The brain and ovarian hormones | Marwa Azab | TEDxMontrealWomen

February 19, 2020 0 By Jose Scott


Translator: Linda Anderson
Reviewer: Denise RQ A national health survey showed that one of every ten American
adult women suffer from at least one gynecological condition. But other than pelvic discomfort,
maybe some pain, who cares, right? Well, another Swedish study
seriously disagrees with this careless attitude that I have personally witnessed
too many times in my doctor’s office, as the doctor recommends
to take some Motrin for the pain, and the really caring one
even offers to prescribe me a stronger pain killer. The Swedish study found that one third,
or nearly one third of women who report having
a gynecological condition, also report suffering
from psychiatric conditions. It is important to note there was no previous any diagnosis
of a psychiatric condition. So there is more than physical pain,
and Motrin, or any other pain killer, is not going to kill
this gyno-related emotional pain. Depression and anxiety,
gynecological pain, strange, isn’t it? I mean, gynecologists examine
the ovaries and neighboring areas, [psychologists examine depression] and even emotion, now as we know,
has a lot to do with the brain. The ovaries, the brain,
an arm’s-length away. So it seems like gynecologists have something to say about mind pain, and psychologists have something
to say about pelvic pain. We just need to get the two
to talk to each other, just like the ovaries
and the brain talk to each other. Personally, I don’t make a distinction between mind and body,
psychology and biology, and thus have been teaching
for three different departments: psychology, human development,
biology, and I welcome some more. And yes, universities enforce,
or try to enforce, a departmental way to think
about human behavior, having students who subscribe
either to social or physical sciences. With, of course, the more elitist
has the chance to then go on and become even more specialized,
there’s even sub-specialties. So you have the neurologists, versus the psychologists,
verses the oncologists. And, of course, the more prefixes that a society weds with ‘-ologist,’
the more advanced. The thing is, we produce professionals who assess the problem
from their myopic perspective. Thankfully, recent efforts
in integrative medicine have been urging professionals
to assess the individual holistically. So that the individual
is more than the sum of his or her internal organs. An unhealthy mind, or an unhealthy body,
gives rise to an unhealthy mind. An emotionally suffocating mind vomits bodily illnesses,
one body system after another. I mean, it is okay to teach
about mind and body separately. But it is naive to believe
and practice it clinically. So today, I have selected
the example, hormonal imbalance, to demonstrate the unison
of mind and body. The story today is going to start, and the story that is supported
by neuroscience, is going to start, not down there in the ovaries,
but rather up here in the brain. So really the executive,
the coordinator of all of this, is a brain structure
called the hypothalamus. And it turns on, or off,
your glands all over your body via intimate connections with yet another brain structure
called the pituitary. And then this pituitary sends
chemical messages through the bloodstream that are heard and interpreted
by your glands all over your body, including your ovaries, your thyroid, and, yes, your stress gland
on top of your kidneys, the adrenal. We can even become more focused,
and we’re going to focus on ovarian hormones,
estrogen and progesterone. Sometimes referred to as sex hormones,
although, interestingly, the brain’s emotional and cognitive parts
understand them very well, and interpret them in ways
that have nothing to do with sexuality. Make’s sense. Because as estrogen
fluctuates throughout the month, and the brain has many receptors
that understand estrogen, it effects your cognitive abilities,
from decision-making to memory. And it also effects your emotions,
from irritability to sadness. So we know that they are effected by this. In fact, the body
of a 70-something-year-old man makes more than twice as much estrogen
as a woman the same age. So I guess this little factoid was absent from testosterone scientists, I mean, male scientists, who came up with the names
progesterone and estrogen for us. Because progesterone means to give birth. Estrogen means gadfly, frenzy, crazy. And some have even traced it back to the Greek root that means
intense desire or passion. So according to these scientists, women are either giving birth,
or in a state of craziness and hysteria. (Laughter) You see, this is why women should come up
with their own scientific names. (Laughter) (Applause) If it was up to me I would come up
with a theory or a name that probably has some sort
of, like, concoction of my first name, but something along the lines
of, I don’t know, like, ‘awesomeness.’ So, for the rest of the talk, I’m going to refer to these hormones
as ovarian hormones and not sex hormones, in order to not constrict
the vastness of their influences. Because we don’t want to constrict the vastness of the influences
of these hormones. Now, these hormones in general,
not just ovarian, work in silence. There is synthesis involved.
There are enzymes involved. There is metabolism involved,
all outside the realm of our awareness. If I were to ask anyone here,
including myself, at this very moment, what hormone is being released,
we would have no idea. However,
we don’t appreciate their diligence to maintain things in homeostasis
and balance for us, without bothering us. And when hormones feel underappreciated,
well, they don’t like it very much. And they demand to be visible,
and they scream for attention. Consider a prediabetic woman,
who is, for her entire life, completely unaware
of what her pancreas is doing, With her insulin hormonal levels
completely invisible to her. Upon diagnosis, she ought to be very aware
of what her pancreas is doing. Her insulin levels have to be
visible to her the entire time, otherwise she might fall
into a coma or even die. Now, let’s consider
this rare example, stress. What if you’re so stressed out? I know, stay with me for a second,
I know it’s highly unlikely, but when we’re so stressed out, the stress gland on top
of your kidneys makes cortisol. But when you’re so stressed out, it uses all of it’s inventory to make
the stress hormone cortisol. But, what if there’s more stress? Like, it needs raw material
to make more cortisol. Which means that it has
to borrow from somewhere. And where might it borrow from? Well, it borrows from progesterone. Which means that it will lower
your levels of progesterone. Which means that you just went like this
(snaps fingers) and that is the link between stress
and why I can’t get pregnant. Not only that, but low progesterone
has been associated with severe PMS symptoms
and emotional disturbances. And of course, that throws
things out of balance, the estrogen to progesterone. And that is one of the reasons
of gynecological problems. All of this might cause long cycles. I know some of you might be like, “I have long cycles, went to the doctor,
the doctor told me, assured me, ‘That’s normal,
some women have long cycles.'” Research begs to differ with that one. Because research has found
that long cycles are associated with a condition. And the condition is called breast cancer. Progesterone
has just showed you its ugly side, because you have offended
your adrenal stress gland. When ghosts become visible,
it’s never a fun matter. It is always scary. So by the time we catch on
that something is off, our hormones, as commanded by our brains, have already made us feel vulnerable,
weak, anxious, dulled our memories. Anyone complaining of memory loss lately? Sharp, not sharp,
cognitive sharp thinking that goes away, slower reaction time,
fatigue, all of that. And, you’re thinking,
“OK, I can deal with that. It ruins my quality of life a little bit,
but whatever, that is like soft stuff.” Not so soft, because also research
has found that it is related to, and increases your chances
of heart conditions, cancer, and stroke. No joke. So, not only the quality of life, but it can essentially lead to your death
and truncating your life. So then, how do we begin this journey
of finding out if there is an imbalance? So, I want to urge you that the first absolutely,
mandatory step is to visit your doctor. At bare minimum, to eliminate any chance, or, you know, of a serious condition
like ovarian cancer. But, then you’re thinking,
“Check mark, done that, good job. But I still feel like things
are a little bit off.” You’re probably right,
that things might still be off. And you are one of many,
and the reason is: one, the current tests that are available
to check for hormonal imbalance are not sensitive enough
to pick up on everything; two, we have to remember
that doctors are physiologically trained, so they look for physiological causes,
and physiological solutions. But sometimes, a physiological cause
is actually a consequence. And the physiological solution,
a prescription pill, might make the imbalance worse as a start,
but also might not solve the problem. Also, doctors justifiably, after
long hours in the hospital and the clinic, don’t have a chance to catch up with proliferating research
that happens every day. So, the research findings take years
before they make it into practice. And then you have doctors
doing things out of convention, because that’s just the way it is, regardless of what recent research
might have found. Now, this is all not helpful, in light of the fact that ovarian hormones
happen to be very complex and slow acting. So, which means that,
and also complemented with the fact that tests that we have right now are way too inclusive
in terms of what’s normal. So that means that there is
a high chance of false negative. So, to capture this fluctuation,
one test is not going to do it. You need to at least repeat these tests throughout the months
to capture this fluctuation. Another thing that these tests
are not so great at, is to look at metabolism. You can have completely normal
levels of a hormone, but pathological metabolism of it. So, for example, estrogen gets metabolized to the good metabolite, C2,
and the bad metabolite, C16. And the ratio of the good to the bad is predictive of your chances
of breast cancer. So, not only do you want to know whether
you have normal levels of the hormone, but you also want to know,
is it metabolized correctly? Thankfully, there is something we can do to tip this ratio
of good to bad in our favor, and that is eating cruciferous vegetables
like broccoli and cauliflower. Yes, what goes in our mouth,
also goes in our mind and hearts. Alright, so you’ve been told
by your doctor that things are off. Now, it doesn’t also help that research,
or pharmaceutical companies, or whatever solution that is available,
has to be synthetic hormones. Because synthetic hormone
can be sold for profit, and you can get a patent for it. Unfortunately, it’s much harder,
if not impossible, to get a patent for natural hormones. So, on purpose, the solution
is made very different from nature, because you can make money,
can make dollars. So, synthetic hormone is going to make
the problem worse. It is going to make the imbalance worse. But, it’s not just bad for us. It gets excreted, and it becomes
a part of our waste and water, so that means animals are affected,
men are affected, children are affected,
environment is affected, we are truly one. So you’ve been told by your doctor,
everything is normal. You have this gut feeling
things are not normal. And we have a second,
actually, brain by our gut. So, I would trust that. What are some symptoms to keep
on the horizon, to be like, “Oh, I might be imbalanced,
I should start some sort of journey.” Well, if you are fatigued all the time, and it’s not because you were
at the gym for six hours, if you’re losing hair in places
where you want to keep the hair, and you’re gaining hair in places
where you don’t want the hair, If you’re getting acne, and adolescence
happened to you 30 years ago, that’s probably not a good thing. And also some cognitive things like memory loss, irritability,
sadness, and anxiety, so really, life-quality ruining
kind of symptoms, then consider a potential journey
to really be at war with this hormonal imbalance,
regardless of what the doctor said. Now, I’m not going to leave you
hanging like this. I’m going to leave you with some simple
solutions that you can begin right now. First thing is to try to be conscious
of xenoestrogens. A xenoestrogen is basically any substance
that is a good impostor for estrogen. Because to the brain,
it doesn’t care if it’s estrogen, or some fake estrogen
from some toxin in the environment. A list of xenoestrogens
is published all over the Internet – I’m not going to go through them now – but just to give you an idea,
some might be in your hand cream, some might be in your sunscreen,
cosmetics, and even your son’s toys. Another solution we already talked about, and it’s probably a panacea
for about every problem out there, is to reduce stress. One thing that probably a lot of us
are guilty of is not getting enough sleep. Well, irregular sleeping patterns
cause hormonal imbalance. In fact, something as simple as, like, you’re going to be shocked,
like something as simple as constipation, can actually be what’s causing
your hormonal imbalance. So treating constipation
will promote metabolism, so you don’t have metabolites in your body
that trick the brain into thinking it needs to make more or less,
and throw off the balance. That’s a lot to think about. Some of you might be stuck on, like,
“How do I spell xenoestrogen again?” (Laughter) So, the point is,
we shouldn’t live in a bubble. We shouldn’t think, “I can’t eat plastic,
that has xenoestrogen.” We can’t live in a bubble,
that is stressful, we already talked
about what stress can do. Which means that we have
to balance our choices. But, unless we’re aware of those choices, and we understand
some of these invisible influences, we will remain vulnerable,
and choices will be made for us. Instead, I want you to embrace your vulnerabilities
by learning about them, and even harness them, and recruit them
to work for you and to empower you. Because the more you learn about you, the higher the chances
that a better you will emerge. When you learn
about your hormonal fluctuation, for example, by keeping a diary,
how it effects the way you behave, your mood, the way you love,
your PMS symptoms, even how you parent, you can then use that information
so your hormones can work for you. You can find that ideal time for critical decisions
that have consequences where your hormones are working
for you instead of against you, where they are facilitative
to expose the best of you. You are truly the expert on you. You are the best advocate for you. So today, I dare you to get to know you. Thank you. (Applause)