Today, I'm starting a new series on the blog that will cover all of our main sex hormones, including estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. These hormones play a huge role in our health, especially in females which is who this series is mainly directed at, and if they are dysregulated for any reason, we will start to see deterioration in our health as well! With each hormone, we'll cover what that hormone is responsible for, what can impact it negatively, what symptoms to be on the watch for if you feel that hormone is dysregulated, and how to correct any dysfunction.
Let's get started with estrogen.
Estrogen is one of our main female sex hormones and comes in three different forms: estriol, estradiol, and estrone. Of the three, estradiol is the most abundant in the body, while estriol is most abundant during pregnacy and estrone is a precursor to estradiol.
We mostly think of estrogen and it's relation to reproduction, but estrogen plays a key role in hundreds of functions in the body as well including bone health, mood, and appetite. There are estrogen receptors at several key points all over our bodies, the most interesting of which to me are in the gut and on the skin, all the more reason to make sure we are taking care of our gut and skin if we need to focus on balancing our hormones.
Estrogen plays the biggest role during the first half of the female cycle. The first half of the cycle is called the follicular phase, and involves quite a lot of important steps. Day 1 of the cycle is triggered by the start of menses and the drop in hormones from the luteal phase (which we will talk about more when we discuss progesterone). This signals to the body to start shedding the uterine lining that it had built up. During days 1-7, the body is also working to pick what is called a "dominant follicle." Of the many options in the ovaries, one dominant follicle will be chosen around day 7. During this time, we see a large spike in estrogen as the dominant follicle starts to mature. Estrogen peaks around day 12, indicating the presence of a healthy follicle that could be fertilized. Estrogen then drops as the lutenizing homrone (LH) is released about 1-2 days before ovulation. The dominant follicle will then make the journey through the fallopian tubes and into the uterus where it is ready to be fertilized. After this, the luteal phase begins and progesterone takes over as the dominant hormone (more on that next time).
However, if any of these steps are not fully completed or we have other external factors impacting our hormonal health, we will start to see the symptoms of high or low estrogen occur.
Symptoms of High Estrogen:
Heavy or irregular cycles
Symptoms of Low Estrogen:
Generally, the biggest impacts on our hormonal health include:
Stress, which could literally kill us and our hormones if we let it ruin/run our lives
Lack of sleep
Nutrient poor diet high in processed foods and sugars
Poor gut health
Eating disorders, past or current
Of the two, having estrogen dominance is more common than estrogen deficiency, but it is still possible to have the latter (I do!). There are two types of estrogen dominance. First, there is relative estrogen dominance where we have low levels of progesterone, but our estrogen levels are normal to borderline high. In this case, because we don't have adequate levels of progesterone to balance the impact of estrogen, we start to have estrogen dominance symptoms, even though our estrogen levels might be okay in isolation. Second, we have true estrogen dominance where we have abnormally high levels of estrogen that are taking over and wrecking havoc in our body.
Estrogen dominance is normally caused by improper liver function (it's the liver's job to shuttle old estrogen out of the body), poor diet (especially one high in soy and processed foods), and exposure to environmental toxins (known as xenoestrogens). In addition, if you have poor gut health or are constipated on a regular basis, you might be more susceptible to developing estrogen dominance as well.
Estrogen deficiency, on the other hand. is more common in those with past/current eating disorders, a history of chronic stress, and/or a history of overexercising and undereating. Coming off the birth control pill after an extended period of time can also be a factor here.
The best way to know if you are having trouble with estrogen (or any of the other hormones) is to test. Blood tests for hormones aren't great, as they test the inactive, protein bound form of the hormones. Saliva and urine are best, although urine isn't ideal for testing progesterone, so that leaves us with saliva. If you are a cycling female, I highly recommend a full cycling panel that takes saliva samples throughout your entire cycle so we can map exactly what is going on every other day. I just completed one from BioHealth in April, and it revealed some critical information to me. If you are interested in learning more about these tests, the procedure, and costs, please let me know! Test don't guess is the only way to address hormones especially because symptoms can overlap sometimes.
Either way, while working with a practitioner to get correct testing is the first step, it is also critical to focus on blood sugar regulation (PFC balanced!), gut health, drinking tons of filtered water, SLEEPING, managing stress, and exercising appropriately for your body (not doing too much is so important for female hormones). Also focusing on liver health will help as well, which includes avoiding processed and refined foods, artificial sweeteners, excess soy, and alcohol/drugs and instead focusing on vegetables, dandelion root tea, and real food proteins.
Dr. Jolene Brighten is someone I truly trust in the hormone world, and she just released a new book called Beyond the Pill that I have been loving! It talks about all things hormones, as well as the impact of the birth control pill (which I believe can normally cause more harm than we realize). I highly recommend reading it as we go through this hormone series.
Next week, we'll jump into progesterone, then next important hormone!