Female Reproductive System Part 2 (Click here to read Part 1)
My Mother use to say to me, “every woman in our family has severe menstrual cramps and heavy bleeding, it is normal.” Of course I went on believing this and at the age if 15 was introduced to birth control. In that day and age BCP were used to “treat” cramping, heavy bleeding and acne. I don’t know about you but sign me up!
Now this is just a fraction of the equation. Over the last 40 years there have been HUGE changes in the environment and lifestyles. Our food is dirty, our water is dirty, our air is polluted, we work more, spend more, have more debt, don’t sleep, never rest and are always playing catch up!
Nowadays, to some degree, we can say we are witnessing the results of a 40-year study in which the effects of birth control along with other environmental factors are proving detrimental.
Over the past 40 years we have seen a dramatic rise in female related illnesses.
The average age for puberty has dropped abruptly to 10 years of age.
Endometriosis affects more then 5.5 million women. One of the leading 3 causes of female infertility.
75% of all women suffer with some premenstrual syndrome symptoms
80% of all women have uterine fibroids. 170,000- 300,000 hysterectomies are performed annually due to uterine fibroids.
Dysmenorrhea affects approximately 40-70% of women of reproductive age. 10% describe severe symptoms.
Amenorrhea affects 25-60% of female athletes, 25% of runners and 1.8 to 5% of the population.
As we learned in the Part 1 estrogen and progesterone are the two primary hormones secreted by the ovaries and responsible for regulating the female menstrual cycle. Estrogen and progesterone work together to maintain optimal balance in our body at all times.
Estrogen and progesterone are both produced in the ovaries, the adrenal glands, the placenta and stored in adipose tissue. So how are we so much more susceptible to estrogen dominance then progesterone dominance?
Cholesterol is the basic building block for steroidal hormones. The manufacturing of steroidal hormones from cholesterol takes place in tiny energy packets called mitochondria. Mitochondria are found within every cell of the body except red blood cells.
Thyroid hormone, vitamin A and other vitamins and minerals are essential in the conversion of cholesterol into pregnenolone. Pregnenolone metabolizes into progesterone and DHEA. DHEA forms DHEA-S (typically measured in labs due to its increased stability), testosterone and the three estrogens 1) estrone (E1) 2) estradiol (E2) 3) estriol (E3). Progesterone is the precursor to both cortisol and the mineral corticoid aldosterone.
In a metabolically healthy and well-nourished body the formation of pregnenolone from cholesterol is efficient and minimizes the need for cortisol by inhibiting ACTH.
Cortisol is synthesized by progesterone and released by the adrenal glands in response to stress. Although a normal physiological response, chronic stress results in altered hormonal pathways and vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
Deficiencies in thyroid hormone, Vitamin A, light, Vitamin E and copper decrease the conversion of pregnenolone and progesterone stimulating the production of cortisol, DHEA and other androgens. When a system is more heavily compromised and has low resilience to stress, the system is only capable of sustaining cortisol and aldosterone production leading to degenerative problems, progesterone deficiencies and estrogen excesses.
According to Ray Peat PhD: “Estrogen offers no physiological benefits other then that of reproduction and even in reproduction, estrogens “shock” effect must be tightly regulated by a well-balanced body.”
Estrogen mimic’s the shock phase of the stress response and when left unopposed by progesterone, greatly contributes to:
- Suppression of the thyroid
- Low body temperature and pulse
- Breakdown of fatty acids and protein tissue for energy
- Increased blood pressure
- Inability to store glycogen in the liver
- Blood sugar dysregulation
- Decreased blood volume
- Increased vasoconstriction
In addition to the class of hormones with estrus like properties, there are also other forms of estrogen found outside the body. These include phytoestrogens, xenoestrogens and synthetic forms of estrogen. These environmental estrogens are of a growing concern due to their high level of potency and ability to bind to estrogen receptor sites.
Symptoms of estrogen dominance and progesterone deficiency include:
· Severe cramping
· Heavy bleeding and clotting
· PCOS Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
· Fibrocystic breasts
· Tender and/or swollen breasts
· Swelling and bloating
· Mood swings
· Memory loss
· Weight gain
· Foggy thinking
· Gallbladder disease
· Hair loss
· Slow metabolism or hypothyroidism
· Mineral imbalance/deficiency
10 causes of estrogen dominance:
1. Stress of any type. The body has one response to stress and it your nervous system that makes the call on what your body interprets as stress. Exercise (too much or too little), poor eating habits, poor time management, emotional stressors, physical stressors, environmental.
2. Aging. The ability to produce protective hormones such as progesterone and pregnenolone decreases as we age while estrogen increases.
3. The inability of the liver to detoxify estrogen when under nourished. A protein deficiency, by suppressing liver function, can increase estrogen.
5. Exogenous sources such as plastics, and other xenoestrogens. Human fertility has declined over the past 20 years as a result of industrial pollutants with estrogen- like effects.
6. Birth control pills: estrogen contraceptives do not prevent conception; they prevent implantation of the embryo into the uterus, which constitutes for abortion
“Although the pharmaceutical industry has often referred to it as ‘the female hormone,’ I don’t know of any competent scientist who has ever called it that.”
— Ray Peat, PhD
7. Obesity: in postmenopausal women. This causes the body to increase its production of estrogen through our fats cells further perpetuating inflammation and other metabolic dysfunctions.
8. Hysterectomy. Adrenal and pancreatic problems often arise following the induction of menopause with surgery. Anytime there is an organ removed the remaining organs try frantically to take over some of the functions of the ones removed. Additionally, most women are not aware of their choices following a hysterectomy and certain side effects often lead to hormone therapy.
9. Premenopause: early follicular depletion leading to anovulatory cycles.
10. Unsaturated fats. PUFA’s are immunosuppressive, anti-thyroid, pro-diabetes, inhibit cellular respiration and promote the actions of estrogen and cortisol.
5 things you can do to lower estrogen levels and restore hormone balance:
1. Balance blood glucose. Eat frequent, balanced meals of protein, carbohydrates and fat.
2. Manage lifestyle stress. Healing the body is impossible when the body is in a state of stress. Elevated stress hormones suppress and inhibit many support functions in the body and lead to deficiencies in the vitamins and minerals needed as catalysts for these functions!
3. Avoid Unsaturated Fats. Elevated estrogen levels perpetuate chronic stress and deplete glycogen storages in the liver. This combination provokes the release of fatty acids into the blood stream to be converted into glucose and used as energy. PUFA’s inhibit cellular respiration pushing the body deeper into the vicious cycle of inflammation.
4. Take frequent Epsom salt baths. Excess estrogen leads to water retention secondary to increased uptake of water in the tissues and low albumin levels in the liver, caused by malnutrition and over burdening of the liver. Estrogen dominance leads to an excessive uptake of magnesium creating an imbalance in intra- and extracellular minerals. This can lead to water retention due to the uptake of sodium into the cell secondary to magnesium deficiency.
5. Eat adequate amounts of quality protein.A diet deficient in protein impairs liver function; the ability to store glycogen, detoxify estrogen and insulin and to activate thyroid hormone.
One of the most common approaches to correcting hormone imbalances is through the use of bio-identical hormones. Although a better option over synthetic, without addressing the cause of the imbalance hormone therapy can easily exacerbate the situation. Hormonal pathways are trained neurologically similar to muscles. They adapt to the dysfunctional pathway and need to be retrained through proper nutrition and lifestyle management.