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The Mystery of "Messed-up Hormones"

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Meet Mia. Mia is a delightful young married woman, 23 years old. She came to our clinic with her mother seeking help for what she called “raging hormones.” I asked her to explain.

“Ever since I was about 15 my hormones have been messed up. I had terrible menstrual cramping. If I loaded up on ibuprofen I could go to school. Otherwise I’d have to stay in bed for 3 days. I was always grouchy just before my periods.”

Her mother added that nobody could stand her during that week before her period would start. Ever since then she was the “PMS Queen.”

I inquired as to whether there were any other health problems in her teen years. “Well, not really, except for the acne.”

As it turns out, she had bad acne since she started her periods when she was 13. After two years of different acne prescriptions from the dermatologist, the family doctor decided to put Mia on birth control pills. At 15. This was fairly helpful in controlling her acne. But soon thereafter the PMS set in, and she started the cramping during her periods. Her dark side started showing up.

“Ever had any of those things before you started on the Pill?” I asked.

“No,” was the simple answer.

I then asked, “I don’t suppose you gained any weight after that?”

They both almost gasped. That happened to be when she started putting on all the fat around her waist. 

It took us about 6 months to get Mia’s hormones regulated again. Taking the birth control pills had totally upset her hormonal applecart. At 23, she was what we call “estrogen dominant.” Way too much estrogen (from the Pill) and not nearly enough progesterone. Too much estrogen can make women “The Wicked Witch of the West.” Just ask her husband, although she would have been the first one to admit it. The estrogen kept her on edge all the time. 

“In case your doctor didn’t tell you when you went on the Pill, it’s very lipogenic for about 70% of the girls that go on it. That means, Mia, that it will cause you to gain fat on your body.”

So what did we do for Mia? Progesterone. Twice daily in a topical cream. Almost immediately she calmed down. Her moods were much better, and her periods normalized in about 3 months. I also suggested she change from the Pill to a regular IUD (one with no hormones in it!) and she did fine after that. The blood tests also revealed that she was somewhat low in thyroid. We put her on a little natural thyroid (never Synthroid!). Her energy levels went up which meant that her metabolism had kicked in. That extra 15 pounds she could never get rid of? Gone.

Hormone balancing is the key here. Birth control of any kind involving hormones will unbalance a woman in less than 3 months. Too much estrogen or synthetic progesterone will suppress thyroid function, which is why so many women who start birth control will: 1) gain weight, 2) often get acne, and 3) go into an emotion tailspin (great way for newlyweds to start a marriage!).

Here’s the problem: I see many patients who come into our clinic taking one hormone. For example, many are taking just thyroid, which should not be taken alone if your adrenal glands are weak. And a woman should never be taking any type of estrogen alone. Progesterone must always be given with it (a fact that many doctors don’t pay attention to). Taking one isolated hormone to fix a problem can often cause more problems, so it needs to be done carefully. All the hormones in a woman’s body work together and rely on each other for proper function. If one is low, it can affect all the others.

Imagine sitting at a piano keyboard and playing the same one note over and over again, when there is a full keyboard in front of you. One note does not a pretty song make! So it is with hormones: using one without all the others working will not a happy woman make.

What to do? Go to your doctor and discuss getting all your hormones tested. If the doctor hesitates, he or she may not be the one that could help. If you think you may have some hormonal issues, try going to utahwellnessinstitute.com and take the online hormone wellness test. It’s a quick way of assessing your hormone levels. If you score high on several of the tests, you need to have further testing done. It will be worth it, especially if you don’t want to spend the rest of your life wondering why life so easily and quickly passed you by.

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Dr. Robert Jones is the Clinic Director at the Utah Wellness Institute in Draper, Utah. (801.576.1155)