Did you know that the thyroid gland, which regulates metabolism, “is often an area out of balance, and that [yoga] poses that stimulate the gland, such as shoulder stands, can help redress this”? Or that testosterone is the new botox? Neither did consultant endocrinologist Professor Maralyn Druce. Having had enough of the extraordinary claims echoed in the tabloids, she pens an open letter to the public in response.
Dear reader of newspapers, magazines and websites
Like you I am often interested in the latest developments in health and beauty; the many new things on the horizon that promise me happiness, youth or energy. Recently I have noticed a trend in the press for thinking about our hormones – our endocrine systems – as a route to improving our health and wellbeing.
I am a clinical endocrinologist, a doctor for people with health problems relating to the malfunctioning of hormone glands, and I can tell you that the many hormonal systems in the body are fascinating and complex. The complexity arises because these systems control and support functions for many different body functions, and they must be able to produce the correct amounts of the right hormones in response to the internal and external environment.
When you read some of these articles’ claims, you might be forgiven for thinking that your hormone glands are very fragile and that all sorts of measures need to be taken to ‘boost’ the production of certain hormones and support the limited supply of others. This is not true. Your thyroid gland in your neck produces thyroxine to control your metabolism, and it does so in response to another hormone called TSH. It does not need extra ‘boosting’ by complex poses in specially designed and costly yoga classes.
While yoga in general may be very positive for your health, mood, wellbeing or flexibility, there is no evidence that stretching the thyroid gland will change the amount of hormone it makes. Nor indeed is there any evidence, even if this were the case, that the proposed hormone boost would benefit you. Likewise, I’ve seen a lot of myths in the press concerning adrenal glands, which sit at the top of the kidneys and produce the hormone cortisol in response to both emotional and physical stress – helping the body to adjust and cope. Contrary to what you may read, your adrenal glands are not delicate bowls containing a small amount of precious cortisol that might run out. Different types of exercise will not cause your adrenal glands to ‘fatigue’ and run out of hormones – the adrenal glands are factories that make just the right amount of hormone to meet your body’s needs. There is also no evidence that you will benefit from special and often expensive supplements that are marketed to ‘support’ your hormones or your glands – a sensible diet and a healthy lifestyle are the only things that you need to do this, unless you have a specific illness that requires treatment.
We are also told that growth hormone is important for stronger bones and muscle growth, but there is no evidence that doing particular types of exercise to ‘boost’ levels has special benefits on bone strength or fitness over and above any other kind of fitness regime. In fact people with excessive levels of growth hormone actually suffer from a condition called acromegaly, which leads to a number of negative health effects. More is not always better.
For men who are healthy, the sex hormone testosterone varies across the day. Regular sleep results in regular cycles of hormonal change – and you don’t need special sleep products or sleep apps to help this happen, just some insight into how to live healthily.
If you are a woman trying to decide whether or not to use hormone replacement, for example when you reach the menopause, you should be able to weigh up the possible benefits against measured risks. Should you decide to opt for hormone replacement, this always needs to be discussed with your doctor. As yet there is no evidence that so-called ‘bioidentical’ or ‘natural’ hormone replacements are better for you, despite claims made to the contrary where potential profits are at stake. You should be very careful when you consider taking hormones that have not been properly safety-tested in clinical trials and whose long term side effects have not been measured or monitored. The risks are totally unknown.
Your hormones are doing a great job supporting the functions of your body, responding to your environment and coping with the effects of what is going on around and inside you. Our glands have been doing this for millennia. As yet there has been no evidence that the purchase of extra and expensive support systems – be they yoga poses, supplements or other interventions – will truly boost your hormone health.
Got an axe to grind with sensationalism about hormones in the media? Get in touch with your Society for Endocrinology press office and find out how we can support you.