When women suffer from hormonal imbalance, conventional
medicine puts the blame on low estrogen levels, and promotes estrogen (or a combination
of estrogen and progesterone) as the best way to feel better. We know it's just
not that simple.
In fact, many
symptoms of hormonal imbalance, along with more severe conditions such as
endometriosis or uterine fibroids, are associated with relatively high estrogen
levels. This is known as estrogen dominance, a common condition that for many women
may also be the first stage of perimenopause. But the right solution is not simply
reducing estrogen either.
To resolve the underlying cause of your individual hormonal imbalance, estrogen
dominance and troubling symptoms you need more than a "one size fits all" or "one
Estrogen dominance: more than "too much" estrogen
Estrogen dominance occurs when estrogen levels are high compared to levels of progesterone.
It's especially common in the early stages of the menopause transition, and
can occur years before menopause. That's why when a premenopausal woman
suffers from symptoms of hormonal imbalance we always look at the ratio between
her estrogen and progesterone.
Normally, these two hormones rise and fall as part of your menstrual cycle. Each
month, your estrogen level naturally increases before ovulation, and then falls
for the rest of your cycle while progesterone increases. This natural fluctuation
pattern is controlled by a complex set of feedback loops which determines how much
or little of each hormone is being made at any one time to maintain hormonal balance.
With estrogen dominance, your natural balance is disrupted and you may not even
realize it until it leads to troubling symptoms. One disruption occurs when estrogen
remains at its regular level, but your progesterone levels begin to drop —
so you have "too much" estrogen. Another imbalance can result when extra estrogen
is added to your system through diet and lifestyle choices that influence how you
metabolize estrogen and regulate energy. For instance, consuming too much sugar can contribute
to hormonal imbalance.
Even tiny changes in levels can cause symptoms, because estrogen is more powerful
in smaller amounts than other steroid hormones.
Signs & symptoms of high estrogen-to-progesterone ratio
- Unwanted hair growth
- Breast tenderness
- Water retention
- Weight gain
- Cyclical (hormonal) headaches
- Mood swings
- Skin breakouts
- Digestive imbalance
- Fuzzy thinking
- Irregular periods /anovulatory cycles
- Breakthrough bleeding, spotting
Conditions associated with relatively high estrogen levels
- Uterine fibroids
- Menorrhagia (heavy bleeding)
- Menstrual headaches
- Breast/gynecological cancers
Finding a solution that can balance all of your hormones
Once you understand that estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and your lifestyle
choices all play roles in your symptoms, it's quite clear why just adding one or
two hormones isn't going to help you feel better. However, many conventional practitioners
still push Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) as a first step, even though it has
a long history of being controversial due to significant health risks.
We also don't find it effective to add progesterone to treat estrogen dominance.
Hormonal imbalance can often occur as a transitional stage, and trying to balance
one hormone by adding another does nothing to resolve the root causes of the imbalance.
As always, we recommend you start with the most natural, least invasive form of
support to let your body do the work of balancing all of your hormones. With this
approach, you increase the amount of support you give your body — through
nutrition, supplements, and lifestyle changes — so the support outweighs the
demands. We have also found that the use of a phytotherapeutic complex that includes
black cohosh, ashwagandha and chasteberry is highly effective for women with symptoms
of estrogen dominance. More than 80% of women who use the natural approach in our
Hormonal Health Program find relief from their symptoms.