Think Again: Hormones Explained | UMZU
Your body is only healthy when your hormones are balanced. Hormones are the key to not just restoring your health to the Thermo State, but also to maintaining it and improving it over time. Your endocrine system is a complex framework of feedback loops - natural compensation mechanisms - with hormones either supporting or suppressing one another. When your stress hormones are chronically high, your protective hormones are low, and vice versa. While hormones might seem complex, they are in fact quite simple to manipulate; you manipulate them right now all the time, without even knowing it. All day long, with every decision you make, you’re constantly either supporting your protective hormones or your stress hormones. It’s time to become aware of which habits and actions you take are either helping you, or hurting you. It’s time to think again.
- What Are Hormones
- Protective Hormones: The Angelic Protectors
- Stress Hormones: The Downward Spiral
- The Thermo Hormone Optimization Pyramid
In your mind’s eye, picture a rock stuck in a funnel.
Now envision trying to pour some water into the top of that funnel. With very little water able to get around the crevices of that rock, the water starts building up to the top of the funnel, eventually overflowing.
If you dump the water out, then try a different liquid, or maybe something else, like a powder, the same thing will happen. Little, if any, will get through the funnel. It’s all being blocked.
That’s what my brain tumor was doing to me ten years ago, only it was acting like this rock in a funnel inside my pituitary gland: the control center for my endocrine system.
The pituitary communicates with, and receives feedback from vital organs like your thyroid gland, adrenals, liver, and reproductive organs.
When it’s not functioning properly, like in my case, everything starts to go horribly wrong. None of these important organs - your thyroid, liver, reproductive organs, or adrenals - can get the signaling and feedback they need in order to keep your body healthy.
When I finally found the tumor on an MRI, I started rifling through my textbooks to find any information I could on how to help myself get out of this mess without using surgery or drugs. Cracking open Williams Textbook of Endocrinology, it became evident that my problem wasn’t only about the hypothalamus not being able to get the right input through my pituitary out to the body, but none of these other glands could send the right feedback back through the pituitary properly either!
I quickly realized that the endocrine system functions entirely on feedback loops; hormone signaling is cyclical, not linear. Nearly every medical illustration in the textbook has cyclical arrows drawn out, demonstrating these feedback loops between every major gland in the body, and the pituitary is right in the middle of it all.
Before that point, I had very little understanding that the body was so systemically integrated. It’s just one big system, and all the glands inside of it communicate with one another. And they do so, with hormones. These hormone loops help the glands regulate one another, to stay in a state of balance.
All of my doctors were “specialists,” only viewing the body through one lens: their specialty. They seemed to all think of the body as a compartmentalized jigsaw puzzle, focusing on just one area without any sense of what the big picture really was.
It reminded me a lot of the ancient parable of the three blind men and the elephant, the Indian story about three blind men coming upon an elephant. They all touch different parts of the elephant and describe what it is to one another. Having different opinions that they’re convinced are the truth, they start to fight with one another over which one is telling the truth. None of them can see the big picture - the whole elephant.
Once I understood that the body is just one whole system, and that hormone feedback loops were the key to restoring my health naturally, everything changed. I felt empowered. I knew that, if I could just figure out how to signal enough of the right positive feedback from my body back into my brain, while eliminating things that caused negative feedback, that I might just be able to override that damned “rock” in my funnel to get things working properly again.
And it took a lot of effort, research, lifestyle changes, and consistency, but I did just that.
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What Are Hormones?
The easiest way to think about hormones, is to see them as chemical messengers. Think of a paper boy, riding around the neighborhood on his bicycle, bringing newspapers to everyone’s house.
Endocrine hormones are like the bicycle-riding paperboy, riding along the bloodstream to deliver the message they were sent for, by entering the “front door” of a receptor site on the surface of a target cell.
Paracrine hormones are similar, but they stay closer to home, more like if you were walking over to your next-door neighbor’s house to give them a tray of cookies as a Christmas gift.
Some hormones have a long-distance job to accomplish, and others stay local, usually just signaling to adjacent cells.
Now here’s the really cool thing… picture yourself going online to a shopping website like Hamazon. Maybe you need to order some cleaning supplies regularly to clean your home, so you pay to “subscribe” to some different sprays, soaps, and paper towels to be delivered to your house every month. Hamazon processes the order, packages the products in their warehouse, and sends out a delivery van to bring them to your house, possibly over hundreds of miles.
A few months from now, you realize that you overestimated how many cleaning supplies you needed, so now you have a surplus… enough soap stockpiled in your storage closet to last you another few months. You don’t need to reorder any more for a while.
Now you go back to Hamazon and “pause” your subscription.
You just participated in a tangible feedback loop. By starting a subscription, you told Hamazon that you needed soap. So they produced and delivered the products to you. By later pausing your subscription, you told Hamazon to stop sending you so much soap.
Your endocrine organs work the same way! It’s really quite simple to understand.
But let’s say, a couple months later, you start running out of soap again. You’ve been cleaning a lot, and now it’s time to turn your subscription back on to restock your supplies. You go to Hamazon’s website, log in to your account, and see a message on the screen saying, “We’re sorry, due to manufacturing & supplier problems, we no longer sell cleaning supplies.”
Now what? Now you have to go find them somewhere else, maybe drive to the local store. It’s way less convenient and more expensive, not to mention it’s costing you additional gas money and time out of your day.
To make things worse, when you get to your local store, they don’t have all the exact cleaning supplies you need. You’ll just have to make-due, you don’t want your house to turn into a disgusting cesspit after all. After a few months of this, you make your routine trip to the local store, and walk up to an empty shelf. No cleaning supplies. Everyone else in your town was facing the same problem, so eventually the store ran out of cleaning supplies and the clerk tells you more won’t be back in stock for a few weeks.
As you walk out the door, you see a newspaper on the stand with the headline reading, “Nationwide Soap Shortage: Major Cleaning Chemical Manufacturers Go Bankrupt.”
In this case, your feedback loop was noticeably disturbed: you needed more supplies, but the most convenient, efficient, and affordable supplier could no longer give you what you needed. You had to make an additional effort to find sub-par resources to get the original job done.
Then your sub-par supplier ran out of supplies. You realize this is a much bigger issue than you originally thought - there’s a systemic, nationwide shortage of the raw materials needed to make cleaning supplies. Now what are you supposed to do to keep your home clean?
While this is obviously merely a metaphorical demonstration, very similar feedback patterns happen with your hormones inside your body all the time, including issues with production and raw material supply.
To be produced properly, hormones need raw materials. This is why we see rapid drops in some hormones’ production when the body is deficient in vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. Or why we see over-production of certain hormones when too much raw material is flooded into the system without the proper regulation from other hormonal feedback, for example in cases of estrogen excess with too much exposure to environmental estrogenics and unbalanced methionine and tryptophan levels.
Another common situation with hormone imbalance occurs when an organ in the feedback loop system is not functioning properly. One easy example is when your liver is overproducing the protein SHBG (sex hormone binding globulin), which can occur for a range of different reasons. With too much SHBG in the blood, your sex hormones, like testosterone, become over-bound, and cannot get through “the front door” of the receptor sites they need to enter.
This would be akin to someone walking up to your front door and stealing the Hamazon box full of cleaning supplies off your front porch.
Now that we have a basic grasp on the concept of hormone feedback loops within your endocrine system, let’s take a deeper look at the two main classes of hormones you need to start focusing on for proper hormonal balance: protective hormones and stress hormones.
Protective Hormones: The Angelic Protectors
A fun, and metaphorically interesting, way to think about the differences between the classes of your body’s protective hormones and stress hormones, is to make them analogous to the ancient concept of angels and demons, respectively.
In philosophical considerations of good and evil, it’s apparent that one cannot exist without the other. If someone has truly no understanding of what is good, then how can they know what is evil? The definitions of these words, as concepts, rely on one another to be properly understood.
Inside your body, your protective hormones and your stress hormones exist to balance each other out, to run a system of checks-and-balances in order to maintain homeostasis.
This is why measuring isolated hormone levels in blood tests don’t give us much in the way of useful data, until we compare hormone levels against one another. For example, the T:C ratio (testosterone to cortisol ratio) is one reliable indicator of protective:stress hormone balance that is widely used in research studies, especially with respect to athletic performance, strength, power, endurance, and male reproductive health.
All hormones are needed for your body to be healthy, however, you start to experience serious health issues when the balance is skewed heavily in favor of stress hormones, which happens to be the case for most people in our modern environment.
Physical and psychological stress, alongside unprecedented exposure to environmental estrogenic chemicals, is at an all-time high right now, when compared to any other time in human history. And epidemic level hormonal health issues have been rising rapidly for many decades now, including thyroid dysfunction, sexual dysfunction, hypertension, gut diseases, and many more.
The average person is sadly unaware of the role their hormones are playing in all of their health problems, not to mention they have no way of knowing how to increase their protective hormone production back to a healthy balance in order to keep the rampant over-production of stress hormones in check.
Protective hormones are in low supply, but I’m going to show you how to increase yours naturally.
There are many different hormones constantly working inside your body. They are made in different ways, structurally. Some of them are produced from amino acids, known as amino acid derived hormones, such as dopamine, epinephrine, melatonin, norepinephrine, T3, and T4.
Others are referred to as eicosanoid hormones, a class of paracrine hormones that signal locally to neighboring cells, and synthesized as a result of PUFA oxidation. Examples are prostaglandins, leukotrienes, prostacyclin, and thromboxane.
Another class, containing a large variety of hormones, is the peptide hormones, like LH, FSH, TSH, adiponectin, hCG, GnRH, hGH, leptin, IGF, and many more, which are structurally composed of peptides or proteins molecules.
And finally, we have the steroid hormones, many of which you may be familiar with, such as testosterone DHT, estradiol, cortisol, DHEA, progesterone, and aldosterone.
Protective hormones are defined as those that, at naturally high levels, preserve the healthy functioning of vital biological systems needed to thrive, such as sexual reproduction, energy metabolism, regenerative sleep, & executive cognitive functioning.
At healthy production levels, your protective hormones are able to moderate your stress hormones effectively. You feel energetic, relaxed, creative, and sexually charged. You sleep well at night and can maintain a lean physique quite easily.
While there are many protective hormones, the ones we’re going to focus on optimizing are:
- Thyroid hormones T3 and T4
- LH, FSH, and GnRH
Ultimately, increasing the production of these hormones revolves around taking actions to improve the functioning of three key organs: the pituitary, liver, and thyroid gland.
The most helpful thinking tool I’ve employed over the years is the concept of thinking in terms of leverage. What one thing can I focus on that will get me most of, if not all, the results I’m seeking?
Average people get mediocre results because they don’t think this way. Most people will chase too many rabbits at once, only to catch none.
Exceptional people get excellent results by identifying one core focus, then relentlessly pursuing that one thing until they get it. If you pick the right thing to fixate on, it will apply enough leverage to take care of everything else as a byproduct.
And the beautiful thing about leveraged thinking when it comes to protective hormones, is that all of these hormones are involved in the same systems with one another. They communicate to one another constantly. Optimizing them requires doing the same exact things, which I will show you shortly.
Learn More: 10 Signs Of Low Testosterone | Hypogonadism
Stress Hormones: The Downward Spiral
Like everything in the body, stress hormones serve a specific purpose. For example, cortisol is absolutely needed for survival, rapidly rising in times of acute stress to trigger adrenaline and noradrenaline production to heighten your senses and physical response times in order to avoid getting hit by that speeding taxi as you step off the NYC sidewalk into the street.
Acute, rapid increases in stress hormones aren’t necessarily a bad thing. They help you stay alive. Especially when you do something stupid.
Unfortunately, for most of us, our stress hormones aren’t just acutely elevated. They’re chronically elevated.
The catabolic nature of stress hormones can have a catastrophic negative effect on your health when chronically elevated, quite literally destroying your body in a “slow burn” over decades.
Stress hormones stay chronically elevated because of environmental input into your body, such as prolonged physical or psychological stressors (without adequate recovery periods), estrogenic influences from foods, plastics, and pesticides, and deficiencies that trigger unfavorable cascades (such as sodium deficiency, causing your kidneys to activate the RAAS pathway as a compensation mechanism).
When these environmental inputs are not properly balanced through support of protective hormones, which is almost always the cause due to the oppositional nature of the hormone relationships, the slow burn begins, a downward spiral of physical degeneration.
While there are many hormones involved in the human stress response, in the interest of pursuing leveraged thinking, we’re going to focus on improving the following, since this will create the biggest positive impact in the shortest period of time:
- Adrenaline and Noradrenaline
Evolutionary programming has created an extremely efficient stress response system in your body, known as the sympathetic nervous system. This can be a double-edged sword in our modern world.
In the presence of a stressor, the amygdala, which is considered to be the “fear center” of the brain, quickly signals to the hypothalamus to trigger a signaling cascade through the pituitary to the adrenal glands. This pathway is known as the HPA axis.
The pituitary gland, via the hormone ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone), tells the adrenal glands to push down the “gas pedal” by pumping cortisol and adrenaline into the bloodstream, which acutely heightens your senses, increases blood pressure, and triggers the release available glucose then stored fatty acids into the blood for extra energy.
Glucose, being readily available in acute stress situations, also happens to be in limited supply since it’s needed for so many other important bodily functions. When cortisol is chronically elevated, glucose is quickly used up to fuel this “survival mechanism” and no longer available for important “thriving” processes like the brain’s cognitive processes, reproductive processes, detoxification in the liver, and thyroid gland energy metabolism processes.
All resources are distributed to survival.
The problem is, chronic cortisol and adrenaline elevation inherently uses up preferred energy sources, and requires the body to switch to a survival metabolism, dumping stored fatty acids into the bloodstream, which creates unfavorable metabolic byproducts on the cellular level, such as lactic acid, and lowers overall CO2 production in the body which is needed for regenerative processes.
In modern chronic stress scenarios, we’re not actually trying to “survive” in the primal sense of the word, but your body doesn’t know the difference. It’s wired to be extremely efficient at facilitating this stress response.
When your stress response is chronically engaged, with its resources being used to “survive,” it creates a downward spiral of degeneration.
The good news: when you become aware of this, there are a lot of things you can do to stop it, by eliminating the Blockers that cause this chronic physiological stress, while introducing Activators that will support your protective hormones once again, to skew the hormonal balance back in your favor.
The Thermo Hormone Optimization Pyramid
In my first book, Master Your T, I outlined a diagram for readers on how to think about optimizing their testosterone production naturally, which I called the Masculine Optimization Pyramid. In designing the pyramid, it became obvious that people needed an easy way to visually understand how to do this, and since its advent, hundreds of thousands of men have used this diagram to rebalance their hormones naturally.
However, this pyramid framework is not just for men. It works for women as well, and it will help anyone rebalance their hormones naturally, namely decreasing stress hormones while increasing production of protective hormones.
I’ve redesigned the pyramid here for this purpose, and it’s called the Thermo Hormone Optimization Pyramid.
The order of importance goes from bottom to top, since you don’t want to build your health on a shaky foundation.
Micronutrients are the key foundational element to rebalancing hormones. They are the raw materials your body needs to fuel every hormonal and metabolic process. When you’re deficient in any vitamins, minerals, or amino acids, it throws hormones out-of-whack quickly. Therefore this needs to be the first thing you focus on.
Moving up the pyramid, nutrition becomes vitally important, mainly as a way to support your micronutrient levels, gut health (in order to absorb those micronutrients and facilitate proper neuronal signaling to the brain), and provide your body with the right macronutrients to thrive.
Nutrition is a very easy thing to manipulate. Simply eat foods that help your body function better, and stop eating things that hurt your body.
Next, we have Lifestyle implications. Inside this middle part of the pyramid you can include things like stress management techniques, sexual health practices, and eliminating exposure to estrogenic chemicals in your personal care products.
After Micronutrients, Nutrition, and Lifestyle are optimized, it’s important to include proper exercise: physical activities that skew the hormonal balance in your favor, away from chronic cortisol activities (such as endurance training), toward anabolic activities (such as weight training) and restorative activities (such as walking or hiking).
The human body needs to be in motion. Researchers have demonstrated that without physical movement, the body starts to show signs of prediabetes in as little as 48 hours.
And finally, the least important but still very useful top of the pyramid is strategic supplementation. Many people try to use supplements as a replacement, or shortcut, to substitute in place of the other levels of the pyramid. This typically doesn’t serve them very well because the foundational levels of the pyramid are more profoundly impactful to your health. When your nutrition is poor, for example, supplementation can only help so much.
It’s at the top because it is most useful to either aid the other levels of the pyramid, for example providing additional micronutrients to overcome deficiencies or using certain herbs for stress management lifestyle adjustments, or to use as a final “cherry on top” in terms of helping to truly optimize your performance once you address everything else underneath it.
If you optimize all of these levels of the Thermo Pyramid using the suggestions throughout this series you will rebalance your hormones and quickly restore the Thermo State of health back into your body.
If you haven't already checked out The Thermo Diet Course inside of UMZUfit we highly recommend you do. This will give you step by step guide to optimize your lifestyle and nutrition to maximize your protective hormones.