More and more, women are appreciating the benefits of hormone replacement. They understand the need to replenish the primary messengers in their body — messengers that communicate the commands of the brain to the rest of the body. With advancing age, losing our hormone messengers translates into less health and more disease, as the brain struggles to coordinate and manage everything from cellular metabolism and energy creation to brain function and immune responses. At a time when women should be enjoying life to the fullest, they often become troubled with symptoms like hot flashes, depression, and insomnia. But the answer is simple: Replenish those dwindling hormone messengers. Women who do this report fewer troubling symptoms. And this is why hormone replacement is now considered mainstream and women in their 30s, 40s, and 50s are reaping the benefits of bioidentical hormone prescriptions. Hot flashes become manageable, depression clears, and sleep returns. If you’re one of the few women not taking hormones, talk to your doctor about their benefits and whether they can help you feel better and live healthier. But let’s discuss women who do take hormones. There’s a curious thing that happens, usually around one-to-two years into a hormone regimen: The hormones often stop working! Hot flashes become unpredictable and hard to manage once again, not to mention the return of mood swings and sleep problems. Has this happened to you? If so, maybe we can help.
Start with the Basics: Application, Compliance, and Evaluation
For starters, make sure you’re taking your hormones correctly. Hormone creams are best applied to areas of the skin with fat underneath. So areas under the arms, the inner thighs, and over the triceps are good places. It’s also a wise strategy to rotate the areas where you apply the cream. For instance, on the first day apply the cream to the right inner thigh. On day two, switch to the left inner thigh. Day three, rotate to the triceps. Continue to rotate for as long as you use the hormone cream. This should help to prevent skin resistance to the hormone, which can diminish absorption. If you’re taking pills, simply be as compliant as possible. In my experience with any sort of pill, compliance is only around 75%. This means that one quarter of the time, we forget to take our medicine. Finally, get tested before and during hormone replacement. Your hormone levels should be evaluated at least one-to-two times a year to adjust dosage and avoid an imbalance. Now, if you’re doing all of the above correctly, a very specific reason might be responsible for the return of your symptoms … your liver.
Liver Congestion May Reduce Hormone Effectiveness
With the environmental toxins we absorb, the excess sugar and fat we consume, and the medications we take, the liver can easily become congested. When this occurs, the liver has trouble performing its functions — one of them being hormone metabolism. In a sense, the liver acts as a hormone processor, manufacturing some hormones and regulating some hormone levels, and directing various hormones to perform their proper function in other parts of the body. But when the liver becomes congested, it may not be able to process and metabolize hormones as quickly or efficiently as it should. This can result in less effective hormone therapy and hormone imbalances. Take estrogen as an example. We are gaining new insight into how estrogens are metabolized and the effects of that metabolism. Researchers have found that estrogens break down into estrogen metabolites that have varying levels of estrogenic activity. A congested liver can accumulate metabolites with less effectiveness, rendering your hormone prescription useless.
Support & Protect Your Liver
Let’s begin with daily support of liver function. Milk thistle is perfect for this job because of its liver-support properties that come from its antioxidant activity. It inhibits the free radicals that are produced from the metabolism of toxic substances. The generation of free radicals is known to damage the membranes of liver cells — leaving the cells non-functional. Milk thistle works by increasing the liver cells’ production of glutathione, one of the most powerful human antioxidants.1
Milk thistle has also been shown to cause a slight increase in the survival of patients with alcohol-induced cirrhosis of the liver when compared to untreated cirrhosis patients.1
For a synergistic effect, we suggest adding artichoke leaf extract. In an animal study,2
researchers wanted to test the protective effects of artichoke leaf extract against toxin-induced liver damage. All the rats in the study were exposed to a specific liver toxin; however, some were pre-treated with artichoke leaf extract. Rats that were exposed to the toxin but not pre-treated with artichoke leaf extract suffered marked liver damage as noted by significant increases in liver enzymes and areas of necrosis (cell death). Their liver cell antioxidant levels also dropped as well. However, rats that were pre-treated with artichoke leaf extract were protected from the toxin and maintained normal liver enzymes and antioxidant levels. These results suggest that artichoke leaf extract may protect liver cells during detox processes, allowing the liver to function optimally.
Getting Back on “Hormone” Track
Achieving and maintaining an optimal balance among the body’s vital hormone messengers is critical to ensuring lifelong health and well-being. But replenishing them through creams and pills is not enough. The liver needs help metabolizing hormones and keeping them in balance — especially if your symptoms are making a comeback. Getting back on track and reducing symptoms begins with the basics — application, compliance, and evaluation — and ends with supporting and protecting your liver.
World J Hepatol. 2014 Mar 27;6(3):144-9.
Pharm Biol. 2014 Sep 22:1-7.