By Gary Pepper, M.D.
Last week I posted a few highlights from the just concluded International Thyroid Congress. One of the research papers presented at the meeting generated particular concern. Endocrinologists and scientists at UCLA Medical Center led by Dr. Jerome Hershman investigated the potential for pesticides to damage the DNA of thyroid cells. The group focused on double strand breaks, the type of damage that could eventually lead to cancer. This is a particularly relevant point due to the explosion in newly diagnosed thyroid cancers being reported in many areas of the world. The increase is likely related, at least in part, to improved diagnostic techniques for thyroid cancer but could also represent environmental influences. (more…)
Thyroid cancer is one of the most common cancers of young adults. Many of these cancers have no symptoms until a routine exam reveals a lump in the neck. This was the case with Patti who shares her upbeat experience with us. The good news about this type of cancer is that despite spread to lymph nodes (metastasized) it is still very curable. So, if you notice an unexplained neck lump don’t hesitate to have it evaluated by an endocrinologist or other knowledgeable physician.
Here is what Patti has to say about her thyroid cancer experience;
I found a lump in my throat in August of this year. I am one of the few (about 10%) who tested positive for Thyroid cancer. I also had cancer in 4 of the lymph nodes of my neck. I am a competitive athlete (for fun not for a living) and I worried what would happen. I had surgery in September and although the last 4 months have been very hard on me, I am happy to report I am running, swimming and cycling again. The cancer is completely gone based on my body scan and negative bloodwork.
Most likely you do NOT have cancer. But you canâ€™t roll the dice and not know. And if you do, you can and will get through it and go on to live a wonderful life. It takes work and perseverance to be healthy but it is worth it. 🙂
By Gary Pepper, M.D.
In the first article in this series, The HCG-Cancer Connection, I explained how HCG is made by some types of cancer and can serve as a marker for cancer activity. Now I want to explore another effect of HCG, the stimulation of male hormone (testosterone) production.
Just to review, there is no evidence that HCG will cause cancer although conceivably certain cancer responsive tumors may grow faster due to its effect to increase estrogen and testosterone. Every woman who has had a normal pregnancy has been exposed to high HCG levels for many months so if it did cause cancer that effect would be very obvious.
What concerns me is how HCG can influence the normal ovary and its hormone metabolism. HCG is a promiscuous hormone. It will hook up with different hormone “receptors” and masquerade as these other hormones. In the previous article I explained how at very high levels HCG can stimulate the thyroid to make thyroid hormone resulting in hyperthyroidism. Another hormone effect of HCG is to mimic LH (leutinizing hormone) which turns on the production of the sex hormones by the testicle in men and ovary in woman. Surprisingly the normal ovary makes testosterone which it then converts to estrogen. FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) from the pituitary helps the ovary change testosterone to estrogen. What happens when the ovary gets a lot of LH but not FSH? This is the situation when a woman gets HCG. Testosterone levels will rise more than estrogen levels. Research shows that after a single HCG injection a rise of 20% in testosterone levels occurs in normal women, confirming this theory. During pregnancy with HCG pumping in the blood from the placenta, testosterone levels can double, resulting in acne, oily skin and (in some women) an increase in sex drive. The situation would be far worse for a pregnant woman if the placenta wasnâ€™t also pumping out 100 times the normal amount of estrogen to counteract all the male hormones.
So why should women care if HCG makes their testosterone levels go up? Acne, oily skin and horniness are one thing but there are other effects which might be less acceptable. Testosterone is a mischievous hormone. While it causes hair growth where you don’t want it, it causes hair loss in places you want to keep it. Testosterone stimulates hair growth on the face, chest, back and abdomen. At the same time it causes hair loss from the scalp particularly at the temples and crown. This is referred to as male pattern baldness. Other effects of testosterone in women are the growth of the clitoris, known as clitoromegaly. A clitoris the size of a man’s thumb has been described in a woman due to excess testosterone exposure. Generally this degree of clitoromegaly is seen only in more extreme cases. So you may want to think twice before starting an HCG diet unless looking like Bruce Willis is your thing.
In the final installment on the hazards of HCG I will focus on other possible nasty hormone effects of HCG such as fibroids, infertility and bulging muscles.
Last week Helen, a friend of the family, called to brag she had lost 12 pounds in 4 weeks and also to ask if she had given herself cancer in the process. What was the connection between her supposed miracle metabolism and cancer? Helen was taking HCG injections and just read this hormone was somehow related to cancer. I reassured her that I didn’t think she was giving herself cancer by taking HCG but I did let her know that very soon she was likely to resume her normal metabolism and regain the weight she lost. Unfortunately her wallet was never going to recover what it lost in this process. Many services prescribing HCG treatment for weight loss are charging $400 or more for a course of treatment.
Now what about the cancer-HCG connection?
HCG is a hormone normally produced by the fertilized egg in the earliest stages of fetal development and then later by the placenta itself. Since rising HCG level is one of the earliest hormone changes during pregnancy, measuring this hormone is the basis for the everyday pregnancy test. HCG also causes the ovary to make progesterone which is essential for preparing the uterus to become a nesting ground for the developing embryo. HCG may also suppress immune function so that the fetus is not rejected by the mother’s immune system.
The placenta forms at the onset of pregnancy to support the developing embryo and later the fetus. If a sperm fertilizes an empty egg at the onset of pregnancy a Hyditidiform mole can arise in conjunction with or instead of the normal placenta. This is also referred to as a molar pregnancy. HCG levels can rise to extreme levels in the presence of the Hyditidiform mole particularly if it goes on to become an invasive cancer known as a choriocarcinoma. Body chemistry gets a little weird at this stage. HCG is slightly similar in structure to TSH, the pituitary hormone that stimulates the thyroid. The result is that when HCG levels are extremely high as with a molar pregnancy, the thyroid can be stimulated to make excess thyroid hormone resulting in hyperthyroidism in the mother. Typical symptoms of hyperthyroidism can occur including feeling hot, shaky, sweatiness, palpitations, vomiting (which can be severe) and diarrhea. Curing the cancer will cure the hyperthyroidism as well.
Other cancers of the reproductive system can make HCG as well. Certain testicular cancers can make HCG. Since HCG is the hormone responsible for a positive pregnancy test, testicular cancer can sometimes be diagnosed in men by a positive pregnancy test. For tumors making HCG, measuring levels of this hormone during cancer treatment can aid doctors in determining whether therapy is working or not.
Certain cancers are termed â€œhormone responsiveâ€. That means the cancer will grow more aggressively in the presence of a particular hormone. Tumors that grow faster in the presence of estrogen include receptor positive breast cancer and endometrial cancer. A tumor that grows faster in the presence of testosterone is prostate cancer. Since HCG is likely to increase these hormones, it is conceivable that should a hormone responsive tumor already exist in the body it could grow faster during HCG treatment.
So Helen, I don’t think HCG is going to give you cancer, but it may cause you to grow a beard. Why is that? I’ll be explaining my theory in the next article, “HCG is a Hairy Hormone”. Visit metabolism.com for more on this, in the very near future.
Probably the major cause for concern regarding post menopausal HRT (hormone replacement therapy) highlighted by the WHI study was an increased risk for breast cancer. This finding applied to women in the WHI who were using combination estrogen and progesterone replacement. Progesterone is given to counteract the effect of estrogen to cause uterine (endometrial) cancer but is not crucial for relief of post-menopausal symptoms. Interestingly, women who used estrogen replacement alone (without the progesterone) actually showed no increase and possibly even a reduction in invasive breast cancer after 7 years on treatment. In the group of women who started â€œestrogen onlyâ€ replacement more than 5 years after entering menopause, the reduction in breast cancer was even more pronounced. Experts therefore conclude that â€œestrogen onlyâ€ HRT is likely to be considerably safer from a breast cancer point of view, and starting estrogen 5 years after menopause reduces the cancer risk even further.
The relationship between estrogen use and breast cancer risk is further complicated by the finding that post-menopausal women using HRT who develop breast cancer appear to have better survival and less aggressive tumors than post-menopausal women who are diagnosed with breast cancer who never used HRT. Breast cancer may not be caused by estrogen, but cancer may grow more rapidly in the presence of estrogen. This doesnâ€™t sound like an advantage but small undetected cancers may grow rapidly with HRT so that they can be seen on mammography and removed before they can spread.
New drug combinations in development offer hope to women who are looking for HRT alternatives. A class of drugs known as SERMS of which Evista is a member, used in combination with estrogen has shown promising results in clinical studies. A SERM will protect against the uterine cancer causing effect of estrogen so progesterone is no longer needed with HRT. This immediately reduces many of the undesirable effects of HRT found in the WHI including breast cancer risk and producing better cholesterol effects. This combination of drugs is referred to as a tissue-selective estrogen complex (TSEC). Other advantages of TSEC treatment are improvement in bone density (lower osteoporosis risk) and possible reduction in coronary artery disease development. Although TSEC treatment is not yet FDA approved for treatment of post-menopausal symptoms, individual doctors can prescribe this if they feel the available information is favorable and the risk/benefit ratio is in favor of the patientâ€™s well being.
Finally, there is the issue of blood clots associated with estrogen treatment. This is likely due to the effect of estrogen to alter the balance of certain blood proteins that favor blood clot development. My thought is that adding a simple baby aspirin daily may reverse or significantly reduce risks associated with increased blood clotting with estrogen, just as baby aspirin is now recommended for those at increased risk of heart attack. Aspirin is unlikely to be helpful to prevent blood clots in veins referred to as DVT but this is not completely certain. As with all medications there are downsides to aspirin such as gastric irritation and ulcer bleeding but these risks can be assessed by the individual and their doctor.
(This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advise or establish a doctor patient relationship)
Gary Pepper, M.D.
Once a common solution for the Miseries of Menopause, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) with estrogen was abandoned almost overnight in 2002 with the publication of the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) results. The WHI did not dispute the fact that HRT is the best method of reversing post-menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and insomnia but it did overturn some cherished beliefs as far as women’s heart health is concerned.
Women have a much lower risk of heart attack then men until they reach menopause. At menopause when the ovaries stop making estrogen the risk of heart attack climbs rapidly until it equals that of men. Common sense suggests that if losing estrogen causes increased heart attack risk then replacing the estrogen should prevent this. What the WHI appears to show is that HRT does not protect women from heart disease, but may actually increase the risk above the normal post-menopausal risk. Worse yet is the WHI conclusion that HRT increases the risk of breast cancer and of blood clot complications (thromboembolic disease). It is no wonder that in 2002 HRT took its place with smoking as the scourge of womens’ health.
Since that time scientists have reevaluated the WHI data and more work on HRT risk versus benefit has been done. What is evolving from this reassessment is that the use of progesterone in the WHI participants and the time from onset of menopause until the time HRT was started, both play important roles in how often women developed heart disease or cancer. Additionally, a new class of drugs when use together with HRT may block the cancer risks associated with HRT. In Part 2 of this article I will be covering these aspects. Stay tuned!
Gary Pepper, M.D.
Editor-in- Chief, metabolism.com
The mission of the The Thyroid Project is to encourage sharing of information and experience between the public and the medical community about the treatment of hypothyroidism (low thyroid function). For at least the past few decades there is a growing awareness of â€œsomething missingâ€ in the way suffers of hypothyroidism are treated for their disease.
Too many patients, as documented in an on-line study of 12,000 individuals conducted by the American Thyroid Association published in June 2018, (https://doi.org/10.1089/thy.2017.0681) , complain of persistent symptoms of hypothyroidism despite what their doctors believe is successful treatment with levothyroxine (brands include Synthroid, Unithroid, Tirosent, Levoxl). We believe something needs to be done to resolve this conflict between patients and their doctors.
Without effective intervention the early stage of type 2 diabetes known as prediabetes carries a high risk of progressing to outright diabetes. Metabolism.com provides an up-to-date summary of recommendations from national authorities, for preventing and possibly reversing this life long affliction
Diabetes can be defined simply as elevated blood sugar levels. What exactly is high blood sugar and when should someone be concerned about their level? Does having prediabetes mean diabetes is around the corner? Metabolism.com tackles this tricky but important topic in this comprehensive review.
By Gary M. Pepper, M.D. Ozempic, Rybelsus, Trulicity, Wegovy, Saxenda are the central players in the weight loss craze sweeping across the globe. Metabolisim.com has been monitoring this phenomenon from its beginnings in 2008 with its report “Lizard Spit Reduces Blood Sugar and Appetite”, regarding the first drug in this class, Byetta (exenatide). Caught In the middle of the current chaos are the medical experts who treat diabetes and have been prescribing these medications for more than a decade. Here is a brief commentary from one such board certified endocrinologist; “I started treating Type 2 diabetics with GLP-1 agonists more than 10 years ago. In some respects, these medications have revolutionized the treatment of diabetes by lowering blood sugar effectively and promoting weight loss at the same time, a unique combination of benefits. Not everyone benefits from these drugs to the same degree unfortunately, and I have seen lots of patients experience unacceptable side effects from them. Nothing though, has prepared me for what is happening now. Too often, I find myself confronting someone who expects me to prescribe one of these drugs just so they can lose weight. Sadly, one extreme example was someone who, despite battling a life threatening medical condition, was insistent on getting a prescription. At the same time my diabetic patients are scrambling to find a place to buy their medications if they can even afford it. It is disheartening, to say the least, and I dread the negative interactions with some of my patients I now face almost daily.”
Off- Label Use
The FDA is the U.S. government’s department tasked with evaluating and approving drugs for specific medical conditions. When a new medication is approved for treating a medical condition by the FDA the agency will, at the same time, set strict guidelines for exactly which patients may use the newly approved drug. When a medication is used “off-label” it means that these limitations are being overridden by the provider for a potential benefit which outweighs the drugs risks. It is a general misconception that off-label means illegal; it does not. This practice has been going on for ages and more than 20% of prescriptions in the United States are prescribed off-label. A common example is the use of beta-blockers (approved for heart problems) for the treatment of performance anxiety.
GLP-1 agonist drugs, as discussed recently by metabolism.com. were originally approved for the treatment of Type 2 diabetes in adults. In the past few years most of these same medications have gained unprecedented popularity for their “off-label” weight loss benefit. Of the 5 GLP-1 agents presently in U.S. pharmacies only Wegovy (semaglutide) and Saxenda (liraglutide) are FDA approved for treating obesity. Of these two, Wegovy is the newer and had been much more popular that its sister drug Saxenda, probably due to being dosed only once weekly compared to daily for Saxenda and less likely to cause side effects. Due to Wegovy’s soaring popularity, its manufacturer, Novo Nordisk, increased the price of Wegovy two times since its initial release.