How is your Oestrogen balance?

One of the key hormones in a woman’s life is oestrogen and its balance can make our life happy or hell.  Oestrogen makes its first major appearance when we hit our teens and contributes to the development of our womanly curves.  You can see from the table below that oestrogen actually plays a major role in our many areas of the body, not just our reproductive system.

Area of the body Effect
Brain Helps maintain temperatureDelays memory lossOestrogen increases the concentration of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, so affects mood
Breast Creates breast tissue
Heart & liver Helps regulate the liver’s production of cholesterol and protects the heart
Uterus, ovaries Stimulates the maturation of the ovaries and uterus
Vagina & urinary tract Maintains vagina tissue thickness and lubricationHelps protect the urinary tract from infection
Bone Helps preserve bone density
Hair, skin, nails Reduces collagen loss, so a reduction can affect hair, skin and nails

As we progress through life our bodies change and so do our hormone levels.  For instance as we age, and reach menopause, our oestrogen levels start to decline.  However, other factors can affect the production of our oestrogen and its metabolism through the liver, which can lead to unpleasant imbalances.  So how can we tell if our oestrogen is out of balance and more importantly what can we do about it?

Oestrogen Excess

It seems with oestrogen you can have too much of a good thing and at some time in a woman’s life she may experience excess oestrogen.  This can manifest as PMT (Pre-Menstrual Tension) symptoms like moodiness, weepiness, sore breasts, abdominal bloating, skin breakouts and headaches.  You might also experience heavy periods, flooding and pain. Finally it can lead to stubborn weight gain round the hips, bottom and thighs. Oestrogen imbalance can occur at any time in your life, but is quite common in woman in their 30’s or in peri-menopause. It is also associated with conditions such as poor thyroid function, PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome), fibroids, polyps and endometriosis. For the majority of women excess oestrogen is linked with poor liver clearance of oestrogen hormones.  This usually if the liver needs a bit of support due to environmental factors like poor diet, alcohol, smoking, exposure to sprays, chemicals, drug, allergy foods etc.

What can we do to help clear excess oestrogen?

In general we can support the liver.  Clean up your diet, cut back on alcohol and coffee and increase your water intake.  There are liver herbs around like milk thistle, globe artichoke and dandelion that can help, but when I specifically think of supporting the liver with oestrogen clearance, I think of DIM.  DIM is the short name for di-indolylmethane and it is a substance found in cruciferous vegetables – like broccoli, cabbage and brussel’s sprouts.  DIM supports the liver to process oestrogen so any excess can be eliminated from the body.  If you have especially heavy periods you could also look at adding nutrients to support thyroid function, in particular iodine and selenium.  Low thyroid function is common in New Zealand due to lack of iodine and selenium in our soils.

Oestrogen deficiency

The majority of low oestrogen is first experienced by women in menopause.  As the ovaries run out of eggs hormone production drops and we have to reply on our adrenal glands to make a small amount.  If you refer back to the diagram above you can see all the sites round the body where oestrogen binds and has an effect. When a woman’s oestrogen levels begin to decline this affects all the areas of the body we have shown above.  For example, low oestrogen affects the vaginal tissue by slowing down production of new cells and mucous secretions leading to a loss of vaginal tissue plumpness and lubrication and leaving women more vulnerable to vaginal dryness, thrush and other infections. This also applies to the urinary tract as the loss of oestrogen’s protective effects around menopause can lead to an increase in urinary tract infections.  You may also experience other menopausal signs like hot flushes, insomnia, cessation of periods and mood swings.

What can we do to support low oestrogen?

Phytoestrogens are plant derived compounds found in a wide variety of foods and herbs.  There are many kinds of phytoestrogens, but they all have a similar chemical structure human oestrogen.  Phytoestrogens work by binding to the oestrogen receptor sites to help fill this loss and keep many body functions working.  They also protect against bad xenoestrogens, which are chemicals that “mimic” oestrogen but have a negative effect.  These xenoestrogens can be found in pesticides (e.g. DDT and methoxychlor), industrial lubricants (e.g. PCBs) and plasticizers (don’t microwave in plastic) and many other personal care items and household cleaning products. Photestrogens can be found in many common menopause herbs such as Black Cohosh (probably the most well known herb), Red Clover, Hops, Liquorice Root, Fennel, Anise and Sage.  They are also found in foods such as soy, legumes, seeds, grains and members of the cabbage family.

By Jane Cronin
Clinicians Naturopath

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