(Article by Goran “Jason” Olderoy – Naturopath)
Anyone over the age of 14 has experienced the powerful effects hormones have on your body. Hormones can completely change the way you feel, the way you look and, the way you age.
How to maintain and boost our hormonal functions
Hormones are chemical messengers that stimulate cellular functions. As we age our hormonal system weakens and our vibrant health and youthfulness diminishes with it.
Hormones are secreted by our endocrine glands (adrenals, pancreas, thyroid, pituitary and thymus) then are circulated via the blood. They then stimulate cells through receptor sites found on cell walls, inside cells and deep into the DNA where they activate gene expression. This stimulation of cellular function makes hormones one of the most powerful effectors on our health, and as they decline (which many do as we age) we experience a decline in cellular stimulation, leading to decreases in –
- energy (metabolism)
- tissue regeneration,
- general health
Human Growth Hormone, Testosterone and DHEA
Human Growth Hormone, Testosterone and DHEA, are youth promoting longevity hormones that strengthen, stimulate and rejuvenate the tissues of the body. These hormones are termed “markers of age” – Meaning that amounts produced steadily drop throughout life and a person’s age can be indicated by levels in the blood.
The decrease in these rejuvenating hormones starts to affect us around the age of 30, and then steadily through passing years the symptoms of ageing start to take hold. This decline in hormone production gradually accelerates until at age 70 where they drop to around 80% less than in youth. Poor lifestyle and eating habits can accelerate this decline in hormone production, and with our modern, sedentary, nutrient deficient and stress filled lives, hormonal imbalances are becoming more and more apparent, and more and more is needed to be done to enhance and balance hormones for people to maintain happy and healthy lives. For this reason many people are looking at hormonal supplementation to stave off the ageing process. But there are also many natural (and probably safer) means of boosting your body’s own production of HGH, testosterone and DHEA.
How to maximize hormonal production
Human Growth Hormone HGH
A powerful youth promoting hormone, and as the name suggests, it stimulates growth and regeneration of tissues.
Elevating human growth hormone can slow and even reverse many of the effects of ageing, by rejuvenating damaged and weakened tissues.
HGH’s stimulating effect on tissue growth and repair negates much of the normal wear and tear of living, keeping our skin thick and smooth, our muscles and joints strong and our organs functioning at full capacity. HGH Is produced in the pituitary gland (located in the centre of the brain), its highest production is in childhood at about 2000 micrograms daily and gradually decreases till it is at 100 micrograms at age 70. It is around the age of forty that we start to experience some signs of lowered HGH, though deterioration of tissues would have already begun around the age of thirty. With less HGH, damaged cells are replaced less frequently and our tissues start to weaken and shrink, leading to a lessening of organ function i.e. eyes, brain, liver, bones etc.
Human growth hormone increases:
- Metabolism (One of the main reasons behind middle age drift)
- Vision, Cognition (memory, concentration),
- Collagen synthesis (aiding in skin thickness and therefore decreasing the onset of wrinkles and skin sagging)
- Muscle mass (muscle wasting is common sign of ageing)
- Bone density
HGH is decreased with
Poor sleep quality and quantity – The pituitary’s release of human growth hormone is greatest during deep sleep, getting a good eight hours of sleep a night is essential for optimum HGH production – we usually get about 4 hours deep sleep during eight hours of sleep time unless sleep is disrupted.
Factors that decrease sleep quality:
- Caffeine- decreases our sleep drive and lead to wakefulness.
- Alcohol –decreases your ability to reach and maintain a deep sleep
- Stress – increases cortisol production leading to wakefulness.
Carbohydrates (excess) – Sugars and carbohydrates increase insulin, and Insulin low ers HGH, so eating sugar rich foods or too much carbohydrates can elevate insul in levels and drop HGH levels. Your best sugar intake is in whole fruits eaten with some protein or fats (nuts are best) and carbohydrates are best eaten be fore exercise.
Long term stress– Our hormonal system responds to our needs if we are under long term stress, the production of the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol will be preferred over the production of regenerating and building hormones – HGH, testosterone and DHEA. Treat stress with exercise and relaxation. Exercise can burn up excess adrenaline, boost serotonin and help with sleep quality.
Age – HGH declines with age.
Caffeine– increases stress hormone production therefore decreasing HGH production.
Alcohol– As well as affecting sleep quality alcohol directly affects HGH release and blocks the effectiveness of HGH stimulants.
HGH is increased with
Sleep As mentioned above sleep quality and quantity is essential for maintaining good HGH levels.
Short term stress as opposed to long term stress is beneficial. Short term stress invigorates the body triggering it to grow stronger and hence produce HGH. It is important to challenge ourselves, not only physically, but mentally and emotionally as well.
Exercise – When we exercise we are stimulating the body to grow stronger, the body responds to exercise by strengthening and building muscles/tissues/bones that have been put under stress; to do this HGH is produced. HGH is particularly stimulated when we exercise the larger muscle groups of the body (legs and gluts).
For maximum HGH production we want to exercise our legs to fatigue 2-4 times a week. The body will produce HGH for 2 hours after exercise. This is also a good time to take natural supplements (Listed below) that can further increase HGH production Note: Having sugar and carbohydrates after exercise decreases HGH production.
Protein– Stimulates pituitary release of HGH so it is essential to have at least two protein meals daily to maximize HGH production, it is also good to snack on protein rich foods like nuts between meals rather than sugar carb based ones like dry fruit/ muesli bars. Taking a good protein supplement like undenatured whey protein isolate especially after exercise ensures a good broad spectrum of amino acids is made available for the body so you get the most out of your exercise.
Amino acids – Two of the most effective and clinically tested supplements for stimulating HGH production are the amino acids Arginine and Ornithine. Though these amino acids are available in foods, to get the levels needed for HGH stimulation the supplemental free form amino acids are essential. Free form amino acids are directly absorbed into the blood allowing for much higher levels than can be at- tained from diet alone.
Note: Arginine is also best taken with lysine for HGH stimulation. Other amino acids reputed to stimulate HGH production are – Glutamine and the branch chain amino acids- leucine, iso-leucine and valine.
Tribulus terestos– A herb that has been used for centuries in China, India and the east- ern European countries for disorders related to hormonal deficiencies. It is regarded as the number one herb for fertility and libido enhancement. It has also been used by professional athletes as a muscle builder and for improving athletic abilities.
Mucuna pruriens– This Ayurvedic herb from India has a high potential for stimulat- ing HGH as it contains very high levels of a natural form of L-Dopa, L-Dopa is a direct stimulator of HGH as well as a precursor to dopamine. Dopamine blocks somatropin a substance in the brain that decreases HGH produc- tion. Somatropin increases as we age.
Testosterone invigorates, stimulates and strengthens the body, it is important for drive, motivation and mental focus. Though testosterone is thought of as a male hormone it is essential for maintaining vital health in both genders. Deficient levels can lead to decreases in energy, metabolism and sex drive for both men and women. Lowered testosterone levels in men are showing at younger ages and women’s testosterone is often over looked, so if you are experiencing unexplained fatigue, weight gain or low libido it may be associated with low testosterone and might be worth getting your testosterone levels tested.
The Benefits of Testosterone
- Increases muscle mass
- Promotes fat burning
- Improves mental faculties
- Improves eye sight
- Increases sex drive
- Improves energy
- Helps recovery from exercise
- Improves drive and motivation
- Increased levels of testosterone also stimulates HGH production
To increase/maintain testosterone levels naturally we use the same guide lines as HGH, with a few alterations.
Things that block testosterone production –
Excessive protein– Though protein will stimulate testosterone pro- duction, too much can do the complete opposite, so having large protein meals and excessive protein supplementation can be counterproductive.
Too much exercise– Over exercise weakens the adrenals, elevates stress hormones, leads to muscle breakdown and increased in- flammation. What too much exercise is, varies for everyone, so talk to your trainer and listen to your body.
Excess body fat – This is a catch 22, as increased body fat lowers testosterone and testosterone is essential for fat metabolism. This can become a vicious cycle that needs to be tackled from both ends to be controlled.
Starvation diets – These quick fix low calorie diets are very disrup- tive to the system and end up decreasing metabolism. Even though they may work for short term weight loss in the long run they can increase weight gain- one step forward two steps back!
Tobacco smoking – inhibits the production of Testosterone (by causing the destruction of Leydig Cells that normally produce Testosterone).
Increasing testosterone naturally
Healthy fats—The body needs fats to make hormones. Nuts and
seeds are your best option here.
Zinc is an important mineral for testosterone production. As zinc is
very low in Australian soils and is depleted with caffeine and al- cohol, it is important to have regular zinc rich foods in your diet. Pepitas, meats, beans and oysters.
Damiana – One of the most potent testosterone enhancing herbs (after tribulus)
Damiana comes from central south American where it has been used as a sexual and fertility tonic by traditional tribes and in modern herbal medicine has become one of the most widely used herbs for boosting libido in both men and women.
Tribulus– (as mentioned above) this herb is the most commonly pre- scribed herb by naturopaths for elevating testosterone. Tribulus is extensively used by athletes and body builders for improved muscle strength and stamina.
Mucuna pruriens– stimulates testosterone as well as HGH
Ginsengs– all types of ginseng aid in testosterone production.
Fenugreek – stimulates testosterone through increasing luteinizing hormone. Luteinizing hormone stimulates testosterone production.
Nettle root– inhibits Sex Hormone Binding Globulin SHBG, SHBG deactivates testosterone so even someone with high levels of testosterone can show signs of low levels when SHBG is too high.
Oats – same as nettle root increases free testosterone levels.
Garlic – increases luteinizing hormone through the action of Diallyl Disulfide.
DHEA has been described as a panacea with almost miraculous qualities for healing and longevity. Many studies have shown that DHEA has a very broad and positive effect on our physiology and that people with naturally high levels of DHEA are longer lived and have few diseases than those with less DHEA.
DHEA levels are lower in people with chronic illnesses like cancer, heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.
The reverse is true for people with higher levels of DHEA, with some studies showing these people having a 50% decrease in life threatening diseases.
DHEA is produced primarily in the adrenal glands and is termed “the mother hormone” as it is the reserve hormone other hormones can be made from, but this is not the only reason why DHEA has such profound health benefits, DHEA also has many functions of its own.
Increasing DHEA has been associated with:
- Increased energy
- Fat loss
- Decreased appetite
- Increased muscle mass
- Improved moods
- Enhanced immunity
- Boosted libido
- Increased memory and concentration.
Low DHEA levels have been associated with:
- Moodiness (especially menstrual)
- Chronic fatigue
- Weight gain
- Lowered sex drive
- General Weakness
Health benefits of DHEA
Immunity- DHEA is a potent immune enhancer, so much so that it has been used for the treatment of both cancer and AIDS.
Stress adaptation– DHEA protects us from the negative effects of stress , one way it does this is by decreasing cortical which in high levels can catabolize tissues.
Mood enhancer– Studies have shown that people with higher DHEA have better mental capacity under stress and have a more positive outlook on life.(the brain requires DHEA to function).
Fat burner– DHEA blocks G6PD (glucose-6-phosphate- dehydrogenase) which is an enzyme that promotes the pro- duction of adipose (fat) tissue.
Cardiovascular health – studies have shown that there is a decrease in heart disease with elevated levels of DHEA (though excessive levels have shown the opposite- therefore the need of prudence in hormonal supplementation. Always seek professional advice before supplementing with hormones).
DHEA is decreased with
Age – By age 80, our bodies produce only 10 percent of the DHEA
produced at age 20.
Stress is the major player in the lowering of DHEA. This is largely due to the fact that the production of the stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline, are prioritized over the production of DHEA. Chronic stress can drop DHEA levels by 60%. Anything that increases the stress response can therefore has DHEA lowing capacities, such as drugs like caffeine, cigarettes, alco- hol and marijuana.
High cortisol levels– Cortisol is antagonistic to DHEA production.
High carbohydrate diet– Carbohydrates increase insulin levels and Insulin decreases DHEA.
Insomnia – Elevates insulin and cortisol therefore lowering DHEA Synthetic hormone supplementation- especially the pill.
Mineral deficiency– Minerals are essential for hormone production; magnesium is particularly important which is depleted by caffeine alcohol and stress.
Chronic disease – Chronic diseases can drop DHEA by 70%. Over exercise and Over work- once again related to the over stimulation of cortical production by the adrenal glands.
DHEA is increased with
Exercise– High impact exercise- weight training, interval training.
Note: Sustained cardiovascular exercise does not increase DHEA.
Low calorie diet (proven for enhancing longevity).
Eating healthy fats ( Only if you are deficient) – needed for production of hormones.
Low carbohydrate diet- For controlling insulin
Stress control- meditation/yoga
AS DHEA is the most abundant hormone created by the adrenal glands, adrenal support is the most important step to take to main- tain adequate DHEA production.
Adrenal support– As with HGH and Testosterone avoiding stimulants, sugar and excess stress as well as ensuring good sleep pat- terns and exercise is the first steps to take to support adrenal function. Vit C, B5, B6 and magnesium are all essential for adrenal func- tion as are proteins and healthy fats. A well rounded diet containing unprocessed whole foods should contain sufficient amounts of these for normal adrenal function but if there is use of stimulants and excessive stress, supplemental support may be needed (check with your health care professional).
Traditional foods for adrenal support
- Nuts and seeds—especially almonds, brazil nuts and walnuts.
- Bee Pollen
- Eggs and butter
- Beans (well cooked)
- Meats (all)
- Organ meats
- Black pepper
- Cooked food (esp. soups and stews).
For under functioning adrenals my favorite has always been to use herbal medicines.
I have found the adaptogenic herbs (Increase the body’s ability to adapt to stressors) from the oriental medicine traditions to be the most powerful adrenal restoratives. (In Chinese medicine adapto- genic herbs are the most important herbs to use for longevity).
Adaptogenic herbs for adrenal support
Ginsengs – All ginsengs are recognized as powerful adaptogenic herbs that promote vitality and longevity. Trials have shown positive effects of ginseng supplementation on cardiovascular health, diabetes, immunity, athletic performance, energy and cognition.
Withania – Know as Indian ginseng. Withania is the chief rejuvenating tonic in Ayurvedic medicine. Studies have shown it to be the most potent herb for increasing DHEA. Withania strengthens the body, improves energy but at the same time it also alleviates stress ( one of the primary herbs used by Naturopaths for anxiety) – lowering cortisol and enhancing DHEA.
Astragalus– The most commonly used Chinese herb for building adaptive Qi energy. Astragalus is the choice adaptogenic herb for improving immune function and is used in by herbalists for both prevention and recovery from illness as it restores energy after illness or prolonged stress.
Macca – Known as Peruvian ginseng. Macca stimulates both the ad- renal and the pituitary glands helping to stimulate and balance the whole endocrine system. Traditionally used as a reproductive re- storative and energy promoter.
Cordycepts– A highly revered and very potent mushroom Cordy- cepts is a powerful builder of life essence. It is said to enforce the will and vitalize the whole body. Chinese Olympic athletes used this mushroom to improve athletic ability.
Taking care of your endocrine system may be the most important step you take for maintaining and improving your health, especially if you are under prolonged stress and/or use stimulants. There are many other factors to consider for promoting longevity, these I will address in future articles where I will discuss the importance of controlling the aging effects of oxidation and inflammation; nutrients and mineralization for life and vitality; liver detoxification and chemical defense; digestive health for longevity and vitality.
Jason Olderoy is a holistic health practitioner with diplomas in Naturopathy, Nutrition and Herbal medicine.