Did you know having sore breasts or heavy menstrual bleeding is not normal? What about hormonal headaches, insomnia or weight gain? You don’t have to accept these symptoms as just ‘PMS’ or ‘a fact of life’. These are symptoms of hormone imbalance often called premenstrual syndrome or perimenopause. This collection of symptoms is your body telling you something- whether you are 15 or 50! I find that many of my perimenopausal patients don’t even realize they are experiencing hormone imbalance and what those symptoms may mean.
Even if you no longer have a menstrual cycle, these symptoms are a red flag for you to make some changes- not only for symptom relief but for possible prevention of breast or ovarian cancer.
Did you know that the most common treatment for PMS is birth control pills or other synthetic hormones? Many women take birth control pills for 10-15 years and then in perimenopause, start hormone therapy for another 10 years. Let me explain how this can even make hormone imbalance worse…
Estrogen Dominance and other hormone imbalances…
To be more specific, breast tenderness, heavy menstrual bleeding and hormonal headaches are often symptoms of ‘estrogen dominance’. The idea of estrogen dominance was introduced by Jonathan Lee, MD more than a decade ago, that describes either low, normal or high levels of estrogen compared to very little or low progesterone in a women’s body. He was passionate about educating women and health care practitioners about the balancing effects of natural progesterone on estrogen for the prevention of symptoms and protective against breast and ovarian cancer.
Just because you are menopausal, doesn’t always mean you need to supplement with estrogen.
You are more likely to be experiencing high estrogen in relation to your progesterone levels that decrease when we stop menstruating. Supplementing with natural progesterone is often helpful – if that is what your imbalance shows on a lab test. Usually, you can regain your hormone balance naturally, without hormones.
5 reasons why we can have high estrogen levels:
- Exposure to environmental estrogenic compounds – common items in our lives such as plastics, cosmetics, pesticides, cleaning products are often called ‘endocrine disrupters’ because they can mimic estrogen and stimulate abnormal cell growth – putting us at risk for breast and uterine cancer.
- Hormone therapy or birth control pills – synthetic hormone replacement, birth control pills or bio-identical hormones can cause estrogen dominance or hormone imbalance, especially if taken more than 5 years and post-menopause. Every women has to make their own decision about the pros and cons of hormone therapy but there are many safe alternatives.
- Hormones in meat and dairy – always buy meat and dairy that was raised hormone-free, preferably organic/grass-fed to ensure you, and your daughters, are not getting excess hormones from your diet.
- Excess body fat – estrogen is also produced in body fat- so the higher percentage of body fat you have, the more likely it is that you will have estrogen dominance.
- Stress – high stress levels can cause increased cortisol, insulin and abdominal fat storage but more importantly, excess cortisol also results in lowered natural progesterone levels. In Chinese Medicine, it is said that stress causes ‘ liver Qi stagnation’ with a ‘deficient kidney Qi’ (chee) which is also a pattern diagnosis of hormonal symptoms in menopause.
Diet and lifestyle changes can make a BIG difference
Diet and lifestyle changes are often enough to balance your hormones to a healthier ratio so you can say good-bye to ‘the less than fun’ breast tenderness, heavy periods and hormonal headaches- among other symptoms. Adding high-density nutrients-especially cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage), good fats, high fiber (flax lignons) and consuming low to moderate amounts of alcohol can help to balance your hormones. Diet, along with stress and weight reduction can create big shifts toward normal hormone levels. If extra help is needed, there are numerous, well-researched supplements such as DIM (diindolylmethane) and Indole-3-carbinol that can improve liver detoxification of estrogens for prevention of breast cancer and improved hormone balance.
Monitor your hormone levels for relief and prevention
Why are we constantly reminded to get our mammograms, but hardly ever hear from our doctors about the importance of monitoring our estrogen, testosterone and progesterone levels? Especially, when taking hormone replacement. There is no doubt that mammograms are important, but I believe it is also important to monitor hormones with blood, saliva, or urine hormone testing.
When we can monitor the estrogen:progesterone ratio in blood tests as well as look at estrogen urine metabolites for proper detoxification, we can stay one step ahead and maintain a healthy hormone balance.
Testing your hormone levels are important but not in a vacuum. To see the entire picture and communication with the endocrine system, salivary or urine cortisol levels and a complete thyroid panel are essential.
Through blood, saliva or urine tests, we can get a clear picture of any excesses or deficiencies with your hormones. You don’t have to live with breast tenderness, heavy periods, hormonal headaches, and other symptoms of imbalance.
In fact, becoming aware of excess estrogens, you may be protecting yourself against breast and ovarian cancer.