By Mike Mahler
For several years now, my great interest has been hormone levels and how to fine-tune their balancing act. What I’ve learned over the years has benefited not only myself, but also my customers. I’ve been candid with my studies and personal experiences along the way but less well-known is that I began my investigation into hormonal balancing for personal reasons. I’m now 35 years old with the hormonal profile of a healthy eighteen-year-old. My mood is upbeat; my experience of life intense, my training gains are solid and my sex drive is optimal. I’m not boasting; I tell you this because what I learned–and recommend–works. It works for me and will work for you as well. It took many years of private research and testing to get where I am now but not too long ago things were much different for me.
Back in 2000 I experienced many of the signs and symptoms of andropause, i.e., my sex drive was low; my mood was poor; my zeal for life was so non-existent that I was (allegedly) spotted watching a Sex in the City marathon–just kidding! Fortunately, my estrogen levels have never been that high! Both undesirable–and avoidable–andropause is all the same considered normal for men in their fifties. But I was only twenty-eight! Unfortunately, I was far from alone: I have many chronologically young male and female clients whose hormone levels would be unhealthy for men and women in their fifties. Epidemiologically, this problem is becoming more widespread for reasons beyond the scope of this article.
Eventually, I got tired of being tired and decided to take charge of my health and my life. It was a frustrating start as I realized how few health professionals genuinely understood hormone optimization. The advice I received was generally trivial–and in some cases irrational and dangerous. Most “experts” offered to sugar coat my symptoms rather than determine any root causes. The more I talked to these “experts” the more I realized I needed to resolve this problem on my own.
The essential factor in optimizing hormones is your ability to handle stress. The ability to handle stress and the ability to experience happiness are one and the same. Studies indicate that people with a naturally high stress threshold also display an inherent predisposition for happiness. Denying stress and running on adrenaline (which is what I’d been doing) will only get you so far. Eventually, you’ll crash, and when you crash, you’ll burn. Make no mistake, the stress hormone, cortisol, must be within reasonable range to optimize your hormones and thus feel great. Keep this in mind: too little cortisol is just as bad–if not worse–than too much cortisol. Humans require stress to thrive and reach our full potential; however, too much stress, and its attendant hormone, cortisol, will degrade us…and there are no exceptions to this rule. Too much cortisol cannibalizes the sex hormones, such as pregnenelone, and in turn DHEA, androstendione, and finally, testosterone.
Another critical component in natural hormone optimization is maintaining insulin levels within ideal ranges. Without adequate insulin, our cells literally starve and our bodies die. This is why type-1 diabetics must self-administer insulin injections. A type-1 diabetic is unable to generate insulin and must have an external source or die. On the other hand, too much insulin production (due to insulin resistance) leads to type-2 diabetes and cellular degeneration. Fortunately, type-2 diabetes can be both avoided and reversed with diet modification.
Insulin levels within the optimal range are balanced with the hormone glucagon. Protein provides the body what it needs to make glucagon, so a simple rule of thumb is to eat protein and carbs at every meal. (There’s no need for precise ratios, just be sure to eat protein with every meal and you’ll be fine.) Further, have a healthy fat with every meal. While fat has neither negative nor positive effect on insulin response, it’s a critical component in overall hormone production and the body requires fats to produce the sex hormones, such as DHEA and testosterone. Long term low-fat dieting, not surprisingly, results in low levels of critical sex hormones.
At this point, you may wonder why insulin is the foundation of overall hormone optimization? I’ve explained the role it plays in maintaining life itself and why it mustn’t be too low, but let’s see what happens when insulin is too high.
The reason people gain fat from high carbohydrate consumption is because of the insulin spike that follows any high carbohydrate meal. When you eat a significant amount of carbohydrate (such as a bowl of pasta) your blood glucose levels go through the roof, requiring a compensatory surge of insulin to bring that glucose back down within normal range. Time after time, meal after meal, the consequence is poor body composition, e.g., excess body fat stores, poor mood and poorer health. Excess insulin production resulting from dietary carbohydrate increases body fat, which in turn compromises sex hormone manufacture and metabolism. The fatter you are, the more estrogen receptors you’ll have, which reduces the cellular access to testosterone. This is why you can’t utilize extra testosterone, no matter how much you are making (or supplementing) if insulin is not properly managed.
In short, insulin must be balanced with glucagon. Insulin drives nutrients into cells for storage, while glucagon mobilizes cellular energy stores to circulate in the blood stream on demand. High insulin levels block the release of glucagon, which, among other chores, is critical for brain function.
Excess insulin in the body indicates excess calories, in particular, carbohydrate. Worse, the more carbohydrate you eat, the more free radicals are produced in the digestive process, compromising the immune system. Overly high insulin levels also call on cortisol as a backup, which leads to excess cortisol production. Remember, excess cortisol destroys the desirable hormones: testosterone, DHEA, and human growth hormone. Adding cortisol into this game increases insulin resistance by indirectly increasing insulin production. This is because the pancreas pumps out more insulin to lower the cortisol. As if that weren’t bad enough, prolonged excess cortisol eventually destroys the cortisol sensitive cells in the brain. This is why more and more research is linking Alzheimer’s disease to lifelong excess cortisol.
Because of continual elevated cortisol production, the condition of insulin resistance results in decreased levels of other, beneficial, hormones. The master hormone, pregnenelone, opts between making DHEA, progesterone, or cortisol but when glucagon levels are inadequate the body must opt for survival rather than thriving. Consequently, pregnenelone does not go to DHEA and progesterone production, thus DHEA doesn’t convert to androstendione and our theoretical (at this point) androstendione never converts to testosterone. This cascade of failure illustrates why trying to increase any single hormone before managing the play of insulin and glucagon is ineffective and a waste of your supplement budget.
But what happens when you clean up and lock in your diet, master stress levels and train hard with adequate recovery time? Well, in my case, when given the opportunity to optimize themselves, my hormones adjusted themselves into not only adequate, but ideal ranges.
In fact, my last saliva test showed my androstendione, progesterone, DHEA, DHT and testosterone all in upper high/normal ranges. I’m thirty-five with the hormone profile of a healthy eighteen year old male and I’ve achieved this through diet modification, hard training and a few key supplements, primarily Magnesium Oil magnesium oil information and zinc citrate. Additionally, I have a solid restoration program, assuring I thoroughly recover from training and any accumulated lifestyle stressors, keeping cortisol levels within appropriate range.
The subject of hormone optimization is complex, but its core is the proper balance of insulin and cortisol. When insulin and cortisol are managed, the secondary sex hormones, such as estrogen and testosterone, will sort themselves out. This is a top-down approach to optimizing hormones. Provide foundational nutrition with diet and supplementation, create the crucial physical demands with a meaningful fitness program and manage your sensory inputs by filtering out the garbage information all around you.
Where do you go from here?
Have protein, fat, and carbs at every meal, including post-workout shakes. You’ll have to experiment to determine the ideal ratio for you. A good place to start is 30% protein, 40% carbs, and 30% fat. You needn’t perfect the ratios to benefit, just eat all three macronutrients with every meal.
Get all food from organic real food sources.
Get all carbs from fruits and veggies
Address emotional issues, such as childhood traumas. If you fail to do this, hormones will never balance. Ask me how I know
Meditate 20 minutes daily. This is beneficial any time of day but has particular benefits after workouts and before bedtime
Take charge of your life and the responsibility that comes with it
Incorporate intense cardio training, such as interval sprints, into your routine
Engage in heavy weight training with short breaks (60-80% of your one rep max with 60-second breaks) Focus on compound movements
Use Ancient Minerals Magnesium Oil before bedtime and take 30mg of zinc every morning. More info on magnesium oil at: magnesium oil information
The Anti-aging Zone, by Barry Sears Ph.D
Great info on diet and hormone levels; however, I don’t agree with his conclusion that intense exercise is bad for you. Neither do I think you need to follow his 30-40-30 diet plan nor eat five times per day. www.thezonediet.com
The Anti-estrogenic Diet, by Ori Hofmekler
Great information on how to lower estrogen and increase liver health via diet.
Ageless, by Suzanne Sommers
Great compilation of interviews with doctors as well as Suzanne’s own take on hormones.
The Testosterone Syndrome, by Eugene Shippen, M.D.
Very good overview on the importance of testosterone for men as well as the pros and cons of hormone replacement.
Maximum Male Performance, by Dr William Wong, N.D. Ph.D. www.docsprefer.com
The Miracle Of Bio-Identical Hormones, by Michael E Platt, M.D.
Good review of the pros and cons of bio-identical hormones containing several case studies.