Hormone imbalance — hormone replacement therapy, what are the risks?

The effects of hormones are incredibly powerful. In health they are kept in check by the body’s intricate feedback mechanisms. A healthy body has the ability to produce adequate amounts of hormones which allow homeostatic mechanisms to keep the body in balance.

When the body’s endocrine system becomes disrupted, the effects can be far-reaching. These days we are used to taking pharmaceutical agents with the intention that they re-balance the chemistry of the body. However, the use of artificial (including bio-identical) hormones is absolutely fraught with danger. It is naive to assume that tests carried out on a variety of bodily fluids or samples (such as urine, blood, saliva, hair etc) can assess the relevant levels of hormones, which are constantly fluctuating. The assumption that these results predict future levels, (until the next blood test), is even more perilous. It is a hormone's metabolic effect that is the most important factor, not its serum, urine or saliva level. These effects are extremely complex, and hard to measure.

The vast complexity of the endocrine system is often not well-understood by the lay-person. The enormous interplay between the various systems and organs of the body means that it is somewhat artificial to hope that taking hormonal supplements will correct any imbalance, without addressing the underlying causes. To take an example: a patient may have had a blood test and have been diagnosed with hypothyroidism, since the levels of thyroid hormone (T3) are low. But looking at the production of T3 in the body, we can see that the problem may lie anywhere in its manufacture – the hypothalamus, the pituitary, the thyroid and its enzymes, the adrenal glands and cortisol levels, the liver and its enzymes, the kidney and its enzymes, the cytokines network, the cell membrane, the mitochondria, the cell nuclear receptors, or iodine and protein supply. Why, then, is it assumed that a 'dose of thyroid hormone' will fix the underlying problem? Such a strategy may reduce symptoms, but not offer a longterm cure.

Another risk of hormonal supplementation is the down-regulation of the hormone glands – that is, they become lazy, since they are no longer responsible for keeping up the regular supply. Again, let’s take an example – the adrenal gland. The adrenal gland makes many hormones. It has two areas – the cortex and the medulla. The cortex produces, amongst other hormones, cortisol (hydrocortisone). Cortisol has many different effects on the body, but one of its actions is to resist stress and inflammation. The adrenal glands normally produce about 20-25mg cortisol per day. However, any kind of stress (physical, mental or emotional) causes the adrenal glands to increase their production as much as ten-fold, if necessary. Massive increases in secretion can occur within minutes. All well and good, but research has shown that administration of hydrocortisone in doses of ‘only’ 25mg-30mg daily, causes significant adrenal suppression. The problem arises when the body undergoes enormous stress and requires a huge increase in output to maintain life. Those with adrenal suppression fail to cope well. It is well known that anyone on long-term steroid therapy may need a ‘booster dose’ before any type of surgery. But how can we predict unexpected and sudden stress?

Hormone therapy rarely addresses the root causes of health problems.  Instead, it mainly treats symptoms whilst, at the same time, causing graver problems. Root causes can be the result of toxicity, stress, emotional imbalances, inadequate diet, candidiasis and so on. Only when the endocrine gland is irreparably damaged, does hormonal replacement attempt to address the causative factor.

The prescription of oestrogen and progesterone during menopause does not necessarily offer the solution. Menopause is not a disease, it is a natural stage in a woman’s life, and many women do well without hormonal replacement. Menopausal symptoms are often a sign of adrenal and/or thyroid imbalance. In some cases, the presence of heavy metals in the pituitary gland is responsible for the imbalance. 

Hormone replacement therapy can mask underlying problems, and may lead to more serious illness in the future.

The effects of progesterone and oestrogen on the tissues which nature intended them to ‘stimulate’, by definition, has an effect. Toxicity in the breast tissue causes mutations; couple this with stimulation of such tissue, and it is not difficult to see why hormones might play such an important role in carcinogenesis.

Valerie Beral, the Principal Investigator for the Million Women Study has shown that the use of Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) by women aged 50-64 years in the UK over the past decade has resulted in an estimated 20,000 extra breast cancers.   

It is impossible to provide the correct dosage of replacement hormones.  The body’s natural hormone secretion varies every minute of the day and night.  It depends on hundreds of factors such as lifestyle, diet, mental attitude, stressors, illnesses, (heavy metal) toxicity, the presence of xenoestogens in the environment, and many others. The substitution of a rigid routine for the delicate balancing act the body performs all day with its hormone secretion, is inviting problems. 

What about bio-identical hormones - are they toxic?  Let’s consider insulin.  Every physician is familiar with the care that must be used in administering insulin, even though modern insulin is technically a bio-identical hormone. Too much, or too little, can cause a fatal reaction. Oestrogens, cortisol, cortisone, progesterone, DHEA, pregnenelone and the others are all powerful substances and all have toxic effects when not produced inside the body - in just the right quantity, at just the right time.

Bio-identical hormones are not identical to the hormones produced by the body. It is not possible to duplicate the body’s complex hormone production system. It is a costly therapy.  The costs include: the hormones; repeated testing that is absolutely required to ‘prescribe them properly’, and; longer-term costs because one must usually stay on them for years.  Other hidden costs may be the damage they cause to the body.

There are some conditions, however, which do require hormonal treatment: these include diabetes, Addison’s disease, Grave’s disease and Hashimoto’s disease. In all these conditions, the gland itself is damaged. However, FCT has improved the condition of the endocrine organs in some of these conditions for some patients, to the degree that hormone replacement therapy has been reduced.

Academic references