A significant percentage of women find that hormone therapy using birth control pills or natural progesterone supplementation is extremely effective for reducing acne blemishes and improving the overall health of the skin. It also helps to lighten periods, reduce cramping and contributes to an overall sense of well being. However, a certain subset of women experience a worsening of symptoms, increased blood pressure or feel just plain “crazy” soon after starting this type of hormone therapy. Fret not dear souls! This scenario has a simple explanation, is seemingly easy to fix and points to a situation that could build into more significant health problems later in life Progesterone, the natural form of the synthetic hormones used in birth control pills, is part of large family of hormones collectively called steroids. Most of us have heard of the more common steroid hormones like estrogen and testosterone. Others include the stress hormone cortisol and the blood pressure hormone aldosterone. When the body has an increased need for a particular hormone (for example cortisol) it can convert other hormones, like progesterone, into whatever hormone it thinks it needs. It does this with the help of enzymes. If you look at the diagram below, each arrow along the pathway is labeled with the name of the enzyme that drives the reaction. (Thanks to Walter F. Boron and Emile L. Boulpaep for their contribution of this beautiful diagram to Wikipedia. )
Notice progesterone, in the yellow, can convert easily to cortisol and aldosterone through the enzymes 21-hydroxylase and 11-betahydroxylase. The levels of these enzymes ultimately control how much progesterone is converted into cortisol and/or aldosterone. Sometimes there is an authentic need for more of a certain hormone. For example, higher amounts of cortisol are used by the body to moderate inflammation during an immune response or during times of increased stress. Sometimes, our genetic programming simply tells our body to make too many of these enzymes regardless of whether there is a need or not. Regardless of the cause, I am absolutely convinced that rooibos tea is an easy way to begin to slow down the conversion and depletion of progesterone. I got this idea after reading this study[i] demonstrating that rooibos tea had the ability to slow the activity of some of these enzymes and had a normalizing effect on cortisol and aldosterone precursors.
I suggested this to a few of my patients who I suspected were suffering from this specific scenario. At first, I was unsure if a simple cup of rooibos tea would be strong enough to have any significant impact. I was pleasantly surprised to find all them had noticeable results within a month. Every single one of them reported feeling calmer. Several of them reported an improvement in their sex drive. One of them had her high blood pressure return to normal within three weeks. All of them had significantly easier periods with fewer cramps and clots. One of them had a normal period for the first time in years. Previously, her periods were coming every three weeks and were accompanied by heavy bleeding. She was chronically anemic and alway felt worse with progesterone. This same lady ended up needing to reduce her dose of thyroid medication, which had been the same for years. I’m guessing this is partly because of the effects of cortisol on the thyroid through the adrenal-thyroid axis and maybe partly because progesterone boosts thyroid function. My acne patients who had symptoms of this scenario all improved by at least 20% and two ladies improved by about 70% after one month. Acne is multifaceted so it would be unlikely that rooibos tea would act as a magic pill but it definitely seems to help. I was REALLY encouraged by these results. The lady who had the high blood pressure had a relapse about two months after. At first we couldn’t figure out why but then realized that she had bought some rooibos tea that contained licorice, which is known to elevate blood pressure. When she stopped this her blood pressure returned back to normal within a week. There are a couple unknowns here. To reduce overall inflammation, I have all of my patients stop drinking coffee and alcohol and reduce their sugar intake to less than 7 grams per meal. If someone is still consuming these, I’m not sure if some of these substances might override the beneficial effects of the rooibos and continue to drive the pathway in the wrong direction. I would LOVE to hear your feedback.
Constructive comments that contribute, whether positive or negative, are welcomed. All others will be ignored or referred to trolls who are smarter than you and have nothing better to do.
[i] Schloms L, Storbeck KH, Swart P, Gelderblom WC, Swart AC The influence of Aspalathus linearis (Rooibos) and dihydrochalcones on adrenal steroidogenesis: quantification of steroid intermediates and end products in H295R cells. The Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology [2012, 128(3-5):128-138]
A few weeks ago I published an article about Traditional Chinese Medicine and the Origin of Scientific Thought. Part of its emphasis was discussing Five Element Theory which marked the beginning of scientific medicine and a departure from Shamanism. The following is a discussion of the interconnected systems of soil biodiversity, plant ecology, gut microbiology, and human health and evolution.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, each of the Five Elements, fire, Earth, metal, water, and wood “symbolize five different inherent qualities and states of natural phenomena” including five movements and five phases in the cycle of the seasons. People are often stumped by the fact that there are four seasons but five elements. Being the source of all life on this planet, Earth was the fifth, and viewed as the source of all the other elements.
The ancient Chinese scholars identified the digestive system to be an extension of and our connection to the Earth. After all, it is where the elements of Earth are taken in as food and are transformed into a living being.
The bacteria and fungi present in every square millimeter of soil ultimately act as the digestive system or Earth element for plants. They fix nitrogen and break down soil nutrients and minerals into forms that can be taken up by the plants’ roots. When we eat plants, we also take in some of the bacteria and fungi present in the soil. These become part of the incredibly complex ecosystem of the gut.
Each and every organism present in digestive system is a reflection of the organisms present in the soil. Each one creates its own unique signals and immune responses that literally determine our state of being on EVERY level.
We are already aware of the anti-inflammatory and immune boosting benefits of acidophilus and bifidus which are being marketed in several yogurt products. A more interesting example of this appeared in the journal, Neuroscience, in May of 2007. Researchers found that the presence of the bacteria Mycobacterium vaccae (which is common in soil and not pathogenic to humans) created an immune response that stimulated serotonin sensitivity in the certain parts of the brain. A couple of things to take note of here: First, not all immune responses are bad. They are simply signals. Secondly, this bacteria’s presence in the gut results in actual behavioral modifications via serotonin which has a happy, calming effect. Further investigation suggested that this is one reason gardening makes us happy.
Another example is the pathogenic fungus, Rhizopus arrhizus. This fungus is also common in the soil and in trace amounts in our digestive tract. Like an ecosystem, the richer and more diverse, the more resilient. As long as our digestive ecosystem is diverse and healthy this fungus remains at low, non-threatening levels and actually serves many beneficial biologic functions. For example, if you eat anything from the yam family this fungus converts some of the phytochemicals it into the hormone progesterone which is then taken up into the blood via the lymphatic system. It’s also used very effectively in German Biologic Medicine as a low-dose suppository to stimulate the body to break up its own blood clots and vascular congestion.
A broader example is the influence of Firmicutes and Bacteroidetes and weight gain in humans. An article that appeared in Nature demonstrated a strong correlation between a low level of Bacteroidetes and obesity. Conversely, thinner people had higher levels of Firmicutes. Further research showed that these bacteria directly alter carbohydrate metabolism in the digestive system.
Ultimately the bacteria in the soil determine what types plants can establish. However, after a plant establishes itself, it creates its own local pathogen controls by promoting rhizobacteria. When we eat plants and their roots the immunity from the rhizobacteria are passed on to our own digestive systems. From the soil, to the plant, to our own digestive system and back again. They are not separate. They are one system. The foods we eat have a direct impact on the preponderance of the various bacteria and fungi present in our gut. This, in turn, determines the signals and immune system responses. As a very simple example, too much sugar results in an overgrowth of some fungi like candida albicans. (more information on this in the future)
The emerging field of gut microbiology has incredible potential for treating disease. However, after all the research is done, I believe the ultimate conclusion will be that eating food grown in healthy soil with extensive biodiversity will manifest as a healthy, evolving human community. With our current technology we have only been able to culture between 0.1 and 1% of the soil fungi and bacteria. The rest is completely unknown to us.
It is important to consider the impact of microbial deprivation (via the use of bacteriocides, fungicides, irradiation, triple washing and chlorination of our food and water) on the human health and evolution. There is a growing body of evidence that suggests the immune system problems we are seeing in the younger generations are a result of insufficient bacterial and viral exposure. Furthermore, because plants determine the presence of specific bacteria, it’s important to consider the impact that monocultures have on soil biodiversity and how this affects human health.by