When you think of hormones, do you think of estrogen, progesterone, testosterone and other sex hormones? Or perhaps you think of thyroid hormones…maybe you are hypothyroid and take a thyroid medication. Or maybe you think of cortisol, the stress hormone produced by the adrenal glands that is absolutely necessary for stress resilience, but not good for us when elevated all the time due to chronic stress. But how often do you think of your liver and gut when you think of hormones? Yes, there is a BIG connection!
Let’s take thyroid hormone for example. About 60 percent of thyroxin (T4) is converted to triioothyronine (T3) in the liver. (1) Thyroxin must be converted to T3 in adequate amounts for optimal metabolism, as T3 is the more active form of thyroid hormone! This occurs through two main pathways, called glucoronidation and sulfation. To support these pathways, specific nutrients must be present such as cysteine, taurine and methionine. B12, B6, Folate, Trimethlyglycine and Magnesium are supporting agents as well. Still with me?
The intestines also convert about 20 percent of T4 into T3, but only when you have a healthy gut flora! (2) So, long story short, unhealthy gut, sluggish liver, and inadequate B vitamins, minerals, and certain amino acids to support critical detoxification pathways can have a huge impact on the amount of active thyroid hormone you are making! Have you ever thought of increasing fiber intake, decreasing allergenic foods, or taking probiotics to support your thyroid health? Or taking a B vitamin or specially formulated amino acid supplement?
Let’s look at estrogen, our potent female hormone .We have three primary types of estrogen: estradiol, estriol, and estrone. Estradiol is a very powerful form of estrogen, and is produced in the ovaries during the reproductive age of a woman. Estrone is about 12 times less powerful than estradiol, with estriol being the weakest of the three estrogens. Proper metabolism of estrogen is critical to hormonal balance! Inadequate metabolism and excretion of estrogen, for example, can lead to so called “bad” estrogens being reabsorbed back into the body and causing estrogen dominance, with its laundry list of symptoms and problems, including PMS and fibroids.
Estrogen is detoxified and metabolized predominately through Phase I (called hydroxylation) and Phase II (methylation and glucuronidation). Although Phase I and Phase II detoxification occur throughout the body, the main site of detoxification is the liver! Hydroxylation produces either the estrogen metabolites 2-hydroxyestrone (2-OH), 4-hydroxy-estrone (4-OH), or 16-alpha-hydroxy-estrone (16a-OH). 2-OH is a weak estrogen and may have anti-cancer properties. (3) The 16a-OH and 4-OH metabolites have been shown to have estrogenic and carcinogenic properties. (4) In other words, you want to have a higher 2-OH to 16 a-OH ratio. (This can be tested, by the way). This hydroxylation pathway is influenced by many factors, including diet! Compounds found in Brassica vegetables such as cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli increase 2-OH. And flaxseed supplementation at 10 grams per day significantly increases the urinary 2/16 hydroxy-estrone ratio, suggesting a breast cancer chemo-protective effect. (5) Flaxseed is a good source of fiber, lignans, and essential fatty acids! Methylation, which renders the metabolites more inert, is supported by many nutrients, including the B vitamins. Glucuronidation is the major excretory pathway of the estrogen metabolites. In other words, it binds the estrogen metabolites so they can be excreted in the bile and stool. Brassica vegetables also improve glucuronidation!
This is just a quick glimpse into how the liver and gut are so critical in hormone metabolism and keeping your hormones in a happy balance. If you are experiencing the not so fun symptoms that go along with your hormones being out of balance, consider taking a look first at your diet and lifestyle, which greatly impact gut and liver health. Or join my virtual Cleanse and Revive program starting May 8th to get the guidance and nutrient support you need to clean up your gut and support your liver!
1, 2 Kharrazian, Datis, Why Do I Still have Thyroid Symptoms? Morgan James Publishing, Garden City, NY, 2010, p 3, 4.
3, 4 Jones, David, Quinn, Sheila, Textbook of Functional Medicine, Institute for Functional Medicine, Gig Harbor, WA, 2005, p 359