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Does Hormone Replacement Therapy Affect Food Absorption?

I received this question from one of our corporate fitness clients last week and figured I’d answer in a blog post. The concern was whether or not hormone replacement therapies with things like estradiol and progesterone might impact food and nutrient absorption.

The direct answer is no but the subject warrants a little more in-depth discussion. For starters let’s look at the basics. Food and nutrient absorption is predicated on gastrointestinal system balances.

An individual’s ability or lack thereof to assimilate nutrients will be primarily determined by the health and function of the digestive system, including the liver.

There are several factors which will disrupt the function and balance of the digestive system. We’ll cover the most common causes of imbalances in this article for the sake of brevity.

Typically the digestive system becomes compromised due to a state of inflammation caused by a poor diet. Also compromise can occur after taking a round of antibiotics. This kills the healthy probiotics in the digestive tract.

On the diet side, consuming excess sugars and starches along with processed and refined foods (the standard American diet) results in the natural balance of microflora in the gut to become imbalanced.

In short, a build-up of metabolic waste and toxins builds up in the gastrointestinal tract and overburdens the liver. Tiny protruding “finger like” membranes in the gut called microvilli which help transport nutrients through the gastrointestinal tract wall become inflamed and allow toxins to enter the bloodstream.

This requires the liver to work overtime and the body reacts by secreting cortisol and antibodies as an immune system response. Make no mistake about it, the body senses a poor diet as physiological stress.

Common indicators of digestive system imbalances include bloating, lack of energy, irregular bowel movements, and general fatigue. Left unchecked and over time the yeast and fungal environment in the digestive tract can result in candida infections.

Without getting into a ton of detail on this, the reason I bring this all up is because…

A compromised digestive system can contribute to hormonal imbalances, especially with sex hormones.

This is definitely worth discussing!

It goes back to the idea of taking a holistic and “big picture” look at health and wellness. Far too often hormonal imbalances are looked at as being an isolated problem.

Let’s look at hormonal replacement therapies with sex hormones like testosterone, estradiol, progesterone, etc. Sometimes replacement therapies are called upon to simply bring back equilibrium with hormones that have attenuated due to age.

However, you can see androgen and other sex hormones drop before prematurely due to other factors like stress.

Why stress?

Because chronic stress, whether psychological or physiological, results in the adrenal glands working overtime to secrete cortisol. Over time the adrenal glands become weak and fatigued as they try and keep up cortisol production.

What in the world does this have to do with sex hormones?

Everything! It’s important to understand that most all hormones in the body are created from cholesterol, which converts to into pregnenolone as the first step.

Pregnenolone then goes on to produce estrogens, testosterone, progesterone, aldosterone, ALONG WITH the stress hormones including cortisol.

If the body demands cortisol all the time due to chronic stress, it will convert more of the pregnenolone to cortisol at the expense of sex hormones (all except progesterone which is on the pathway to cortisol). This is commonly referred to as “pregnenolone steal.” The end result is lowered levels of testosterone and estrogens in the body.

Eureka!  Did you get that?

You can experience hormonal imbalances with sex hormones due to chronic stress at any age! I’ve seen this with individuals as early as their twenties. It needs to be talked about more by physicians and health care practitioners because the solution to fixing hormonal imbalances isn’t always as simple as “taking additional hormone.”

Certainly, hormone replacement therapy can be an integral part of treatment, but addressing the root cause(s) of the imbalance is equally important.

To put it simply…why do you have an imbalance in the first place? It’s important to look at the entire endocrine system as a whole and not the sum of individual parts. The best approach is to simultaneously work on improving overall health and wellness.

Yes, this means detoxifying and cleansing the digestive tract, eating natural foods to support cellular rejuvenation and nutrient absorption, exercising regularly, getting adequate sleep, and of course managing stress.

You want to heal the body from the inside out and improve the health and function of digestive system, central nervous system, organs, and glands. By doing this you can assist your body with restoring natural balance with hormonal levels.

In a nutshell, you just can’t look at hormonal replacement therapies as a “magic bullet” and expect it to fix everything. An example would be trying to take additional testosterone due to an imbalance but failing to address chronic stress that’s compromising the adrenals. This would be like trying to pump air into a tire that’s got a hole in it.

Ok, so where does this leave us with hormonal replacement therapies and food/nutrient absorption?

As I mentioned earlier there’s no direct correlation with taking hormones and your ability to assimilate nutrients. However, you could be experiencing digestive system imbalances which DOES impact food and nutrient absorption. And digestive system imbalances as you now know can directly impact the production of sex hormones due to pregnenolone steal.

If you’re experiencing sex hormone imbalances I’d most definitely work on adjusting your diet to support gastrointestinal tract health. Listed below are the foods I’d look to minimize or eliminate from your diet depending on digestive system health.

-          Whole or refined grains including pasta, noodles, bread, and other wheat products.

-          Processed sugars and refined foods

-          Milk and soft cheeses

-          Sodas

-          Excess alcohol

Instead I’d look to consume mostly a Primal Blueprint based diet of lean proteins, vegetables, greens, fruits, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats.  In short, look to avoid food and drink that contributes to yeast overgrowth in the intestines.

I’d recommend increasing fiber intake by adding psyllium husk, flax seeds, etc, which will help to cleanse the digestive tract. Also increasing omega-3 fatty acid consumption (like fish oil) would be extremely beneficial in helping to reduce inflammation.

I know that was a long answer but hopefully it helps paint a bigger picture on this subject. If you have any questions feel free to leave your comments below. I’m always here to help in any way I can.

Shane Doll is a certified Charleston personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts Personal Training Studios. He specializes in helping people achieve a body transformation with burst training exercise and whole food nutrition. You can receive a FREE no-obligations trial of his Charleston personal fitness programs and start experiencing the Shaping Concepts difference today.

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Category: Hormones & Health.