Estrogen, we all have it! Estrogen (and all hormones) is a really complex topic that can be overwhelming to weed through and understand so I am trying to break it down and keep this as simple as I can. But the process itself is truly complicated and even the experts ( and I am not one of them) do not understand it all. A while back I wrote a post on all the major hormone players. You can check it out here
The primary hormone that is associated with women is estrogen. Men also produce estrogen, but for the purpose of this post, I am talking about women. In women estrogen is mainly produced by the ovaries, but some is also produced by the adrenal glands. liver and body fat. There are 3 types of estrogen and all 3 work together.
Estadiol, is the strongest and most prevalent hormone that plays critical roles in the body. It is the most common estrogen hormone measured in non-pregnant women. It gives us a glow, protects our cells, prevents wrinkles, and a host of other good things. Even though estadiol levels fluctuate during the month, the hormone that our body produces is good and needed. It works with other hormones and helps us get pregnant and grow a baby, regulates our metabolic processes (which are the processes our body completes that are necessary to sustain life), helps prevent bone loss, increases the amount of good cholesterol we have, aids blood sugar balance, has positive effects on our brains, memory and nervous symptoms. These are all really good things.
Estrone is the bad estrogen which contributes to estrogen dominance, and boosts cancer risks as it is harmful to breast and uterine cells. Small amounts of estrone are made throughout the body ( ovaries and liver) and in fat cells. The fat cells are the major source of estrone in women who have gone through menopause.
Estriol is the weakest of estrogens and usually measured during pregnancy, as it is produced in large amounts by the placenta and continues to produce until delivery of the placenta. After pregnancy it is produced when estradiol and estrone convert to estriol. Estriol seems to block the effects of estrone on breast cells and has a positive effect on autoimmune functions.
Throughout our childbearing years estrogen and progesterone rise and fall in reaction to each other and as we near menopause there is not as much variation in the rises and dips.
As we age… usually by the late 30’s the amount of natural estrogen that our body produces can begin to decline. By menopause we will have a decline of estrogen by about 40-60% But we still have some. (Although as women we can have declined or high levels of hormones at any point in our lives, although it is especially common during post partum periods and perimenopause) Signs of declining estrogen can be:
- Night sweats ( both night sweats and hot flashes are signs of any change in estrogen levels)
- Hot flashes
- Memory loss and brain fog
- Depression and/or anxiety
- Weight gain around the middle….the dreaded spare tire.
- low sex drive
- Loss of bone density
- Sleep disruption
- Dryness- everywhere, skin, wrinkles, eyes and vagina
- Hair loss
- Urinary urgency and needing to pee more at night
- Increased risk of Alzheimers disease, cataracts, heart disease, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
Beyond aging and menopause, other factors than lead to estrogen deficiency are:
- Premature Ovarian Failure
- Surgical menopause where the ovaries are removed.
- High levels of stress
- Low fat diets
- Very low body fat
Estrogen is usually the last hormone to decline, with progesterone and the androgens usually leading the way. Even with declined estrogen levels, it is the decline of progesterone that can cause a major hormonal upset known as estrogen dominance.
Often your Dr. will look at your blood results and your age, see declining estrogen levels and prescribe Hormone Replacement Therapy, without looking at the declining progesterone and androgens. Therefore while treating the low estrogen symptoms in effect you are creating even more of a hormone imbalance between estrogen, progesterone and androgens. You are left an even bigger distance between estrogen and progesterone balance leaving estrogen dominance. Some of the symptoms of estrogen dominance can be:
- Poor Concentration
- Headaches and migraines
- Weight Gain around hips and thighs
- water retention, puffiness, bloating
- Uterine fibroids
- PMS and mood swings
- Autoimmune diseases
- Heavy periods
- Spider veins or varicose veins
- Increased risk of gallstones, breast and uterine cancers
The problem also is that we get estrogen from more than just our ovaries and adrenal glands. There are two ways that we can acquire excess estrogen. Either we are creating too much of it on our own, or we are acquiring it from our diet, lifestyle or environmental factors.
- We are a toxic society and we are exposed to estrogen like compounds called Xenoestrogens in foods that contain pesticides, herbicides and growth hormones and in products that we use such as plastics, lotions and cosmetics. These toxins are endocrine disruptors and can cause numerous problems in humans and wildlife, including weight gain in humans which leads to estrogen storage in the fat cells.
- Pharmaceudical hormones- those manufactured for Hormone Replacement Therapy and birth control pills are also increasing estrogen levels, and disrupt testosterone levels, whether we take them ourselves or that they have make their way into our water supply.
- Stress – stress steals our progesterone to manufacture more cortisol. As mentioned previously, we need progesterone to balance out our estrogen.
- Sleep deprivation – either from hormone disruption or lifestyle leads to a reduction in melatonin, which can help protect against estrogen dominance.
- Lack of exercise –
- Obesity – obesity stores that bad estrogen called esterone
- Nutrient deficiencies – poor diet contributes to lack of vital nutrients required for hormone health such as zinc, magnesium, and B6
- Poor digestion- excess estrogen leaves our body through the digestive tract. We poop it out. Lack of fibre, gut imbalances and constipation don’t get that estrogen moving out like it should.
- Impaired liver function. This is a big one! The liver breaks down excess estrogen. Anything that impairs your liver is a problem…excess alcohol, drug use, fatty liver disease as a result from excess sugar in the diet and any other liver issue can leave you with an estrogen buildup.
Estrogen dominance can be a really serious thing. Not only do you feel all fat and bloated and sluggish and puffy, but it is estimated to be one of the leading causes of breast and uterine cancers. This is serious stuff!
So what can you do? Balance your hormones. First of all you may need to find a good health care professional to get a full panel of blood work done. Before resorting to Hormone Replacement Therapy or birth control pills, do your research and make sure that more estrogen is the answer. You may also look into bioidentical progesterone cream to raise progesterone levels.
Make the proper lifestyle changes. More fruits and veggies. More healthy fats, more exercise. More self care including proper sleep, even though as a busy woman you feel that sleep is the one thing that you can skimp on to squeeze an extra hour or two into your day. Quit those bad habits, like smoking and drinking…even social drinking can raise your estrogen levels. Lower your sugar intake. Lower your use of plastics, and hormone disrupting chemicals in your personal products such as body lotion and cosmetics.
Making these changes should start helping you feel better and more like your old self. The thing to remember is that the above description is just the short version of what is going on. Hormones are a complex network of processes working together inside your body. There are no quick and easy fixes, and years of abuse can take a while to balance out again.
Please continue to follow along, we are all on this hormone journey together. To join my private Facebook group where all things midlife are discussed please click here!
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