Balancing Hormones with Functional Medicine

 

Watch the LiveStream video: Amber Ratcliffe and Justine Shults discuss female sex hormone imbalance and why it may be what is holding you back from feeling your best.

What is a Hormone Imbalance?

Are you irritable, moody, and exhausted all the time, yet have trouble sleeping? Gaining weight despite diet and exercise? You are not alone. Up to 75% of women report suffering from symptoms that could be attributed to a hormone imbalance!

Hormones are important chemical messengers in our bodies such as Estrogen, Testosterone, Progesterone, Cortisol, Thyroid, DHEA, and Vitamin D. They are produced in one type of tissue and then move through the bloodstream to other parts of the body delivering “messages” for that part of the body to do something specific. When the messages get disrupted, it can have significant downstream implications.

Estrogen dominance is one of the most common hormone imbalance problems for women and that is a big deal because it has literally hundreds of functions in a woman’s body. It is a common condition that can develop from a variety of causes such as excess body fat, environmental estrogens (toxins), poor digestion, chronic stress, and adrenal issues.

Common Symptoms of Estrogen Dominance

  • Irregular or heavy periods
  • Water retention
  • Breast swelling and tenderness
  • Headaches, or migraines
  • Fibrocystic breast changes
  • Weight gain
  • Mood swings
  • Hair loss
  • Painful periods
  • PMS is often caused by too much estrogen

Estrogen dominance can impact sugar metabolism, fat build up and break down, energy level, and neurotransmitter production leading to anxiety and depression. It can also put you at higher risk of thyroid dysfunction, breast cancer, uterine fibroids, and autoimmune disease.

If this resonates with you, request a free 20-minute consultation to see if Functional Medicine might be right for you.  

What Causes Estrogen Dominance

Typically, Estrogen Dominance is due to a combination of one or more of the following:

  • Chronic stress.

  • Poor gut/liver health.

  • Environmental toxins known as xenoestrogens.

  • Lack of ovulation or low progesterone during luteal phase.

Stress and Estrogen Dominance

Our modern fast-paced society is one of the most impactful, because stress causes our Adrenal Glands to produce a lot of Cortisol to keep us going. When we are under chronic stress it can lead to what is called Adrenal Fatigue. This is when our body uses up our Cortisol and begins to steal sex hormones, especially progesterone, to produce it. This leads to an estrogen dominant state because there isn't enough progesterone on-board. This is one reason that we see women going through menopause earlier.

How Your Gut & Liver Health Can Cause Estrogen Dominance

Your liver is responsible for metabolizing estrogen and it needs certain co-factors (vitamins & minerals) and enzymes to do this effectively. If you have insufficiencies in these liver supports, you may not be able to effectively metabolize Estrogen.

When there is dysbiosis or an imbalance of gut flora (too many bad ones or too few good ones, you can end up with beta-glucaronidase, an enzyme that can lead to higher levels of estrogen in the body.

Once the liver processes estrogen for elimination, it is up to your gut to move it out! If you are experiencing constipation, there is a good chance your estrogen isn't making its way out, but instead, going back into circulation in the body. Identifying and treating the underlying cause of your digestive issues is crucial in creating optimal hormonal health.

Next time you feel constipated, try and be mindful of how your next period is symptom wise. How does your skin look? What’s your mood like, do you have trouble sleeping? Hot flashes and/or tender breasts? If so, you may benefit from taking a deeper dive into hormone imbalance. 

Xenoestrogens Are All Around Us

Xenoestrogens are man-made chemicals found in tap water, fragrances, birth control pills, toys (including slime), receipts, sunscreen, artificial food dyes, basically all forms of plastic, and home furnishings just to name a few. They mimic our own estrogen but can be 1000X more powerful, and the greater the number of exposures, the greater the impact. To our knowledge, there are no known benefits to these molecules – only increased health risks.

These chemicals tend to be stored in our fat cells and can negatively affect our ability to excrete estrogen leading to a dominant state as well as developmental, neurological, reproductive and immunological effects. They have been linked to infertility, obesity, diabetes, thyroid dysfunction, and large increases in many types of cancers over the last 40 years, especially breast and prostate cancers.

Lack of Ovulation or Low Progesterone During Luteal Phase

Adequate levels of progesterone are needed for ovulation and to maintain a pregnancy. Prolonged stress can contribute to “stealing” from our progesterone to make more stress hormones.

How do I know if I have Estrogen Dominance?

Comprehensive testing that includes a thorough blood work up can help us understand inflammation, liver function, nutrient insufficiencies, metabolic markers, ability to methylate, and other factors. A saliva test for cortisol and other hormones is also critical to an accurate diagnosis. Sometimes a comprehensive stool analysis is recommended to look at gut health.

The Functional Medicine Prescription for Hormone Imbalance

Stress Reduction to Eliminate Estrogen Dominance

The vast majority of us have a fairly fast-paced life these days and that can lead to chronic stress. It is difficult to remove the stress, but there are some tried and true methods for helping your body respond differently to it. For example, if you learn to perceive a situation as an opportunity rather than a threat, it can change the chemical response in your body so you are no longer constantly in fight or flight and trying to produce cortisol. For some women, adrenal support supplements can help their body's hormonal stress response in addition to lifestyle practices. Check out our article on managing Anxiety and Stress for more detailed techniques and supports.

Sleep is also essential to your body handling stress and repairs itself overnight. If you're struggling with sleep, it is recommended you work with a provider to also address the root cause. It could be that your hormones are causing the sleep disturbance!

Read our article on how to Finally Get Some Rejuvenating Sleep!

Support Your Liver and Gut

Pharmaceutical grade supplements to provide your liver with nutrients to process estrogen can help some women create more favorable estrogen metabolites. In addition, high quality spore-based probiotics may help crowd out the “bad bacteria” to create a more favorable environment in some women. Aim for at least 25 grams of fiber per day by eating plenty of vegetables and fruits. Fiber will keep your bowels regular and help eliminate waste, including unnecessary estrogen. We also generally recommend that you:

  • Eat quality protein
  • Eat plenty of garlic and onions
  • Take a methyl-B complex
  • Eat a minimum of 3 cups of cruciferous vegetables weekly
  • Consider a supplement with, DIM (Diindolylmethane), a nutrient that supports the liver in processing estrogen
  • Detoxing the liver can help bring down estrogen. Glutathione, milk thistle, dandelion root can all be helpful

Eat Foods that Support Hormone Balance:

  • Broccoli and broccoli sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Kale
  • Flaxseeds and seed cycling 
  • Protein like grass-fed beef, lentils, eggs
  • Shiitake mushrooms
  • Carrots
  • Jicama
  • Avocado
  • Blackberries
  • Beets
  • Burdock root
  • Dandelion root
  • Dark chocolate

Prescription Hormone Replacement

When we are not able to balance hormones with the methods above, prescription medications may be an option. There are some significant pros and cons to the different types of prescription hormone therapies. There are basically two kinds - Bio-identical hormones and traditional hormone replacement therapy (HRT).

Bioidentical hormones are derived from plants and are made to be exactly the same molecules that your body produces. You don’t hear about them much because pharmaceutical companies cannot patent them and thus there have not been sponsored clinical trials.

On the other hand, HRT is a different molecule from estrogen (hence it can be patented) and is derived from horse urine and contain over two dozen different estrogen compounds most of which cannot be used by our bodies and thus must be metabolized putting an extra toll on our liver especially. HRT has a long list of negative side effects such as vaginal bleeding, high blood pressure, blood clots, leg cramps, DNA damage, and has been shown to cause increased risk of cancers.

In Summary

Estrogen is a hormone that can sometimes get a bad rap, especially in the context of estrogen dominance. But we need estrogen, it gives women their hips, breast and thighs and is very important for bone health and your mood. Estrogen can decrease blood pressure, be a powerful anti-inflammatory, improve memory and cognitive function, and plays a crucial role in neurotransmitter production for good mental health.

As we discussed above, Adrenal Health, Thyroid Health, and Hormone Balance are all intricately connected so it is especially important to get a complete health history and medical work up to know what the drivers are behind your symptoms so that they can be properly addressed and monitored as you heal.

Although estrogen dominance can make you feel miserable, it is reversible! By implementing the steps outlined above, you can begin to improve your estrogen/progesterone balance and heal your hormones so you can get back to feeling amazing!

If this article resonates with you, request a free 20-minute consultation to see if Functional Medicine might be right for you.  A clinical coordinator will reach out to you to find a time to connect.

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