Estrogen – it’s a problem, isn’t it? There is so much conflicting information out there on the subject, it can be difficult to navigate. This much we know to be true: it is a delicate balancing act with our hormones, and estrogen in particular can be tricky since the natural decline in testosterone and progesterone as we age leaves a relative excess of estrogen without the other two to balance it.
Too much estrogen in your system - called estrogen dominance – leads to weight gain, water retention, bloating, fatigue, low libido, mood swings, and more. Too little, and you get hot flashes and vaginal dryness, as well as an associated drop in serotonin that leads again to mood swings. With options like that, how does one choose??!!
Balance is clearly the key. And that is what sends so many women to their doctors to sign up for hormone replacement therapy: we’ve all seen the advertisements and spoken to friends that promote this approach as more or less a ‘magic pill.’ The reality however, is far from straightforward. I’ve talked about this broadly in my post on the pellet, but estrogen is so important that it really deserves its own deep dive.
Understanding your particular hormone profile is essential: monitor your symptoms and any associated triggers as a first step; and having supporting data is always a good idea, so getting a complete blood panel is next. Your doctor will be able to help you understand where your levels are off, and s/he will likely have some recommendations about how best to get you back into balance. This is where your research (and intuition!) comes into play. Our bodies are pretty smart, and you will know what does and doesn’t work for you. If hormone replacement doesn’t work, or if you are just more comfortable with taking a natural approach, the good news is that there are ways to boost our body’s hormone manufacturing processes through diet and supplementation.
First up when attempting to achieve hormonal balance without drugs: eliminate grains from your diet. We’re already accustomed to thinking about grains – specifically, wheat – in terms of how those foods cause bloating and various gastrointestinal issues, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. Consuming grains has been shown to directly correlate to increased visceral fat, which leads to some strange shifts in hormones. This visceral fat triggers heightened levels of cortisol and aromatase activity, which in women leads to increased blood and tissue levels of estrogen. And these higher levels of estrogen are best avoided, as they also increase our risk of breast and endometrial cancer. But the excess estrogen doesn’t stop there – it leads to more fat, increased appetite, and decreased libido. Read the study here. There are also studies linking grain consumption to infertility, PCOS, and premature menopause, so skipping the bread and crackers seems like a small price to pay.
Once you remove the disruptive influence of grains, supplements can act as a kick-starters to your system. To target estrogen imbalances specifically, Diindolylmethane (DIM), derived from cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower, has shown great promise as an antiestrogenic compound, helping the body to regulate estrogen metabolism and even protect against certain forms of cancer, most notably breast and thyroid. Read the study here. And here. A dosage of 100-200 mg daily has been shown to aid several common symptoms of menopause: weight gain, hot flashes, and insomnia; and it has anti-inflammatory effects to boot.
Every woman is different, but for me, the regulating effects of grain elimination and the addition of a DIM supplement and DHEA (addressed in a separate article here) corrected my imbalance and eliminated my hot flashes/night sweats and mood swings almost entirely*. And I definitely sleep better knowing that I have not been assaulting my body with HRT, bio-identical or not.
*It’s hard to say whether my few remaining mood swings are due to hormones or me just being bad-tempered….