How to Talk to Your Clients About Hormones

by Lou Schuler

If you regularly discuss testosterone, thyroid hormones, and adrenal problems with your clients, here’s what you need to know … and why you may want to avoid the topic altogether

If your goal in life is to be a weight-loss guru, a bestselling author, and/or a supplement mogul, you can do it in three easy steps:

1. Fixate on a single hormone or hormone category.

2. Give that hormone credit or blame for everything a potential customer wants to have more or less of. 

3. Come up with a training program, diet, and and/or nutritional product to enhance or counteract that hormone’s actions.

Granted, the competition is fierce for anything related to sex, muscle mass, or body fat. But all it takes is one new study—or someone hyping up a really old one—to crank up interest all over again.

Dr. Karl Nadolsky has a simple explanation for why there’s so much interest in molecules that so many of us pretend to understand but so few actually do:

“Hormones are sexy,” he says. “They’ve always been sexy. That’s why I went into endocrinology.”

Nadolsky is a clinical endocrinologist in Grand Rapids, Michigan, who’s also board-certified in internal medicine and a diplomate of the American Board of Obesity Medicine. Before medical school, he was a Division I wrestler at Michigan State, where he qualified for the NCAA tournament all four years.

And before all that, he was a lifter and athlete with an unusual ability to pack on muscle—a trait that got him interested in the endocrine system long before he knew what it was. “I’ve been accused of taking steroids since I was a little kid, even when I was prepubertal,” he says.

That’s why I figured Nadolsky would be the perfect guy to talk to about the most common misconceptions related to hormones, and the ways in which trainers should or shouldn’t talk about them with clients.

He sees the most confusion and misinformation in these three areas:

  • Adrenal system
  • Thyroid
  • Sex hormones

But before we get into the specifics, let’s take a step back and talk about hormones in general, and why they’re so difficult to understand without specialized training.

Blame It on Insulin 

Your body manufactures some 50 hormones. It makes them everywhere from your brain to your throat to your sex organs. Your skin, bones, fat cells, muscles, organs, and gut all crank out one or more chemical messengers, each of them telling some part of your body what to do, or stop doing.

Virtually every human activity—eating, sleeping, thinking, moving—triggers, and is triggered by, hormonal signals. “All parts of the endocrine system interact to keep each other in some kind of harmonic balance,” Nadolsky says. “Even doctors don’t understand all the interactive pathways.”

We never think about the endocrine system when it’s all working according to factory specs. But when we suspect something has gone wrong, it’s all we can think about. And that’s where trainers are often too quick to jump into the weeds.

Take diabetes, for example. Those with type 1 diabetes need to take insulin because their bodies are incapable of making enough of it to clear glucose from the bloodstream. “Those patients can tend to gain weight,” Nadolsky says, as a result of nutrient partitioning from intensive insulin therapy. “That’s what some low-carbers use to show that insulin causesweight gain.”

Then there’s the well-known link between obesity and type 2 diabetes, a disease of blood-sugar regulation. One of its hallmarks is a drop in insulin sensitivity. The pancreas has to pump out more insulin initially because the tissues are less responsive, but ultimately fails to keep up. Unless the disease is checked, those patients may also end up needing insulin.

Because insulin and obesity are related, a lot of people have jumped to the wrong conclusion: that carbs, which temporarily raise insulin levels, cause obesity.

“All these things come from some sort of truth that gets altered to fit someone’s narrative,” Nadolsky says.

READ ALSO: How to Help a Client with Type 2 Diabetes

But at least diabetes is a real disease. When fitness pros talk about the adrenal hormones, the conversation often jumps from science to fiction.

Fatigued by the Adrenals

Have you heard of adrenal fatigue? Of course you have. It’s the scourge of modern life:

You burn the candle at all three ends with a high-pressure job, chaotic family life, and all-or-nothing training program. You run on adrenaline and cortisol until, at some point, your adrenal glands give out. You end up chronically tired, stressed, unmotivated, and foggy-brained.

But while the idea of adrenal fatigue makes sense, the diagnosis doesn’t.

“Physicians, naturopaths, and chiropractors, along with trainers and other lay people, sometimes propagate this contention of a disease state called adrenal fatigue,” Nadolsky says. “There is no such pathophysiology.”

Because it’s not a disease, there’s no test for it. And because there isn’t a test for it, anyone can claim a person has it, based on whatever criteria they think that person will find most believable. From there it’s just a short step to an alternative practitioner—well-meaning or otherwise—convincing one of your clients not only that she has it, but that the cure is a special combination of supplements the practitioner just happens to sell.

Your move:

You’re in no position to argue with someone your client considers a medical expert. But you can do three things:

  • Share this position paper from the Endocrine Society.
  • Recommend that your client get a second opinion, preferably from an endocrinologist like Nadolsky. Because there is a real condition called adrenal insufficiency, she may need more than a good night’s sleep.
  • Provide a less taxing training program, one that allows maximum recovery. But no matter how tired she is, encourage her to keep moving.

You can read the rest of this amazing article on hormones, when you follow this link-


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