Hormones and Health

Source: Wise Choices, Healthy Bodies: Diet for the Prevention of Women’s Diseases, by Sally Fallon and Mary Enig, PhD, Weston A. Price Foundation.

The female reproductive cycle is governed by two hormones–estrogen and progesterone. For a period of about two weeks, from the end of menses until ovulation, the ovaries secrete relatively large quantities of estrogen.

Estrogen stimulates new growth, more blood vessels and more nutritive supply to the endometrium, the lining of the uterus, thus preparing the womb for the implantation of the egg should fertilization take place. During the second phase, estrogen production decreases while progesterone, the other female hormone, increases.

Progesterone causes a decrease in the blood supply to the endometrium so that, if no fertilization occurs, the endometrium is expelled during menstruation, ten to fourteen days later.

The secretion of these hormones is cyclical and governed by complex factors, including other hormones from the thyroid, adrenal and pituitary glands. Thus, the entire endocrine system is involved and requires nourishment in order for the menses to occur with regularity and ease.

In order to produce estrogen and progesterone as required for the reproductive cycle, the body needs adequate amounts of cholesterol, because all the sex hormones are made from this vital substance. For this reason alone vegetarian diets for women are unwise as vegetarian diets will lower cholesterol.

Furthermore, in order to avoid animal fats, vegetarians are likely to consume large amounts of trans fatty acids found in "cholesterol-free" margarine, spreads and vegetable shortenings. There is considerable evidence that trans fatty acids interfere with reproduction,8 possibly because they disrupt the action of the P450 cytochrome enzyme systems needed for the conversion of progesterone into the various types of estrogens.9

Thyroid Function

The thyroid gland is intimately involved in the female reproductive cycle. As early as 1899, physicians were successfully treating menstrual and fertility problems with natural thyroid supplements.10

Dietary factors that contribute to healthy thyroid function include adequate protein and iodine (thyroid hormone is composed of iodine and tyrosine, a protein found in animal foods); trace elements such as iron, zinc and selenium (needed to prevent anemia and for key enzymes to make hormonal conversions); B vitamins, including B12; vitamin C; and, above all, adequate vitamin A from animal sources.11

Many substances in the modern diet depress thyroid function, including soy foods,12 fluoride13 and possibly even aspartame, the artificial sweetener found in nutrasweet.14 Pesticides and other pollutants may also depress thyroid function.

The condition of hypothyroidism is widespread. The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists estimates that 1 in 20 Americans or 13 million people are afflicted with thyroid disorder. Many researchers feel that this number reflects only the tip of the iceberg and that it is actually three or four times as high.

Thyroid disorders affect women more often than men and tend to flair up during middle and late middle age. Symptoms include weight gain, fatigue, headaches, constipation, cold hands and feet and depression, in addition to disorders of the reproductive system.

A surprising indication of thyroid disorder is high HDL, the so-called "good" cholesterol.15

Adequate thyroid function is particularly critical for women during their childbearing years. Children born to mothers with low thyroid function score lower in intelligence tests.16

The Fat-Soluble Activators

In his pioneering studies of isolated primitive peoples, Dr. Weston Price discovered that the diets of healthy population groups contained much higher levels of the fat-soluble vitamins A and D than the American population of his day.17

In fact, foods rich in these factors, such as butterfat from cows eating rapidly growing green grass, liver and other organ meats, cod liver oil, fish, shellfish and fish eggs, were considered important for reproductive health and great effort was expended to provide these foods to prospective parents, pregnant and nursing women and growing children.

Sadly, these are the very foods that women tend to avoid as they are seduced by the false promises of vegetarianism.

Modern medicine has largely ignored Price’s research, even though recent studies have provided a complete vindication of his findings. Vitamin A is now recognized to be essential for normal reproduction and endocrine function, particularly for a healthy thyroid gland. Adequate vitamin A during the growing years is necessary for sexual maturation.

Deficiencies in adolescent girls can result in infertility, excessive bleeding during menstruation, anemia and retarded growth.18 Vitamin A stores are depleted by stress, including the stress of pregnancy. Women in particular need to consume vitamin-A-rich foods including butter and cream from grass fed cows, eggs, liver and cod liver oil.

As for vitamin D, researchers now recommend 4000 IU vitamin D daily for optimum health, or ten times the current RDA.19 Vitamin D supports the production of estrogen and has been used successfully to treat PMS.20 Low levels of vitamin D are associated with menstrual migraines, infertility and breast cancer.21

Research is accumulating that indicates that vitamin D is essential for full reproductive function in both sexes.22 Food sources of vitamin D include cod liver oil, oily fish, shellfish and lard from pigs allowed to spend time in the sunlight.

Endometriosis and Menorrhagia

Endometriosis occurs when the endometrium does not slough off normally at menstruation. It is usually accompanied by menorrhagia (heavy bleeding), severe menstrual cramps, and pain with defecation, intercourse and even ovulation.

In severe cases the endometrium or lining of the uterus migrates to other sites such as the intestines and the bladder. The islands of the endometrium cause pain when they go through the cycle of menses and bleed as if they were normal uterine tissue. Cysts and fibroid tumors are common side effects.

It is thought that endometriosis and related disorders are associated with a disruption in the estrogen-progesterone cycle, resulting in high levels of estrogen and low levels of progesterone. In monkeys, exposure to dioxin, which is an estrogen-like compound, resulted in moderate to severe endometriosis.23 In horses, endometrial fibrosis has been treated successfully with dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO), which is approved for use in animals but not in humans.24

Orthodox treatment includes estrogen-blocking drugs, such as Danocrine, and laser treatment of the endometrium. Unfortunately Danocrine can provoke many side effects, including weight gain, fatigue, dizziness, headaches, acne, increased facial hair, pelvic and back pain, breast problems, cramps, hot flashes, depression, rashes and allergies.

When laser treatment is not successful, the only remaining surgical option is hysterectomy. In fact, the leading cause of hysterectomy is excessive bleeding, often associated with endometriosis.

Most popular books on endometriosis warn patients not to eat animal foods such as butter, liver and eggs because these contain arachidonic acid, a long-chain fatty acid which serves as the substrate for localized tissue hormones–called prostaglandins–that provoke inflammation.

Actually endometriosis is not really an inflammation of the type that occurs after an injury; and arachidonic acid also serves as the substrate for prostaglandins that counteract inflammation.25 The irony–actually the tragedy–of this advice is that animal foods like butter, liver and eggs are excellent sources of vitamin A.

And endometriosis and excessive bleeding respond very well to vitamin A therapy. In South Africa, vitamin A has been used as standard practice for the treatment of menorrhagia (excessive bleeding) since 1977 with a 92 percent cure rate!26

Virtually every popular book dealing with women’s health contains fundamental misinformation on vitamin A, asserting that vitamin A from animal foods is toxic and recommending carotenes from plant sources instead.

Typical of the confusion about vitamin A is this statement from a book on endometriosis: "Vitamin A taken too enthusiastically can be toxic, since it is stored in the liver. Beta-carotene, however, is not converted into vitamin A unless the body requires it, and you cannot suffer from toxic levels of it."27

Actually natural vitamin A from cod liver oil and other animal sources is not toxic except in very large amounts. The liver is exquisitely designed to store vitamin A so that this vital nutrient is available in times of scarcity. Many conditions prevent the conversion of beta-carotenes into true vitamin A, including low thyroid function; and even individuals who convert beta-carotene easily cannot obtain optimum amounts from plant foods.28

Finally, both synthetic vitamin A and synthetic beta-carotenes can be toxic.29 Yet books on women’s health usually recommend supplements containing the synthetic forms.

Calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, potassium, iron and good quality protein are all recommended for endometriosis and related conditions. Yet the body cannot absorb these minerals and protein without adequate amounts of natural, animal sources of vitamin A and D in the diet.

Iron deficiency is a critical problem for women suffering from heavy bleeding but iron cannot be absorbed without adequate vitamin A.30 Many women have reported that bleeding worsened when iron was given without supplementation with vitamin A.