In a previous post, I introduced the concept of the Three Stooges of Health. I call them that because, well, there’s three of them but also because a stooge, according to the Cambridge English Dictionary (Go Cantabrians!), is forced by an authority to perform an unpleasant task. In this case, the authorities are unscrupulous medical practitioners and the unpleasant task is to take your money without getting caught.
I called out those Three Stooges in part one of this series. They are your genes, hormones and microbiome. I also went into depth about the Moe of the trio, your genes.
In this post, we check out the next stooge, hormones.
As we continue this discussion, it’s always helpful to reference that well-worn chart from The Karma Sense Eating Plan of the 6 Factors That Impact Health.
In this model, we link six different categories that work together to define your wellness. You have more control over some of these categories than others but at neither end of the spectrum is your control or lack thereof absolute.
Of these categories, your hormones fit in the second box from the left, physiology. Your day-to-day activities are at least partially responsible for your physiology, but there are things that are out of your control such as your genes and certain environmental stimuli that also play a part.
Like the fluid levels in your car, no other body system regulates your performance more than your endocrine system, the segment of your anatomy that produces and regulates hormones.
Hormone Hacks – The Stooges
If hormones were one of the original Three Stooges, they’d be Larry. Larry is a follower that slowly reacts to external stimuli. His actions are pretty predictable but the gang never knows when or how they’ll come back to bite them.
Hormones are the chemical secretions from your body’s endocrine system. Your glands and other organs that are part of the system secrete them in response to different stimuli. The hormones then travel through your bloodstream or other pathways to target organs which, under normal conditions, respond as expected in the hormone’s presence. Due to the mechanical nature of this transaction, responses to hormones tend to take a little time.
Think about what that means. Your body creates hormones because something happens. But there’s a delay between hormone release and hormone response. In the meantime, something unexpected happens that causes a competing hormone response. Your body can handle this on occasion but when it’s chronic, it can wreak havoc (it’s true, your havoc totally wreaks). To illustrate this, our trio created this classic scene.
Our hormonal stand-in Larry is enticed by a squab (I think squab is what you call pigeons when you don’t want to admit you’re eating a pigeon). At the sight of food he craves, Larry’s stomach releases hormones called gastrins to prepare the digestive system for food. Just before digging in, Moe smacks Larry on the head with the squab’s drumstick. This stimulates the adrenal glands to secrete fight-or-flight hormones which, among other things, shut down the digestive system. Hilarity ensues. But, again not when it’s chronic. In this case, you’d have hydrochloric acid and pepsin sitting in your stomach with limited food to neutralize it. Not cool.
Your body secretes over fifty different hormones and their ebb and flow depend on internal factors (e.g. physiology, age) and external factors (e.g. stress, hunger). Hormones regulate digestion, blood sugar levels, stress responses, metabolism, immunity and sexy time.
Science and medicine have an excellent handle on the function of individual hormones and the treatment of disorders related to endocrine dysfunction. However, with the exception of a few diseases, hormone related diagnoses and treatments are the domain of endocrine specialists. Endocrinology is highly complex stuff.
Unfortunately, there is no shortage of hormone hacks who exploit people with vague but debilitating symptoms. Sadly, my very own field of health coaching is infested with folks in this category. With no medical background whatsoever and little more than a few hours of online instruction, they’re ordering tests and prescribing supplements with reckless abandon.
Here are a few examples of hormone abuse in practice
The adrenal glands sit on your kidneys and secrete a number of hormones that provide different functions mostly focused upon stress response. They’re a logical place to look as the source of fatigue, poor sleep quality, malaise, cravings for unhealthy foods and other symptoms associated with high stress.
With absolutely no scientific proof, some practitioners conjured up the concept of “adrenal fatigue” as the cause of these problems. Their theory is that chronic stress eventually causes your adrenal glands to become inefficient and the target cells for its hormones to become inattentive.
But no tests exist for this condition. That doesn’t stop people with certifications from snappy sounding outfits like the Institute for Nutritional Endocrinology from administering costly saliva and blood tests and prescribing supplements that you can only buy from them (and order now because the price is totally going up tomorrow). They also instruct clients to do all the normal stuff for being healthy such as eating more plants, exercising and managing stress. Amazingly, this combination of recommendations perks those fatigued adrenals right up.
I am not saying that some people have adrenal glands that don’t work correctly. Adrenal insufficiency is a bona fide condition that doctors CAN diagnose and treat.
The Insulin Obesity Hypothesis
Insulin is a hormone that’s secreted by the pancreas in response to changes in nutrients in the blood stream. Diabetes occurs when the pancreas doesn’t secrete insulin or when receptor cells stop responding to insulin.
A popular theory has many people believing that elevated insulin levels in response to simple carbohydrates such as sugar and flour are the direct cause of obesity. Authors like Gary Taubes (a journalist with no background in health) who wrote Good Calories, Bad Calories became rich on this theory. His book was convincing because he carefully cherry-picked research and used big words like cholecystokinin and rhododendron. It sounds plausible. And to make it more convincing he keeps writing the same book. It’s a process that fits this famous model.
|To put things in perspective, The Karma Sense Eating Plan fits in the model in a quantum physics sofrt of way in that it is both at the 100% Science and 100% Bullshit end of the spectrum at the same time. Accordingly, its sales are consistent with either of those extremes as well. But you can fix that and support Alice’s Kids by getting your copy now.|
But with respect to insulin levels being the cause of obesity, the research is solid. A person’s diet only leads to obesity when he or she consumes more calories than used. It’s the old simple equation.
It’s true, eating carbohydrates leads to other physiological and mental responses that drive some people to eat more. However, telling folks that eating carbohydrates is bad because of insulin is irresponsible, unsubstantiated and a lie.
But the hormone hacks are not restricted to seemingly unqualified “experts.” Plenty of people who know better use the complexities of the endocrine system to their financial favor. Thyroid hormone is an excellent stooge.
Your thyroid gland is the master of your metabolism. It regulates body temperature and the energy consumption of every cell in your body. When it gets out of whack, there’s trouble. This happens more often than you might think. Synthroid, a drug used to address a low performing thyroid is one of the most prescribed medicines in the United States.
A sad example of a qualified expert working for his own benefit over that of the patient is Dr. Denis Wilson, M.D. Dr. Wilson “discovered” a thyroid disorder that he calls, being the humble fella that he is, Wilson’s Syndrome or Wilson’s Temperature Syndrome. This syndrome doesn’t exist. NOTE:Wilson’s Disease, an unrelated disorder does exist.
Dr. Wilson and his followers diagnose Wilson’s Syndrome based on a patient having just about any symptom. Wilson’s syndrome victims usually test normal for thyroid hormone levels (because there’s nothing wrong with their thyroid). How does he diagnose it? Body temperature. If your body temperature is consistently below 98.6º F (37º C), you likely have Wilson’s Syndrome. There are many reasons to have a body temperature below the human average. It isn’t necessarily abnormal or a problem. But it sure is a cheap convenient way to make a bogus diagnosis.
The kicker is that you cure Wilson’s Syndrome through a “special thyroid hormone treatment.” This treatment can only be given by doctors certified through Wilson’s own curriculum using documentation and supplements that only he provides.
According to Wikipedia, one of Wilson’s 50-year-old patients died while undergoing treatment prescribed by Wilson. This resulted in disciplinary action that accused him of “fleecing” patients with a “phony diagnosis”. Wilson settled and agreed to a suspension of his license until such time that he met several arduous conditions. Wilson never returned to medicine because, according to his website, “he thinks he can be more effective by educating the public.” This is probably true. It’s the same reason why I don’t pilot transcontinental commercial aircraft.
What a hack!
What Can You Do to Avoid The Hormone Hacks?
That’s something we’ll tackle in the next post in this series because the same advice relates to all Three Stooges. Since there’s a great deal of overlap with each of the stooges, it’s best to tell the whole story before dispensing advice.
But because I always hate to leave readers hanging, here’s one thing to look for. Practitioners that pressure patients to buy proprietary treatments that aren’t available anywhere else are probably hacks. Practitioners who focus as much on recruiting other practitioners to sell proprietary treatments as they do for treating patients are probably hacks. You can make sure you don’t miss the next installment by subscribing to our mailing list.
You can make sure you don’t miss the next installment by subscribing to our mailing list.
We’ll pick up with the final stooge, Curly/Microbiome in a few weeks. And yes, Dave Barry, Curly Microbiome would be an excellent name for a rock and roll band.