Hormonal problems can come about because of overproduction of a certain hormone, or because of excess or lack of receptor sites (these are like parking spots in a car park) for that specific hormone in the body.
Any imbalance can cause a problem. But most often seen in females is estrogen dominance.
“Estrogen dominance” is a term we give to any hormonal problem caused by a higher level of the female hormone “estrogen” relative to the other primary hormone “progesterone”.
Estrogen dominance is at the root of female hormonal problems, including:
- unbearable PMS
- high levels of body fat (especially around the hips and thighs)
- Heavy and uncomfortable periods
- Low libido / sex drive
- Swelling and water retention
- Mood swings and anxiety
- Hot flushes
- Eventually, certain types of cancer
To address all of the above issues, conventional medicine would have you resort to ‘symptom-oriented medications’ such as pain-killer drugs for painful periods. That’s all well and good, but this is just burying your head in the sand to a bigger issue.
Surely a better approach would be to address the problem from the root cause, work out WHY you are experiencing your symptoms, and cut off their life supply – preventing them from being a problem in the first place.
To do this, we need to understand the Top 10 Reasons for Female Hormonal Imbalances:
This is often reflected in hormonal patterns and trends among women in the family e.g. family history of low thyroid function, early puberty or menopause
This is why use of 23andme for genetic screening has become so integral to my practice, as I’m able to screen my clients for genes heavily involved in sex hormone profiles and estrogen metabolism, such as:
- CYP 1A1
- CYP 1A2
- CYP 3A4
- CYP 19
Through epigenetics (the modification of our genetic expression via nutrition and environmental changes), we can help direct how our genes express and what actually happens throughout our life.
So just because you have a “familial genetic link” to a condition, this doesn’t mean you should relax and succumb to the random rules of fate. You can still very much positively influence your genetic disadvantage simply by living healthily.
We all know not to eat too much. But the other side of the coin is that restricting calories too much can send the body into ‘starvation mode’ and lead to a down-regulation of the production of certain hormones.
Low levels of body fat can affect the production of sex hormones – all the reproductive and stress hormones are made from cholesterol or cholesterol derivatives and in menopause, fat cells in the abdomen produce oestrogen as ovarian activity falls.
So you must stay healthy by eating enough (of the RIGHT foods!)
Junk food can contribute to raised estrogen levels by interfering with liver function and elimination – e.g. alcohol, sugar, margarine, fried foods, chocolate, refined starches.
So you must limit your intake of processed crap, and stick more to single-ingredient healthy foods. Lots of vegetables. Lots of lean protein, fruit. Starches. Oils. Nuts. Seeds.
Not enough of the right foods
Certain foods have been shown to positively influence estrogen metabolism and induce a more healthy balance of estrogen:progesterone. These include:
- flax seeds
- cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale).
Poor liver function
Typically, people only ever think of the ‘liver’ in the context of health when we think about how much alcohol we drink, as a society. But the consequences of a dysfunctional liver don’t simply manifest when an alcoholic gets jaundice or an obese 50 year old father / uncle gets diagnosed with “fatty liver”.
The consequences of low-grade liver dysfunction are far reaching on hormonal balance. Estrogen is metabolised by the liver and excreted in bile. If liver clearance is poor the blood levels of oestrogen may remain relatively high. Reducing the toxic load on the liver can help e.g. reducing alcohol, drugs and chemicals in food.
Once oestrogen has gone into the gut, it is further modified by intestinal bacteria and bound to fibrous material for excretion. Efficient elimination requires good levels of beneficial gut flora and plenty of dietary fibre. If used hormones are not excreted effectively they may be recirculated.
There are certain supplements I have found to work very well in preventing estrogen from recirculating throughout the body, but I can’t very well recommend them in the context of an article / blog post.
The most important thing you can do is ensure you eat enough fibrous foods:
- flax seed
- nuts / seeds
- leafy greens
- gluten-free oats
Chemicals in Food
Pesticide residues in non-organic foods such as meat, dairy products can mimic estrogens in the body. Estrogens are also fed to cattle to fatten them up.
So it is important that your groceries are primarily organic and that all the meat you buy is free-range, grass-fed and organic, and that all the vegetables you buy are organic.
Note that some non-organic vegetables contain minimal pesticide residues. See www.ewg.org for their Clean Fifteen and Dirty Dozen checklist which will teach you which fruits / vegetables aren’t so bad in their non-organic form.
This is a useful tool, seeing as organic food is so expensive.
8. Environmental chemicals and xenoestrogens
Petrochemical products (e.g. alkylphenol ethoxylates in detergents and emulsifiers; nonylphenol ethoxylates used as spermicides and plasticisers; bishphenols used in many industrial and chemical processes and dental fillings, birth control pill and hormonal replacement can all affect the balance of hormones in the body.
Blood Sugar Swings
By eating a poor diet (too many carbs and processed foods & not enough vegetables and protein), you will open yourself up to peaks and dips in energy throughout the day, which may manifest in physical energy slumps, cravings or brain fog.
When your blood sugar is all over the place, this will elevate insulin which can do all sorts of horrible things for a woman’s hormones, including:
- lowering SHBG, which increases free estrogen!
- Raises LH, which may prevent ovulation and keep estrogen high!
- Increase testosterone, leading to oily skin, acne, unwanted hair growth and maybe even PCOS.
- Deplete B-vitamins and important minerals, which will worsen any hormonal problem you already might have.
Stress induces cortisol (the “stress hormone”)
Cortisol induces blood sugar swings, leading to all of the problems you read above (number 9).
Also, the production of cortisol can lead to a depletion of the other female hormone progesterone.
Less progesterone will mean a higher estrogen:progesterone ratio which once again makes estrogen dominance more of a problem.