by Dr. David Minkoff April 12, 2022 12 min read
The following is adapted from The Search for the Perfect Protein, chapter 6.
While most protein products are marketed toward men and bodybuilding, the protein problem affects women in many specific ways. These include osteoporosis, hormone deficiency, beauty concerns such as sagging skin and wrinkles, loss of muscle mass, and problems during menopause.
If you believe what commercials say on TV, taking calcium is the solution to osteoporosis just take it and you’ll be fine. If that doesn’t work, they suggest taking a bisphosphonate drug. This medication will make your bones look better on a density scan, but in reality, it makes them very fragile. In some cases, the drug even causes a condition called osteonecrosis, in which bone cells die, and the jaw bone disintegrates. Other minor side effects like joint and muscle pain, nausea, heartburn and ulcers have also been reported. A good review of the efficacy of bisphosphonates concludes that there are no proven clinical benefits in postmenopausal women.1 Due to the small potential of benefit and high risk, I do not consider them a worthwhile treatment option.
While increasing calcium intake can be beneficial, if one has a calcium-deficient diet, it’s important to understand that demineralized bone is rubbery like old celery minerals only stick if a protein matrix is present. Bones are constructed like a 1950s lath and plaster wall; thin lath strips were nailed horizontally across wall studs, and then plaster was spread over them. The lath gave the plaster something to stick to, and created the wall interior. In a similar fashion, bones need a dense matrix of protein as a structural foundation before “overlaying” the calcium. This foundation is collagen, the most abundant structural protein in the body.
Roughly 50 percent of bone by weight is collagen, which is a protein, and osteoporosis occurs when there is a loss of collagen. By rebuilding it, you can rebuild bones. Collagen is made of amino acids and other essential components so that the mineral content of bone mainly calcium and phosphorous has something to attach to.
Other critical elements needed to build bone are: vitamin D, vitamin K, and hormones (thyroid, estrogen, progesterone, DHEA and testosterone). Vitamin B6 and magnesium are also important for proper collagen formation.
The other important factor in building bones is targeted exercise the bones must undergo enough stress to stay strong. Experiments using two simple exercises, deadlifts and squats, have shown great results if coupled with the nutritional advice listed above. With proper instruction from a trained exercise coach or instructor, do three sets of ten repetitions of deadlifts and squats, twice per week to see results. These movements can be done with no weights to start, but as the person gets stronger, weights should be added. This type of resistance training is extremely effective at building bone. In our clinic we have patients do the exercises on a power plate, their bone density improves at an even faster rate. The power plate was developed by NASA for astronauts because while they are in space with no gravity, they are prone to get osteoporosis. By giving their bodies a vibratory stimulus, it encourages their bodies to keep their bone.
We often find low serum amino acid levels in women with osteoporosis. When we give these women extra doses of amino acids and treat other factors within their systems that may not be in good shape, their bones re-mineralize. This was the case with Betty, age sixty-eight. Betty came into the clinic after her regular doctor checked her bone density and confirmed that it was in the osteoporosis range. He told her that she needed to greatly increase her calcium intake, and to begin taking Fosomax (bisphosphonate) medication. She had read reports of the medication’s potential side effects and was seeking another opinion.
After seeing her and running laboratory tests we found the usual deficiencies that we see in this situation: low red blood cell magnesium and selenium, very low vitamin D and iodine, low pancreatic chymotrypsin for protein digestion, low serum essential amino acids, low progesterone and testosterone, bacterial overgrowth in her small intestine with a roundworm parasite, and nearly absent stomach acid. She also had very low levels of estrogen, testosterone, DHEA, and progesterone.
We started a program to address her nutritional and hormonal deficiencies, and to improve her gut, digestion, and absorption. We also began the weight training program described above with a power plate, three times per week. A recheck of her bone density in six months showed vast improvement, and after a year and a half, she was back in the normal range for her age.
This case study shows us that these problems are reversible, and treatment can be administered by a knowledgeable nutritional practitioner. A good doctor knows what to find and fix, and then the body will take over inherently, it knows what to do. This is health restoration at its best.
It is estimated that at least 60 percent of the U.S. population is thyroid hormone deficient. This includes both men and women. Unfortunately, many people go undiagnosed because the current medical standard does not accurately reflect what “normal” really is. If a patient goes to a doctor and says, “I’m gaining weight, I’m tired, my hair is thinning, my skin is dry, and I’m a little constipated something is wrong.” The doctor and patient often assume something is going on with the thyroid, and the doctor will run a test called TSH to check for their level of thyroid stimulating hormone. The normal range for most labs is 0.5 to 4.5, and if the patient is within this range, most doctors will consider that the patient is fine and chalk the symptoms up to something else. Disgruntled patients come to my practice and tell me that they were told they are tired because they are getting older, they’re depressed, or it’s just the change of life setting in. Many will stop looking for solutions and just accept it because their doctor “told them so, and of course, he knows best.”
There’s a bell curve when it comes to determining the thyroid hormone levels of patients. The “normal levels” do not come from a population that is screened for health feeble eighty-year-olds with cancer and seventeen-year-old top athletes are included in the “normal” range. So, this test is not an accurate reflection of what the optimum thyroid level should be in a patient.
According to the ZRT Laboratory blog: The real question that needs to be answered is: where does the “normal” standard come from? Reference ranges do not always reflect a normal healthy population with bodies that are free of medications. Most laboratories establish their reference ranges based on a large population of people where detailed information on health status, stage of life (premenopausal vs. postmenopausal), hormone levels, and medications used is unknown. Therefore, those factors are not taken into account. Couple this with differences in lifestyles, physiology, dietary habits, and genetic heredity, and it’s even more difficult to define let alone find a normal population.2
When we measure tyrosine and iodine levels in the blood of thyroid patients, we often discover that both are also low. (Tyrosine is an amino acid that the body makes into thyroid hormone when it is combined with iodine.) When these levels are low, we work to rebuild their tyrosine and iodine levels. Some patients may need thyroid hormone in the meantime, but in quite a few cases, once their levels of tyrosine and iodine are back to normal, along with their magnesium, selenium, and vitamin C, their body starts to make thyroid hormone on its own again. When the patient was deficient in these critical nutrients, the thyroid could not produce what was required. However, once they were present, normal function was restored, and they could then wean off prescription thyroid therapy.
When I schedule a talk at the local library or health food store with the title “I Saw My Doctor Because I Think I Have Low Thyroid, But He Won’t Treat Me Because My TSH is Normal,” we get a standing-room only crowd. After the talk, people realize that they most likely dohave low thyroid, and need to seek out a nutritionally-oriented MD who can measure all of the thyroid hormones, determine the optimum levels for them as an individual, and administer the correct treatment. People are relieved when they finally get their thyroid hormone to its ideal levels for their body they are no longer feeling sluggish, cold, gaining weight, or stuck in a pattern of foggy, slow thinking. For years, their best authority, their doctor, told them they were fine, when in fact, they were not. When they finally discover the answer, patients are ecstatic, but they’re also angry. And rightly so!
Jennifer came to us after seeing her family practitioner because she kept gaining weight. She was also having trouble getting through her day at work. “I’m just so tired at the end of the day. I can hardly function. I saw my doctor and I told him that low thyroid runs in my family; both my sister and mother are on therapy. He ordered a TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone test). He told me the regular normal levels were 0.5–4.5, and mine came back 4.4. He said he could not prescribe me thyroid medication because I was in the normal range. I pleaded with him, but he said if the Board of Medicine ever found out, he might get in trouble. In my frustration, I started looking around and I found you.”
We tested her, and sure enough her TSH was 4.4, but her Free T3 (the active hormone) was 2.1, with the normal range being 2-4.5. Her Free T4 was 0.9, with normal being 0.9-4.5. She was clearly on the very low end of “normal” values. I started her on prescription Naturethroid medicine, which contains animal thyroid gland and the active hormones that she needed.
We gradually increased her dose until her hands and body were nice and warm, she had no cold sensitivity, and she had better energy with no afternoon lull. After a couple of months, she resumed exercising and lost eight pounds. During initial testing, we discovered that she had low tyrosine and iodine, so we also put her on supplemental amino acids (Perfect Amino) and iodine in addition to the Naturethroid. Repeat blood testing revealed normal levels of TSH, Free T3, Free T4, tyrosine and iodine. She was grateful and happy for the positive changes, but after six months she called because she thought her thyroid levels might be too high!
She was feeling hyper, her heart rate had increased, and she was having trouble sleeping. I measured her thyroid blood levels and they were high, so I began to wean her off the prescription. Within two months, she was off the medication and her body had normalized. This doesn’t always happen, but it goes to show that the body can often heal itself when given the right nutrition to do so.
Sagging skin, bone loss, and hair loss are all critical concerns of women related to the protein problem. There is a published study showing that over a month’s period of time, feeding people two thousand calories per day of mainly vegetables and some fruits, and walking for an hour a day along with three servings per day of an essential amino acid blend identical to Perfect Amino, that they lost significant weight, but didn’t have sagging skin under the chin or other areas of the body. The body burned up fat, but didn’t pirate protein for calories.
When we administered the human chorionic gonadotropin hormone (HCG) diet to a few hundred patients, they had similar results. (HCG is often used in weight loss treatments, and is now only available through injection). HCG is the hormone of pregnancy, but if used as a therapy along with a very low-fat and calorie-restricted diet, it can facilitate significant weight loss. To give an example,
let’s say a patient is allowed five hundred calories per day for twenty-one days, with almost no fat. They also receive an injection of one hundred twenty-five units of HCG every day. Most patients won’t be hungry, and they will lose anywhere from twelve to twenty pounds in that short period of time. This diet is very safe when administered under doctor supervision, and in patients with high blood pressure and high blood sugar, it almost always normalizes their values. This diet can be a “quick start” to reset their pituitary gland, and then they can go back to a more normal, healthy diet.
Normally, with calorie-restricted diets, for every four pounds of body weight lost, one pound is lean body mass that is not healthy. We found that if we gave patients two doses of Perfect Amino every day during a low-calorie diet, they were able to preserve lean body mass, and the majority of the weight loss came from fat. This was a much healthier approach because they didn’t lose the essential structure of their bodies.
During menopause, falling levels of hormones cause many undesirable effects in a woman’s body. The role of these hormones is to keep cells nurtured so women are hearty enough to become pregnant and carry a fetus to term. Thus, these hormones have a building effect and keep the body more youthful. With falling hormone levels, this effect is lost, and lean body tissue begins to break down. Loss of bone, skin collagen, muscle mass, brain cells, and neurotransmitters all lead to more rapid aging, and the feeling that one is getting old. Wrinkles, weakness, osteoporosis, sagging skin, and a loss of energy occurs this is not something any woman looks forward to. However, if whole-body nutrition especially with essential amino acids is maintained, women can age more gracefully into their 90’s and beyond!
For many women, the reality check of a daily look in the mirror can determine their entire outlook for the day. When they are able to think, “Gee, my skin has few wrinkles, my eyes are bright, my hair is thick and full, and I have some muscles over my shoulders,” that creates an optimistic attitude to start the day. These are the desirable effects of good protein nutrition, and they can go a long way in aiding both physical health and a positive mental outlook.
My wife is postmenopausal, and when she misses taking Perfect Amino for even one day, she notices that she doesn’t have as much energy. Through personal experience and all that I have seen with patients, I believe that having adequate essential amino acids in the diet allows the aging body to make the necessary enzymes for energy production, detoxification, neurotransmitters, and muscle building it can help to greatly slow the aging process.
Increasing amino acid intake is helpful for women experiencing menopause, but is it also effective in treating the health concerns of younger women. Consider for a moment that a woman loses about a pint of blood during menstruation. Blood is largely protein, and during the next month, the body has to manufacture anew all the blood that was lost. It needs lots of essential amino acids to do this, along with iron and other nutrients.
Another issue is that premenstrual syndrome (PMS) can be intense for some women. Bloating, moodiness, lack of energy, and pain all are difficult to bear. In most of the women we see, these symptoms are associated with a lack of progesterone being produced in the second half of the cycle. The reason for this lack is not entirely understood, but the combination of nutritional deficiencies and environmental toxins certainly play a role. So, adequate intake of vitamins, minerals, essential fats, and essential amino acids can help restore normal hormone production.
Jill is a twenty-seven-year-old career gal. She is in charge of IT at a large company in our area. Her health had always been good, but her PMS was bad. Beginning about a week before her cycle she became moody, anxious, and very intolerant of anyone, including her husband and her mother. She was also losing hair and having problems sleeping. Her mother and husband accompanied her to her first visit, and honestly, they looked about as desperate as she was. “I need help,” she said. “If I can’t get this under control, both my beloved mother and husband are going to leave me.” She told me she had become a vegan a few years before, thinking it was going to be healthy for her. Through lab testing, we discovered that she had severe deficiencies of essential amino acids, low magnesium, very low progesterone, and multiple vitamin deficiencies. I asked her to change her diet to a Paleotype eating program, so she added organic meats, fish, and eggs back into her diet, while keeping up a high intake of vegetables. We added digestive enzymes, Perfect Amino, and a whole supplement program; we also added a little OTC progesterone cream. I asked her to come back for a recheck in three months. When she returned, she was bright and cheery. “Look at me! My hair and nails are growing so well they look nice, and they glisten. In fact, I am having to see my stylist more often because of faster hair growth. And see my muscles? She smiled as she flexed her biceps. You really helped me! Oh, and most importantly, my PMS is not an issue anymore. My family and I are back in love. I don’t know how they put up with me so long.”
It doesn’t matter if you’re young or elderly, male or female keeping up protein nutrition is of paramount importance. You may want external markers of beauty such as nice hair, skin, and nails, or shapely muscles as markers of strength. Or you may want strong blood, immune proteins, hormones, or neurotransmitters as indicators of healthy internal biochemistry. Whatever your goal, all of those factors depend on keeping up your levels of essential amino acids, and maintaining the chain of oral intake, digestion, and absorption and cellular utilization. All health and healing depend on this, no matter your age.
by Dr. David Minkoff
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