Nov
03
2018

When you are sleepless

You are not alone when you are sleepless. Insomnia is a widespread problem in society.

Previous review of the topic of insomnia

I have reviewed the topic of insomnia before in a blog.

Briefly I pointed out that in some people there is a mutation of the gene that controls the circadian sleep rhythm. It is called the CRY1mutation. Some people have sleep disturbances from working night shifts. I mentioned the blue light of electronics that is produced by the TV screens or computer screens. The more you are exposed to it, the more it stimulates the brain to produce serotonin. This undermines the melatonin production, and as a result the person finds it extremely difficult to fall asleep. Children playing with i-phones, tablets or watching children’s programs on television can have sleep disturbances from the blue light. Blue has the frequency that over stimulates the brain and interferes with melatonin production. Drug and alcohol abuse can also interfere with the normal circadian sleep rhythm and cause insomnia.

Hormone factors of insomnia

For natural sleep to occur, we need melatonin which the pineal gland releases in the evening. It initiates and maintains sleep during the night. The natural opponent of melatonin is cortisol, the stress hormone, from the adrenal glands. Both hormones need to be in balance to allow you to sleep normally. Shortly before we wake up in the morning melatonin production goes down and cortisol production is up. Cortisol levels are low at night and high during the day. So it is cortisol that keeps us going throughout the day. But an excess of cortisol from chronic stress can also interfere with falling asleep and sleeping through the night.

Stress and insomnia

When we feel stressed, cortisol production goes way up. This has consequences regarding our sleep pattern. It can interfere with falling asleep, causes us to wake up from a deep sleep in the middle of the night and can give us problems falling asleep again. Chronic stress exposure leads to high cortisol production by the adrenal glands, which in turn will lower melatonin and cause sleep disturbances. Older people (above the age of 50) have very little melatonin production left, as there is an age-related decline of melatonin production. The melatonin production is highest in younger years and lowest in older age.

What to do when you are sleepless

There are several over-the-counter remedies, which in combination can be quite effective.

Melatonin for when you are sleepless

Melatonin (3 mg at bedtime) is a good start to see what it does for your sleeplessness. Taking a small amount of melatonin at bedtime we can re-establish the balance between cortisol and melatonin, which helps the circadian hormone rhythm and sleep pattern to come back. Some people wake up in the middle of the night and find it difficult to fall asleep again. If this happens at 3 AM, a good remedy at this time is to take another 3 mg of melatonin. Melatonin stays in the system for about 4 hours. Light during the day de-activates the effect, when light hits the retinas upon opening your eyes. You should not exceed 6 mg of total melatonin overnight. Otherwise it will interfere with the balance of cortisol and melatonin, lowering cortisol levels, which would rob you of energy during the day.

Phosphorylated serine (Seriphos)

A supplement that is freely available in the US (but not in Canada) consists of a simple amino acid. As this link shows (second item in the link) phosphorylated serine Seriphos) helps to down-regulate cortisol levels (lowering them). This means that melatonin gets the upper hand and you can sleep again.

The dosage for phosphorylated serine (Seriphos) varies from person to person, but will be in the range of 1000 mg to 3000 mg in the evening. After about 30 days the circadian rhythm may have recovered and you can stop the Seriphos. A one-day pause is required once a month for resetting the hormone receptors. Should you still have problems sleeping, you can continue with it for another month and pause again for a day. Seriphos has very few side effects.

Valerian root capsules

Another useful sleep aid is valerian root (as capsules). 500 mg to 1000 mg will help you to relax. It does not have the side effect of feeling groggy the next morning.

Other considerations when you are sleepless

Hormone problems like thyroid abnormalities (too much or too little thyroid hormones) are issues that your doctor has to investigate. Women in menopause often have sleep disturbances due to a lack of estrogen and progesterone. A knowledgeable healthcare professional is able to take care of that by prescribing bioidentical hormone creams.

When men approach andropause (the equivalent of menopause in women), they lose testosterone production. This can cause insomnia. The doctor can verify the hormone loss by a blood test. Replacement with either bioidentical testosterone cream or injections will rebalance testosterone levels. Insomnia may disappear. It is essential not to overdose testosterone, as this can also cause insomnia.

Sleep lab for when you are sleepless

When home remedies do not help, it may be time to check into one of the sleep labs to diagnose the kind of sleep disorder you are suffering from. Here is an overview what is happening there.

Essentially you get hooked up to monitors and are encouraged to just sleep as you would normally do. The physician in charge of the lab will later explain to you what the monitors showed, and tell you what type of sleep. According to the findings your doctor will recommend what measures are appropriate to remedy the situation.

Treatment for insomnia when over-the-counter remedies fail

Short acting benzodiazepams

When anxiety is not a problem, but only insomnia is (falling asleep or staying asleep) lorazepam 1 mg (Ativan) or temazepam 10 mg (Restoril) are shorter acting benzodiazepams that will help. It is not a permanent but a short “emergency break” for intermittent use, so that the GABA benzodiazepine receptors have time to recover. Otherwise, with continuous use tolerance would set in. This means higher and higher doses of the sleep medication would be necessary to achieve the same effect. Another non-benzodiazepine is Zolpidem 5 mg (Ambien). Even though this medication is not a benzodiazepine, it works on stimulating the same GABA benzodiazepine receptors.

Longer acting benzodiazepams combined with antidepressant Trazodone

For several years the combination of a small amount of the longer acting benzodiazepams, clonazepam (Rivotril) at 0.5 mg combined with a small amount of the anti-depressant trazodone (Oleptro or Desyrel) at 50 mg at bedtime has been has been in use quite successfully.

But there is a concern of drowsiness caused by Rivotril as this link shows.

Trazodone, which is an antidepressant has a sleep cycle restoring effect at low doses and has less side effects, because it is used at ¼ the dose for a full-blown depression. Males are often complaining that it reduces their sex drive, and it may cause erectile dysfunction.

Clonazepam side effects

Rivotril was originally in use to control epileptic seizures and anxiety. The combination therapy for sleep disorders uses Rivotril at ¼ of the regular dose. Although it is good as a sleep aid, it has a long half-life and stays in the system well into the next day. This may present as sleepiness and cause falls in elderly patients because of clouded attention. Replacement by one of the medium long acting benzodiazepams could be the solution. A drug pause for 1 day will help to reset the GABA benzodiazepine receptors and prevent tolerance from happening. Knowing all those effects and side effects it is wiser to reserve the use of these medication strictly when everything else has failed!

When you are sleepless

When you are sleepless

Conclusion

As I mentioned before, you are not alone when you are sleepless. Insomnia can present as having problems to fall asleep, but it may present in others as a problem in the middle of the night waking up and having problems going back to sleep again.

I described non-conventional methods to help you to sleep using melatonin, Seriphos and valerian root capsules. If this fails, a sleep lab investigation may be necessary to get to the bottom of your insomnia problem. Physicians often prescribe short acting benzodiazepams like lorazepam (Ativan) and temazepam 10 mg (Restoril).

Other possibilities to treat insomnia

There are other possibilities to treat insomnia, with a combination of a low-dose antidepressant (trazodone, brand name Oleptro in the US) and low-dose anti-seizure and anti-anxiety drug clonazepam (Klonopin or Rivotril). Anxiety can often be a big component in insomnia and this treats both. On the other hand, anxiety is a separate problem, which needs professional treatment. There can be side effects of sleepiness from clonazepam and men complain of a lack of sex drive and erectile dysfunction from trazodone. Help is available when you are sleepless. But you need professional help to work on the problem and find the solution.

May
12
2018

Sex Stimulates Your Brain

Sex usually causes positive feelings, but how is it that sex stimulates your brain? Recently this publication reviewed exactly what is going on. The reason both sexes seem to seek out sex is the fact that it is sex that stimulates the brain a certain way, which is pleasing to both partners. Due to the stimulation the brain will release hormones that make us feel good. Following sex there is post-coital afterglow for a period of time, which I have addressed under this link before. Here I am reviewing what physical stimulation of the brain takes place during sex. Next I will touch on the hormonal changes that happen during and after sex.

Diagnostic tests that show that sex stimulates your brain

Researchers performed  2005 positron emission tomography (PET scan) studies  during sex at the University of Groningen, the Netherlands. They studied males males while they were having sex. The question was what part of the brain would be receiving stimulation. Another question was, what part of the brain was resting during intercourse? They found that the right hemisphere and particularly one area, the right posterior insula received stimulation, when the penis was stimulated. This area allows the man to feel relaxed and it reduces pain perception. The secondary somatosensory cortex also showed stimulation on PET scans. The stimulation of the secondary somatosensory cortex is what carries him to the height of his arousal during intercourse. The hypothalamus, which also received stimulatioh with the initiation of sex, was very quiet during the active part of lovemaking. The thalamus and right amygdala were also quiet during that phase on PET scans.

More on feelings and losing oneself during the height of sex

The same group from the Netherlands did a 2003 study using PET scans to find out what happens during his ejaculation. Male subjects had sexual stimulation (penile stimulation) by their female partners. At the time of his ejaculation the PET scan showed increased brain activity in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) and the cerebellum. The frontal brain was remarkably quiet. Other authors point out that there are profound hormone releases during lovemaking. The release of neurotransmitters like noradrenaline, oxytocin and prolactin is taking place during orgasm. Other hormones like dopamine, opioids and serotonin join the hormonal symphony of lovemaking. This leads to detachedness at the height of the orgasm, to emotional closeness and pair bonding toward the end of lovemaking. The authors of the 2003 Netherlands study concluded:

“Our results correspond with reports of cerebellar activation during heroin rush, sexual arousal, listening to pleasurable music, and monetary reward.”

Female orgasm and brain studies showing that sex stimulates your brain

It is only fair that research also studied females, similarly to the male studies. Functional MRI scans were part of a 2017 study from Newark, NJ.

It showed a much broader stimulation of brains in females than in males. Female orgasm includes stimulation of the prefrontal cortex, the orbitofrontal cortex, the insula, the cingulate gyrus, and the cerebellum. These areas take part in the processing of emotions and of pain. There is also some metabolic processing and decision-making. With the male ejaculation study discussed above we had seen that there was no activity in the frontal brain of the male. At this stage of his sexual arousal there is no place for decision-making for the man. Women, however, are still able to think while having an orgasm. Other studies have shown that the rhythmic sexual stimulation during sex can get women into an altered state of consciousness that feels like a trance.

Hormonal activity during and after sex documenting that sex stimulates your brain

We learned already about the profound hormone releases during the height of his ejaculation and her orgasm (noradrenaline, oxytocin and prolactin). But other hormones were also part of it: dopamine, opioids and serotonin. There are two hormones that are particularly important: endorphins and oxytocin. Endorphins are part of the natural endorphins that the brain makes. They help us to feel good and they minimize pain. Their production takes place in the hypothalamus, one of the main hormone producing glands of the brain. The hypothalamus also produces the corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), which releases ACTH in the pituitary gland. This and cortisol are the stress hormones that make us tense. With the release of endorphins during sex, the stress reaction becomes less. More sex means less stress.

Oxytocin, the cuddling hormone

Oxytocin from the posterior pituitary gland is the cuddling hormone. It is part of the symphony of hormones that show a release during sex. Oxytocin makes you feel close to your partner, but also very relaxed. It may be responsible for the afterglow that I mentioned  in the beginning of my review that can last for up to 2 days after sex.

When sex is painful

Sex can be a bad experience, particularly for women. Many women have experienced sexual abuse in the past, and when they grow up to mature women, the past bad memories often linger on. This is called postcoital dysphoria (PCD). A 2011 Australian/US study has studied this. 32.9% of the students of that study reported ever having experienced this. There were also cases of childhood sexual abuse that were more severe. The authors also found that sexual dysfunction was worse when co-existing anxiety or depression disorders were present.

Better sleep after sex

Prolactin, another brain hormone is released during sex as well. It is responsible for calming the frontal cortex down. This leads to better sleep, but in older men it also causes better cognitive functioning. Prolactin, released during sex is thought to improve memory and to improve cognitive impairment.

In women testosterone and oxytocin are released during sex. This can improve libido (testosterone) and makes you feel like cuddling.

Sex Stimulates Your Brain

Sex Stimulates Your Brain

Conclusion

Sex leads to a battery of hormones that the brain releases after ejaculation and/or orgasm. Both partners experience their own detachedness, which is due to a trance-like mental state where the partners experience each other intensely. The cuddling hormone oxytocin encourages bonding and contributes to a feeling of an intense closeness to each other. Endorphins release stress and amplify the emotional high. Brain studies on copulating couples have shown different stimulation patterns of parts of the brain in women and in men.

Differences in how men and women are wired

Men cannot think at the height of lovemaking because their frontal brain is completely blocked. Women, however, are able to continue to experience all emotions and are able to think at the same time. Having said that, women can easily enter into a trance from the repetitive movements of lovemaking. Whatever it is that we experience during and after sex, it is due to the relationship we have with each other, the past experience, the present experience and the hormone symphony that occurs during all of this. Enjoy what’s going on!

Incoming search terms:

Mar
25
2017

How Stress Affects Our Hormone System

Dr. Andrew Heyman gave a detailed talk recently about how stress affects our hormone system. He presented his talk at the 24th Annual World Congress on Anti-Aging Medicine (Dec. 9-11, 2016) in Las Vegas that I attended. It was entitled “Understanding the Stress, Thyroid, Hormone Connections & Prioritizing Systems”.

Dr. Heyman stressed in particular that there is a triad of hormonal connections that is important to remember: the thyroid hormones, the stress hormones (adrenal glands) and the pancreas (insulin production). It seems like we need a balance of these hormones for optimal energy production and circulation. Under stress our sugar metabolism can markedly derail, we develop obesity and fatigue. But when balanced we experience vitality and wellbeing.

Metabolic activation pathways

Dr. Heyman projected a slide that showed the metabolic activation pathways. Likewise, he stated that a number of different factors could influence the hormone system:

  • Diet: trans fats, sugar, too many carbs, food allergies.
  • Drugs: drug-induced nutrient depletion (over-the-counter drugs, prescription drugs).
  • Physical exercise: frequency and type matters.
  • Environmental exposure: chemicals, pesticides, herbicides, heavy metals, plastics, molds, and pollens.
  • Stress: physical stress, psychogenic stress.
  • Genetics: methylene-tetra-hydro-folate reductase enzyme deficiency (MTHFR mutation), APOE genes, lack of vitamin D
  • Disease: past or present conditions, active disease or syndromes.

Target areas within your system

The target areas in your system are the

  • Pancreas, where blood sugar can rise because of insulin resistance. In particular, too much insulin production causes inflammation, hormone disbalances, kidney damage, and hardening of the arteries through plaque formation.
  • Thyroid gland, which depends on TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) for activation. Autoantibodies can also affect it negatively.
  • Brain: decrease in serotonin resulting in anxiety, depression and food cravings; decreased melatonin causing sleep disturbances; increased ghrelin and decreased leptin secretion leading to overeating and obesity.
  • Liver/kidneys: both of these organs are important for detoxification; the liver produces thyroid binding globulin, which when increased can lower the free thyroid hormones.
  • Immune system (gut, lymph glands): the Peyer’s patches in the gut mucosa produce a large portion of the immune cells; lymph glands, the bone marrow and the spleen supply the rest. A leaky gut syndrome can affect the whole body, in addition causing inflammation and autoimmune reactions.
  • Hypothalamus/pituitary/adrenal glands: this is the main axis of the stress reaction. A brain under stress activates the hypothalamus. It sends a cascade of activating hormones via the pituitary gland and likewise activates the adrenal glands. Finally this leads to cortisol overproduction, and release of epinephrine and norepinephrine from the center of the adrenal glands. High blood pressure, anxiety, heart palpitations, arrhythmias and more can finally develop from this.

Hypothalamus/pituitary/adrenal glands activation and clinical effects

The main hormone axis of the stress reaction goes first from the hypothalamus, secondly via the pituitary gland and thirdly to the outside surface of the adrenal glands, which produces cortisol. The term for this is the HPA axis. Stressed people, therefore, make too much cortisol, which weakens immune functions, reduces human growth hormone production, increases belly fat, increases blood pressure and reduces insulin action. In addition, stress also reduces estrogen production in women and testosterone production in men.

Accordingly, the final clinical presentation is osteopenia, then osteoporosis with spontaneous fractures of bones. In addition there is also cardiovascular disease leading to heart attacks and strokes, and cognitive decline with memory loss. There are complications with infections. Also the metabolic syndrome can lead to obesity and type 2-diabetes.

Stress and the hippocampus

In the center of our brain there is a memory-processing unit, the hippocampus that converts short-term memory into long-term memory. Repeated stress interferes with normal hippocampus function. Indeed, high cortisol levels interfere with the proper functioning of the hippocampus causing memory problems.

Hippocampus atrophy can come from chronically high cortisol levels due to chronic stress. In addition this can lead to Alzheimer’s disease.

Effects of chronic stress

Chronic stress leads to cardiovascular disease, to diabetes, chronic inflammation, Alzheimer’s disease, thyroid disorders, cancer, neurological disorders and autoimmune diseases. Researchers showed that inflammation releases tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), which is a key player of chronic inflammation. This, however leads to the release of other inflammatory kinins like IL6 and others. The resulting chronic inflammation can cause Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, insulin resistance, dementia, metabolic syndrome, obesity and atherosclerosis with associated markers (decreased HDL, increased LDL, CRP and triglycerides).

Hormone imbalance causes disease

  1. Excess cortisol production from stress leads to Th2 type inflammatory kinins; usually associated with this is a reduction of DHEA (a male hormone in the adrenal glands), which leads to reduced Th1 type kinins. Overall, the end result is chronic inflammation. When chronic stress has tired out the adrenal glands, a four-point salivary cortisol level test shows a flat curve. This indicates adrenal gland fatigue or, if worse, even adrenal gland insufficiency. Most noteworthy, patients with leukemia, breast cancer, uterine cancer, prostate cancer, pituitary gland cancer and lung cancer show such a pattern.
  2. The disregulation of the HPA axis is particularly evident in patients with metabolic syndrome. People who have this syndrome have a high morning serum cortisol level. As a matter of fact, high cortisol increases the risk to develop metabolic syndrome.
  3. Metabolic connections: high cortisol leads to a partial blockage of thyroid hormones, which in turn leads to hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism will affect glucose tolerance, and if not treated leads to type 2 diabetes.

In a large study involving 46,578 members of Kaiser Permanente Northwest it was determined that for every 1 point above a fasting glucose level of 84 mg/dL there was an additional 6% risk to develop type 2 diabetes over the next 10 years.

Pathological hormone disturbances

Dr. Heyman mentioned the following hormone patterns that he discussed in detail, increased cortisol levels, increased insulin levels and decreased thyroid levels.

Elevated cortisol

Prolonged elevation of cortisol leads to atrophy of the hippocampus with brain atrophy and Alzheimer’s or dementia. The immune system gets altered, there is lower DHEA hormone leading to weaker muscles and weakened immunity. There is insulin resistance (decreased insulin sensitivity), decreased serotonin and increased depression. Carbohydrate cravings lead to weight gain (central obesity). Changes in the thyroid metabolism leads to hypothyroidism.

Increased insulin level

People who develop high insulin levels are usually sugar or carbohydrate addicts. As they gain weight they change their metabolism into the metabolic syndrome. The extra insulin that is floating around triggers the insulin receptors to become less sensitive (also called “resistant”). The people love to eat. They snack frequently on protein bars and candy bars. As they gain weight, consequently their energy goes down and as a result they often develop painful joints. This prevents them from being physically active. They notice episodes of foggy thinking. Women complain of frequent yeast infections.

The body tries to compensate by slightly decreasing thyroid hormones and slightly increasing cortisol levels.

Decreased thyroid levels

There is increased lactic acid production and decreased insulin sensitivity. Oxidative stress is increased. The patient is depressed and cognition and memory are reduced. Also, the gut has slower motility. The mitochondria, the energy packages in each cell are reduced and functioning less productively. Cardiac function is reduced.

The body tries to compensate for the primary thyroid weakness by slightly elevating insulin and cortisol.

Treatment of stressed hormone system

Before the doctor can treat a disbalanced hormone system, blood tests have to be done that show what kind of hormone constellation is present. Dr. Heyman suggested the following support with supplements.

Treatment of thyroid disorders

Thyroid supplementation may involve any of these: Selenomethionine, iodine, chromium, thyroid glandular, tyrosine, ferritin, Ashwagandha, coleus forskohlii, 7-keto DHEA, ferritin and iron. Other possible supplements that were mentioned by Dr. Heyman were Rhodiola, schisandra, ginseng, Rg3, eurycoma longifolia, neuromedulla glandular, DHEA, tryptophan/5 HTP, licorice, Cordyceps.

This, however, is not all. Missing thyroid hormones need replacement with a balanced T3/T4 medication like Armour thyroid.

Adrenal support

The following supplements are used to support adrenals: Adrenal glandular, vitamin C, adrenal cortex extract, Holy Basil, Pharma GABA, Magnolia/Phellodendron, L-theanine, sterols & sterolins.

Pancreatic support

These supplements support the insulin production in the pancreas:

Chromium, vitamin D, magnesium, alpha-lipoic acid, fish oil, micro PQQ, bitter melon, cinnamon, arginine, vanadium, benfotiamine (synthetic derivative of B1 vitamin) and Bergamot.

Dr. Heyman completed his talk by giving a few patient examples, explaining what blood tests showed, what the hormone disbalance was, and which treatment options were helpful.

How Stress Affects Our Hormone System

How Stress Affects Our Hormone System

Conclusion

Dr. Andrew Heyman gave a talk at the 24th Annual World Congress on Anti-Aging Medicine (Dec. 9-11, 2016) in Las Vegas that I attended. He talked about how stress in due time affects our hormone system. Symptoms from stress can stem from different causes including hormone disbalances. Given these points, conventional medicine would simply treat the symptoms. However, this will not be successful with stress-induced hormone disbalances, namely, because it does not treat the causes. Obviously only causal treatment of the hormone disbalance will restore the person’s wellbeing and the symptoms will disappear at the same time. In short, anti-aging medicine and integrative medicine are attempting to follow this approach.

Incoming search terms:

Feb
25
2017

Heart Health Improves With Hormone Replacement

Dr. Pamela Smith gave a lecture in December 2016 showing that heart health improves with hormone replacement. Her talk was part of the 24th Annual World Congress on Anti-Aging Medicine (Dec. 9 to Dec. 11, 2016) in Las Vegas, which I attended. The title of the talk was: “Heart health: The Importance of Hormonal Balance for Men and Women”. Her keynote lecture contained 255 slides. I am only presenting a factual summary of the pertinent points here.

1. Estrogen

First of all, estrogens are the main female hormone in women that protects them from heart attacks.

Observations regarding risk of heart attacks

  1. Women have a lower risk of heart attacks before menopause compared to men of the same age.
  2. Heart attack rates go up significantly after menopause.
  3. Estrogen replacement therapy may reduce the risk of heart attacks by 50% for postmenopausal women.

Lipid profile after menopause

There is an elevation of LDL cholesterol, total cholesterol and triglycerides as well as lower HDL cholesterol levels. All of this causes a higher risk of heart attacks for postmenopausal women. Estrogen replacement therapy increases the large VLDL particles, decreases LDL levels and raises HDL-2. Postmenopausal women who do estrogen replacement therapy (ERT) are helping to reduce their heart attack rates.

Difference between oral and transdermal estrogen replacement

The liver metabolizes estrogen taken by mouth. This reduces the protective effect on the cardiovascular system. In contrast, transdermal estrogen (from commercial estrogen patches or from bioidentical estrogen creams) has a higher cardioprotective effect. The liver does not metabolize transdermal estrogen. Dr. Smith explained using many slides how estrogen prevents heart attacks. Apart from lipid lowering effects there are protective effects to the lining of the arteries. In addition there are metabolic processes in heart cells and mitochondria that benefit from estrogens. The end result is that postmenopausal women who replace estrogen will outlive men by about 10 years. The production of Premarin involved pregnant mares. In other words, it is not human estrogen and it does not fit the human estrogen receptors. Also the liver metabolizes estrogen taken as tablet form, which loses a lot of the beneficial effects that you get from transdermal estrogen. 

How can you document the beneficial effects of estrogen replacement?

  1. Carotid intima measurements in postmenopausal women on ERT show a consistent reduction in thickness compared to controls.
  2. Postmenopausal women on ERT reduce their physical and emotional stress response compared to postmenopausal women without ERT.
  3. Hormone replacement therapy in postmenopausal women reduces blood pressure. Measurements showed this effect to be due to a reduction of angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) by 20%. This is the equivalent of treating a woman with an ACE inhibitor without the side effects of these pills.
  4. Coronary calcification scores were lower in postmenopausal women on ERT than a control group without ERT. These calcification scores correlate with the risk for heart attacks.
  5. Oral estrogen replacement leads to proinflammatory metabolites from the liver metabolism of estrogen. No proinflammatory metabolites occur in the blood of women using transdermal estrogen. The anti-inflammatory effect of transdermal estrogen is another mechanism that prevents heart attacks.
  6. Postmenopausal women on ERT had no increased risk of heart attacks or venous thromboembolism (clots in veins). Menopausal women without ERT have a risk of 40% of dying from a heart attack. Their risk of developing breast cancer is 5.5%, the risk of dying from breast cancer is about 1%. There was an increase of venous thromboembolism in women who took oral estrogen.
  7. Estrogen has antiarrhythmic effects stabilizing the heart rhythm. Dr. Smith said that in the future intravenous estrogen might be used to prevent serious arrhythmias following heart attacks.

Estrogen levels in males

Males require a small amount of estrogens to maintain their memory, for bone maturation and regulation of bone resorption. But they also need small amounts of estrogen for their normal lipid metabolism.

However, if the estrogen levels are too high as is the case in an obese, elderly man, there is an increased risk of heart disease. Factors that lead to increased estrogen levels in an older man are: increased aromatase activity in fatty tissue, overuse of alcohol and a change in liver metabolism, zinc deficiency, ingestion of estrogen-containing foods and environmental estrogens (also called xenoestrogens).

2. Progesterone

Furthermore, progesterone is the second most important female hormone, the importance of which has been neglected in the past. Progesterone is significantly different from the progestin medroxyprogesterone (MPA). MPA was the oral progestin that was responsible for heart attacks and blood clots in the Women’s Health Initiative. MPA increases smooth muscle cell proliferation. This in turn causes hardening of the coronary arteries. In contrast, progesterone inhibits smooth muscle cell proliferation, which prevents heart attacks. Progesterone also lowers blood pressure and elevates HDL cholesterol, but MPA does not.

Progesterone in males

In a small study Depo-Provera was given to males for 17 days. Blood tests showed a lowering of triglycerides, LDL cholesterol and Apo A-1.

3. Testosterone

Finally, testosterone is the third sex hormone that is present in women. In men it is the main hormone, but women benefit from just a small amounts of it for libido, clarity of thought and muscle endurance.

Testosterone replacement in women

Testosterone in women does not only increase their sex drive, but also relaxes the coronary arteries in women who were testosterone deficient. This allows more blood flow to the heart. In postmenopausal women testosterone replacement lowered lipoprotein (a) levels up to 65%. The physician replaces first with bioidentical estrogen; only then does he consider replacing missing testosterone in women. Otherwise testosterone alone can cause heart attacks in women.

Elevated testosterone in women with PCOS

Women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) can have increased testosterone levels when they go through premenopause or menopause.

Women with PCOS are at a higher risk to develop diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. 50% of women with PCOS have insulin resistance. 70% of women with PCOS in the US have lipid abnormalities in their blood.

Elevated testosterone levels in the blood can lower the protective HDL cholesterol and increase homocysteine levels. Both can cause heart attacks.

Women with PCOS have a 4-fold risk of developing high blood pressure.

Testosterone replacement in males

A 2010 study showed that low testosterone levels in males were predictive of higher mortality due to heart attacks and cancer. Low testosterone ca cause high blood pressure, heart failure and increased risk of cardiovascular deaths. There was a higher incidence of deaths from heart attacks when testosterone levels were low compared to men with normal testosterone levels.

Low testosterone can cause diabetes and metabolic syndrome, which in turn can cause heart attacks.

It is important that men with low testosterone get testosterone replacement therapy.

DHT (Dihydrotestosterone)

DHT is much more potent than testosterone. Conversion of testosterone leads to DHT via the enzyme 5-alpha-reductase. While testosterone can be aromatized into estrogen, DHT cannot. Some men have elevated levels of DHT. This leads to a risk of heart attacks, prostate enlargement and hair loss of the scalp.

Andropause treatment

Only about 5% of men in andropause with low testosterone levels receive testosterone replacement in the US. This may be due to rumors that testosterone may cause prostate cancer or liver cancer. The patient or the physician may be reluctant to treat with testosterone. Researchers sh0wed that bioidentical testosterone does not cause any harm. It is safe to use testosterone cream transdermally. It does not cause prostate cancer or benign prostatic hypertrophy.

An increase of 6-nmol/L-serum testosterone was associated with a 19% drop in all-cause mortality.

Testosterone helps build up new blood vessels after a heart attack. Testosterone replacement increases coronary blood flow in patients with coronary artery disease. Another effect of testosterone is the decrease of inflammation. Inflammation is an important component of cardiovascular disease.

Testosterone replacement improves exercise capacity, insulin resistance and muscle performance (including the heart muscle).

Apart from the beneficial effect of testosterone on the heart it is also beneficial for the brain. Testosterone treatment prevents Alzheimer’s disease in older men by preventing beta amyloid precursor protein production.

4. DHEA

The adrenal glands produce the hormone dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). It is a precursor for male and female sex hormones, but has actions on its own. It supports muscle strength. Postmenopausal women had a higher mortality from heart disease when their DHEA blood levels were low.

Similar studies in men showed the same results. Congestive heart failure patients of both sexes had more severe disease the lower the DHEA levels were. Other studies have used DHEA supplementation in heart patients, congestive heart failure patients and patients with diabetes to show that clinical symptoms improved.

5. Melatonin

Low levels of melatonin have been demonstrated in patients with heart disease. Melatonin inhibits platelet aggregation and suppresses nighttime sympathetic activity (epinephrine and norepinephrine). Sympathetic activity damages the lining of coronary arteries. Melatonin reduces hypoxia in patients with ischemic stroke or ischemic heart disease. Lower nocturnal melatonin levels are associated with higher adverse effects following a heart attack. Among these are recurrent heart attacks, congestive heart failure or death. Melatonin widens blood vessels, is a free radical scavenger and inhibits oxidation of LDL cholesterol. Melatonin reduces inflammation following a heart attack. This can be measured using the C-reactive protein.

In patients who had angioplasties done for blocked coronary arteries intravenous melatonin decreased CRP, reduced tissue damage, decreased various irregular heart beat patterns and allowed damaged heart tissue to recover.

6. Thyroid hormones

It has been known for more than 100 years that dysfunction of the thyroid leads to heart disease. Hypothyroidism can cause heart attacks, hardening of the coronary arteries and congestive heart failure. Lesser-known connections to hypothyroidism are congestive heart failure, depression, fibromyalgia, ankylosing spondylitis and insulin resistance. Some cases of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) with low thyroid levels may successfully respond to thyroid replacement.

Thyroid hormones improve lipids in the blood, improve arterial stiffness and improve cardiac remodeling following a heart attack. Thyroid hormones help with the repair of the injured heart muscle. They also work directly on the heart muscle helping it to contract more efficiently. Lower thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) values and higher T3 and T4 thyroid hormone levels lead to improved insulin sensitivity, higher HDL values (= protective cholesterol) and overall better functioning of the lining of the arteries.

Dr. Smith said that thyroid replacement should achieve that

  • TSH is below 2.0, but above the lower limit of normal
  • Free T3 should be dead center of normal or slightly above
  • Free T4 should be dead center of normal or slightly above

Most patients with hypothyroidism require replacement of both T3 and T4 (like with the use of Armour thyroid pills).

7. Cortisol

Cortisol is the only human hormone that increases with age. All other hormones drop off to lower values with age. The adrenal glands manufacture cortisol. With stress cortisol is rising, but when stress is over, it is supposed to come down to normal levels. Many people today are constantly overstressed, so their adrenal glands are often chronically over stimulated. This can lead to a lack of progesterone. It also causes a lack of functional thyroid hormones as they get bound and are less active. When women have decreased estradiol in menopause there is a decline in norepinephrine production, production of serotonin, dopamine and acetylcholine. Women with this experience depression, lack of drive and slower thought processes.

Heart Health Improves With Hormone Replacement

Heart Health Improves With Hormone Replacement

Conclusion

Seven major hormones have been reviewed here that all have a bearing on the risk of developing a heart attack. It is important that these hormones are balanced, so they can work with each other. Hormones can be compared to a team that works together and is responsible for our health. If one or several of the team players are ineffective, our health will suffer. For this reason hormone replacement is crucial.

Hormone effects on heart muscle

Hormones have effects on mitochondria of the heart muscles cells. They stabilize the heart rhythm as in the case of estradiol. But they can also strengthen the heart muscle directly through DHEA and estrogens in women and DHEA and testosterone in men. Thyroid hormones are another supportive force for the heart. Physicians can  use them therapeutically in chronic heart failure patients. When people age, their hormone glands will produce less hormones, but blood tests will show this. Replacing hormones that are missing can add years of active life. Taking care of the symphony of hormones means you are taking care of your most important organ, the heart!

Incoming search terms:

Dec
03
2016

Electronics In The Bedroom

There is new research showing that electronics in the bedroom can interfere with a normal sleep pattern. Dr. Ben Carter is the lead author and a senior lecturer in biostatistics at King’s College London. He just completed a study involving 125,198 children with an average age of 14½ years. There were about equal amounts of males and females. Both sexes had the same problem. When they were allowed to use electronic media, this interfered with their sleep time. What electronic devices are we talking about? Watching TV, using the computer, the cell phone, tablets and computer games. The study was originally published at JAMA Pediatrics.

Result of the study on electronics in the bedroom

  1. When media bedtime use was allowed, there was a 2.17-fold higher risk of not getting enough sleep quantity. This was compared to kids who did not use media devices in the bedroom.
  2. There was a 1.46-fold risk of having poor sleep quality.
  3. There was a 2.72-fold risk of excessive daytime sleepiness.
  4. Even children who had access to media use, but did not use it at night had similar findings. They had a risk of 1.79-fold to get inadequate sleep quantity. There was a 1.53-fold risk of poor sleep quality. And excessive daytime sleepiness was present with a 2.27-fold risk.

Melatonin level influenced by electronics in the bedroom

Physicians researched the diurnal hormone rhythm and sleep pattern for decades. Essentially two hormones work together.

In the morning when you open your eyes, light enters our eyes and is registered in the hypothalamus. There are also links from the hypothalamus to the pineal gland, where melatonin is synthesized and stored. The light signal stops the secretion of melatonin from the pineal gland, although it is still being produced during the day in the pineal gland, but stored there until the evening hours set in. You may have noticed that you start yawning when the light dims in the evening. That’s when melatonin is released into your system to let you know it’s time to slow down and go to sleep.

Balance of melatonin and cortisol

Of course, we have electrical light and can turn night into day if we choose to! This works for a limited time, but eventually tiredness sets in, and melatonin wins the upper hand. Melatonin is the master hormone of the circadian rhythm.

It is interesting to note that cortisol does exactly the opposite. Cortisol is the adrenal gland hormone that helps us cope with stress. When we are fully awake, we need cortisol to cope with the various stress situations of the day. Melatonin inhibits cortisol secretion and cortisol inhibits melatonin secretion, and they are natural opponents working together for your common good. This is part of the circadian rhythm. We can measure these hormones, and this is how researchers have found out how these two hormones work together.

What light stimulation does to your hormones

Too much exposure of children or adults to electronic devices overstimulates the brain and sends signals to the adrenal glands to produce more cortisol. In between the hypothalamus and the adrenal glands a cascade of hormones regulates this. The hypothalamus sends CRH, the corticotropin-releasing hormone to the pituitary, which stimulates in turn the release of the messenger hormone ACTH to produce more cortisol in the adrenal glands. It is the extra cortisol that keeps kids awake. The same applies to adults who invite electronics into their bedroom. All the excitement from watching the various media gadgets leads to extra cortisol. And we just learnt that cortisol counteracts melatonin. 

What can parents do about electronics in the bedroom?

First of all, parents need to be firm with their kids. They need to explain to them that electronics are staying out of the bedroom. There needs to be a cooling down period one hour before bedtime where they do not watch TV, use the cell phone or other electronic gadgets. They may rebel against this first, but when they sleep better, they likely will be more agreeable. Here is a list that contributes to better sleep habits and better sleep quality:

List for better sleep habits

  • Ensure that the bedroom is dark, soundproof, and comfortable with the room temperature being not too warm. It is important to develop a “sleep hygiene”. This means going to sleep around the same time each night, to have some down time of 1 hour or so before going to bed and get up after the average time of sleep (for most people between 7 to 9 hours). Sleeping in is not a solution, and an alarm clock will help also to develop a sleep routine.
  • Caffeine drinks, alcohol, nicotine and recreational drugs must be avoided. Smokers should butt out no later 7PM, as nicotine is a stimulant.
  • Getting into a regular exercise program, either at home or at a gym is beneficial.
  • Avoid a heavy meal late at night. A light snack including some warm milk would be OK.

More points for the better sleep habit list

  • It is not a sensible idea to use the bedroom as an office, reading place or media center. It paves the way to the stimulus of the cortisol effect that keeps us awake. The bedroom is a place of rest and should be comfortable and relaxing.
  • Some sleepers wake up at night, and they are wide-awake! Leaving the bedroom and relaxing in the living room for a while can help. It goes without saying that playing video games will not help! An alternative is to take 3 mg of melatonin, which will helps to fall asleep faster, but melatonin will wear off after about 4 hours.
  • A self-hypnosis recording is a useful adjunct to a sleep routine. Listening to it before going to sleep helps to focus on relaxation and to stop ruminating about the day and its events. Keep the volume low.

Some thoughts about sleep aids after electronics in the bedroom are removed

Sometimes an adolescent will have trouble falling asleep. Here is the solution of what to do: at the time the youngster is having problems sleeping, there is too much cortisol on board, which prevents the pineal gland to release melatonin. What is missing is melatonin.

The first step is to take 3mg of melatonin at bedtime. It takes 20 to 30 minutes for melatonin to take effect. If the youth does not fall asleep within that time frame he or she is likely thinking too much. If that were the case, I would recommend taking 1 or 2 capsules of valerian root (500 mg strength) from the health food store. This combined with the melatonin should help in more than 80%-90% of insomnia cases. If the child still cannot sleep, see your physician. The adolescent may need sleep studies done or may have problems with the thyroid (hypo- or hyperthyroidism), which may need to be checked. Physicians need to check out other medical problems, including depression. Melatonin and valerian are safe. Other sleeping pills have multiple side effects including memory problems.

Electronics In The Bedroom

Electronics In The Bedroom

Conclusion

A new study has shown that electronics in the bedroom will often keep children awake. It has become a huge problem in schools where students fall asleep or have problems paying attention. There are simple rules regarding a quiet bedroom without electronics that will go a long way of rehabilitating a child who has sleeping problems because of electronics. There are natural ways to help nature along, if the simple measures don’t work. Melatonin and valerian root help to calm the mind and help catching some healthy sleep. If the problem were persisting, an appointment with the family physician would be in order.

Even though this article deals with children and adolescents and the use of electronics in the bedroom, the same applies to adults. They are not immune to the stressors that disrupt sleep. They are just as likely to feel tired and sluggish after a restless sleep, and their performance at the workplace will suffer. Sleep hygiene is as important for adults as it is for adolescents.

Nov
12
2016

Stress Drives Our Lives

Every year the American Psychological Association (APA) monitors the American public how stress drives our lives. This yearly report has been compiled since 2007. About 75% of the people questioned reported that they have experienced moderate to high stress over the past month.

Symptoms when stress drives our lives

What kind of symptoms can stress cause? It can cause sleep deprivation, anxiety, headaches and depression. But there can be more symptoms from any disease that stress may cause. The “Stress in America” report from February 2016 shows on page 5 that unhealthy life habits are used by low-income Americans to cope with stress. A bar graph shows that watching television or movies for more than 2 hours per day is common. Another way of coping is to surf the Internet more often, take more naps or sleep longer. Eating more, drinking alcoholic beverages and smoking more are other unhealthy ways to cope with stress.

As the stressed person gains extra weight and eventually becomes obese, there is a higher rate of diabetes that can develop with all of its complications.

Causes of stress in our lives

The “Stress in America” survey was based on 3,068 adults in the US who completed the survey during August 2015. 72% were stressed out about financial issues. 22% of these said that they were extremely stressed in the past month as a result of money concerns. Other common concerns were work, the economy, family responsibilities and concerns about personal health. Average stress levels among Americans decreased when compared to 2007. On a 10-point stress score respondents rated their stress at 4.9 in 2016 compared to 6.2 in 2007. But according to the American Psychological Association this is much higher than a stress rating of 3.7 considered to be a healthy level.

Stress affects people from all walks of life, workers, women, young adults, students and those with lower incomes.

“Stress is caused by the loss or threat of loss of the personal, social and material resources that are primary to us” Stevan Hobfoll, PhD, a clinical psychologist from Rush University Medical Center said. “So, threat to self, threat to self-esteem, threat to income, threat to employment and threat to our family or our health…” is what causes stress.

Stress drives our lives causing disease

When stress is too much for our system, we are starting to see pathology develop. “Stress is seldom the root cause of disease, but rather interacts with our genetics and our state of our bodies in ways that accelerate disease” professor Hobfoll says. The following are common diseases that can result from chronic stress.

Heart attacks and strokes

In a 2015 Lancet study 603,838 men and women who worked long hours were followed for a mean of about 8 years with respect to heart disease or strokes. All of the subjects were free of heart attacks and strokes when they entered into the study. There were a total of 13% more heart attacks in those who worked extra hours in comparison to those who worked 40 hours per week or less. With respect to strokes there were 33% more strokes in those who worked long hours. Researchers noted a dose-response curve for strokes in groups with various workloads. Compared to standard working hours there were 10% additional strokes for 41-48 working hours, 27% for 49-54 working hours and 33% for 55 or more working hours per week.

Stress drives our lives and causes substance abuse

In order to cope with stress many of us treat daily stress with alcohol. It makes you feel good subjectively, but it can raise your blood pressure causing heart attacks and strokes down the road. A low dose of alcohol may be healthy, but medium and high doses are detrimental to your health.

Next many people still smoke, although scientists have proven long time ago that it is bad for your health. It can cause heart attacks, various cancers and circulatory problems leading to leg amputations.

Overeating is another common problem. Comfort food relieves stress, but it puts on extra pounds. As you know it is easier to put weight on than get it off. Being overweight or being obese has its own problems: arthritis in the hips and knees makes walking more difficult. The metabolic syndrome sets in, which is a characteristic metabolic change causing diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes and certain cancers. The more weight you carry, the less likely you are to exercise. This deteriorates your health outlook.

Diabetes

Stress causes too much cortisol secretion from the adrenal glands. This raises blood sugar, and when chronic can cause diabetes. In addition unhealthy eating habits associated with stress can cause weight gain and high blood sugars leading to diabetes.

In a 2012 California study 148 adult Korean immigrants were examined. They all had elevated blood sugars confirming the diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. They had a  elevated waist/hip ratio.

A high percentage of the study subjects had risk factors for type 2 diabetes. This included being overweight or obese and having high blood glucose readings. 66% of them said that they were feeling stressed, 51% reported feeling anxious, 38% said they were feeling restless, 30% felt nervous and 3% said they were feeling hopeless.

An Australian long-term follow-up study computed risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes. Stress was a major contributor to diabetes.

A 30-day episode of any anxiety disorder had a 1.53-fold risk to cause diabetes. A depressive disorder had a 1.37-fold risk to cause diabetes and posttraumatic stress disorder had a risk of 1.42-fold to cause diabetes.

Infertility

Stress changes hormones in women causing ovulation problems and infertility. 1 in 8 couples in America have problems getting pregnant. Physicians identified stress as at least a contributing factor. But in men stress can also reduce sperm count and semen quality as this study describes.

Alzheimer’s disease

A 2010 study from Gothenburg University, Sweden examined 1462 woman aged 38-60 and followed them for 35 years.

Psychologists assessed the stress score in 1968,1974 and 1980. 161 females developed dementia (105 Alzheimer’s disease, 40 vascular dementia and 16 other dementias). The risk of dementia was higher in those women who had frequent/constant stress in the past. Women who had stress on one, two or three examinations suffered from higher dementia rates later in life. Researchers compared this to women did not have any significant stress. Specifically, dementia rates were 10% higher after one stressful episode, 73% higher after two stressful episodes and 151% higher after three stressful episodes.

Remedies for stress

Before you can attempt to remedy stress, you must first detect that you are under stress. You can recognize this when you have problems sleeping, you suffer from fatigue, when overeating or undereating is a problem, and if you feel depressed. Others may feel angry or are irritable. Some bad lifestyle habits may also make you aware that you are under stress. You may smoke or drink more in an attempt to manage stress. Some people abuse drugs.

Here are some suggestions how to remedy stress:

  1. Seek support from family, friends or religious organizations. If you engage in drugs or alcohol overuse or you feel suicidal, it is best to seek the advice from a psychiatrist or psychologist.
  2. Engage in regular exercise. This produces endorphins, the natural “feel-good” brain hormone. This reduces symptoms of depression and improves sleep quality.
  3. Do something that increases pleasure, such as having a meal with friends, starting a hobby or watching a good movie.
  4. Positive self-talk: avoid negative thoughts like “I can’t do this”. Instead say to yourself “I will do the best I can”. Psychologists have developed a technique where they teach patients how to turn negatives into positives. Psychologists call this therapy “cognitive therapy”. You may want to seek the advice of a psychologist to have a few cognitive therapy sessions.
  5. Daily relaxation: you may want to use self-hypnosis, tai-chi exercises or meditation to reduce your stress levels.
Stress Drives Our Lives

Stress Drives Our Lives

Conclusion

Stress is very common. Diverse diseases like heart attacks, strokes, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease can all be caused by stress. It is important to minimize the impact of stress by seeking family support and support from friends. Engaging in regular exercise will release endorphins and make you feel better. Relaxation exercises and seeking counselling can all help you to manage stress. You cannot ignore or simply tolerate this force in your life. Stress is indeed there, but we can make a difference by managing it to avoid that stress manages us.