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How to Optimize Hormone Receptor Health

iStock-1171856700The endocrine system and the nervous system are intricately linked. Hormone imbalance, a.k.a “endocrine disorder,” can also present as neurological problems such as headaches, myopathy, and even a coma. For this reason, a thorough understanding of the endocrine system, including hormone receptors and how to optimize hormone health, can provide essential information for overall well being.

In this article, we’ll explore hormone receptor health, the underlying mechanisms, and how to boost hormone receptor health naturally. 

What Does a Hormone Receptor Do?

Hormones can affect the functioning of cells, including altering DNA expression, and are found circulating in the blood throughout the body. Hormones are chemical messengers produced by one of the eight endocrine glands that trigger a cascade of chemical reactions which relay information when they bind to their target receptor. 

The receptors are proteins that can be found on the surface of cells, or in some cases, intracellularly. Fat-soluble hormones can bind to both internal and external receptors, while water-soluble hormones only bind to external receptors. A hormone can only bind to a specific receptor if it’s a match, much like a lock and key. Hormones (the key) can only instruct a cell to behave in a certain way if the target receptor (the lock) is the right size and shape, meaning that a hormone may not impact cells if the specific receptors are not complementary. 

Hormone Receptors - Positive vs Negative

The terms "positive” and “negative” hormone receptors relate to their ability to bind to specific hormones, meaning the receptor has the correct proteins to allow a hormone to bind to it. For example, cancer can be classified as estrogen-receptor-positive (or ER+) when it has receptors for estrogen. Similarly, when cancer is progesterone-receptor-positive (or PR+) it has receptors for progesterone. This information becomes important when it comes to treatment choices for breast cancer. If cancer does not have hormone receptors (and is negative) then hormone treatment would not be appropriate. Receptors can be switched on or made silent in different circumstances.

Broken Hormone Receptors & How to Help Them

Hormone receptors can become broken, or more accurately, silenced. However, thanks to the insights of epigenetics, we now have hope. Hormone receptors can become clogged up and silenced due to hypermethylation, or aberrant cytosine methylation. This is particularly problematic for breast cancer patients, where hormone therapy can be used when hormone receptors are positive or switched on. Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related mortality in women in the US, affecting 1 in 8 women

DNA methylation and histone acetylation are the two main epigenetic modifications that work together to silence hormone receptors. In medical settings, such as the treatment of ER- breast cancer, DNA methyltransferase (DNMT) and/or histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitors are used to reactivate hormone receptors. There are also bioactive natural products that will help clear out and thus reactivate hormone receptors. 

How to Activate Hormone Receptors Naturally

Naturally occurring dietary compounds, nutraceuticals and phytochemicals can be used to help with breast cancer. Increased interest in the relationship between healthy lifestyle practices and lower incidence of cancer has led many researchers down the natural healing route. The bioactive compounds in a wide variety of foods have far-reaching effects on hormones and hormone receptor health.

For example, allyl isothiocyanate, found in cruciferous vegetables, was used in a study on rodent models and was found to inhibit mammary tumor incidence and growth. The antioxidant response played a key role in the chemopreventive activity observed in DMBA-induced mammary carcinogenesis, suggesting that it’s not only the allyl isothiocyanate, but it’s also the fact that it increases the activity of antioxidant enzymes like superoxide dismutase (SOD), catalase (CAT), glutathione peroxidase (GPx), GST, and glutathione reductase (GR).

Can You Really Reset Your Hormones?

“...you can reset insulin in seventy-two hours with your fork" ~Dr. Sara Gottfried

If hormone levels become too high or low, they can trigger an endocrine imbalance or condition. Stress and hormone medications are often the cause of hormonal imbalances. However, imbalances can also be caused by a medical condition that’s impacting the endocrine glands. 

As outlined above, naturally occurring dietary compounds such as allyl isothiocyanate can help to reset hormones. Other compounds such as apigenin (a flavonoid found in vegetables), phytochemicals found in berries, biochanin A (an isoflavone found in red clover) and coumarin (an organic compound found in citrus fruits, grass, and legumes) are all potent antioxidants that can help clean out hormone receptors and enhance hormonal balance. 

7 Symptoms of a Hormonal Imbalance

Hormonal imbalances can affect both men and women and are most commonly associated with a drop in testosterone or estrogen. In women, imbalances are often tied to pregnancy, menopause, or the menstrual cycle, while men can be affected by what’s known as “male menopause” or “andropause” in their late 40s and 50s. 

Seven of the most common symptoms of a hormone balance include:

  • Headaches - caused by hormone disturbances; are most common in women during pregnancy, menstruation, or menopause. 
  • Mood swings/irritability - most commonly caused by low estrogen levels; often due to premenstrual syndrome (PMS) or menopause.
  • Low libido - often attributed to menopause, low libido in men can also be due to the testes producing little to no hormones, leading to a condition known as “hypogonadism.”
  • Poor sleep quality - can be caused by a drop in estrogen and progesterone (hormones that promote sleep).
  • Weight gain - especially an increase in visceral fat; can be due to menopausal hormone imbalance. Other hormone-related conditions that can lead to weight gain include an underactive thyroid or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
  • Itchy skin/ acne - it’s not just teenagers who can experience acne - low estrogen and progesterone coupled with high androgen hormones can lead to adult acne. Hormone imbalances are also associated with itchy or dry skin. 
  • Infertility - often associated with follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH).

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