Meat, Saturated Fat and Steroid Hormones

beefWhen people think of steroids, they often think of failed drug tests and controversial allegations surrounding Olympic athletes. However, they are thinking of a specific sub-group of steroids, those we call anabolic androgenic steroids, which can be used to enhance muscle mass and increase recovery times.

The reality is that we have more that 50 steroid hormones in our body and together they achieve all manner of different functions, including:

-          Regulating our blood sugar levels and metabolic rate (cortisol, DHEA)

-          Helping switch on our brains in the daytime / switch off our brains at night (cortisol, testosterone, estrogen / progesterone)

-          Supporting mental faculties, such as language and arithmetic skills (DHEA, testosterone, estrogen)

-          Retaining fluids in the body (aldosterone)

-          Controlling inflammation (cortisol)

-          Maintaining healthy sex drive (testosterone, estrogen, DHT)


They achieve all of these jobs effectively through their varied but complementary roles. Sharing a basic molecular shape that is subtlely altered at key positions, they are all chemical cousins in one way or another. All of these steroids start of as Pregnenolone, which is synthesized from cholesterol. Once it forms pregnenolone, the ‘mother steroid’, enzymes alter its molecular shape so that it can go down the progesterone –> cortisol –> aldosterone pathway, or alternatively different enzymes can act upon it and it can filter down the DHEA –> testosterone –> estrogen/DHT route.

It may not have escaped your attention that cholesterol is the base substance from which all these oil-based hormones are produced, yet doctors still regularly make recommendations to cut down on cholesterol-containing foods and saturated fats (which reliably enhance cholesterol production within the body). This is based on the 1980s idea that, because cholesterol is involved in the process of some cardiovascular diseases, that it is a problem to be eliminated. However, science prevailed over suspicion and it soon became clear that there were serious snags when one takes away the richer foods that had nourished our grandparents so well.

Without sufficient cholesterol obtained in the diet, and without sufficient saturated fat to push the body into creating its own, the availability of cholesterol drops. The adrenal glands, the driving force behind the production of this hormonal chain, can no longer produce sufficient pregnenolone and the whole pathway begins to falter. The results will vary from one person to the next, but low levels of a number of hormones can fall. The individual finds that their sleep becomes less refreshing, they do not have as much energy as they once did, they begin to forget things and their sex drive lags. Rather than consider their diet, they normally blame it on the aging process.

This is a fallacy, as shown recently in the case of a 44-year-old man that I consulted. He has a fairly high pressure job but one that he feels comfortable in, is fairly active (going to the gym 2-3 times per week) and makes an effort to sleep 8 hours a night and eat good food. The irony, of course, was that the harder he tried with his diet, the worse he seemed to feel; when we analysed his diet, he was getting almost zero saturated fat, having cut out eggs and red meat and eating fish or turkey breast as his main source of protein. This ‘healthy diet’ had seen his energy levels drop, his moods become uncharacteristically low and his sex drive plummet. Although he would admit to needing a lot of encouragement, he followed my recommendations fully and introduced double cream to sauces, eggs every day and red meat 4x per week. I got an email a week and a half later; he was extremely happy. So was his wife. We ran no lab tests whatsoever.

I find around 70% of people will get such a response within a fortnight of taking such steps (provided their digestive function is given sufficient attention, ensuring they can effectively absorb the goodness from the food). So having restored eggs, beef, butter and cream to the diet, is there anything else you should consider to take care of your steroid pathway? Most definitely. Stress stands out as the single biggest factor in the distortion of the steroid pathway and can wreak all kinds of havoc. Left unchecked, this can result in adrenal imbalance and this can create a need for more specific, sustained and complex interventions. Equally, some people have a genetic tendency to over- or under-express certain enzymes, and this can normally be dealt with through tactical use of the right botanicals.

Hormonal balance is a complex area that proves a challenge to fully grasp, yet there are a number of basic steps that many people are missing. I often explain that, in this matter, there is no such thing as a quick fix – but supporting the supply of cholesterol is as close as you will get to it. If you’re not feeling right, beef up your diet!