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  “I think it’s my hormones!” is a common cry when women patients come into my clinic…and given that I specialise in women’s health I can’t deny that it is often the case. The wonderful thing is that natural medicine is very effective in treating most conditions that affect our endocrine, or hormonal, system – from stress, thyroid imbalance, PMS, acne and PCOS to endometriosis, fertility, pregnancy and menopause. Particularly when we take a holistic approach and treat the cause as well as the symptoms…

Find out more about how your hormones are affecting your health AND how your health is affecting your hormones

Have you been feeling out of sorts – or worse, do you have symptoms that affect you every day? Most women are surprised to learn that the symptoms they’ve been dealing with for months or years are really signs of hormonal imbalance – almost all women can restore their own hormonal balance, naturally and without drugs. Think your hormones may be out of balance? If so, just complete the quiz below and we can then advise you whether our hormonal balance programme is right for you or at least advise you on what other steps you may wish to take. CLICK HERE

Hormones 101

The endocrine system comprises the body’s hormone-secreting glands and organs, responsible for regulating every other system of the body. If your hormone activity is out of balance your whole physiology, including your emotions, can be affected.

Modern medicine has created several anomalies in how we perceive what is ‘healthy’ and what is ‘disease’. On the one hand, natural, healthy states like menstruation, pregnancy and menopause treated as medical conditions with unnecessary mechanical and drug interventions. On the other hand, some real indicators of an abnormal hormonal imbalance dismissed as “normal for your age”. Typical examples are extreme mood swings, loss of libido, memory loss, fatigue and ‘middle aged spread’ weight gain. These are not acceptable, and they are important symptoms. This attitude normalises these symptoms as acceptable and unimportant.

The natural approach is first to identify any diet and lifestyle factors impacting negatively on endocrine function, as part of a holistic view of health. In today’s competitive marketplace large-scale food production has reduced the nutritional quality of much of what we put into our bodies, while at the same time polluting our living environment. Modern labour-saving technologies are another source of harmful toxins – while tempting us to exchange slower work or communication methods for more stressful, fast-paced productivity-driven behaviour.

It’s a complex world, and those complexities mirrored in our health outcomes. Fortunately, we can still look to nature to provide balance and restore function to our all-important endocrine system.

How do you know when your hormones are out of balance?

Remember the hormones we talk about in this complex endocrine system include sex hormones such as oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone, thyroid and adrenal hormones, insulin from the pancreas and many more, and they are all interrelated. It’s normal to have a range of emotional and physical responses to the events we encounter in everyday life. Sometimes life is stressful so feeling upset, shocked, sad, tired or insecure in response to unexpected change is part of the human experience.

When you notice you are reacting to the usual stressors more often, finding it difficult to regain your equilibrium and feeling out of control or overwhelmed, a hormonal imbalance may be an important part of the picture. As primary regulators of our function, hormones directly influence our emotional state. Conversely, our emotional state also influences hormone secretion.

What symptoms are due to hormonal irregularities?

There are many ways a hormonal imbalance can manifest in women and a continuum of effect from mild to severe. The long list of symptoms can commonly include:

·       early onset of menstruation

·       cramping

·       irregular bleeding

·       premenstrual mood swings

·       headaches and migraines

·       depression

·       anxiety

·       lowered blood pressure

·       low libido

·       memory loss

·       fatigue

·       dizziness

·       insomnia

·       hypersensitivity

·       hypoglycaemia

·       water retention and bloating

·       weight gain

·       salt cravings

·       acne

·       facial hair growth

·       hair loss

·       wrinkles

·       lowered immune response

·       temperature dysregulation

·       vaginal dryness

·       hot flushes

·       night sweats

·       irregular periods

·       either scanty or heavy and prolonged bleeding

·       painful uterine cramping

·       ovarian pain

·       urinary tract infections

·       miscarriage

·       infertility …and more…

Premenstrual syndrome, premature menopause, hypo- or hyper-thyroid dysfunction and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) are all caused by hormonal irregularities.

What influences our hormone health?

Some of the lifestyle factors that affect our endocrine function include physical, mental or emotional stress, injury, trauma, nutrition, lack of or excessive exercise, medical hormone treatment (e.g. HRT or contraceptive drugs) and toxic environmental chemicals found in a range of products from cling wrap and cosmetics to pesticides and paints. Toxins are a major factor, and the effect of xenoestrogens discussed later.

Stress, adrenal function and the progesterone connection

Prolonged stress can require ongoing cortisol secretion, causing overactive adrenal function to meet the body’s increased need for this important life-sustaining steroid hormone. This eventually leads to fatigued adrenal glands and reduced adrenal hormone output affecting the functioning of your whole system.

Reduced progesterone output is one outcome of exhausted adrenals, making stress an important contributing factor in oestrogen dominance. Progesterone, as well as being a precursor to oestrogen production in the body, is also the hormonal precursor to other important hormones including cortisol and testosterone).

Are there good and bad estrogens?

Women have three major naturally occurring estrogens – called estrones, estradiols, and estriols.  Estradiols are the strongest and are most active during the reproductive stage of life.  More estriols are circulating during pregnancy, and after menopause estrones are the predominant of the estrogens. From these three main groups, 2-hydroxyestrone and 2-hydroxyestradiol are antioxidants that provide a protective role for heart and brain cells.  Both help maintain metabolic balance by regulating energy exchange and influencing fat metabolism. These two are described as the ‘good estrogens’.

16α-hydroxyestrone and 4-hydroxyestrone are known as ‘bad estrogens’ due to their cancer-inducing effect.  These two estrogens are associated with unwanted weight gain and hormone-related cancers such as breast and uterine cancers.  They also contribute to excess estrogen.  Studies indicate that the larger the ratio of 2OH estrone to 16a-OH estrone (determined by urinary testing), the lower the risk of developing breast cancer.

Causes of estrogen dominance or deficiency

Estrogen deficiency is usually related to a low level of estrogen’s precursor, progesterone. A reduction in estrogen production typically occurs in women approaching menopause, when ovarian hormone output decreases. Another cause is surgical intervention such as hysterectomy.

In younger women low estrogen levels may be due to over-exercising, eating disorders and having very little body fat. These can all delay female development and onset of menstruation. If low estrogen levels in younger women are not addressed, your ability to conceive and maintain a pregnancy compromised. Early menopause can result, accompanied by a range of associated cognitive, emotional and physical symptoms of hormonal imbalance.

Estrogen dominance is one of the primary causes of hormonal dysregulation in women. Maintaining the balance of progesterone to estrogen is essential for healthy function. One role of progesterone is to counter the effects of estrogen in the body, protecting against cancers of the reproductive system and other toxic effects of an over-abundance of estrogen. Increasingly women are experiencing a ratio of estrogen to progesterone that is excessive. It is in this context that we talk about estrogen dominance.

During peri-menopause when ovulation happens less frequently, ovarian progesterone production declines. Estrogen production also declines. However, the relative ratio of estrogen to progesterone in the body often remains high. The main factors influencing this unhealthy ratio are dietary and environmental estrogenic toxins.

What could everyday products be disrupting our hormones?

Xenoestrogens are the chemicals that mimic natural estrogen and bind to its receptor sites in the body. The body is tricked into responding as if there is estrogen present. The result is an oversupply of estrogens circulating in the body, which can overload the liver as it tries to metabolise and eliminate them. Xenoestrogens occur in the following categories of chemicals found in everyday household products:

  • Bisphenol A (BPA) in cellophane, cling wrap, plastic bags, drink bottles, takeaway containers, and medications such as the birth control pill, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and fertility drugs
  • heavy metals in cigarettes, paints, plastics and cosmetics
  • parabens in deodorants and cosmetics
  • dioxins in sanitary products
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) in pesticides and cosmetics
  • organochlorines in insecticides, fungicides and herbicides
  • isoflavones in unfermented soy products

What do these xenoestrogens do in the body?

Toxic xenoestrogens flood the body’s estrogen receptor sites, over-stimulating their estrogen response. This leads to estrogen dominance where the ratio of estrogen to progesterone is too high, a major factor in many women’s health issues. Blood tests won’t necessarily show elevated estrogen levels, because the excess estrogen may be in the tissues where levels cannot be measured.

If your liver is too overworked to eliminate these excess hormones, they circulate until blood stagnation traps them in the uterus, ovaries or breasts. Fibroids, cysts and cancer can develop due to overstimulation of cell division in these reproductive organs. The liver and brain also have estrogen receptor sites, and estrogens may build up in these vital organs too.

Other factors that contribute to estrogen dominance

Obesity, ageing, anabolic steroids, hormones in meat and dairy, and a poor diet are also major contributors to excess estrogen and its related disorders in men and women.

Some cancers (e.g. breast, uterine, ovarian) are hormone-dependent and their growth upsets the body’s hormone balance. Ovarian cysts also contribute an over-production of estrogen.

The dangers of estrogen dominance

Prolonged exposure to excess estrogen can be detrimental to the pituitary, thyroid and adrenal glands and to liver and kidney function, all leading to further build-up of estrogen in the tissues.

Overburdening the liver with excess estrogen to clear from the body can reduce its activation of thyroid hormone, causing low energy and slowing your metabolism, potentially leading weight gain due to excess fluid and fat in the tissues. Estrogens bind to sodium, increasing water retention. Also, estrogen is stored in body fat. Abdominal fat cells, loaded with estrogen receptors, increase with excess estrogen in the system. This results in the typical ‘middle aged spread’ type weight gain, a risk factor in heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Gaining weight exacerbates the cycle of estrogen dominance, and obesity is a leading cause.

Carbohydrate cravings can also be attributed to estrogen dominance, leading not only to weight gain but to hypo- and hyperglycemic complications. Estrogen dominance has a systemic toxic effect on the body. In addition to symptoms already listed, autoimmune disorders, fibrocystic diseases, cardiovascular disease, epilepsy, endometriosis, joint pain, chronic fatigue, incontinence, candidiasis and osteoporosis have all been attributed to an increased estrogen load relative to progesterone.

Symptoms of hormonal imbalance: How do I know if I am estrogen dominant or deficient? Click to read more.

Your road to happy healthy hormones. What can you do?

Read more at Diet, lifestyle factors herbs and supplements to help balance hormones? and then contact me at Sheena Hendon Health health to find out how we can get you looking, feeling, thinking and being the best you can be x


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