In this episode of The Dr. Hedberg Show, I interview Dr. Lindsey Berkson in an in-depth discussion about hormones, brain health, gut health, Hashimoto’s disease, post-birth control syndrome and much more.
Dr. Berkson had breast cancer 24 years ago and has made remission her mission. Dr. Berkson now specializes in working with breast cancer survivors to do the same; addressing food, herbs, hormone balancing and sometime protective replacement as well as nutraceuticals. Dr. Berkson formulated Metagenic’s female hormone protective nutrient line. Dr. Berkson is considered a thought leader in functional medicine and now teaches MDs, Nurse Practitioners, pharmacists and other health care professionals continuing education courses. Dr. Berkson has authored 21 books, hosts the Dr. Berkson’s Best Health Radio, writes the Berkson Blog (see it at DrLindseyBerkson.com) and is a research fellow with Health Sciences Collegium. Dr. Berkson has published original research with the University of Houston Medical School and Nathan Bryan PdD, the world’s authority on nitrous oxide. Dr. Berkson was a scholar at an estrogen think tank at Tulane University and worked with the scientists that discovered estrogen receptor functionality and endocrine disruption.
Dr. Berkson is a best-selling author; Healthy Digestion the Natural Way (Wiley 2000) was the first gut, nutrition, mind book.
Her newest book SEXY BRAIN explains environmental castration and how to test, detox and protect your hormones and brain.
Below is a transcript of my interview with Dr. Lindsey Berkson
Dr. Hedberg: Well, hello, everyone, and welcome to the “Dr. Hedberg Show.” This is Dr. Hedberg. I’m excited today to have a very special guest, Dr. Berkson. She’s been in practice for many years, has a lot of experience. And welcome to the show, Dr. Berkson.
Dr. Berkson: Very nice to be on the show with you. You have such a nice radio voice that it’s like an extra audio candy here. So, thank you.
Dr. Hedberg: All right. Well, thank you for that. So why don’t you, just fill everyone in on your work and what you’re focused on these days.
Dr. Berkson: So, I’ve been in practice for many decades. I’ve got 21 books out and one of the big deals in my background is that I had the honor of being a hormone scholar at an estrogen think tank called the Center for Bioenvironmental Research at Tulane University. So, I got to work academically with the scientists that discovered the first and second estrogen receptor, Elwood Jensen, and Jan-Ake Gustafsson. And they taught me so much about how hormones really work. So, really knowing about hormones isn’t just getting a blood, urine, or saliva level. It’s whether the hormone can really deliver its signal and all of the bigger picture that’s involved in that. I’ve written many books on hormones. Hormones have been my love. I did my very first rotation in integrative medicine in 1977 with Dr. Jonathan Wright who’s now called the father of bioidentical hormones. So, I’ve been testing, running, looking at, writing about hormones and hanging out with the scientists that have really changed the way we understand hormones. And even Elwood Jensen was responsible for how we profiled breast cancer tumors.
So, besides that, I have a lot of background and degrees in nutrition, so I merged all of that together and I wrote one of the very first books on the concept of pollutants acting like hormones. We call those endocrine disruptors because they can nestle on into the receptor where your own hormones should nestle on in and give a false or abnormal signal. And that was, in fact, the think tank. Many of the scientists that I worked with help develop this brand new science of endocrine disruption which has evolved since the mid to late 1990s. So, I merge together nutrition and hormones in my practice with a focus on breast cancer and inflammatory bowel disease and I presently train medical doctors. There’s three higher certification programs if a medical doc and some nurse practitioners really are unhappy with the system today. And they can go to these four-year programs where they have intensive weekends once a month, pay a lot of money, and at the end of that time, they sit for boards and can become a functional doc. So, I’m a professor on two of those higher certification programs, teaching in the gut, the hormone and the environmental programs. And then I’ve published original data with the University of Texas Medical School at Houston and I’m a research fellow so I have this unusual career that’s had my toes in academia, in the clinical world, and if we ever get into that story, I don’t know what time we have, I need to be with a patient. So, I bring some unusual perspectives teaching docs and to working with patients.
Dr. Hedberg: Excellent. Well, we’re very lucky to have you on today and we’re gonna be talking about…So, you have a new book called “Sexy Brain.” And before we got on, we were talking about how hormones affect the brain and how no one’s really talking about this. Can you kinda give us an introduction to your new book, ” Sexy Brain?” And then let’s get into hormones and how they affect the brain.
Dr. Berkson: Okay. The book really is about how with…So, there are so many chemicals in our environment that can alter our own hormonal functioning. We’re seeing something that’s equivalent to environmental castration. We don’t have the same desire to connect with each other. And I proposed the hypothesis in “Sexy Brain” that nature never does anything without a reason. And she designed intimacy, and human connection, and hugging all the way up to the boudoir is releasing sex hormones that protect your brain and help keep the human race going. I was just in a 25-hour brain symposium and Florida at Port St. Lucie and nobody even talked about the role of hormones in the brain. Nobody talks about it yet everyone used to be afraid of the first big C, which was cancer, now we’re afraid of the second big C, which is cognitive decline, and to really ward off cognitive decline and keep your brain bright and cognitively functioning, you want hormones on your plate. And most of those hormones are sex steroid hormones: estrogen, progesterone, testosterone. There are some other hormones like the love cuddle hormone, oxytocin, but those hormones rule, run, and maintain your brain. That’s why I say you want a “sexy brain” because you want sex steroid hormones to be signaling your brain. But hormones are proteins that deliver a signal to a set of proteins in the shape of a satellite dish called a receptor. So, wherever in the body, there are receptors, for example, for estrogen or testosterone, that’s where that hormone potentially was designed by nature to deliver a signal. So, you have receptors for estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone all over your entire brain, your gray matter, your hippocampus, which is a small little area of your brain where your memory retrieval lives, your motivation, your sense of who you are. And that area of the brain pretty much shrinks right before you get Alzheimer’s disease or the other forms of cognitive decline.
But the Department of Psychiatry at McGill University in 2008 was able to take people who were starting to become mentally frail, measured the size of that hippocampus called hippocampal volume, see that it was somewhat shrunk, and then give shots of estrogen to the women and shots of testosterone to the men and within six weeks, the size of the hippocampus re-volumized like a woman going in for Botox, getting her lips bigger at an aesthetics spa. And with that, the memory retrieval, the motivation, and the sense of who that person was rebooted. They, in essence, euthanize their brain. One of the most striking studies to ever point the link between hormones and cognition was a series of studies that came out of Cache, Utah called the Cache Utah Studies. Unfortunately, these studies launched a few months after the fateful Woman’s Health Initiative came out in July of 2002 and we were misguided about our understanding of hormones because that first double randomized trial of whether hormones really did what we thought that they did and were the fountain of youth showed that hormones cause breast cancer and strokes and everyone got fearful of hormones, but it turned out that it was the synthetic versions and it was the age of the women and there were a bunch of factors involved that really didn’t transpose that information to the rest of most women.
But for a period of about 10 years, American gynecologists threw hormones out with the bathwater and right on the coattails of that study, the Cache County Study came out. And they looked at an average of about 10,000 people, it was a prospective study. They took ’em when they didn’t have cognitive decline and they watched them over time. That’s sort of prospective study is, you look at them over time to see who eventually did develop cognitive decline, that second C we don’t wanna get, and who didn’t and why. And they look at all the factors that could be protective and all the factors that could be damaging. And what they discovered was if a woman had been on estrogen replacement in her history for 10 years, she had a 50% reduction of getting cognitive decline, like Alzheimer’s or Lewy body disease, or even neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s. And that was the most significant finding of hormones protecting the brain we’ve ever seen. And that study somewhat got lost even though that study had a set of papers. Often if you have a really well-run study, the researchers will write a set of papers that will be spun off of that study. And there were multiple papers spun off taking a look at how we age because we have such a fast-growing aging demographic in the United States. In fact, people living to be 100 years old are even the fastest growing. So, we wanna know how to protect all that gray matter. And shockingly, doctors don’t understand the role of hormones.
Now, we look at the vulnerability gene, APOE E4 gene, and there’s variations on that gene. But if you’ve got that APOE E4 gene, then people worry, “Well, my parents had Alzheimer’s. I’ve got this gene. I’m at risk. What do I do? What do I do?” Well, in my book, “Sexy Brain,” I explain how high-normal levels and the ability to signal, just not having the hormone, but the ability of the hormone to nestle into the receptor and signal of testosterone actually tamps down the expression of that gene and protects you against Alzheimer’s. People who have higher than normal levels of functioning testosterone have better brains and even if they have that vulnerability gene, yet we have a testosterone deficiency epidemic that’s been well proven by the New England Center of Research in younger and younger men because of hormone-altering chemicals. So, in “Sexy Brain,” I show how hormones protect the brain. Then how today’s environment are threatening the ability of our own hormones to do what nature intended because plastics and linings of cans and all these chemicals that we even get standing in the shower every day, and I give tricks of how to reduce the exposure, are blocking the ability of those hormones to protect your brain like they should. And then I also explain what intimacy does and why you want it, even if you’re older and how to go about doing it in a way that honors your hormones. So, that’s like a little bit of a synopsis there.
Dr. Hedberg: Excellent. You wrote a book called the “Healthy Digestion the Natural Way.” So, why don’t we lay some bedrock, and if you could just speak about the gut, the brain, and the hormones, and how those three systems interact.
Dr. Berkson: Well, when you’re a developing embryo, your brain and your gut are developing from the same embryonic tissue and then they split in half and one set of cells goes to the brain and the other goes to the gut. So, in essence, everything that applies to the gut really applies to the brain. And you can have a leaky gut, you can have a leaky brain. But most people don’t realize that sex starts in the gut. And there was a study that came out, it really started looking at the gut in this way, in “Science” in 2013 out of Harvard. There were two researchers that published this paper and they were able to tell us that the microbiome is developing and when we’re 8, 9, 10, 11 years old. But when we start making hormones, the female digestive tract is feminized and the male digestive track is masculinized and we have different…So, they call the new understanding of the gut in relation to hormones is the microgenderome hormone. And the name of that article, in fact…I love it, love when an article kinda tells you what’s inside. So, the name of the article was “Welcome to the Microgenderome.” So, your gut, we now know the microbiome makes hormone-like molecules. One of my consultants for the book, “Sexy Brain,” Michael Baker who’s a scientist at UCLA, University of California at San Diego, has done studies to show that a healthy microbiome makes estrogen or testosterone-like molecules and they speak to the gut wall.
Also, they help maintain crosstalk between your hormones that you’ve got surging through your bloodstream. So, when you go to your doc and say, “Do I need testosterone?” And they’re gonna run either a blood test, or a saliva test, or urine spot test, or 24-hour urine test. That only tells you the level that’s in your blood, but it doesn’t tell you if it’s really crosstalking with your microbiome, which are your microbial life throughout your gut, but it’s the largest density in your large intestine, your colon. So, it turns out that part of the health of your hormones is how well your gut works and how well there is a crosstalk between the microbial life in your gut, which there’s more viruses in your gut than bacteria, but we haven’t studied them as much as bacteria. So, we go to the drugstore, or the compounding pharmacy, or health food store to get probiotics, but probably in the future we’ll be getting healthy viruses and healthy fungi, it won’t just be bacteria. But they crosstalk with your hormones and all of this crosstalks with your brain. And I was just lecturing in Houston last weekend and I was explaining that we now know you have biomes of microbial life all throughout your body, not just in your gut. You’ve got them in your nasal cavities, which you swallow 24/7, your oral cavity.
So, in complex patients, we don’t just do comprehensive stool tests now, we actually do nasal swabs and we have them dental floss until they bleed a little bit and do oral analysis. You also have biomes in your breast tissue. Cleveland Clinic has done some elegant research showing that there’s an abnormal breast biome in women that get breast cancer to women who just went in for cosmetic surgery. So, they didn’t have malignancies, but they got samples of their breast tissue. You’ve got biomes in your eyes. Your eye biome has the least amount of microbial life, but it’s still a powerful biome and it’s in crosstalk with all of your other biomes by little signaling molecules that are released by these microbial life that signal together in a phenomena called quorum sensing. They sing out, send out little emails, and these emails from your gut will be sent to the lungs, or the eyes, or the breast, and then those emails all crosstalk with your hormones.
So, the bottom line of looking at health is that you wanna work with somebody who looks at you with this really bigger picture where any one thing can be influential in what issue you’re dealing with. And the problem is, is medicine’s become so compartmentalized, we don’t look at things like that at all. It’s just smaller and smaller pieces rather than bigger and bigger pieces. And the hormone science and the understanding of the gut and biomes, biomes are wherever you have a little nook and cranny of microbial life that is powerfully influencing our health and hormones which are your main physiologic internet emailers. There is nothing as powerful in your body is your microbiome and your hormones. Nothing. They trump diet. They trump exercise. And your choice of diets and your ability to digest allow that receptor. It’s like a little bowl that’s filled with nutrients that allows the hormone to successfully deliver it, signal or not, but food is underneath the importance of the biome life and its crosstalk and hormone signaling successfully done, hopefully, in that crosstalk.
So, it’s a whole new way of looking at health. Just an example, you can be an older person who has a chronic lung disease that they’ve told you there really isn’t any cure for it and you just, you know, have to do inhalers and, you know, just watch yourself. But you have receptors for estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and a variety of estrogen receptors in your lung tissue and often giving hormones and the nutrients that help those hormones work, and addressing the microbial life that has crosstalk with it you can fortify the lungs, either put the condition in remission or at least give that person a lot more pulmonary oomph so they don’t need their inhaler as much. They can still work and have a strong voice and to deliver a talk in front of a convention, you can still be functional rather than be old and frail as we think old aging was inevitable and it’s not necessarily. So, it’s a whole new way of looking at the human body and the huge role of hormones in it.
Dr. Hedberg: So, why don’t you just kind of get us up to speed on the current state of hormone replacement therapy. So, you know, we’ve kinda known for a long time that synthetic hormones can be problematic in some women. And then there’s, of course, bioidentical hormones. So, is conventional hormone replacement therapy still an issue? And what are your thoughts on the current state of that and bioidentical hormone replacement?
Dr. Berkson: Hormones are really shockingly an example of where money trumps everything. So, the NAMS is the society that gives us our dictum of the clouds part, the Mormon Tabernacle choir plays and we get a consensus report from the North American Menopause Society and they tell us what we should believe, certainly what our gynecologists believed is the truth, the facts about hormones. So, they’ve been saying, for many years, first the bioidenticals, still they say bioidentical hormones are useless. For many years they said you shouldn’t be on hormones if you had hormonally-driven cancer. Now they say you can take it vaginally for symptom relief for five years. They don’t understand the role of hormones globally as I’ve just given you a little teeny bit of a toe in the water.
The issues with the women’s health initiative were that from the synthetic progestin, there is lots of research to show that synthetic progestins cause a lot of the issues, the adverse events of hormones. Whereas bioidentical, which means it’s made in the laboratory but looks exactly like the progesterone that your own body makes, doesn’t have those issues, but in the literature, those terms are used interchangeably. So, there’s a huge amount of confusion on all of this. And what makes it even worse is that the CEOs that made…So, the two drugs that were used in the women’s health initiative that made everybody worried about hormones and women scared to death of breast cancer for about a decade…although a lot of women don’t know that things have been changing. That’s why I wrote the book “Safe Hormones, Smart Women,” was to enlighten women as to the truth of the women’s health initiative. The CEOs of the meds…they were Premarin and Prempro. And so, there were the estrogen-only arm, which used a horse estrogen, called Premarin. And then there was a combination of Premarin and the medroxyprogesterone acetate, which is a synthetic progestin. And that combination product, the combo product was called Prempro.
So, the CEOs of those products were saying forever, bioidenticals are horrible, terrible, dangerous, wrong, non-FDA-approved. They still are non-FDA approved. When those hormones were not in trend anymore to be purchased and their stock went down, what did they do? They formed a new company called Medical Therapeutics, which is launching, I think, this month. They went through phase one, phase two. They finished phase three trials. That’s how you take a drug through is these three phases. And they came out with a bioidentical hormone. It is an oral, it comes in several dosages and now they’ve been publishing for about four or five years. I’ve written several blogs on this, on how bioidentical hormones are safer, more effective, they have less adverse effects, so you could be easily more compliant. They have been pushing all of the positive things of bioidentical hormones because they’ve got a new drug coming out that’s bioidentical. The name of that drug is called Replenish. So Look when you see the new things coming out. I’ve been talking about this for years, and it was just “follow the money.” They weren’t into bioidentical hormones when they had A company that didn’t make them. And then when those companies weren’t gonna be profitable, they then went to bioidentical hormones to make the first, although we don’t feel you should take estrogen orally and their product is all oral.
So, bioidentical hormones are really, in my mind, the only way to go. They’re molecules that your body was designed to use and getting your hormones balanced…And every person has their own hormonal footprint. So you need to be tested, you need to know if you’re a safe candidate. If you’re an older woman, you need to have a cardiac workup. If you’ve been away from menopause, if you have a uterus, you need to have a vaginal ultrasound to measure the depth of your endometrium, which they call the endometrial stripe. So, you need to get a good number of baseline tests then BE tested and an individual program designed for you depending on where you are in your hormonal life and then monitored to make sure that you don’t have any extra growth of that endometrial stripe. And most doctors, frankly, do not disseminate hormones in this way. They give them in an unsafe way. They don’t know about all these different ways to use hormones. But hormones protect the lining of your gut, they protect your kidneys, they protect your vocal cords. They protect your brain as we’ve been talking. They are so global. They slow down aging.
And I had breast cancer 24 years ago. My mother was given, as it turns out, the most powerful estrogen ever invented on the planet and proclaimed a type 1 carcinogen in 1971 and banned, but before then, it was given as a prenatal vitamin to millions of pregnant women, my mother being one. And the daughters of those women, because it was such a harsh endocrine-disrupting…It’s the model compound where we test other endocrine disruptors against that. And the other control that we test endocrine disruptors against, by the way, are birth control pills. Ethinyl estradiol and oral contraceptives are used in the laboratory as a control to test for endocrine disruption. So, we’re on this big, massive move to get young women off of oral contraceptives, especially if they’ve got certain genetic glitches. But these are all very disrupting, fake, non-real hormones that are shown to have a lot of issues.
The daughters born to the women given this endocrine disruptor, almost the majority of them had breast cancer at one specific age. So, a lot of your health is set in the womb and that’s called the epigenetic effects of in utero exposure. So, I had breast cancer 24 years ago, but I believed that by balancing my hormones now, I have a better risk of not getting a recurrence. So, I make my remission my mission, and hormone balancing is part of it. But in the regular world, if you’ve had breast cancer, no doc will give you hormones because they don’t understand this bigger picture. And so, I try and work with people and consult with them all around the world and look at their blood work, listen to their story, do a two-hour intake, spend an hour writing up their notes to really tell you what I think might be a better way for you to caretake your hormones, and your brain, and your breasts, and for gents, their prostate because I don’t think you can get these answers with most docs today. If you ask your gynecologist if you’re a candidate for hormones or how to go about it, 98% of the time, you’re apt to get a really wrong answer.
Dr. Hedberg: Right.
Dr. Berkson: You’re more apt to get wrong diagnoses and wrong answers today in the medical trenches for chronic health issues and hormone issues than you are right ones. And then that leaves us stupefied, like how do we proceed safely then, which is why it’s great to have radio shows like this where you can pass information forward. And then I make myself available for people to talk with me. I do charge for that at Cache and I have been in practice 47 years, so I’m not inexpensive, but you get another set of eyes that’s very educated on a lot of these connect the dots to give you some information to help you make some safer decisions.
Dr. Hedberg: Mm-hmm. Right. So, you talked a little bit about how to properly make the decision to go on hormones or not. Now, there’s, you know, some practitioners that are of the school of thought that, you know, everyone should have their hormones tested and they should be optimized for when they were younger. And then there’s the other group that thinks, you know, hormone decline is just a natural part of aging, menopause is normal. You know, why would we come in and do all these unnatural things? So…
Dr. Berkson: Well, menopause is normal. You’re not gonna stop having menopause, but you will stop having all the inevitable adverse aging effects of menopause, which are shrinkage. Your brain includes, your skin shrinks, your brain shrinks, your belly enlarges. Unfortunately, your belly doesn’t shrink. But, you know, if people don’t recommend hormones, it’s because they don’t understand hormone replacement and they’re honestly ignorant because they’re the closest thing we have to slowing down aging if they’re done right. But it’s a bigger picture, again, between crosstalk with your hormones, your diet, your digestion, your receptor functionality, not just your blood levels. But I used to work for six, seven years that a family practice clinic here in Austin that specialized in hormones. And Dr. Richard Wiseman started the clinic. He retired a few years ago, but he’s in his mid-70s on hormones running the Ironman several times a year. His wife, Diane, on hormones, looks…you know, they’re both in their mid 70s looking like they’re in their mid 50s and we would talk at the water fountain and he would say to me, “You know, you could have 100 people in a room and if everybody got the exercise and the food memo…” So they’re all making better food choices, they’re all exercising, but half of the people were on hormone replacement in an individualized, healthy, balanced, monitored way, which now, that’s a mouthful because you just can’t go to a T center or to your typical gynecologist and get this really done in the right way necessarily unless they know all this stuff.
By the way, I have a 30-hour course on redefining hormones and mostly gynecologists and family practice docs take that course. And they say to me at the end of it, “Why didn’t we learn this in med school?” But for some reason, this is not in the med school curriculum yet. So, you could have 100 people doing everything right, but the 50 people on hormones, they will look younger, stand taller, talk more rapidly, move more quickly, have more youth on their side because hormones are your internet emailing system that send messages to your cells and genes to keep you clipping along. And aging is when your hormone email starts to freeze and slow down, slows your brain down, your immune system, down, your gut down, and you can use balanced hormones to slow that aging process down even more so you have a longer midlife and a more compressed morbidity, a shorter time of morbidity at the end of your life. That’s what healthy hormones can do for you, and yet the medical profession just doesn’t understand that yet. Those of us on hormones for years live it and I hear this every day, “How do you look so young when you’re so old? How do you talk like that? How do you act so young?” I wouldn’t be who I am without hormone replacement and balancing.
Dr. Hedberg: So, for women who…well, and men who may may be considering hormones, is there an ideal age that someone should start thinking about that, say, for men or for women?
Dr. Berkson: That’s a really good question. It used to be that it was when women were going into perimenopause, but perimenopause, the age of that is lowering. At a gynecologic conference in San Diego, there was a lot of discussion that some women are really going through perimenopause in their late 20s when it used to be mainly your late 40s, which is milestones of reproduction are altering because of hormone-altering chemicals. Our planet being so polluted we’re seeing more hormonal imbalances in younger and younger adults. We’re seeing 20-year old men having low testosterone at the level of their grandpa had at 70. We’re seeing polycystic ovarian syndrome in teenage girls, which is kind of like having menopause in teenage girls. So, we’re seeing a hormone mess. So, it used to be that women do best with hormone replacement right in the 10 years after they go through menopause. There’s a lot of research on that. It’s called the estrogen window. It used to be the estrogen window hypothesis, but it’s no more hypothetical. It’s a fact. The sooner you start on hormones when you’re starting your hormones to change, the more your protection for your life, the rest of your decades, even if you were only to be on hormones for five years. But the problem is, is we’re seeing teenage girls that are insufficient hormones.
Harvard published an interesting study last year where they took teenage girls that was from age 14 to 20, they were girls that that exercised heavily, which a lot of us do today. We push exercise really to the extreme in our selves and our children. And young girls with a lot of body dysphoria so they weren’t eating a lot and so forth. And they had emotional issues, academic issues. So, it was young girls 14 to 20 that were heavy exercisers, or a little bit on the anorexic side, or we’re just not feeling right emotionally. And they put an estrogen patch and Estrace patch on these young girls and followed them for a year. They put estrogen patches on 14-year old girls, like this is like mind-boggling, and almost all of them felt a hell of a lot better. Now, of course, we know if you’re a exercising so much where you don’t have fat cells, you don’t make as much estrogen. And if you don’t eat enough, your body weight goes down. But the purpose of that article was to show that you could have insufficient hormones even in your teenage years. And hormone replacement was found in that study by Harvard to be statistically beneficial.
So, our understanding of hormones has completely changed. I think parents should run a complete hormone panel of every kid once every decade so you know where their hormones have been throughout their life and if you get ill or when you get ill, you can kind of look at where your hormones are at at the time of illness versus how it’s been through your life. You say you have a lot of women with Hashimoto’s in your audience. Testosterone drives, besides protecting the brain, as I just said, against Alzheimer’s vulnerability. Most people think of testosterone when you’re older, only if you want a libido, you know, women don’t really need it. It’s just, you know, if don’t wanna go to bed anymore with your hubby, you know, even though he’s retired and at home, don’t go on testosterone. But we have 159 autoimmune diseases and all of them occur more in women except one, which are the nephrology autoimmune disease, that’s of the kidney.
So, the article that was called “Welcome to the Microgenderome” in “Science” was one of the first and now there’ve been quite a number of other articles spun off from that to discuss the testosterone, especially in the gut and how it communicates with the immune system and the gut wall, which is where 70% to 85% of your immune system lives to protect your immune system. Androgens protect your immune function. And men who have more androgens, male hormones, have less autoimmune diseases. So, part of treating a woman with autoimmune disease, any autoimmune disease, is improving the testosterone profile. So, there’s a lot of studies now in multiple sclerosis and in a few other…in rheumatoid arthritis, replicated studies, which are the hallmark of a good conclusion of the study is that they give testosterone and another hormone that I’m not gonna go into right now to slow down the autoimmune process because it improves the immunity. And they’re able to show that plaques in the brain shrink a bit. They don’t really completely conquer the disease, but they improve the quality of life and really slow down the progression of the disease because testosterone really supports your immune system in a positive way. So, everyone with any autoimmune disease, any autoimmune disease should know where their testosterone and other androgen, which is DHEA, hormones are at. But you need to work with a doc that knows this if you need to get a script for it. And the other things that are important for all autoimmune diseases, all autoimmune diseases, you wanna know where your hormones are at, especially testosterone because most likely, if it’s low or insufficient, you’re gonna wanna try a trial of replacing some of it to boost your immunity. You want to go on low-dose naltrexone, which is…You’ve probably have had a show on that, so I won’t go into it if you have. And it’s…
Dr. Hedberg: I haven’t covered that in detail.
Dr. Berkson: You haven’t?
Dr. Hedberg: I haven’t. No.
Dr. Berkson: Okay. So, my ex was an ER doc, so in the ER, they use large dose naltrexone for people with overdose because it helps people push opioids off the receptor. But in small dose, so it’s called low dose naltrexone. It’s an immune booster and anti-inflammatory agent and it helps reduce your antibody levels. And, of course, autoimmune diseases are driven by antibodies against specific tissues. So, you start basically with 1.5 milligrams the first week you go to double that, the second week, so 3 milligrams the second week, and then you double that again to 4.5 milligrams the third week, which is pretty much you stay at that as a maintenance dose and it’s a prescription. But it’s one of the most powerful things to use for autoimmune disease that there is. It puts a number of autoimmune diseases in some patients completely in remission, just that.
And then the other thing you wanna do is you wanna get rid of gluten or any of the foods that are inflammatory and fix the gut so the microbiome crosstalk with everything is healthy. And you wanna test for one specific lectin besides gluten. It’s called galectin-3, G-A-L-E-C-T-I-N. G-A-L-E-C-T-I-N dash 3. It’s a lectin that disassembles your gut wall integrity like zonulin does from gluten or in your blood-brain barrier and it drives inflammation and fibrosis and nasty things and it keeps you in a pro-inflammatory autoimmune storm. And you can measure that in your blood. And then you can use modified citrus pectin. Thorne makes a really great modified citrus pectin powder and you can take that several times a day and start bringing that down and helps affect autoimmunity. Doing those things for whatever…
If you have Wegener granulomatosis, multiple sclerosis, Hashimoto’s, any of those autoimmune diseases, all of those things help. You wanna go off gluten, no matter whether you have an autoimmune issue with gluten or not because everybody gets an inflammatory response in their gut but not everybody can make sufficient anti-inflammatory molecules to tamp it back down. You wanna measure galectin-3, you wanna go on a low dose naltrexone. You wanna check your testosterone and DHEA levels, in particular, if not all of your hormones, but you wanna make sure that you’re in the high-normal and it’s functioning. Remember that it needs to function and you want to really address the biomes because the biomes crosstalk with your gut wall where the immune system lives in with your hormones. So, that’s like the little recipe booklet for autoimmune issues that’s applicable to all of them.
Dr. Hedberg: Excellent. So, you mentioned the birth control pill earlier. I’m glad you brought that up because I just see so many women on birth control for many years and…
Dr. Berkson: I just thought I should have been recording this on Zoom myself. Sorry. Darn it. I just thought of that. Okay, go ahead.
Dr. Hedberg: The birth control pill. So, we have what’s called, you know, post birth control pills syndrome and we know that birth control pills can cause a lot of problems, even a lot of gut issues as well. So, what should the women out there know who are taking birth control pills or who are considering taking them?
Dr. Berkson: So, I teach at the A4M gut module and I have an hour where I take the audience, which is all medical doctors, through the literature from the 1970s up to the present of what’s published in the data of what birth control pills do to the gut wall. And the doctors sit there stupefied, stupefied and they become so incensed that they’ve never learned this information. Which if you were to add up all the participants in the studies, it comes out to multiple millions of women in a variety of studies. There’s smaller and larger studies, but it’s quite clear. There’s no doubt about it that birth control pills cause leaky gut, especially in somebody with a genetic glitch. So, if anyone in your family had inflammatory bowel disease, and we say inflammatory bowel, we’re referring to ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, or recurrent diverticulitis, which is now on the spectrum of inflammatory bowel disease. I put it there on my new gut textbook that I’m working on that’s giving me a stomachache myself, it’s so freaking hard. But it’s my second gut book. So, they should really say to you when you go in for birth control pills, “Has anybody in your family had inflammatory bowel disease because you probably have the genes and you’re probably not a candidate to take this.”
The second thing they should say is birth control pills rinse more nutrients out of the body than any drug. Every drug has a shadow side and rinses at least one nutrient out, which you should figure out what nutrient is rinsed out with whatever drug you’re taking and take it along with the drug to protect yourself. Well, birth control pills rinse about 12 nutrients. And we should hand a list of these nutrients to the young ladies about to take the script and get it filled so that they can have some protection. But the literature is clear that hormones act on dendritic cells to upregulate what are called adhesive proteins, proteins that act like little bits of bubblegum to stick your epithelial cells, the cells that line and make up your gut wall, which are only one cell thick, so they’re very vulnerable. And they wanna stay tight when they’re supposed to stay tight and hormones, like Tina Turner, said, “What’s love got to do, got to do with it?” Well, hormones and gut lining health got a lot to do, go to do with it. It’s real intimate, intimate and birth control pills act by lowering your hormones. They just block your hormone function and because they blocked the function, they make the gut wall much more prone to being loose and gastroenterologists hate the term “leaky gut.” It’s more correctly stated as excessive gut wall permeability. But the deal is, you have sticky proteins, adhesive proteins that stick those cells together in a good way. Hormones are a big part of those proteins staying sticky and being in the right place at the right time.
And when birth control pills block the hormones and then they blocked the nutrients, many of them critical nutrients that also support the gut wall, the woman is set up for issues. And if she goes through a lot of stress, is eating junk food at college, the perfect storm, horrible if she’s on Accutane for acne. You should never be on birth control pills and Accutane at the same time. It’s considered malpractice now, but I have a lot of young ladies that come in and when they were teens, they were on both of those meds at the same time. You set up a bad basement foundation in your gut, which shows up as issues and health problems 10, 15 years down the road. Or even sometimes right when you’re on the birth control pills themselves. There’s a number of case reports in the literature where women began having inflammatory bowel disease after a month on birth control pills and when they went off them, they went into remission. And then they follow if women are on birth control pills and they do have inflammatory bowel disease, they’re more apt to have an emergency surgery. They’re more apt to have complications from that surgery.
So, hormones protect your gut wall. And my new gut book, I have huge chapters on the unappreciated role of hormones and the gut. Nobody thinks about hormones in the gut except estrogen protecting against colon cancer. But remember a hormone delivers a signal to a receptor. So, wherever you have receptors, nature’s wanting a hormone signal to go. So, you have the love hormone, oxytocin, you’ve got testosterone, you’ve got progesterone, you’ve got estrogen. Besides your hunger and satiety, and those hormones, hormones rule. People don’t realize how much hormones aren’t just about sexy and reproductive things, they’re about your brain and your gut and your youth being able to keep your youth, being able to be who you are as that you remember yourself longer. So, birth control pills are a problem. If there was as much negative data on male contraception, it would have been taken off the market. Probably, the woman who first…the English physician who first wrote about progesterone, Katharina Dalton, felt that very high dose natural progesterone would be a contraceptive, but no, it’s not patentable. No one has tested that.
So, if your daughter can, it would be best to go off birth control pills and use an IUD that ideally, it would just be a mechanical IUD. The best one at the moment is the copper, although I’ve had a few patients who didn’t do well with the copper because they should have taken some zinc with it to keep the balance of those two minerals in their body. That’s probably the less invasive, or a diaphragm or cervical cap, and then mixing that with the rhythm method. But if they’re gonna take birth control pills, they should be on that long list of nutrients that are washed out and if anyone in the family has inflammatory bowel disease, they should not be on oral contraceptives at all.
Remember that and ethinyl estradiol and the progestins that were found to be really problematic in the women’s health initiative, that’s what those contraceptives are made up. And they’re used as controls in the laboratory at Tulane to see what pollutants are damaging if they act like these synthetic hormones act. And it all is run by the drug companies and money, you know, and the patient really is at the bottom of the list. It’s so frustrating and sad, but shows like this give us more power. At first, they blow our mind and make us feel doomsday and overwhelmed and oh, I can’t hear any more bad news about the planet and everything I should know about, don’t tell one more thing, I just wanna go drink margaritas and sit by the sea, you know. But knowledge is power and it does help you take care of yourself and your loved ones better.
Dr. Hedberg: So, we know that labs aren’t everything, you know, the patient and who they are, their symptoms, and all those kinds of things are really important. But do you have a favorite way of testing hormones? And is it different for each hormone whether you do saliva, blood, or urine?
Dr. Berkson: That’s another great question. So, most people are fixated on one hormone test. One of the higher board certification programs for docs is called A4M. Fabulous classes, fabulous information. They say only saliva, the only way to test this saliva. So, I’ve had the honor of working in all these different medical clinics all over the country. David Brownstein tests with blood and he’s a hormone guru. I worked for six years going one week out of each month to Tulsa working with an internist who would’ve been working in hormones for 50 years, he just used blood. Dr. Richard Wiseman just used blood. I trained…my first mentor was Dr. Wright. He does 24-hour urine. Now he’s got some…Meridian laboratory now has some urine spot tests. All of those docs are working with women and getting good results basically, or they wouldn’t stay in business. And they’re not just one way.
So, I don’t think there’s just one way to test hormones. And I think if somebody says there’s only one way to test something, you gotta kind of…There’s never only one way to do anything. Even in the body, we have all these redundancy systems. We have a million ways to go with something in the body, so we have fail-safe mechanisms. So, I always think that they’re either, you know, really good friends with the owners of the company that disseminate that kit or something. All those ways are okay. But what I like, I always am the bigger picture doc. So, it isn’t just the level of a hormone as we started saying at the beginning of this show, it’s how the hormone can deliver it’s signal to the receptor, which is based on nutrients, or is that receptor clogged with hormone-altering chemicals so even though you have perfect levels of hormones, it can’t get in? You’ve got too much cadmium, or plastics, or volatile organic pollutants, or lead. Your receptors are full but that doesn’t show up in a test. That shows up more in symptoms.
So, in the new medical school, they teach algorithms and everything is driven completely by tests, and by insurance, and by big pharma. You put in what the patient has here, and here, and here, and at the end of it, you come out with five possible drugs. You just are a drug pusher for big pharma. That’s all you are. Whereas in functional medicine, you’re an agile thinker and you’re looking at the bigger picture. So, in my testing of hormones, I wanna look…I do blood levels and then I have multiple ways that I look at hormones, much more than the basic tests in those blood levels. And then I do 24-hour urines to see what’s coming out. So, I look at what’s in the blood and then what’s coming out. And by the way, the FDA came out with a paper in March. I’m a geek, so I read all the stuff all the time. They came out with a paper looking at 24-hour urine compared to blood levels and they were a perfect match. The FDA came out with this paper. So, because of the criticism against 24-hour urine is you’re only looking at metabolites, but apparently, that is not the case. What I wanna know is, are you a hyper-excreter? Do you take hormones in and then lose them too quickly? Do you accumulate them in the blood, not lose them at all?
So, there’s multiple ways you can look at the bigger picture. So, in the first visit only, I do a very in-depth blood test and then I do a very in-depth 24-hour urine test and then I run a lot of molecules that either support or antagonize all those functions. So, my initial blood test is quite large. And I often look at the biomes because now you know that there’s a microgenderome, meaning that the biomes crosstalk with your hormones. So, I really wanna know what adverse microbial life is living in this patient and what healthy microbial life because part of getting the hormones working better is getting the biomes healthier. So, if you want your…So, some women go on hormone replacement and they feel fine and it’s great. Some women feel really good in the beginning and they can’t maintain the benefit and some women just don’t ever feel good because there’s all these other bigger picture factors that a cognitive, agile thinking doc will address, but that means an hour or two visit. It’s a much more in-depth and a longer…and looking at your history, and what meds you’ve been exposed to, and how long you were on birth control pills, what is your gut flora, your esophageal flora look like. So that’s what I do and I pay a lot of attention to symptoms, which the regular docs today are not trained. They go, “Your blood levels look fine, even though you don’t feel good, you’re fine. Go away. You’re okay.” But that’s not the truth.
So, one blood test, urine, or saliva, none of those tell you receptor functionality, but symptoms do. And the one other thing to put a monkey wrench in the whole thing. According to Fabry, who was a French scientist that wrote a number of papers in the early part of 2000, he was the first scientist that showed we have a whole another set of hormone production that’s not even tested by the test we have today. So, blood, urine, and saliva test endocrinology. Hormones that are made in the glands, secreted into the bloodstream, and work on receptors, that’s endocrinology. He proposed a whole another hormonal system now being replicated and proven called intrachronology, where in your kidneys or in your heart, hormones are made locally, they act locally, they’re broken down locally and they never show up in the blood, but they’re part of your hormonal system. But there’s no way at this time to test it except academically because in the studies they have been able to prove this academically, but these tests aren’t available for doctors to order.
But what you can do is go by symptoms. And so, there needs to be a doctor that asks you how you are, tracks how you feel, and uses that as viable input to how they treat you and protect you. But that’s just not the way at this moment in time that regular medicine is gone where you need to see 30, 40 people a day to stay in the group and to have your retirement plan and to keep all your ducks in a row. You know, you only have time to identify the biggest thing going on and give a drug or look at the blood level and, “It looks fine. You’re okay. Goodbye.” It’s a totally different way of treating you. But that one is insurance reimbursed and to work with somebody that will take all that time and focus on you is called direct cash, and that will be an outlay of money. That will not be insurance reimbursed.
Dr. Hedberg: So…
Dr. Berkson: I have a list, by the way, in “Sexy Brain.” I have all the hormones you need to test. I give how you could clean out your receptors. I present all of this in a real doable way. I have a 10-day hormone receptor detox. So, that’s all summarized for you inside the book, “Sexy Brain.” And I have a radio show too where I talked about a lot of this stuff on an ongoing basis.
Dr. Hedberg. Oh, excellent. Yeah. Why don’t we close with just a few basic strategies for the listeners out there who would like to start decreasing their exposure to hormone disruptors.
Dr. Berkson: Okay. Just so you know, you know, Harvard and “Huffington Post” got together and put on a public forum, December 31st of 2017. You can Google it. You can just put in Harvard, “Huffington Post,” Endocrine Disrupting Forum and you can…A lot of the guys on that forum are my cronies, at Tulane that I worked with and they talk about the two major threats to humanity, the first being nuclear war, and the second being global warming depending on who you vote for, and the third being hormone disruptions. That hormone disruptors are so powerful and so devastating that they’re a third major threat to the human race. They threaten the brain, they threatened pregnancy, they threaten fertility, they threaten…It’s huge. They’re threatening hormones so that we’re seeing hormone insufficiencies and issues in young kids. So, this is a real issue and what you’re asking is how do we reduce exposure to these chemicals that sabotage our own hormonal internet system?
So, I summarize all of that in “Hormone Deception,” which was one of the very first books explaining endocrine disruption. And I take you on the last third of the book on a tour of your home, your office, your supermarket cart, and how you get this stuff out of you or try and prevent it getting into you because you can’t live like that “Seinfeldian” episode of the bubble boy. You know, if we could live as the bubble boy. So, the first thing is to focus on your home because where most of our exposure comes from is the home. The EPA did a set of, over 10 years, a study called the Team Studies where they put monitors on Americans to see where we get most of our pollution and the majority of our pollution, believe it or not, as in our home, especially in the bathroom in the morning. So, if you get a 50 buck Berkey shower filter because you get a lot of carcinogens and potential endocrine disrupting chemicals because the water treatment system cannot remove all of the hormone metabolites from birth control pills and pharmaceuticals out of the water and you’re standing under hot water with your pores opening up. That’s one of your biggest areas of exposure is in the shower in the morning.
And if every six months you get a 50 buck Berkey, B-E-R-K-E-Y, shower filter, you’re starting to reduce your exposure. You can get a whole home water filter. When I was writing hormone deception, I helped with a water company design one of the first home whole water filters. But a lot of people don’t do that. So the easiest thing to do, you can get it online or get it at home depot. And use products in the morning, personal care products are known to be very high in endocrine disruptors. So you buy green products, you can go to the environmental working site and they give you a list of the worst products, the best products, and I think they even have a place now where you can just have an app, take your phone, and take a picture of the product you’re wondering its scoring on good to bad for endocrine disruption and you can find out immediately.
So, there’s all these new ways to see if what you’re taking in…And there’s the dirty dozen, there’s the foods that are the highest in endocrine-disrupting compounds. I’ve got a list of that in “Hormone Deception.” The environmental working group has it. But for example, nonorganic strawberries and spinach are at the top of the list. And we’ve had patients that were getting their green drink at Whole Foods every day, but it was no longer organic since it’s been purchased by Amazon. And suddenly, their blood levels are super high in endocrine disrupting chemicals and pesticides. Many pesticides are endocrine disruptors. The other thing you can do is have a mat outside your house and another mat inside the door. And if you wipe your feet several times outside and several times inside, and then take your shoes off, this reduces a huge amount of exposure that you get on the bottom of your shoes from walking through a Target, through a parking lot, through buildings being torn down, and contaminated dust settling on the walkways and you bring it into your home and then your animals get it on the bottom of their paws and then they go sleep in bed with you and you’ve got it right there on your pillow. Cornell did a lot of studies where what do animals bring into our pillows in our bedroom. So, it’d be great if you could just wipe your doggie paws, kitty paws off before they come in and wipe your own feet. Keep your shoes by the side door, those things.
And the one other big, big, big deal, I mean, there’s lots of things and you’ll get many more hints in my books, is to not microwave in plastic. So, the man that made the drug that my mother was given that was the most powerful estrogen ever made was Sir Charles Dobbs. And he invented plastics as well as that drug and he loved that molecular structure that looks like an endocrine disruptor. He just was chemists, scientist, physician and plastics are good to try and get out of your life, but particularly, do not microwave in them and do not take plastic containers, wash them in the dishwasher with regular harsh dishwashing soap and then use them to store liquids, water or food. They have micro scratches that create a lot of estrogen…release estrogen active molecules into the food. So, become as less of a plastic household as you can become, which is not an easy thing to do. Is that helpful? Is that helpful?
Dr. Hedberg: Oh, yeah, those are some great tips. Well, I really appreciate you coming on, Dr. Berkson. You’ve been a wealth of knowledge and is there anywhere you want people to find you online? What’s your website and how would you like them to find you?
Dr. Berkson: So, my website is called drlindseyberkson.com. It’s D-R-L-I-N-D-S-E-Y-B-E-R-K-S-O-N dot com. You can get into my radio show, “Dr. Berkson’s Best Health” through the website, but it’s also on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, and all the major places. I have a blog that I’m very active with. I just did a great show on sleep, which is such an issue for so many people, and I’ve got an article coming out in the spring issue of the “Townsend Letter” on sleep and then I’ll publish that as a blog in my blogs. So, I’ve got Berkson blog and my website, the radio show. I’ve got a little university that I’m populating with that 30-hour course on redefining hormones. I’ve got several other short courses and I’m slowly but surely populating lots of courses and I’m also on Youtube under Dr. Lindsey Berkson and I’m on Facebook pretty active publishing information at Dr. Lindsey Berkson on Facebook. And a little less active on Twitter these days because I’m lecturing around the country so much.
So, I hope I didn’t talk too much. When you write so many books, you get so much information in your brain and then I work with so many ill patients and utilize, translate that science into to-dos, and food, and choices, so I’m very passionate about people trying to really get good care and get well and not accept the learned helplessness that we give a lot of patients when they become diagnosed with a disease, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, type 2 diabetes. We say, “You’re ill, you’re always gonna be ill. Just face it. You could do some better things, but you’re always gonna be on these meds.” Now you accept learned helplessness.
And many times, with functional approach, you can put that disease in your rear view mirror. And hormones are often part of that answer even though your gynecologist wouldn’t have any of those connect-the-dots. So, I’m pretty passionate about people trying to not buy into diagnoses that they’re served even by Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic. I don’t care where these come from. A lot of those end up being reversible. And I won’t go into it all now, but I was diagnosed as going irreversibly blind after 15 years of working with all the docs here in Austin, and now I’m not. I am not. And the Moran Eye Institute in Utah, one of the biggest eye institutes in the world, is now using the protocols I ended up putting together. So, because I was exposed to that horrible drug in the womb, I’ve had to battle a lot of things. And each of those things, the doc would say, “Oh, there you have now this thing forever.” And that wasn’t the isness for my body. If I figured out root cause, figured out what would fix it, so far, thank God, knock on wood, I’d able to come out the other end putting that disease in my rear view mirror and then I do that for many of my patients.
So, I know, having been a patient as well as the doc, that you can overcome many things even with that doctor sitting across from you saying there is no answer. No answer. What that means is that doctor sitting in front of you, they don’t have an answer for you. It doesn’t mean that there isn’t an answer somewhere else for you and most likely, stunningly, your hormone health might be part of that since there are so many receptors all throughout the body. So, that’s become my passion, is to share this on shows like this and courses to docs like this and books and, you know, I see much less patients today, but with my patients too.
Dr. Hedberg: Well, thank you for sharing all that. Really appreciate it.
Dr. Berkson: Oh, just one thing, if someone wanted to see me in a consult, you can click on the Consult section of my website to just go to that portal.
Dr. Hedberg: Excellent. Well, so all the listeners go to drhedberg.com. and you’ll see this posted under the articles section. I will have a transcript of the entire interview made for those of you who would also like to read this as well. So, thank you, again, Dr. Berkson, I appreciate you coming on.
Dr. Berkson: It’s so nice of you to have me on and it’s nice to hang out with you and to share this information with your tribe. So, thank you very much, really.
Dr. Hedberg: Thank you. All right, take care, everyone, and I will talk to you next time.