Wednesday, November 21, 2012

What is Aromatase and Why Should You Care?

As women, we naturally are aware of and get concerned about our hormones.  Not only do they fluctuate during different stages of development and life, but they can also fall out of balance.  And for so many women today, too much sex hormone is manifesting as uterine fibroids, endometriosis, and reproductive cancers in the breast or uterus. Here’s the good news:  you have the power to prevent, and in some cases, heal these conditions through diet, nutritional supplementation, and lifestyle practices. 

This article and the next will briefly address three aspects of hormone metabolism: production, transport, and elimination, because while we often focus on how much estrogen we have (for example), how your body handles it is equally important. 

Steroid hormone production begins with cholesterol and can follow a number of pathways that can eventually lead to the production of one of the three forms of estrogen:  estradiol, estriol, or estrone. Like so many health related issues, functional medicine recognizes that your sex hormone levels can be negatively impacted not only by genetics, but also by nutritional deficiencies, excess weight, insulin dysregulation, inflammation, impaired detoxification, and stress.  And for women who are susceptible to or are suffering from the conditions I mentioned above, by managing these conditions, you can better regulate your hormones.

For example, if you consider just one enzyme, aromatase, that stimulates the production of estrogens, here are five situations where it can inappropriately take action:

  • excess adipose tissue (specifically belly fat, or VAT) increases inflammation and elevates estrogen levels by stimulating aromatase production; 
  • excess insulin stimulates aromatase which stimulates production of estrogen;
  • the pesticide atrazine stimulates aromatase;
  • fibroids and endometriosis tissue themselves have high aromatase activity and produce estrogen;
  • stress also creates an estrogen-dominant environment which stimulates aromatase

So, one strategy to get a handle on estrogen production would be to decrease aromatase activity.  Here are some natural aromatase inhibitors that can easily be added to your diet:

Dietary fiber and lignans - Ground flax as a source of lignans can be added to smoothies, sprinkled on your steel-cut oats or salads, or added to your pancake or muffin batters.

Soy isoflavones - I know many people avoid soy like the plague and for good reason.  Most soy in our food system is genetically modified and ubiquitous in the processed food world in the forms of textured soy protein, soy lethicin, and soybean oil.   And some people may have food sensitivities to soy. 

There’s also conflicting information about whether or not phytoestrogens activate estrogen receptors:

  • one interpretation is that they bind to the receptor and block the activity of stronger estrogens.  
  • data suggest that phytoestrogens bind to ER-beta, which inhibits cell growth, versus ER-alpha, which activates it;
  • additional data suggest that isoflavones block cell growth through mechanisms unrelated to estrogen receptor binding.

I believe that organic soy that’s been fermented to neutralize the anti nutrients (found in all grains and legumes) is perfectly safe to eat occasionally.  Acceptable forms include miso and tempeh (and natto).  And some health professionals recommend whole soy such as edamame.

Resveratrol - Grape seeds, and red wine, with California Pinot Noir and French Cabernet topping the list, are good sources of this phytonutrient.  Of course, go easy on alcohol because of the sugar content and because excess alcohol will increase the risk of breast cancer.

White button mushrooms - Lightly saute and add to salads or make a creamy mushroom soup thickened with coconut milk. 

Green tea - Lately the benefits of EGCG found in green tea have been all over the media for fat loss; however, please don’t treat it like a magic bullet.  If you’re concerned about the caffeine, to eliminate much of it, add boiling water to the tea bag and steep for a couple of minutes, then replace the water with fresh, boiled water. 

Of course, adding these food sources into an eating plan and lifestyle strategy that supports an overall balance of hormones will make them more effective.   Next time, I’ll look at hormone transport and elimination and why they matter.

If you’re ready to take control of your hormones holistically, I can help you get started.   Contact me for a breakthrough session today!

Image courtesy of zirconicusso

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Is Red Meat 'Guilty by Association'

After having so many people tell me that they’ve given up red meat because of their cholesterol levels or because they couldn’t lose weight, I wanted to say something about it.  Before I do, though, I first want to preface this with a couple of points:

1. If you’ve given up eating red meat (or any meat or animal products for that matter), for ethical, environmental, or another reason non-diet related, then this information wouldn’t apply.

2. When I talk about eating meat/fish, ideally it’s grass-fed, pasture-raised, or wild caught; free from added anything, including hormones, antibiotics, pesticide from soy or corn feed–which are also genetically modified.  This also implies that the animals have been raised humanely.

In an article written by Gary Taubes that was published in the Journal Science back in 2001, he raised the complex nature of fat in the diet and made these points:

  • while saturated fats raise LDL-C (which is plaque building and associated with increased risk of coronary artery disease), they also raise HDL-C (which is good);
  • some saturated fats, like stearic acid, found in chocolate are considered neutral because they raise HDL-C and do little or nothing to LDL-C; (a more recent review of stearic acid reported that it lowered LDL-C and was neutral with respect to HDL-C);
  • monounsaturated fats are beneficial because they raise HDL-C and lower LDL-C;
  • trans fats are bad because they raise LDL and lower HDL

He then goes on to show how this complexity can be applied to a select cut, porterhouse steak with a half-centimeter layer of fat (nutritional info can be found on the USDA website here).  After broiling this piece of meat, it reduces to almost equal portions of fat and protein.

  • 51% of the fat is monounsaturated (90% of this is oleic acid - the same healthy fat found in olive oil);
  • 45% of the fat is saturated, but 1/3 of that is stearic acid (the same fat found in chocolate, which is harmless);
  •  the remaining 4% is polyunsaturated fat, which improves cholesterol levels

This means that over 70% of the fat in this steak will improve cholesterol levels.   And, if this study was performed on a feedlot piece of meat, then the beneficial, omega-3 fatty acid profile may be understated compared to beef from a grass fed cow.  Think about what a porterhouse steak meal would look like if you added potatoes, bread, rice, or pasta to it.  Now, you’ve added foods that will raise your insulin and promote fat storage.   Is it possible that this steak is guilty by association?    Do you think that same piece of meat would be involved in fat storage if it were served with a plate filled with non-starchy vegetables and a fresh salad?  I don’t. 

Does this mean that I’m telling you to stock your freezer with beef and eat burgers everyday?  No.  For myself, I actually eat meat only occasionally, but I do it without fear.  But having this information will allow you to make informed decisions if you choose to reduce your animal product consumption, which I do think most of us should do, or decide to remove it altogether from your diet.  

Image courtesy of Suat Eman