Hormone Replacement or No? (thoughts from Dr. Ginger)

In this world of “information overload” it’s hard to know what to do for oneself when you suspect your hormones are out of balance. As a women’s health expert in natural medicine for 20 years, I have learned how to both assess and treat hormone imbalances for women (and girls) of all ages. In fact, I love working with women at times of big transition as there is so much opportunity for growth and healing. I’m talking about puberty, post-partum and peri-menopause in particular! 

Hormones are powerful chemical messengers, sending signals to almost every tissue in your body. The group of glands that secrete hormones are called endocrine glands. When one gland isn’t working optimally becomes all the other glands try and compensate, creating stress on the entire endocrine system. This is why I often refer to the endocrine system as a mobile–every part of it must adjust when one part is out of balance. This is why it’s essential to address the system as a whole and why often-times simply “replacing a hormone” is not going to get a person well!  

My approach to hormone imbalances is quite different than many practitioners of natural medicine. Using a combination of complex homeopathics, specially-prepared herbal medicines, nutritional support and lifestyle recommendations, I can help women balance their hormones without needing to suppress the natural hormonal rhythms that women experience on a daily and monthly basis. I routinely treat issues like irregular menses, painful periods, PMS and PMDD as well as ovarian cysts, uterine fibroids and symptoms associated with the menopausal change. This approach is entirely without the risks that hormone-replacement poses for many women and without the terrible side effects that many women experience on oral contraceptives. Oftentimes, those are the only options presented to women and girls. 

Naturopathic doctors distinguish themselves from medical doctors in a number of ways and one of the most important differences is our respect for the self-healing capacity of the body. Where mainstream medicine often fights against pathology in the body, and rightly so in many situations, naturopathic medicine aims to prevent true pathology from developing. When patients do become ill, we try and harness the thousands of self-healing mechanisms that can restore good health. It isn’t always easy, or possible, but we have a profound respect for the body’s ability to course-correct, given the right diet, nutrients, sometimes more aggressive interventions like i.v. therapy and the use of pharmaceuticals when indicated and legally permitted, of course. 

When it comes to hormone testing, you really should consider various female hormones (think estrogen, progesterone) and stress hormones (think cortisol and DHEA) alike to get a full picture of your endocrine system. In addition, the way your body is breaking down and eliminating your hormones is also crucial information. I’ve begun using a comprehensive type of hormone testing that measures urinary metabolites to tell us just that! If you are producing lots of pro-inflammatory estrogens you are at greater risk for many problems. 

This testing is not always necessary but it gives me a great deal of information about hormone imbalances. Sometimes it’s just a matter of taking a careful history and I always begin by helping people eliminate more effectively before going deeper into treating serious pathology. This way we don’t create more problems by just moving toxins around from one part of the body to another. Even though I treat many autoimmune conditions, digestive complaints, thyroid and other hormone imbalances, really I treat whole people–not their diseases. Let’s talk if you have questions about getting your hormones in check, which is really central to feeling great overall!