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The Pill and Other Pharmaceutical Disasters

by Romy Seleznov Nelson, MEd., DTR


"Most physicians learn to treat the symptoms, without addressing the underlying disease. Whenever a doctor suggests some kind of pharmaceutical drug as the solution to a medical problem, remember that this doctor is only doing what he or she was taught in school: 'Treat medical problems with drugs, and if that doesn't work, well...there's always surgery." -Dr. Ronald Lawrence, Assistant Clinical
Professor, UCLA School of Medicine

Years ago, I didn't know that birth control pills and other pharmaceuticals were so damaging. Like most Americans, I didn't have any strong feeling one way or the other regarding prescription drugs. In fact, the only reason I eventually sought natural solutions to my health problems was that I'd hit dead-ends with several doctors. I soon found that when you enter the world of natural foods, vitamins, and supplements, you learn a lot about the dangers of the prescription pad. I first came across the side effects of pharmaceuticals when I was researching anabolic steroids. I was fascinated by the openness that so many bodybuilders had towards using these black-market pharmaceuticals. They talked about it casually, as they simply considered it part of the sport. I had a lot of people offer them to me, but I always politely turned them down. I was fascinated though, and curious to know what the big deal was all about. I started reading about these synthetic drugs and researching the side effects, both positive and negative. All the prescription drugs had long lists of side effects, but I was amazed at how terrible some of them were.

That's when I started to realize that synthetic substances by their very definition were going to have negative effects in a biological system. The human body doesn't metabolize and process synthetic substances as it does natural ones (ones in which the molecular structure of the substance’Äîplant or animal-has not been altered in any way).

Before I learned about the mind-body connection, I was at war with my body beginning when I was 13 years old. Fifteen years later, I came across an article that gave me a new perspective on the subject of female problems. It was called, "How Old Were You When You Got Your Period? And Why it Matters." The author reported that the age of menarche (the date of the first menstruation) went from a median of 14.8-years-old in 1890 to 12.5-years in 1988. Until just a few thousand years ago, human worldwide were hunters and gatherers and back then, women didn't begin menstruating until they were 16 to 17 years old! For tens of thousands of years, women usually did not get pregnant until they were at least 20 years old! Why the decrease in the age of first menstruation from 14.8 to 12.5 years in less than 100 years? Author Eric Goodman proposes two possible theories: the modern day poor diet and lack of exercise, or estrogens in the environment. Environmental estrogens? Say what!? Now, that caught my attention!

I was excited to see that one of the anthropologists interviewed for the article was Pat Whitten, one of my academic idols in college. I had read her studies as an undergraduate student pursuing my bachelor's degree in anthropology. Her opinion was that the earlier onset of puberty is caused by many factors combined-nutrition, urbanization, and increasing exposure to chemical products.3 That chemicals in our environment are making their way into the bloodstream and altering natural hormone levels is a shocking concept. Somehow these chemicals, from sources in everyday products, are among other things increasing blood levels of estrogen. In turn, these chemicals are triggering females in industrialized countries to reach early puberty. That article literally changed my life. It gave me hope that there was a chance that there was an answer to the puzzle of what doctors and society had so conveniently labeled "female problems."

So, how are these estrogen-like chemicals getting into people's bloodstreams? Goodman cited a book titled, Our Stolen Future by Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski, and John Peterson Myers. I immediately purchased it. To say the least, I found it terribly disturbing. This 1996 groundbreaking book is a synthesis of excellent research. The work demonstrated how modern-day pollutants in particular certain chemicals act like estrogen in the bodies of countless species of animals. The resulting effect is reproductive and other physiological abnormalities. The authors presented the argument that such "estrogen impostors" also likely account for the huge increase in breast cancer, infertility, and other reproductive problems in humans. In 1997, not many people, including me, had any idea what was going on. Fortunately, more people are becoming aware of this now.

The EPA defines endocrine disruptors as chemicals that interfere with endocrine system functioning. In layman's terms, they mess with your hormones. A comprehensive definition and description of endocrine disruptors is available on the EPA's website.4 The EPA has noted that endocrine disruptors are suspected as having a role in the declining sperm counts of the last fifty years. Right now, you may be somewhat outraged, wondering why these chemicals are not banned. Unfortunately, due to the massive amount of chemicals in our environment, there is uncertainty as to which chemicals may be at fault. Most people are familiar with several chemicals banned in the U.S. because of their suspected hormonal effects. The following pesticides are considered likely endocrine disruptors: chlordanes, DDT, DES, toxaphene, lindane, atrazine. Maximum contaminant levels have been set for other suspected endocrine disruptors as well, including PCBs, dioxin, mercury, and lead.

One of the most noted cases of an endocrine disruptor was diethylstilbestrol (commonly referred to as simply DES), a synthetic estrogen. This drug was given to women to prevent miscarriage and stimulate fetal growth. Many of the female infants exposed to DES in utero as fetuses ended up with vaginal cancer as they got older. Males exposed to DES as fetuses also had severe reproductive problems. This particular drug was banned after the overwhelming scientific proof was seen in the adults, who later became known as "DES babies."

I had only touched the tip of the iceberg though. In 1998, I was about to see the entire picture and finally see the real reason for "female problems." I read the work of Dr. John Lee, M.D. His first book, What your Doctor May Not Tell You About Menopause, changed the quality of life for millions of women, including me.

Dr. Lee passed away in October 2003. Before that time, he was a best-selling author who had retired from 30 years of practice in gynecology. He lectured around the country with information that is vital for women of all ages. His books should be required reading for all owners of a female body! His second book, What your Doctor May Not Tell You About Premenopause is even better than the first. His third is titled, What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Breast Cancer.

Dr. Lee cited several studies revealing the dangers of man-made, synthetic hormones. These synthetic pharmaceuticals are used in birth control pills, as well as in hormone-replacement therapy (HRT) prescribed to menopausal women. Most disturbing were the several studies demonstrating that the increased chance of breast and uterine cancer due to synthetic estrogen were known and even published in the 1970s! That's right. All this time they knew. No doubt you've heard the "new" research that simply duplicated the older studies and confirmed the results. It's a travesty that only in the last few years has this vital information finally been presented in major media sources. We must ask why it took national media exposure to educate women's physicians. Why did they not know about this earlier? Although they are now officially on the list of known carcinogens, synthetic estrogens are still used in birth control pills and HRT.

At a conference he attended in 1978, Dr. Lee heard Dr. Ray Peat speak on the topic of natural progesterone for post-menopausal women. Natural progesterone can be made from thousands of plants. To reverse osteoporosis in his patients, Dr. Lee began using natural progesterone. Along with mounds of other incorrect information we've been told, estrogen does not reverse osteoporosis. Estrogen can only slow it down. Dr. Lee also explains that osteoporosis is caused by the woman's body not making enough progesterone; it has nothing to do with a lack of estrogen.

Dr. Lee also lectured about the work of Dr. Jerilynn Prior, a researcher and professor of endocrinology in Canada. Her work is very interesting to those of us who are female endurance athletes and coach female athletes. She is also considered by some as one of the best thyroid doctors in the world. Dr. Prior tested the estrogen and progesterone levels of female distance runners. One subject, a 24-year-old distance runner with a broken hip and osteoporosis, whose estrogen levels were normal. Her progesterone levels, however, were very low. The research was continued on many other female endurance athletes, and the same levels were found. Figuring it was the excessive running, Dr. Prior began testing non-athletes. The non-athletes were also deficient in progesterone! By the time they are 35-years-old, 50% of all women in North America have insufficient levels of progesterone.

There is even more fascinating information about progesterone. It used to be thought that libido in women came only from testosterone, which is produced in the women's adrenal glands. Surprise, surprise! It turned out to be linked to progesterone. When progesterone levels are high, sexual desire increases. Women who are post-menopausal (or pre-menopausal, for that matter) aren't making as much progesterone anymore, since it is primarily produced by ovulating women.

Progesterone deficiency is one of the primary reasons for the increase in reproductive problems, including miscarriage and infertility. Dr. Lee calls this epidemic estrogen dominance. He believes the blood test readings physicians consider "normal" are not "normal" in nature. Rather, they are the norms that reflect the abnormally high levels of blood estrogen in our industrialized, polluted world. I now only have my hormones tested through saliva hormone testing, something also recommended in Dr. Lee's books. Dr. Lee and other educated physicians know there are few if any reasons to prescribe estrogen, and an abundance of reasons why it is irresponsible to administer it. If you are wondering how all this talk about estrogen has to do with weight loss, it's simple. Fat cells produce estrogen! The more body fat you have, the more estrogen you produce. Think of overweight men with the breast condition called gyneomastia (some call it "man boobs"). Body fat converts androstenodione into estrogen. According to Dr. Lee, an overweight woman after menopause produces more estrogen than a thin woman makes before menopause. A woman's risk of breast cancer increases significantly if she is overweight.

Synthetic estrogen does nasty things to the body, one of which is to cause cancer cells to grow. If you have any cancerous cells and you have high levels of estrogen (synthetic or natural), take a wild guess what happens?

As many women have noticed, many doctors are now prescribing antidepressants for "female problems." During my thyroid/progesterone problems, one doctor told me I needed to look into antidepressants, implying that all of my physical symptoms were due to a chemical imbalance in my brain. Now that there is a profit-making drug for it, there is conveniently a diagnosis: Premenstrual Dismorphic Disorder (PMDD). There were regular advertisements for this on TV. That's quite convenient for the pharmaceutical companies. It sure was awfully nice of the drug manufacturers to give the doctors the okay to put a name on it. How kind of them to acknowledge it now that they have a drug with which they can make a ton of money peddling to doctors and their patients.

The sad thing is, it's been known for long time that "it" is caused by a lack of progesterone in the latter half of a woman's cycle. Many women are estrogen-dominant in the latter half of their cycles, when they should be progesterone-dominant. Therefore, such women never get the late-cycle surge in progesterone as would happen in an environment free of chemical hormone disruptors. The result is PMS and all of the lovely side effects that accompany it, including weight gain, depression, and infertility.

What are the bonuses of having the naturally high levels of late-cycle progesterone? Here is a list of fabulous health benefits of natural progesterone: it burns and decreases body fat, reverses polycystic breasts and endometriosis, reverses acne, thickens thinning hair, shrinks fibroids, reduces bloating, cramping, and heavy bleeding, and increases brain function.

Millions of American women, including myself, now enjoy these wonderful, day-to-day benefits thanks to Dr. Lee and his life's work. Everyday, I am grateful to this brave and wonderful physician who had the good conscience to speak out against the medical establishment and dangerous pharmaceuticals.

For more of this information, buy the book...