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Hormone Balancing: Natural Treatment and Cure for Arthritis

Also see:
Arthritis and Hypothyroidism

by Raymond  F. Peat, Ph.D.

Medical data is for informational purposes only. You should always consult your family physician, or one of our referral physicians prior to treatment.

(Formerly published in The Journal of the Rheumatoid Disease
Foundation, Volume 1, Number 1), The Roger Wyburn-Mason and Jack M.
Blount Foundation for  the Eradication of Rheumatoid Disease
AKA  The  Arthritis Trust of America®,
7376 Walker Road, Fairview, TN 37062
Copyright 1986

A very healthy 71-year-old man was under his house repairing
the foundation, when a support slipped and let the house fall far
enough to break some facial bones.  During his recovery, he devel-
oped inflammatory arthritis in his hands.  It is fairly common for
arthritis to appear shortly after an accident, a shock, or surgery, and
Hans Selye’s famous work with rats shows that when stress ex-
hausts the adrenal glands (so they are unable to produce normal
amounts of cortisone and related steroid hormones), osteoarthritis
and other “degenerative” diseases are likely to develop.  But when
this man went to his doctor to “get something for his arthritis,” he
was annoyed that the doctor insisted on giving him a complete physi-
cal exam, and wouldn’t give him a shot of cortisone.  The laboratory
examination showed low thyroid function, and the doctor prescribed
a supplement of thyroid extract, explaining that arthritis is one of the
many symptoms of hypothyroidism.  The patient agreed to take the
thyroid, but for several days he grumbled about the doctor “fixing
something that wasn’t wrong” with him, and ignoring his arthritis.
But in less than two weeks, the arthritis had entirely disappeared.  He
lived to be 88, but without a recurrence of arthritis. (See “Thyroid
Hormone Therapy: Cutting the Gordian Knot,” and “Stress,” http://
www.arthritistrust.org.)

Selye’s work with the diseases of stress, and the anti-stress
hormones of the adrenal cortex, helped many scientists to think more
clearly about the interaction of the organism with its environment,
but it has led others to focus too narrowly on hormones of the
adrenal cortex (such as cortisol and cortisone), and to forget the older
knowledge about natural resistance.  There are probably only a few
physicians now practicing who would remember to check for hy-
pothyroidism in an arthritis patient, or in other stress-related condi-
tions.  Hypothyroidism is a common cause of adrenal insufficiency,
but it also has some direct effects on the joint tissues.  In chronic
hypothyroidism (myxedema and cretinism), knees and elbows are
often bent abnormally.

By the 1930s, it was well established that the resistance of the
organism depended on the energy produced by respiration under the
influence of the thyroid gland, as well as on the adrenal hormones,
and that the hormones or pregnancy (especially progesterone) could
substitute for the adrenal hormones.  In a sense, the thyroid hormone
is the basic anti-stress hormone, since it is required for the produc-
tion of the adrenal and pregnancy hormones.  A contemporary re-
searcher, F.Z. Meerson1, is putting together a picture of the biologi-
cal processes involved in adapting to stress, including energy pro-
duction, nutrition, hormones, and changes in cell structure.
While one of Selye’s earliest observations related gastro-intes-
tinal bleeding to stress, Meerson’s work has revealed in a detailed
way how the usually beneficial hormone of adaptation, cortisone,
can cause so many other harmful effects when its action is too pro-
longed or too intense.

Some of the harmful effects of the cortisone class of drugs
(other than gastro-intestinal bleeding) are:  Hypertension, Osteoporo-
sis, delayed healing, atrophy of the skin, convulsions, cataracts, glau-
coma, protruding eyes, psychic derangements, menstrual irregulari-
ties, and loss of immunity allowing infections or cancer to spread.
While normal thyroid function is required for the secretion of
the adrenal hormones, the basic signal which causes cortisone to be
formed is a drop in the blood glucose level.  The increased energy
requirement of any stress tends to cause the blood sugar to fall
slightly, but hypothyroidism itself tends to depress blood sugar.  The
person with low thyroid function is more likely than a normal person
to require cortisone to cope with a certain amount of stress.  How-
ever, if large amounts of cortisone are produced for a long time, the
toxic effects of the hormone begin to appear.  According to Meerson,
heart attacks are provoked and aggravated by cortisone produced
during stress.  (Meerson and his colleagues have demonstrated that
the progress of a heart attack can be halted by a treatment including
natural substances such as vitamin E and magnesium.)

While hypothyroidism makes the body require more cortisone
to sustain blood sugar and energy production, it also limits the ability
to produce cortisone, so in some cases stress produces symptoms
resulting from a deficiency of cortisone, including various forms of
arthritis and more generalized types of chronic inflammation.  Since
cortisol is formed as one of the last steps in a series of reactions,
glandular exhaustion means that a whole group of other steroids is
depleted, before cortisol or cortisone.  I believe that the safest way to
handle a steroid deficiency is to supplement the precursors of the raw
materials, so that a normal balance of the various substances is pre-
served.

Often, a small physiological dose of natural hydrocortisone can
help the patient meet the stress, without causing harmful side effects.
While treating the symptoms with cortisone for a short time, it is
important to try to learn the basic cause of the problem, by checking
for hypothyroidism, vitamin A deficiency, protein deficiency, a lack
of sunlight, etc.  (I suspect that ultraviolet light on the skin directly
increases the skin’s production of steroids, without depending on
other organs.)  Using cortisone physiologically, rather than pharma-
cologically, it is not likely to cause the serious problems mentioned
above.

Stress-induced cortisone deficiency is thought to be a factor in
a great variety of unpleasant conditions, from allergies to ulcerative
colitis, and in some forms of arthritis. The stress which can cause a
cortisone deficiency is even more likely to disturb formation of
progesterone and thyroid hormone, so the fact that cortisone can
relieve symptoms does not mean that it has corrected the problem.
Besides the thyroid, the other class of adaptive hormones which
are often out of balance in the diseases of stress, is the group of
hormones produced mainly by the gonads:  the “reproductive hor-
mones.”  During pregnancy, these hormones serve to protect the
developing baby from the stresses suffered by the mother, but the
same hormones function as a part of the protective anti-stress system
in the non-pregnant individual, though as a lower level.

Some forms of arthritis are known to improve or even to disap-
pear during pregnancy.  As mentioned above, the hormones of preg-
nancy can make up for a lack of adrenal cortex hormones.  During a
healthy pregnancy, many hormones are present in increased amounts,
including the thyroid hormones.  Progesterone, which is the most
abundant hormone of pregnancy, has both anti-inflammatory and
anesthetic actions, which would be of obvious benefit in arthritis.

There are other naturally anesthetic hormones which are increased
during pregnancy, including DHEA, which is being studied for its
anti-aging, anti-cancer, and anti-obesity effects.  (One of the reasons
that is frequently given for the fact that this hormone hasn’t been
studied more widely is that, as a natural substance, it has not been
monopolized by a drug patent, and so no drug company has been
willing to invest money in studying its medical uses.)  These hor-
mones also have the ability to control cell division, which would be
important in forms of arthritis that involve invasive tissue growth.

While these substances, so abundant in pregnancy, have the
ability to substitute for cortisone, they can also be used by the adrenal
glands to produce cortisol and related hormones.  But probably the
most surprising property of these natural steroids is that they protect
against the toxic side-effects of excessive adrenal hormones.  And
they seem to have no side-effects of their own; after fifty years of
medical use, no toxic side effects have been found for progesterone
or pregnenolone.  Pregnenolone is the material the body uses to form
either progesterone or DHEA.  Others, including DHEA, haven’t
been studied for so long, but the high levels which are normally
present in healthy people would suggest that replacement doses, to
restore those normal levels, would not be likely to produce toxic side
effects.  And, considering the terrible side effects of the drugs that are
now widely used, these drugs would be justifiable simply to prevent
some of the toxic effects of conventional treatment.  It takes a new
way of thinking to understand that these protective substances pro-
tect against an excess of the adrenal steroids, as well as making up
for a deficiency.  Several of these natural hormones also have a
protective action against various poisons —  Selye called this their
“catatoxic” effect.  (If a toxin, for example a bacterial product, is
involved in a sickness, such as arthritis or colitis, these catatoxic
steroids might be helping by blocking the toxin and strengthening
the patient.)

Besides many people whose arthritis improved with only thy-
roid supplementation, I have seen people use one or more of these
other natural hormones for various types of arthritis, usually with a
topical application, and I know of several other people who used
progesterone topically for inflamed tendons or other inflammations.
Only one of these, a woman with rheumatoid arthritis in many joints,
had no significant improvement.  An hour after she had applied it to
her hands and feet, she enthusiastically reported that her ankle had
stopped hurting.  But after this, she said she had no noticeable im-
provement.

The first time I saw arthritis disappear after treatment with
progesterone was accidental.  A woman who began using progester-
one for her epilepsy decided to dip her arthritic fingers in the oily
solution, and a few days later proudly demonstrated that she could
bend them without pain.

About a year later, a friend in Mexico City complained about a
knee that had been increasingly stiff and painful for about a year.
Twenty minutes after applying progesterone the pain was gone, and
when I asked him about it a few years later, he said it never hurt
again.  Knowing that those “raw material” steroids, pregnenolone,
progesterone, and DHEA, could be converted into anything the body
needs, such as cortisone and sex hormones, but that they protect
against the toxic effects of other hormones, many other people (in-
cluding physicians and researchers) were interested in trying them
on their own joint problems.

Some typical cases are described below:
1.  A 72-year-old woman.  She was considered to have mild
rheumatoid arthritis which was degenerating into porosis, with her
fingers being the most seriously affected joints.  A 3% solution of
DHEA in olive oil was applied to one index finger, and a 10%
solution of progesterone in mixed tocopherols was applied to the
other index finger.  All of her fingers had been rigid for over a year,
with the result that she was extremely disabled.  Forty minutes after
the DHEA solution had been applied, the finger treated with that
solution could be bent enough to touch the base of her thumb, with-
out significant pain, but none of her other fingers showed any im-
provement.  Several days later, the DHEA solution was applied to all
of her fingers, with similarly good results.  After about 6 months,
stiffness and pain returned in spite of her use of DHEA.  Although
thyroid was suggested, she had been taught to be afraid of that
hormone, as have millions of other women.

2.  A 60-year-old woman with a long history of rheumatoid
arthritis had serious degeneration of many joints.  She had under-
gone surgery several times, for implantation of two artificial joints
and for repair of joint cartilage.  She walked a little as possible and
experienced pain, inflammation and fatigue with excessive walking.
She applied a solution containing 7% DHEA and 3% progesterone
in a solvent consisting of olive oil and tocopherol.  She applied the
solution several times one afternoon and the next morning to all
affected joints, including hands, wrists, elbows, knees, and ankles.
She experienced what she said was “complete relief,” and spent the
next two days walking around the town sightseeing, without any of
the after-effects she had previously experienced from walking.

3.  A 62-year-old man.  His knees had been stiff, painful, and
inflamed for over two years, following an accidental fall onto his
knees.  Arthroscopic examination revealed damaged cartilage in his
right knee, and surgery was recommended to restore function.  The
patient refused surgery, even though he walked with difficulty and
had to use his left leg (which was also affected) to lift himself slowly
up steps.  He said he had not slept well since he had developed the
arthritis, because the pain woke him repeatedly during the night, and
only the use of an analgesic would allow him to go back to sleep.  He
coated his knees and the skin around them, about four inches above
and below, with a total of nearly an ounce of a solution similar to that
used in case number two.  Within 30 minutes, he appeared to able to
walk more normally, and about 45 minutes after applying the solu-
tion, he remarked that he believed he was able to walk more easily.
He repeated the application that night before going to sleep.  Around
10 o’clock the next morning, he returned and laughingly demon-
strated his knees by running up the stairs, and said that he had been
able to sleep through the night for the first time in years, and had not
taken his usual analgesic.  Topical treatment was discontinued after a
few days, and he remained free of symptoms while taking 60 mg of
pregnenolone orally, daily.

4.  A 61-year-old woman.  Painful and stiff joints in her hands
had interfered with her work as a musician, and had made it impos-
sible to sleep through the night, since the pain woke her two or three
times during the night.  A solution similar to that used in cases three
and four was applied to the painful joints early in the evening, and a
few hours later she was able to go to sleep without taking aspirin and
slept through the night.  She occasionally uses the same solution
preventatively, and has not had a recurrence of the joint pain or
stiffness.

We often hear that “there is no cure for arthritis, because the
causes are not known.”  If the cause is an imbalance in the normal
hormones of adaptation and resistance, then eliminating the cause by
restoring this balance will produce a true cure.

Informed patients who suspect that their health problems are
related to stress should encourage their physicians to investigate the
use of thyroid hormone, progesterone, pregnenolone, DHEA, and
the anti-stress nutrients, especially magnesium and vitamins A and
E.

References
1.  Meerson, F.Z.  “The role of stress in the mechanism of long-
term adaptation, and prevention of stress-related injuries,” transla-
tion and summary available, Ray Peat’s Newsletter,  3977 Dillard
Road, Eugene, OR 97405.
2.  Cleary, M.P., Shepherd, A., and Jenks, B.  “Effect of DHEA
on growth in lean and obese Zucker rate,” J. Nutr. 114(7): 1242-
1251; 1984.
3.  Coleman, D.L., Leister, E. H., and Applezweig, N..  “Thera-
peutic effects of DHEA metabolites in diabetes mutant mice,” Endo-
crinology 115(1): 239-243; 1984.
4. Rosenfeld, A. “Superpowder,” Omni magazine; 1980.

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