Estrogen – it’s not a dirty word.
Estrogen plays an important role through the course of our reproductive lives and beyond. It regulates our menstrual cycle, strengthens our bones, controls our cholesterol, and much more. When our estrogen levels go “out of tune” we experience PMS or menopausal symptoms. But even before menopause, varying levels of this vital hormone can wreak havoc. That’s because estrogen requires a delicate balance with other hormones. When that balance is disturbed, we can experience a wide range of frustrating symptoms.
This hormonal imbalance often occurs during a particularly busy time of our lives, the period from about age 25 through to menopause. As a result, our practice sees many women who are dealing with unexplained weight gain, mood swings, and libido problems. But there is help available. A few simple steps can help you restore balanced estrogen levels and feel like yourself again.
How Do You Know if You Have Estrogen Dominance?
Estrogen dominance can impact many areas of our lives, with symptoms that range from subtle shifts to major disruptions in wellbeing. Many women in this age group assume these issues are a normal part of aging or a consequence of their busy schedules. Just because it is common, does NOT make it a healthy normal!
Even a slight imbalance in hormone levels can lead to a number of problems.
Symptoms can vary greatly by person, but often include:
Does that list look familiar? I see many women in my practice each month with complaints like these. I totally understand how frustrating they can be, especially when you’re unable to find effective treatment. And, of course, the complex relationship between estrogen and our emotions can only magnify the frustration. Who wants to feel irritated about feeling irritable?
It’s not only women who can experience estrogen dominance. You may be surprised to know that men can suffer an excess of estrogen as well. In men, estrogen dominance can manifest a bit differently, with some of these symptoms being common:
What Causes Estrogen Dominance?
To understand estrogen dominance, we have to consider the role of another important hormone, progesterone. Progesterone and estrogen maintain an often tricky seesaw in our bodies. Prior to menopause, the balance shifts at different stages of the menstrual cycle. Estrogen dominance isn’t necessarily a surge of estrogen, but an imbalance in that seesaw. Simply put, estrogen dominance happens when the seesaw tips to one side because there is not enough progesterone to balance out the estrogen. There’s actually no “set” number we can measure that proves an estrogen dominance diagnosis. It’s the overall hormonal profile that is important – the DUTCH test is an extremely valuable tool that I use regularly for assessing this balance.
How does estrogen become dominant? A key factor is the timing. Or, to be more specific, the time of our lives. Consider a normal menstrual cycle during our reproductive years: After we ovulate mid-cycle, our bodies produce progesterone to balance out estrogen.
But as we near menopause, we often have some menstrual cycles when we do not ovulate. As a result, there is not enough progesterone to balance out the estrogen. Enter estrogen dominance -- and its long list of possible symptoms.
To a certain extent, estrogen dominance is a natural part of our aging process. However, recent years have seen a rise in estrogen-dominance complaints, and our busy lifestyle may be a big factor. Environmental and behavior issues can increase estrogen levels, tipping the seesaw even further. What’s to blame? Take a look at this list.
How Can You Restore Hormone Levels?
Our practice can work with you to re-balance your hormonal havoc. Starting with an accurate diagnosis, we can create a lifestyle plan that works for you. As a starting point, these changes are recommended:
Do the estrogen dominance symptoms sound a bit too familiar? Please contact our clinic and we’ll get to the bottom of what’s going on and create a plan of action to bring your body back to good health.
I was on away on a girls’ weekend recently. A gorgeous sunny day exploring Niagara wine country (this ND enjoys a glass of wine too!), laughing our butts off and trying not to fall off our bikes. It was a perfect opportunity to work on my “base tan” for the year.
As a fair-skinned gal of Irish descent… I’m prone to grow freckles and get very very pink. Unlike my husband who gets a gorgeous tan every year, I have to be careful. But I certainly don’t avoid the sun. Ever.
But wait, isn’t the sun the root of all evil? Skin cancer, melanoma and awful peeling skin? If the sun going to kill me… how come my ancestors survived?
The link here is Vitamin D.
Vitamin D is an essential hormone and we are designed to get lots of it by being outside in the sun, moving around outdoors and enjoying the world around us. The challenge is that many of us spend our days inside working avoiding the sun between 10-2 pm, wearing sunscreen with a high SPF every day under our makeup and long light layers we can become very deficient.
This is a big deal.
Vitamin D is critical for our immune system. Many of us know about Vitamin D for bone health - Vitamin D helps regulate calcium and phosphorus absorption and excretion in the body. This is why many products are fortified with a synthetic version.
Run of the mill health issues like coughs, colds, allergies, flus and other common issues are related to low Vitamin D levels that compromise our immune function. Vitamin D also keeps our immune system communicating so that we reduce our risk of more serious issues like Type 2 Diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease, cancers and other autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis. Low Vitamin D is also related to thyroid disease, mental health issues and hormone health. Adequate vitamin D is essential for digestive health as well, and when we are deficient we get leaky gut.
When we lack Vitamin D our immune system loses touch with itself and we are more likely to get sick.
Who is at risk?
Where can you get it?
Vitamin D keeps your brain sharp, skin glowing, immune system humming along and is an essential part of your life. Practice safe sun, but don't fear it!
Keep on the sunny side,
Resources:On Vitamin D supplementation in food: http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/80/6/1710S.full
It is a persistent ache-in-your-bones feeling, like walking through mud every day and struggling to do the little things. It is the disorientation of not feeling like yourself for the past few weeks, months or years. It clouds your brain, steals your sense of humour and weighs heavily on your relationships. And then there’s the guilt and self-judgement about why you just can’t seem to get it together.
One of the biggest struggles that people with persistent fatigue face is that outwardly they look normal. Coworkers, friends and families may offer “helpful” suggestions about being more organized or going to bed earlier (a great point, but not THE point) or completely fail to understand. Even physicians may struggle to help once the basic blood work comes back “normal”.
Lifestyle factors can and do play a massive role, so it is critical to ensure that you are getting enough good quality sleep, eating well, exercising, managing stress and taking good care of yourself. Working with a therapist, registered massage therapist, personal trainer and your health team can be helpful to make sure you’re covering your bases.
If you are already addressing these areas and still feel like something is missing, Naturopathic Medicine can be a great solution. The next step is digging deeper and doing a thorough investigation to determine the cause of the fatigue and how these factors might be affecting your overall health.
Here are some of the most important lab tests that we run to assess the fatigue you’re experiencing.
Ferritin and iron panel – ferritin, % saturation, serum iron and total iron binding
Thyroid Panel – a full panel includes TSH, free T4, free T3, reverse T3 and anti-TPO
DUTCH Hormone Test
Autoimmune and Inflammatory Markers – hs-CRP, ESR, ANA, rheumatoid factor, tissue transglutaminase IgG and/or IgA
Organic Acids Test
Other factors to consider:
You know yourself best. If you feel that something is off, you are probably right. It is better to know where you stand and choose to work with a health care provider that can offer you the evaluations you need to get to the bottom of things.
A thorough investigation is important, but it is even more important to have a plan in place to address what you find.
Diet and lifestyle factors like how you eat, how you move, how you sleep and managing your stress will ALWAYS need to be a part of any treatment plan you undertake. It can be easy to get caught up in a complicated regimine of supplements and medications, but focusing on a strong foundation is what really determines your outcome.
If you have “tried everything”, have you been consistent enough? Being fatigued IS exhausting and it is only natural to get excited about the next newest thing… but nothing will work if you don’t give it a fair shot.
You need a team. The support of a partner or friend or online community can make a world of difference when you are suffering from an invisible illness. Work together with your health care providers to get the right assessments and guidance to help you recover. If you feel unsupported, unheard or like you are bothering your provider, find another professional to work with that will take your concerns seriously.
Working with a Naturopathic Doctor to address the causes of chronic fatigue can be invaluable to your recovery by helping you systematically address each of the areas above and make a concrete plan based on YOU.
If this sounds like you, I invite you to schedule a complimentary Health Discovery session with me to talk more about your specific concerns. Please share this article with someone you know that is suffering.
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Dr. Keila Roesner is a Naturopathic Doctor. When not treating patients she is also an enthusiastic barefoot-strolling, music-loving, yoga-doing kitchen wiz - who also happens to be a wrestling fan.