Sex hormone binding globulin, SHBG for short, is a critical protein that transports hormones through the blood. It regulates sex hormone levels, primarily estrogen and testosterone.
If your hormones are out of balance, or if you have PCOS, insulin resistance, or liver disease, ask your doctor to check your SHBG levels. When SHBG levels are too high or too low, it impacts your hormones and health.
“If your hormones are out of balance, or if you have PCOS, insulin resistance, or liver disease, ask your doctor to check your SHBG levels. When SHBG levels are too high or too low, it impacts your hormones and health.”
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SHBG is an essential protein made by the liver. Its primary role is to transport steroid hormones, including:
When these hormones are bound to SHBG, they can’t bind to cells and have an effect. Sex hormones need to be unbound and free in the blood to exert their effects. In this way, SHBG helps regulate hormone levels.
When SHBG is high, there are lower levels of circulating estrogen and testosterone available.
High SHBG symptoms in women may include both symptoms of low estradiol levels and low testosterone, including:
Elevated levels over time may contribute to diseases, including breast cancer and osteoporosis.
On the other hand, low SHBG is more likely to be related to metabolic disorders like insulin resistance, diabetes, and PCOS.
Since SHBG is made in the liver, liver health is critical for balancing SHBG levels. When the liver is damaged or overloaded it is unable to produce as much SHBG, and levels may be lower. In other cases, such as cirrhosis, SHBG may be elevated. In addition, normal SHBG levels seem protective against non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in women.
When thyroid hormone levels are high, everything in the body speeds up, including the production of SHBG. High SHBG is associated with hyperthyroidism and Graves’ disease, autoimmune hyperthyroidism.
With higher SHBG, less estrogen and testosterone is available for use, which may be associated with irregular or absent periods in women.
Mitochondria function is essential for liver health and function, including the production of SHBG.
Mitochondria are found in every cell and transform sugar (or fat or protein) and oxygen into energy (as ATP). Cellular health requires efficient mitochondria. Furthermore, mitochondria require robust nutrition, including antioxidants and B vitamins, to work efficiently without damaging cells.
I always order an SHBG blood test when there are signs of hormone imbalance. When estrogen and testosterone are high or low, I always want to understand why to create an effective treatment plan for each patient.
When my patient is experiencing symptoms of low hormones and SHBG is high, here are some strategies to consider:
When my patient is experiencing elevated hormone symptoms, such as high testosterone in PCOS, along with low SHBG levels, here are some strategies to consider:
Sex hormone binding globulin is critical in regulating estrogen and testosterone levels in women. It’s an important blood test when working to understand the root of hormone imbalance. Luckily, we can use many supportive functional medicine tools to bring levels back into balance.
In Part 2 of this series, learn more about thyroxine binding globulin and what this protein means for thyroid health.
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