This is an excerpt from Dr. John R. Lee, MD in The John R. Lee, M.D. Medical Letter, September 2003 issue. Dr. John R. Lee, MD was an international authority and pioneer in natural hormone balance. He was a sought-after speaker, as well as a best-selling author and the editor-in-chief of a medical newsletter.
"Humans suffer from hormonal imbalances, so it makes sense that our pets would also suffer from them. In our 'Experts in the Field' section this month you’ll find an article by veterinarian Alfred Plechner about hormone imbalances in dogs and cats. He has a different spin on the problem than I have with humans, but I believe he’s on the right track and is a much-needed pioneering clinician in veterinary medicine. Let’s hope that the future brings research on the effects of neutering and spaying (i.e. castration and the subsequent loss of testicular and ovarian hormones) on dogs and cats, as well as the possibilities of natural hormone replacement for pets!
I’ve long had a theory that since dog and cat food contains many body parts (e.g. organs, glands, muscle) of whatever animal ends up in the can, our pets are probably being inadvertently supplemented with hormones, including adrenal hormones, ovarian and testicular hormones, and thyroid, and this is most likely a good thing. For most of us, living with an 'intact' dog or cat is too challenging, yet there can’t be any doubt that the loss of ovarian and testicular hormones must have a dramatic impact on the health of our pets."
EXPERTS IN THE FIELD
IS YOUR PET'S HEALTH SUFFERING?
It Could be Unrecognized Hormonal Imbalances
By Alfred J. Plechner, D.V.M.
In thousands of cases spanning three decades, I have identified an unrecognized hormonal syndrome that weakens the immune system and promotes sickness and premature death in dogs and cats. Because of this widespread and unsuspected disorder, veterinarians are seeing an increase in the following:
- Autoimmune diseases
- Relentless skin allergies
- Severe hypersensitivity to food and insect bites
- Chronic bacterial, viral, and fungal infections
- Deadly feline viruses
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Vaccination complications
- Miscarriages and sterility
- Chronic health problems among younger animals
In most cases, I am able to help patients—even very sick ones—regain health by correcting the hormonal disturbances and thus restore effectiveness to the immune system. The complete therapeutic program brings veterinarians and pet owners together to do the necessary testing, treatment and home care.
The problem originates with genetic or acquired damage (such as from toxicity or stress) to the adrenal glands, where the hormone cortisol is produced. A domino effect is unleashed. Hormones go awry. Estrogen is overproduced. Thyroid function is impaired. Immune cells become deregulated and dysfunctional. I consistently see this cortisol-based pattern in sick patients. In fact, every cancer patient I treat has it.
Cortisol is an extremely important hormone. At a healthy basic level it exerts a major anti-inflammatory effect, a property that inspired the development of cortisone (synthetic cortisol) drugs more than a half-century ago. At a normal level, it also exerts a discriminating regulatory effect on molecular agents that turn on or turn off activity related to immunity. A deficiency or defect in cortisol may result in an unresponsive immune system just as too much of it suppresses immune responses.
Most of my sick patients have a shortage of good, working cortisol. I believe the problem stems in large part from modern breeding practices that emphasize fashionable appearance and devalue hardiness and function. These practices create flawed, designer pets ridden with genetic defects. The endocrine-immune syndrome I have found is among many defects, however it has not been widely recognized. Moreover, the defect is no longer limited to purebred pets. Mating between breeds has thoroughly spread the imbalances.
Cortisol is a cornerstone of the HPA axis, a classic hormonal “feedback loop” that involves the hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal glands. Scientists now recognize that this axis has central importance to immune function, however they still lack a clear understanding of the countless details and interactions.
A shortage of cortisol causes the pituitary to constantly secrete a substance called adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). Usually, the adrenal gland responds by producing more cortisol. However, if the gland cannot meet the demand, or the cortisol is somehow ineffective or excessively bound, the flow of ACTH will also stimulate the release of estrogen compounds. This appears to happen in all imbalanced animals, including males and spayed females, so it’s not an ovarian estrogen issue. Rather it seems to stem from direct production of estrogens by the adrenal glands or from androstenedione, a masculine hormone that can convert to the estrogen compound estrone, which in term converts to the more “potent” estrogen estradiol.
How Cortisol Dysfunction Affects Our Pets
This scenario of low cortisol and elevated estrogen has major trouble-making potential. Here’s a few of the disturbances it can cause:
- Destabilization of B and T cell activity, primary components of the immune system, and thus loss of normal disease protection.
- Impairment of thyroid function by binding thyroid hormones, and interfering with normal transference of T4 to active T3, and the cellular uptake of T3. This has the potential to slow down metabolic processes.
- Increased inflammation. Inflammation in the intestinal tract, for instance, may interfere with absorption of nutrients and medication. In the uterus, inflammation may undermine the normal conception process.
- Unexpected sexual behavior. Spayed females mounting other females, or neutered males humping other males, are not uncommon sights. Cortisol-based imbalances can trigger an excess of estrogen and also testosterone that may promote residual sexuality even though the animals are fixed.
Unfortunately, pet owners can’t test for and resolve the imbalances on their own. They need an open-minded veterinarian willing to follow a procedure that he or she didn’t learn in veterinary school or from a textbook. I hope one day that the endocrine-immune syndrome I have found will be covered in veterinary textbooks, but at this point it is not. I personally consult with a number of veterinarians who use my program (you can find a list on my web site, www.drplechner.com).
When veterinarians and pet owners follow this endocrine-immune balance program they report results just as gratifying as I achieve in my clinic. The details for the program are spelled out in my new book, and consist of three major elements:
1) A special endocrine-immune blood test.
The test measures cortisol, total estrogen, thyroid hormones (T3 and T4) and the following antibodies: IgA, IgG and IgM. Testing routinely reveals a similar pattern of low cortisol, elevated estrogen, bound thyroid hormones, and low antibodies in sick animals whether they are males or females, intact or neutered.
To do the test, veterinarians perform a simple blood draw and send the blood in a cold pack to one of several major veterinary testing laboratories. Intact females should not be tested when in estrus. The results of the test can be interpreted by consulting the information contained in my book. If imbalances are present, the patient is retested after two or three weeks into the therapy program to determine if modification of treatment is needed.
2) Long-term therapy using low-dosage steroid medications, and for most dogs, thyroid medication (T4 only).
Pharmaceutical derivatives of cortisol—that is, cortisone (steroid) compounds—have become prominent mainstream medicines because of their clinically important anti-inflammatory and immune suppression applications. Over the years we have learned a great deal about the side effects of these compounds when used at typically powerful, pharmacologic dosages. For that reason steroids are usually prescribed for the short term and avoided for prolonged use. This development has discouraged interest in the pivotal roles of cortisol and applications of low-dosage cortisone as a “hormone replacement” for cortisol deficiency.
In my program I use cortisone medications—either a natural hydrocortisone (derived from soy) or a pharmaceutical such as Vetalog or Medrol—not to suppress symptoms, as these preparations are conventionally used for, but to replace a lack of active cortisol. I use only enough medication to normalize estrogen, thyroid, and the immune system.
Used in this conservative manner, there are beneficial, healing effects and no side effects. William Jefferies, M.D., of the University of Virginia, has used low-dosage steroid medication safely and effectively for decades to help patients with chronic allergies, autoimmune disorders and chronic fatigue.
My therapy also calls for additional thyroid medication (T4 only) for most dogs. Due to some species variation, most cats don’t require the additional thyroid medication. Those with a condition called feline infectious peritonitis do need thyroid.
Pet owners usually must administer medication on a daily basis. In general, improvement on the program is rapid and animals stay healthy as long as the therapy is followed.
3) A careful diet that eliminates food allergens.
The one thing that can upset the therapy and improved health is food! Animals with food allergies all have endocrine-immune imbalances, and even when the imbalances are corrected they can still react to food to which they are individually sensitive. Thus, pets need to be on hypoallergenic diets that are rotated every few months to avoid problems. Convenient hypoallergenic diets can be purchased through veterinarians or pet stores but caregivers still need to be alert.
Each animal is individual and can be sensitive to even the most wholesome of foods or the worst of chemical additives.
Even severely diseased animals make great comebacks on the program, living long and high-quality lives. For more details, and the practical how-to information, I suggest obtaining a copy of my new book Pets at Risk.
You can read the rest of this letter here.