Ep 83 Broderick Chavez – Sex Hormones & Stress Hormones
Broderick Chavez does what he does best and delivers a big picture, easy to digest explanation of the primary sex hormones and stress hormones.
In this episode we offer an excerpt from our upcoming Evil Genius Down Under pre-seminar learning material!
So much to learn!
Tickets for the Evil Genius Down Under Seminar brought to you by The Under The Bar Podcast and Flex Success are still available for Sydney April 7th and Brisbane April 14th!
Broderick will be joined on stage by Rawdon and Tom and Dean McKillop from Flex Success for a full day seminar delving into athlete optimisation – perfect for bodybuilders, strongman competitors, powerlifters, strength athletes and their coaches.
Buy Tickets here: evilgeniusdownunder.com
Read the transcript below!
Broderick: We should, and I think even we might even want to take a little step back, and before we do that, sex hormones, or as Rawdon was so fascinated with the …
Rawdon: [Sexy voice] yeah.
Broderick: … reproductive system [laughs] …
Tom and Rawdon: [Laughs].
Broderick: … are cholesterol-based, and cholesterol, although it is not per se a hormone, it is definitely the precursor to all major sex hormones. And it is produced—well, it’s also introduced via diet, although that vector is wildly overstated; most of the cholesterol your body has, it deals with—it’s actually manufactured within the liver, and it is manufactured for that specific purpose, to be let loose into the bloodstream and for an assortment of enzymes, which we will cover in deep, deep detail, is then converted into testosterone and then, ultimately, into estrogen, DHT, cortisol—all these clever little sub-hormones—that are going to do all the fun stuff we hope and pray that they do for us.
But, it all starts with that specific organ, being the liver, and that specific compound, being cholesterol. So now we get cholesterol, it goes forth and some clever shit happens and we wind up with testosterone. I’m speaking in a male. The order of events is going to be a little different in females. It’s easier to talk about men because we’re actually—no surprise here—more simplistic creatures. Women are actually the original; men are the copies. A lot of people don’t get that. All—in mammalian biology—all eggs actually start in the world as females and they must be made males, and we’re actually a bit more of a simplistic drone-like arrangement, because women are responsible for the actual incubation of children. Their biology’s more than a little bit more complicated, so I’m going to talk in the context of males. People could quiz me specifically about females when we’re there, but for the context of this, men are a lot easier to talk about.
So, liver, cholesterol, testosterone. So we’ve got this … the first major sex hormone component that’s manufactured is testosterone. It is the masculinising hormone. It takes even a child, that’s gone through the whole insulin/growth hormone thing … they’re maybe even full size, maybe they’re as big as they’re going to be tall, their bone circumference, their shoe size—all that—their head, their big, they’re grown. But they’re kind of endrogenous; they’re not masculine. That’s where the testosterone comes on. Some clever gene stuff clicks on; a lot of that is driven by body fat percentage—we’ll get into that when we talk specifically—but the moral of the story is, it happens.
The requisite organs start manufacturing testosterone, it enters the bloodstream, and it being dispersed through the bloodstream, is a very systemic hormone; it’s going to go everywhere, and when it gets to the head, it’s going to have some impact on hair and facial hair; it’s going to have some impact on the quality of skin, the texture of skin. Children have very soft, delicate, nubile skin and the sheer presence of testosterone starts to toughen up their skin, because, as you adult, you’re more likely to involve yourself in labour, combat, all these different things that require more durability. So these are traits that testosterone brings. It also brings the accumulation of muscle mass—we’re going to focus on that very hard. It also upregulates the runs aforementioned, and heavily focused on reproductive organs.
Rawdon: Yeah, yeah.
Broderick: It starts to cause the development there.
Broderick: And then activation there, so that, as testosterone levels rise, the ability and potential to reproduce rises. Okay. So testosterone has all of those effects. It also has enormous effects, and they’re much harder to quantify and much harder to explain, but I’ll just be super-general. It has effects on actual brain chemistry. Again, if you think about the behaviour and attitudes and general macabre of a child versus an adult, a lot of that elevation in person, confidence, sheer meanness—all of the things that come with being a grown-up and getting some credentials and car keys—you get measurably more aggressive and elevated; an awful, awful lot of that is brought on by sex hormones, mostly testosterone, although estrogen is a major player, as well, and we’ll come to that in a second.
So I think that’s enough to give you a vague idea of liver, cholesterol, testosterone and it’s going do a lot of shit around the way in terms of masculinising and kind of completing this building that you’re building that is the adult human.
Now, here’s where things get interesting and clever, I think, is most of your sub-hormones then come either from that testosterone or are a consequence thereof. It’s sort of … again, when the body developed from that one cell to the many cells to the organs to the tadpole to the NBA star, it was always using the same template. It was always an augmentation of what already existed. It wasn’t a re-invent the wheel and create a whole new thing.
So, with that concept, you have testosterone; now, it was simply a matter of, if your body developed a couple of given key enzymes, it could tweak, or adjust, or truncate, or augment, and you get a new hormone. It was the ability to take this big, large, complicated raw material and make a more subtle sub-material; that’s how we get estrogen. A simple enzyme comes online, called the aromatase enzyme, which is manufactured in adipose tissue—that’s actually relevant; we’ll come back to it when we talk live—but as a female, for instance, would reach a certain body fat, it’s then possible for that body fat to release this enzyme. This enzyme finds a testosterone, cleaves it, makes estrogen and now estrogen can turn on the female reproductive stuff and that’s one of the major factors of why and when women enter puberty is actually they start to produce testosterone early; they don’t produce the estrogen until body fat levels reach a certain level. And that is the something I focused on early on; as I said, it’s good for creatures to reproduce when the food supply is aplenty.
The body actually built in a mechanism to measure that. When body fat accumulations reach a certain level, that’s, essentially, a trigger that, “Hey, there’s enough food out there to support two of us,” and so then that enzyme can come online, take the testosterone, make it into estrogen, generate female pubescence, and then you’ve got the potential for making more people. So this is all very tightly intertwined and contiguous and it’s why it’s in this cascade fashion.
Rawdon: That’s fascinating, Broderick, and before you move on, is that why often you will see younger females, certainly at school, and they’ve got what appears to be quite a lot of virilisation; they have the black hair on the face and then, when you see them a few years later, they’re … all the moustache has gone …
Rawdon: … and the beard had gone and …
Rawdon: Well, you know, like, not quite a beard.
Rawdon: [Overspeaking] not like Gandalf, but …
Broderick: Actually, that is absolutely accurate in every way, and it also ties into why something we’ll almost certainly talk about, is why, when female athletes drive their body fat levels to certain …
Rawdon: Yep, yep.
Broderick: … low levels, it can shut down, via the exact same mechanism in reverse, it can actually shut down menstruation and, essentially, try to prevent that creature from reproducing because it’s interpreting the signals as, “There’s no food in this environment. It would be a very bad idea to make more people.”
Tom and Dean: Yes.
Broderick: Again, this is all happening through really complicated hormonal cascades, but the logic concept behind it is actually really simple. The body doesn’t have cognisance; it can only interpret the signals and if the signal is, “There’s a lot of food,” that suggests that there’s room for more people, and if the signal is, “There’s no food,” then that’s a signal that there’s barely room for this person. And so a lot of this follows and flows forward from that concept.
So back to where we were: we have testosterone, we have … testosterone can then be converted into estrogen, and in a super-general term, estrogen is, kind of, the polar opposite of testosterone. It is that which makes female. It’s a little more complicated than that, because estrogen is actually really relevant to males, and necessary, but in very small amounts. It’s very valuable up to a given per cent. You know, as long as the ratio is 100:1, everything’s good; when it gets to 5:100, then things start to tilt out of control, and we’ll talk about that when we deal with hormone manipulation. But estrogen’s very relevant for men; it’s absolutely, unimaginably important to women, but again, as I said, I want to focus on men, simply because it’s literally easier conversation.
But estrogen’s, kind of, the polar opposite of testosterone, does a lot of the other stuff. It’s actually also very good for our actual health—our cardiac health, the health of our circulatory system, keeps our blood vessels and blood arterial pathways very flexible. Most of the time, you find that people that actually have coronary artery disease actually have either low testosterone and consequently low estrogen, or because of some quirk, just low estrogen. But estrogen seems to be the pivotal factor on keeping a nice, healthy vascular system, so ponder that next time you’re thinking about how evil estrogen is.
So, anything more on them specifically?
Rawdon: No, I think that’s good, man.
Tom: Yeah, no, I mean, there’s a heap of questions there already to bring up and expand upon on the actual day.
Rawdon: Let’s press forward [overspeaking].
Tom: Should we go to some other …
Dean: I’m really holding myself back here. These will all come up, and it is … this is the beauty of your skillset, Broderick, is there’s always an opportunity to ask more questions.
Rawdon: Yeah, yeah,
Broderick: Fair enough.
Tom: Brod, should we move along to some of the stress hormones?
Broderick: Absolutely. Stress hormones, in general, largely fall under the heading of catecholamines. One that doesn’t is—it’s kind of actually a hormone without a nomenclature—adrenal hormones are not actually—rather, not adrenal hormones, but thyroid hormones—are not actually stress hormones. They’re … again, like insulin, they are regulatory hormones. There’s more than one of them. Most people just, kind of, blanketly say “thyroid”. There’s actually p1, 2, 3, 4 and then there’s actually little sub-headings of all of them. It’s not important that you understand them, but what they are, you have a gland, a group of cells that have specialised into an organ, in your neck—it is your thyroid gland—and it releases systemically into your bloodstream a hormone that is … in a very general sense, you can think of the idle set point for your automobile; that is what thyroid does for you, is it sets the basic running speed and temperature of you as an organism, head to toe.
More thyroid, you run a little hotter, a little faster; less thyroid, you run a little slower and a little colder. And that’s super-corny and generic, but it’s actually what it does. The consequences of it are enormous and the subtleties of it are beyond the scope of my abilities to explain, but that’s, in a general sense, what it does.
So it’s super-important, it’s influenced by a lot of other things, but, in general, when you say “thyroid”, you’re talking about adjusting the idle set speed of the creature. Does that seem okay?
Rawdon: Very good.
Broderick: So then we do have actual stress hormones: we have adrenaline, norepinephrine. We have, for instance, a lipase and glucagon. We’ll stick with those. There are many others. There’s corticosteroids like cortisol. The ones I mentioned, for instance, lipase is a hormone that, when you overeat throughout the cycle of life, and it happens invariably—in nature it happens rather seasonally; in humans, it’s just basically happens whenever you wander over to the big metal box full of food in your kitchen—but when you overeat, a portion of those calories can be stored as fats, as adipose tissue. Lipase is a hormone produced, essentially, beside insulin—by the same organ, interestingly—that liberates fat from those stores and gets it into your bloodstream. The bloodstream can then wash it along to potentially fill in the fuel gaps during times when you’re not eating sufficiently your calorie needs.
So it’s a stress hormone but much more of a subtle one; kind of, a fill in the gaps, feedback loop to supply energy when you’re not eating it.
I also mentioned glucagon; that’s a very similar thing, except, instead of liberating stored fat, it’s going to liberate stored sugar. To counterbalance insulin’s depressive effects on your blood sugar, glucagon’s going to subtly raise it and there’s always this interplay of one’s pushing down, and one’s pushing up, and the hopes is you get a smooth and even whole across time, which is, in general, what happens, but it can certainly go wonky and sideways at times.
But those are there. The major one you say, “stress hormones”, most of the time, you’re talking about adrenaline, and that is the ever-famous, over-dramatised fight-or-flight hormone. It became necessary for some sort of a super-charging mechanism that, under times of great stress—and meaning great stress like predator trying to bite your ass, you know, actual, real, serious momentary big-time stress, that, if you don’t overcome the next 20 seconds, the game’s over—so the body developed this hormone to save in reserve that was very powerful, and basically was capable of overriding an awful lot of the safety mechanisms and parameters, and momentarily get the machine to operate at peak abilities for very brief periods of time.
That’s, kind of, generically what adrenaline is. Think of it as, kind of, the nitrous oxide button on your car, and just like that nitrous oxide button on your car, is every time you use it, you’re a little closer to wearing out some important part of the car, because it’s allowing it to run at super-physiological levels, at super-abilities. For no matter how brief a time, super is the gateway to broken, so it is a stress hormone and it should, ideally, be very responsive to stress, and that stress should be managed in the highest regard.
So we could talk about some of the specifics of how and where these things play and interact, and how … and then that whole fight-or-flight, you know, kind of super-charging thing, comes into play oftentimes in athletics, is that athletes can actually frenzy themselves to such a point that they engage that super-charging mechanism and they enjoy this excessive performance, but then the consequence is, they just overheated the machine; they just ran the machine at super levels and, just like if you do that to your car, it needs an overhaul, it needs some work done, because you’ve over-stressed things.
Tom: With that system, like, you’ve got a scenario where an athlete might be taking just one peak moment where adrenaline really surges, and then there’s other days where they might be competing over the length of a day and they’re … it’s a big day, and they’re on edge for a long period of time, so are there level, or is there a spectrum as to how that system is on or off, or how super-charged it gets?
Broderick: Absolutely. You have something called the “sympathetic nervous system” and it is your nervous system—your brain, your brainstem and the wires associated with it—are largely responsible for controlling that arousal, that fight-or-flight, that … again, because I said that the nervous system is responsible for very immediate but fine transmissions, there’s essentially a hotline: one wire that goes from the brain, from the panic button—there’s one wire that goes right to that adrenal gland, and that way, there’s no delay and, you know, throw the … put the message in a bottle, throw it in the river and hope that the lion doesn’t bite your ass before this thing circulates through and the adrenal gland goes, “Ooh, make adrenaline.”
So you have this hotline, and it’s right there. So you push the button and almost instantly, you get this release of adrenaline, and it can go forth and make all this magic. There’s a couple of factors: one, the button needs a fairly long … it’s a refractory period. There’s a fairly long period of time till you can push the button again, kind of like the elevator; you can get the elevator to come with one push of the button, but then you’ve got to wait until the whole interchange of elevators go up and down and whatever, until there’s a new elevator available. Doesn’t matter how many times you push the button, it’s not going to come any faster. That’s, kind of, what we have here. So there’s only a certain period of time in which you could push the button, and then the severity at which you push it; if you push it, like, all the way, you can get every last drop, but the period’s going to be longer; if you just touch the button, the period’s a little shorter, but it’s very dependent on force of button push and then there’s a given set time before you can do that again.
Rawdon: Very good.
Broderick: That, kind of, explain things?