in your younger days. And that loss is the most crucial--and eminently correctable--underlying process that causes the signs and symptoms of aging as well as a host of other health concerns. With the proper physiological doses of natural hormones in combination with a hormonally supportive diet and vitamin and mineral supplements, you can retain your health--and your youth--more fully and for a longer time. I am not recommending the massive pharmaceutical quantities of the standard hormone prescriptions, like menopausal hormone replacement therapy (HRT), but rather the finely tuned individualized substances doses that are identical in structure and quantity to what young, healthy bodies produce.

When all our hormones are at optimal levels, our bodies are healthy, efficient, resilient, flexible, and strong. Through our twenties, that's what most of us experience. But even a small drop-off or slight imbalance, as happens to most of us by our thirties and forties, can create havoc. And not just for women! I was hit with the effects in my mid-thirties. I was gaining weight and overeating, and I often felt sleepy during the day. I had trouble concentrating, little energy, and stiffness in my joints. I was often cranky and supersensitive to stress. It got to the point where it was interfering with my work and my relationships and family life. And even though I was experienced in nutrition, hormones, and longevity, I felt indignant: I was much too young to be old!

Fortunately for me, with my medical training--and the wisdom passed down to me through three previous generations of hormone specialists in my family--I knew what to do. I understood that my hormones were shifting, and while growing older might be unavoidable, the negative consequences were strictly optional. With this book I intend to share with you the holistic health program I developed for myself and my patients of natural hormone therapy combined with specific diet and supplement regimens.


This chapter gives an overview of how hormones work in the body and when and why they don't do their jobs. I'll tell you a little about how I came to practice in this field and how my philosophy of practice developed. We'll look at a few examples of how my patients have benefited from a program like the one in this book--and how I myself have responded to it. We'll talk about how hormone levels inevitably decrease with age, how that affects us, and what can be done about it. Finally, I'll discuss (and debunk) the fears a lot of people have about using hormones, before going on to give you a road map to the rest of the book.


Each of the many hormones in the human body has its own job to do, but they all work together in an elaborately interwoven system. You can liken this exquisite synergy to an orchestra: Each instrument has its own melody or rhythm, but all are necessary to play a symphony.

Similarly, without balanced nutrition the body cannot make all the hormones it needs in the proportions it needs them in. The first thing you need to do is to provide your body with the nutrients it needs to take care of itself. Much of our food is so refined and processed, we can run into problems even when we think we're eating healthfully. My eating plan and suggested supplements offer a delicious and nutrient-dense program, with surprising modifications for particular problems.

But no matter how healthfully we eat, our bodies produce less and less of all hormones as we age. Our hormonal balance becomes mistimed, disproportionate, or slightly off-key. In isolated cases, we recognize this and try to compensate--with HRT at menopause, for example. But we're missing the forest for the trees. Rarely are the problem and solution found in one hormone alone. In fact, taking just one hormone can make the problem worse or cause new problems. Furthermore, most hormone prescriptions written today are for doses that are far too large, and they overwhelm rather than rebalance the system. Most are also synthetic versions that differ by a molecule or two from the chemicals the body makes and uses on its own. This might not sound so bad until you consider that the difference between testosterone and estrogen--some would say, the difference between a man and a woman--is also a matter of just a couple of molecules.

But with natural hormones in amounts as close as possible to what your younger body made for itself, you can re-create the same state of health and well-being you once enjoyed. I'll teach you the methods that have worked for me and for my thousands of patients. You'll find that when your hormones are balanced, perfectly in tune, and backed with strong nutritional support, you can look and feel vibrantly healthy at any age.


That's just the kind of happy ending that lured me into medicine. But as for my chosen area of specialization, I've got the hormones in my blood to thank. As a fourth-generation physician experienced with hormone treatments whose father, grandfather, and great-grandfather talked about hormones, health, and aging at the dinner table, I learned the secrets of good health and longer life well before I even hit adulthood.

Still, I wasn't entirely sold on the idea of being a doctor and started medical school without much enthusiasm. I found the studies interesting enough but not inspiring. As I began working in the hospital--in my chosen field, psychiatry--I could not escape the feeling I was working with the wrong medicine. In many of the psychiatric patients, all I could see was signs of hormonal deficiencies. They were as clear as day to me but obviously had been overlooked by many medical professionals as the patient wound his way through the system before ending up with me.

Endocrinologists, the doctors "officially" in charge of hormones, seemed mostly to specialize in diabetes, only occasionally venturing into other therapies. Most of them were very traditional and spent their time on disease treatment rather than prevention. The specialization and subspecialization of medicine today has left a lot of doctors with so narrow a focus that they miss even big flashing neon signs if they are outside of their area of expertise. I prefer to follow my grandfathers' footsteps. The medicine I knew from my father and grandfathers was more holistic (not alternative, but truly holistic, meaning concerned with the whole person), more complete, and aimed primarily at achieving and maintaining total health.

I saw more of this kind of potential in family-practice medicine. There was room there, at least among some of my colleagues, for considering not just powerful drugs, but also nutrition (food, vitamins, and trace elements), environmental health, lifestyle choices, and even psychology when thinking about how to treat a patient.

So I finally switched over to general medicine, and the success I had with a surprising number of endocrinological cases finally lit a fire under me. Like Nicole, who was forty-nine and losing her hair. She'd also gotten flabby muscles and dry skin, felt tired and stress-sensitive all the time, and had bouts of nervousness, depression, and upset stomach--none of which had bothered her until she was closing in on fifty. We got her hormones balanced with natural estrogen, progesterone, cortisol, and DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone), and a diet to support them, and she felt and looked better within two months. Her hair even stopped falling out--and grew back.

Or like Ken, about the same age as Nicole, who was losing his memory. He had poor concentration and muddled thinking. On top of that, he complained he was getting old--thinning hair, small wrinkles all over his face, a growing potbelly, loss of strength, back pain, and decreased sex drive and potency. But with growth hormone, testosterone (like half of men over fifty, though he had "normal" levels, much of the testosterone in his body was bound to excessively high levels of proteins in the blood that made it unavailable for regular use), thyroid hormone, DHEA, and cortisol--in natural forms and proper balance--along with vitamin and mineral supplements, Ken was soon bragging he felt like he'd gone back in time about fifteen years.

And like Wally, who I don't think would be alive today--or at least not leading a full, active life--if not for the thyroid hormone, growth hormone, testosterone, and cortisol he started taking. He had already survived two heart attacks and one triple bypass surgery by the time I met him. But his cholesterol remained stubbornly high no matter what he did, and depression and constant exhaustion were draining the life out of him. His body was prematurely old, with weakened muscles, low sex drive, thickening skin, weight gain around his belly, and a noticeable layer of fat under his skin. His surgeon and cardiologist were worried that even the surgery wouldn't protect his stressed heart for long. But once we got the full complement of hormones in him, with carefully adjusted small doses, he felt stronger and better than he had in years. And ten years later Wally was still alive and well and no longer convinced he'd meet his father's fate: death by heart attack before his son graduated from college.

Through cases like these, I discovered that I could help people understand what their bodies were telling them in order to zero in on the most appropriate treatment, and that gave me the sense of mission I'd been missing. I realized it was a gift, not a burden, handed down to me through four generations.

The gift my great-grandfather, grandfather, and father gave to me was a truly holistic approach--treating the whole patient--and an understanding of the paramount importance of clinical symptoms. Every hormonal deficiency has a telltale group of physical and mental effects, and a careful history and physical will give you all the clues you need, if you know how to read them.

The final key came directly from my father, who recognized that particularly difficult cases were simply cases of deficiencies in not one but many hormones--what he called multiple deficiency syndrome. He discovered that filling in all the lacking hormones (as well as the nutrients that support them) could resolve seemingly intractable problems and even reverse the "inevitable" signs of age. There is no one miracle hormone for everyone. Each person needs different hormones, and always in combination, usually three to six at a time--rarely solo. Most of us could benefit from natural low-dose hormones, individually adapted and judiciously balanced, by the time we are thirty-five.

As my own practice developed, I saw that men's as well as women's hormones shift with age and that women's hormonal shifts started well before menopause (potentially accounting for many poorly understood clusters of symptoms). Furthermore, since women's bodies make small amounts of "male" hormones, they can have deficiencies of them, just as men can. All the rest of the many hormones in the body could become deficient as well and be equally problematic--and equally correctable.

To answer my many questions, I sought out the top experts in each hormone and pressed them on both the scientific mechanisms of action and practical applications. I learned at least as much by looking back at the way things were done in my grandfathers' time, when medicine was, by necessity, focused on clinical symptoms rather than lab values. Often all doctors had to go on at that time was what they could observe clinically, so they were extremely careful observers. I still believe that the interaction between doctor and patient is what is most useful in revealing the truly necessary information, and that while cold statistical values can be helpful confirmation of a clinically based hypothesis, they are limited in what they actually show. I'm glad to be practicing with all the resources of high-tech medicine available to me, but we can't afford to let the wisdom of the old school--a sort of high-touch medicine--get lost.

No matter how the problem gets diagnosed, however, the solution always follows the same pattern: the right hormones, in the right combination, at the right doses, with the right nutrients.

Copyright 2002 by Thierry Hertoghe, M.D., with Jules-Jacques Nabet, M.D.

Excerpted from

The Hormone Solution: Stay Younger Longer with Natural Hormone and Nutrition Therapies
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