Hormonal imbalances affect millions of men and women world-wide for a multitude of reasons. “Hormones” refers to all signalling molecules that can be reproductive hormones (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, luteinizing hormone, follicle stimulating hormone), stress/sleep hormones (adrenaline, cortisol, melatonin), and thyroid hormones (thyroid stimulating hormone, T3, T4, etc) just to name a few. These hormones go through a complicated process that starts in the hypothalamus which is a region of the fore-brain that controls the autonomic nervous system. It controls body temperature, thirst, hunger, and other homeostatic systems involved in sleep, emotional activity, metabolic processes, which creates and releases hormones. The hypothalamus receives messages that it needs to either stimulate more or less certain types of hormones by a feedback loop system from various systems in the body. There are four main pillars that can make or break how well your hormones and their feedback loops signal: 1) Blood sugar regulation, 2) essential fatty acid production (anti-inflammatory lipids that carry your hormones around), 3) gut microbe integrity (how well your intestines use your food), and lastly 4) hepatic bio-transformation (how well your liver can bind hormones to receptors and get rid of what it doesn’t need).
Many times one of these four pillars inhibits a perfect hormonal cycle - whether it be sleep cycle, female or male hormones, neurotransmitters (hormones that make us feel emotions), hormones that make us hungry or not (leptin), hormones that regulate blood sugar (insulin) or the lipids/fats that help transport our hormones or opposite would be too much inflammation/bad fats which disallow hormone transport. As you can see, this complicated process can go wrong at so many junctures. In the western medical model, typically, it’s one thought only - there is a deficiency in hormones, so they just give you more - they give you more melatonin, they give you testosterone, or insulin, etc. One of the most important parts of the hormone picture is getting rid of what you can’t use or don’t need. This step of hepatic bio-transformation occurs in the liver and if the liver isn’t able to break down and send out hormones to the colon/kidneys than those unusable, unbinded hormones recirculate until the liver can get rid of them. So adding more hormones for this person could essentially cause much more problems.
Back to to hypothalamus - this is where, naturally, your brain can stimulate more or less hormones based on the signals and feedback it receives. The million dollar question is how in the world does sticking someone with a little needle regulate someone's hormones?? There’s a few basic rules with hormone regulation and acupuncture; Firstly, when acupuncture makes an effect on hormones it affects the hypothalamus which affects all hormones, so there isn’t just a select few hormones we can change - when we affect the hypothalamus we can effect all hormones. Secondly, acupuncture effects a bidirectional pathway in the hypothalamus, in other words, we can both increase or decrease hormone activity. Acupuncture “points” are designated areas throughout the body that have a higher density of nerve bundles. These acupuncture points affect different nerves throughout the body.
When sticking a metal needle near these nerve bundles a disruption in that nerve happens and a chemical reaction alerts the brain. There is a whole rhyme and reason that goes into an Acupuncturist choosing certain points and the size and type of needle which can cause a different effect on the brain and hypothalamus. Because a needle physically disrupts these nerve impulses the effect is significantly stronger than any other stimulants such as massage, exercise, ingesting supplements/food, chiropractic manipulation or even laser treatments.
Once the hypothalamus is stimulated via acupuncture needle, a change is made along that nerve signal or impulse. Certain acupuncture points have profound and significant widespread anti-inflammatory effects by stimulating TNF-a (tumor necrosis factor) , IL-6 (interleukin-6 anti-inflammatory), CRP (c-reactive protein, mostly liver inflammation), and NOS (nitric oxide). Other targeted acupuncture points help the liver methylate and process quicker via the posterior spinal nerve roots and/or the vagus nerve. Most importantly though, any process that is haywire, acupuncture will stimulate the hypothalamus to either increase or decrease various process’ to better improve and balance hormones. Since I always like to get to the true root of the problem, I might ask for a comprehensive blood exam and hormone panel to see precisely where the problem might be coming from and ask the patient to change their diet or exercise routine that is customized just for their unique condition to help them get better for good. Sometimes, even when diet and exercise seems to be on target, and stress levels are reduced, people still have these unexplained roadblocks and hurdles that seem impossible to get over. Acupuncture is the ultimate brain hack! It can really balance your hormones when nothing else seems to work.