This is a little Emil paper I wrote in response to repeated questions about the role of hot flashes in menopause. Like everything our body does, hot flashes serve an important purpose.
Hot Flashes – A Sign of the Times
Dear (Female) Friends,
As many of you know, I have been doing a fair amount of study concerning women’s health. I get some interesting comments from people concerning the fact that a veterinarian writes about menopause, post partum depression, and hot flashes on his Website. But I do so because all of these things fit right into the big picture that I have been trying to paint for the past 7 years. In fact, the plight of countless menopausal women speaks volumes on this subject.
Why do many of the conditions that affect humans usually strike men first and women later, with the females ultimately suffering from a higher incidence these afflictions (e.g. immune-mediated diseases)? Why are the women healthy enough to take care of their ailing children and dying husbands only to hit a brick wall when they enter menopause? Why do some women breeze through menopause while others suffer endless hot flashes and serious medical complications? What is a “hot flash”, anyway? Are they just an annoyance or do they serve a purpose (like every other symptom our body generates)? What is the purpose of a fever? What else is going on in the perimenopausal woman’s body and what is the ultimate outcome of this troubling time?
I have had some interesting ideas about the hot flash- it’s origin and their purpose- for quite some time but had not done an Internet search for the “cause of hot flashes” until recently. You can do this. Simply put “menopause, hot flash, cause” in your search and read the often conflicting articles on the origin of these distressing occurrences. In fact, here is that Google search: http://www.google.com/search?sourceid=navclient&ie=UTF-8&rls=GGLG,GGLG:2006-16,GGLG:en&q=menopause+hot+flashes+cause
For years, the authorities thought it was low estrogen levels that “caused” of hot flashes. But if that were the case, wouldn’t all menopausal women have them as their estrogen levels dropped and continue to have them as these levels remained diminished? It is a bit more complex than that. In the following link (which triggered me into finally writing this piece), they discuss the possible role of declining progesterone levels in the development of hot flashes. Ahhh, now we’re getting somewhere. (To be honest with you, I’m pretty amazed that it has taken this long to get around to pointing the finger at the deficiency of this critical hormone, except for the fact that many true causes of illness (e.g. diet) are still relatively “unknown”.) Check out this link:
http://www.news.uiuc.edu/NEWS/07/0424flashes.html- Hot flashes: Studies explore the role of genes, obesity and alcohol
Now, many of you know how I feel about “genetics” and the over-reliance upon our genes as explanations for our health problems. You’ve heard me ask many times questions like “If something is “genetic”, then why does it take 40, 60, or 80 years to show up? Why does it wait? What is waiting? What triggers it to come out hiding?” Part of the answer came when I read that scientists have determined that up to 45% of the genetic information in our double-stranded DNA is actually viral information, both active and extinct. Yes, over the years, viruses have incorporated their genetic information into ours just as we know occurs in the retroviruses known to cause cancer. It is easy to understand why certain cancers run so strongly through breeds of dogs and human families. The fascinating fact is that our DNA contains all of the “good” information (hair and eye color, proper organ formation, and normal bodily functions) and the potentially “bad” information (“genetic diseases”) for that individual.
I have also been fascinated by the term “mutated” gene. I think I understand what scientists believe concerning the concept of how chemicals, UV radiation, and other insults can disrupt the amino acid sequences in our DNA. But when we interject the fact that viral codes are scattered throughout that same DNA, another mechanism comes to mind.
All we really have to grasp is the true nature of viruses and their vital role in nature. As many of you now know, viruses play critical parts in the adaptation of plants and animals as well as variation in nature. Biologists know this. In fact, we and the ecosystem in which we live could not survive without viruses. So why have we demonized the little critters? The obvious answer is “because they ’cause’ disease”. On closer inspection, we find that this limited idea is a very superficial one (just like the idea that “menopause results in low estrogens, and menopausal women suffer from hot flashes, therefore low estrogen levels must cause hot flashes”.)
The fascinating thing to grasp is that viruses are the masters of adaptation. The AIDs virus is the glaring example. When challenged, many of these strange little entities can change their antigenic appearance to evade an attacking immune system, thereby becoming “resistant” to that attack. Again, the AIDS is the master of this. Others appear to succumb more readily. Still others invade the cell and interject their DNA into the host cell’s DNA so that it remains there indefinitely. Some of the latter allow adaptation of that host cell while others cause “disease” later down the road, with cancer being an example. But many of you also know how I feel about cancer. I now look at cancer as the ultimate adaptation of the virus in which it forces the cell to multiply in order to protect itself and the cell it was designed to protect. Could a tumor be little more than a protective “cocoon” that the virus creates to protect itself against the carcinogens that triggered it to come out of hiding?
This idea of latent viruses residing in our tissues and in our very DNA is a very important one to understand. I suggest to people on a regular basis that if I could do a Star Trek type of scan on a person and give them a print out of all of the potentially pathogenic viruses hidden in their body, once they woke up from fainting, they might just be motivated to take better care of themselves. We are riddled with viruses and they are here to stay. (And many of them cause cancer. So, will we ever come up with the pharmaceutical cure for cancer???)
The good news is that these latent viruses don’t “want” to cause disease but rather are forced into it by the noxious (and obnoxious) stimuli to which we subject them. Carcinogens are a good example. But what about chemicals, preservatives, hormones, air pollution, poor nutrition, vaccines components, and lectins- things that are known to trigger disease states other than cancer. How do they “cause” illness? We know that many of these trigger “autoimmune diseases” but how ? Does our immune system really attack itself for no good reason or is there something in that tissue that the immune system recognizes as a threat and goes after. I contend that our body never makes a mistake and the immune system always behaves appropriately. There are plenty of reasons that the immune system attacks a particular tissue, including a cells that are becoming abnormal under the influence of chemicals. lectins, air pollutants, etc. and the viral reaction (adaptation) to those insults.
Most readers understand that our immune system is our protector- our internal armor that fights bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microscopic invaders that challenge our health. It is also the governor over processes of the aforementioned cellular adaptation that takes place via viral activity. The immune system is designed to recognize what is normal (acceptable)and abnormal (unacceptable). If a cell is trying to turn into a cancer cell, for example, the governor sends in killer cells to neutralize the threat. This process can be happening in all of our bodies at any given moment as we are constantly being challenged by carcinogens that are entering our body through the air we breath, the foods we eat, and through the skin that covers us. In today’s industrialized environments, they are nearly unavoidable.
So why don’t we all have cancer…yet? Cancer is actually a “syndrome” resulting from the combination of carcinogens, viruses, and immune failure. When an individual develops cancer, there has been some degree of immune failure that had to take place. The governor failed. This can (theoretically) result from an overwhelming dose of carcinogens but more often occurs following a drop in one’s immunity. For example, this is why leukemia/lymphoma has the age incidence that is reported. We can see this form of cancer arise in the very young. We then observe spikes at age 15 and 40 and then a steady rise incidence after age 65. Doesn’t that make sense from a “state of union” perspective, with the young having an immature immune system, the 15 year old being under hormonal, developmental and emotional stress, the 40 year old hitting “the wall” (over-the-hill), and the 65 and olders experiencing a declining immunity?
Right about now (or 6 paragraphs ago), the reader may be asking what this has to do with menopause. All of the above has been groundwork to establish the true nature of the hot flash and the reason for the menopausal woman’s frequent slide into poor health. Before menopause, the hormone levels are (hopefully) reasonably in order. I say “hopefully” and “reasonably” because there are countless women out there that do not meet these this criteria. It is called “estrogen dominance”.
There are many hormones in our body but I will focus on two- estrogen and progesterone. Estrogens are basically inflammatory, immune-suppressive and neurostimulating and that is why the women has a rather brief spike in estrogens at the start of the cycle, which results in the changes in the lining of the uterus resulting in bleeding, and the development of tenderness of the breasts as they prepare for the task of lactation. Some women experience PMS, an over-stimulation of the brain resulting in high emotions and mood swings. This is very understandable from a physiological standpoint,especially when we see that 70% of epileptic women also suffer a major spike in their seizures during this time.
But then comes the role of the “magic” hormone…progesterone…which is anti-inflammatory and calming, just the opposite of estrogen. It is the “antidote” to estrogen if you will. In fact, progesterone is a powerful hormone, having anti-inflammatory properties that even eclipse those of cortisone. We as veterinarians utilized this wonder “drug” (Ovaban) in the treatment of certain inflammatory skin conditions that no longer responded to cortisone. Of course, many of those conditions turned out to be food allergy related and treatable with elimination diets but until we woke up to that fact, the progesterone did a pretty good job of covering them up.
And that brings us to the point of this paper. The progesterone that our bodies produce (both by the testicles and the ovaries) plays a major role in controlling inflammation. This is a normal function of this vitally important hormone. Yes, the testicles do produce progesterone but not in the quantities that the ovaries produce, with one reason being that men do not generate the estrogen levels that women do and thereby do not need as much of the “antidote”. Could this be the reason that men suffer from immune-mediated diseases earlier than women? Could the lack of this significant anti-inflammatory be why men succumb to diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and atherosclerosis earlier than women? That doesn’t seem quite fair, does it?
The fairness comes in realizing that there is another factor that puts us all on equal footing. Once again, it is called “estrogen dominance” and arises from controllable levels of estrogen being taken into the body in the form of diet and environmental sources. There is supposed to be a balance between the estrogen and progesterone in our bodies, with men having their balance and women having theirs. Women produce more progesterone because they require more estrogen production. BUT, we are all consuming incredible amounts of “exogenous’ (outside) estrogens which are also inflammatory, immune suppressive and neurostimulating. These are coming in the form of dairy products, soy, the gluten grains (wheat, barley, rye) and other food sources as well as environmental sources such as pesticides, plastics, and other synthetics. These all throw off the balance in our body and contribute to what we call “estrogen dominance”.
And men have less of the “antidote” (progesterone) to deal with this overabundance of estrogen. Does it show? Yes it does, in the incidence of inflammatory conditions as mentioned…and the 6000+ cases of breast cancer men suffer each year. The principle estrogen-related disorders of women are endometriosis, polycystic ovaries, and breast cancer. As an example, it has been written that women who eliminate dairy from their diet can reduce the intensity of their menstrual cramps by 40% the first month. Does this now make sense? Researchers tell us that Asian American women have a 15 times lower rate of breast cancer on their traditional diets, which are devoid of dairy, gluten grains and contain much less soy than the soy industry would have us believe. I contend that soy is the Asian mistake and that their breast (and prostate) cancer rates would be even lower if they did not consume this estrogen-rich food. The bad news is that there are no dietary sources of (preformed) progesterone like there are estrogens. This is very important to understand!
These foods are not only rich in estrogen but contain the harmful lectins that I now write so profusely about. How can I not when the importance of these inflammatory proteins becomes so painfully clear. Celiac disease (gluten intolerance) is only the tip of the iceberg but is currently serving as the poster child for this important concept. Celiacs are the “who’s who” of what can go wrong with humans as we suffer staggering rates of “autoimmune” disorders and cancer. The damage done to the intestinal villi (which results in nutrient malabsorption and malnutrition) is only part of the problem. Once sensitized to these lectins, the sufferers of the “big 4” food intolerances (gluten, dairy, soy, and corn) experience a wide variety of inflammatory conditions, including type-1 diabetes, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, thyroid disease (both Graves and Hashimoto’s) and neurodegenerative diseases. Lectins can be very ugly things as they incite inflammation all over the body, especially when we become deficient in anti-inflammatories.
Not only do the natural levels of progesterone drop with age (and the repeated insults we throw at our bodies) but so do our cortisone levels. Many start to suffer from adrenal exhaustion, both from the overuse of these vital hormone-producing glands and from their malnourishment. The intestinal malabsorption syndrome caused by the “big 4” contributes greatly to this adrenal exhaustion as does the bombardment of these glands with damaging lectins. Addison’s disease is now considered an “autoimmune” disorder and results when 90% of the adrenals are compromised. (Wow. Talk about being made to last.) The adrenals also produce progesterone and the concurrent drop in these levels adds to the “estrogen dominance”. Note: If the adrenal glands did not produce both estrogens and progesterone, our pets and women would both suffer catastrophic results from being ovariohysterectomized. But the principle sources are the gonads, which helps to explain why spayed and neutered dogs suffer higher rates of allergies and earlier and more severe immune-mediated diseases are as do women who have had this surgery.
So now we have a individual eating the Standard American Diet (SAD, 75% of which is wheat and dairy and an increasing amount of corn and soy) who has entered menopause, either “natural” or surgical, and one who is riddled with latent viruses, consuming a diet rich in estrogens and lectins, being exposed to environmental sources of these inflammatory hormones, and very likely living with a suboptimal nutrition, borderline immune systems, and compromised adrenal glands. Talk about a recipe for disaster, eh?. The levels of natural anti-inflammatories (progesterone and cortisone) are dropping and, as a result, there is a sharp increase in pain syndromes (fibromyalgia, arthritis) and immune-mediated diseases. This should now make sense.
Thankfully, a lot of these estrogens end up being stored in the body fat and are out of the general circulation.
John B. Symes, D.V.M.