More and more women experience symptoms of hormonal imbalances years ahead of menopause in their mid-thirties. The common health issues are fatigue, night sweats, insomnia, painful periods, low libido, migraine, infertility, mood swings and weight gain. Most of these complaints are in fact, estrogen dominance symptoms when the action of estrogen is not compensated by sufficient amounts of progesterone.
Both hormones estrogen and progesterone are necessary for optimal health. Estrogen is a pro-growth hormone that regulates the menstrual cycle, affects the mood, promotes cell division and development especially in the female organs such as ovaries, cervix, fallopian tubes, vagina and breast tissue.
Progesterone acts as antagonist of estrogen protecting women from diseases and conditions associated with too much estrogen. There are three main functions of progesterone:
- Promote healthy development and to protect the fetus during pregnancy
- Provide and support healthy body functions such as normalizing blood sugar and clotting, maintaining oxygen levels in the cells, acting as a natural antidepressant, protecting against any type of cancer and being a precursor for other hormones.
- Counteract effects of estrogen
Causes of hormonal imbalances in women
The main causes of hormonal imbalances of modern women are in the diet, life style and environment:
- Chronic stress depletes adrenal function resulting in low levels of progesterone and other major hormones. Progesterone is the main pro-hormone to corticosteroids. The effect when a womans body starts to produce more cortisol through conversion from progesterone is called “progesterone steal”. Progesterone can become low and result in estrogen dominance effect even when estrogen levels are normal.
- Hypothyroidism can cause suppression of LH hormone resulting in decreased progesterone production. Consequently, it can cause problems with ovulation and conception. Moreover, low thyroid function promotes insensitivity of progesterone receptors resulting in symptoms of hormonal imbalances despite normal test results. Disturbance of menstrual cycle can be one of indicators of thyroid problems. In women who are moderately hypothyroid periods can become heavier and longer whle cycles are often shorter. If hypothyroidism is more advanced or severe a women can experience amenorrhea which is a lack of menstruation or complete absence of periods. Women with hyperthyroidism can also have amenorrhea and it is very common to have difficulties to get pregnant. Hypothyroidism can also cause a delay in the menstrual function during puberty. Other common imbalances caused by hypothyroidism include insomnia and depression in women. You should requre thyroid tests if you have any of these issues. Ones your thyroid condition is adequately treated menstrual flow should stabilize and fertility returne to normal.
- Environmental chemicals such as pesticides, herbicides, various plastics and PCBs called xenoestrogens have a tendency to accumulate in the human fat tissue and interfere with natural hormonal pathways by imitating estrogen behaviour.
- After pregnancy levels of progesterone dramatically fall and can be too low in some women contributing to estrogen dominance.
- Poor diet that includes meats of commercially raised cattle with use of hormones and antibiotics as well as fruits, vegetables and drinking water containing pesticides and other hormone pathways disrupting chemicals.
- Diet high in carbohydrates and sugars can lead to polycystic ovarian syndrome and Hashimoto’s disease which can drive each other
- Birth control pills contribute to an increase of estrogen levels and development of autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s, multiple sclerosis and many others and causing the body to form antibodies to its own hormones. Depending on the brand birth control pills can create more estrogen that contributes to estrogen dominance. Too much estrogen can cause fatigue, weight gain and suppress thyroid function by creating too many thyroid binding proteins that bind active thyroid hormones and prevent them from entering the cells.
In the following short video Dr. Brady Hurst explains how birth control pills can cause weight gain, suppress thyroid function and in the worse case even shut down your thyroid gland completely:
Dr. Brady Hurst runs a holistic medical clinic True Health Labs that offers advanced lab testing and free test results interpretation. Here you can check Thyroid Binding Globulin (TGB) to find out if your birth control pills negatively affect your thyroid function and cause your weight gain.
- Obesity is a risk factor for development of estrogen dominance because the fat cells start to produce estrogen.
- Excessive production of estrogen due to ovarian cysts or tumors.
- Early menopause and thyroid disease are connected. Prevalence of painless autoimmune inflammation of the ovaries called premature ovarian failure or oophoritis is higher in women with Hashimoto’s disease.
The biggest health concern related to estrogen dominance is the high incidence of breast cancer in women who are in their mid-thirties to mid-forties. Many recent studies have shown that in the majority of women of this age group breast cancer is of a non-genetic origin and requires about 9 to 10 years to develop before being diagnosed. Two thirds of all breast cancers are discovered by women themselves – by accident or through breast self examination.
While unopposed estrogen significantly increases proliferation of the breast cells, progesterone can compensate this effect. Early diagnosis and correction of estrogen imbalance can stop and reverse breast cancer development in many young women.
Hormones and thyroid function
Hormonal imbalances in young women interfere with thyroid function. There are two possible mechanisms of interaction between estrogen (estradiol) and thyroid function:
1. High estrogen increases the levels of specific protein called Thyroid Binding Globulin (TBG). After the thyroid gland produces thyroid hormones it is bonded by TBG proteins and carried to the cells where it’s needed. Once the bonded thyroid hormone reaches the target cells the protein is removed and the hormone turns to its free metabolically active form.
When TBG is increased, more thyroid hormone is bound to the carrier proteins preventing the active thyroid hormone from entering the cell. The standard blood tests can show plenty of thyroid hormone available in the blood, however the woman will still experience hypothyroid symptoms. Test for Thyroid Binding Globulin can help to identify the problem. In this case bringing estrogen and progesterone into a balance will correct low thyroid function while the usage of thyroid medication won’t result in a desirable symptoms relief.
2. Estrogen imbalance stimulates immune activity which seems to be counteracted by progesterone. In the estrogen dominant woman the immune system tends to be over stimulated, which can contribute to autoimmune thyroid disease in particularly to Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Hypothyroidism and estrogen dominance can also drive each other. When the thyroid function is low progesterone levels can become low as well contributing to estrogen and progesterone imbalance.
Not all estrogens are equal. Adequate levels of other estrogen estriol can reduce risk and improve symptoms of autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and autoimmune thyroiditis because it stimulates an “estrogen receptor alpha”. During the pregnancy many autoimmune diseases including Hashimoto’s thyroiditis go into remission due to the production of high levels of progesterone and estriol. When the levels of these hormones fall after the birth, the symptoms of autoimmune disease returns.
A woman who has high estrogen but normal progesterone is in the state of estrogene dominance as well as woman with normal levels of estrogen and low progesterone. The restoration of progesterone levels may enhance corticosteroid production which is known to suppress the autoimmune attack. Correcting estrogen dominance by compensating estradiol negative action using estriol together with progesterone can result in a gradual improvement of autoimmune diseases.
Most young women with hormonal imbalances develop progesterone deficiency even before perimenopause and menopause. Low progesterone in women can create symptoms such as fatigue, painful menstruation, water retention, weight gain, depression, insomnia, low libido, uterine fibroids and irritability which are close to those of hypothyroidism and thyroid hormone resistance. In this case, addressing progesterone deficiency can alleviate hypothyroidism without using thyroid medication.
Natural alternative to hormone replacement therapy
It is important to consider the effect of estrogen and progesterone on the thyroid function and thyroid autoimmunity and take necessary steps to establish and correct hormonal imbalances that may occur in women after 30.
Usage of bio-identical hormones in physiological doses is a safe method of hormone replacement therapy that can help women to restore the hormone levels and will most likely result in improved thyroid function.
However, young women with hormonal imbalances who are in their 30s and 40s can get more benefits using natural alternative approaches to hormone replacement therapy. This way the hormone levels can be restored naturally using the body’s ability to heal. This will prevent hormonal issues when the woman enters menopause later in her life.
One of the first steps to correct estrogen dominance is lowering your estrogen and xenoestrogen exposure from your environment and diet as well as getting rid of accumulated toxins in your body by detoxifying your gut and liver. Often sluggish liver cannot eliminate the toxins and hormone by-products efficiently creating a state of estrogen dominance.
While hormone replacement therapy is often the only solution that is offered by doctors, medication cannot help to correct all hormonal imbalances and that is why many women continue to have symptoms despite of being treated with prescription drugs.
What many women don’t know is that by optimizing their thyroid function all other hormonal imbalances and symptoms can improve. I would encourage you to look into this option first. Don’t know where to start? Watch this presentation below
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What you must know about women’s hormones: Your guide to natural hormone treatments for PMS, Menopause, Osteoporosis, PCOS, and more by Dr. P.Wartian Smith, Square One Publishers, 2009
What your doctor may not tell you about premenopause: Balance your hormones and your life from thirty to fifty by Dr. R.Lee, V.Hopkins, Grand Central Publishing, 2005
Dr. John Lee’s hormone balance made simple: The essential how-to guide to symptoms, dosage, timing, and more Dr. R.Lee, V.Hopkins,Grand Central Life and Style, 2006
Menopause before 40: Coping with premature ovarian failure by K.Banerd, Your Health Press, 2006
by Dr. M.Lam, Keyview Holdings, LLC, 2009