Hormones are the chemical messengers that regulate many body processes, including metabolism, mood, hunger, sexual desire and fertility.
There is mounting evidence that hormone imbalance in women and resulting excess estrogen can have a negative impact on women’s health. For women, one of the key hormones for physical and emotional well being is estrogen.
Estrogen is not a single hormone but a group of hormones that are naturally produced in the body.
In women, estrogen is produced primarily by the ovaries and to a lesser extent by the adrenal glands and in the fat cells, particularly after menopause. Estrogens regulate many aspects of sexual and reproductive development. They are also essential for the health of our heart, blood vessels, bones, breasts, skin, hair, brain and urinary tract.
Aside from the estrogen produced by our body, people today are exposed to estrogen-like compounds from drugs, the environment and even food. These are known as xenoestrogens. This hormone imbalance in women from estrogen excess can have serious consequences for the health and disease risk facing women today.
Symptoms of Hormonal Imbalance
Many symptoms of hormonal imbalanced are ignored as part of aging, or blamed on other factors. But these may be early warning signs that your hormones are out of step:
- Feeling tired all the time, even if you sleep
- Fitful sleep, and trouble getting up in the morning
- Decreased libido
- Feeling depressed
- Lack of concentration
- Changes in your weight (losing or gaining without cause)
- Problems handling stress
The dangers of HRT
Since the introduction of the birth control pill in the 1960s and the promotion of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for women in menopause, estrogen has been widely prescribed, not just for contraception and menopause, but to ward off osteoporosis, heart disease, memory loss, low libido, depression and a host of female health concerns. The popularity and use of HRT has waned over the past decade as several large clinical trials revealed serious side effects and health risks.
Due to the growing concerns about the risks of HRT, it is recommended only for women with severe symptoms and for the shortest time and at the lowest dose possible. And both doctors and menopausal women have started to pay more and more attention to safe and natural methods for managing menopause – including diet, exercise, lifestyle and herbal remedies.
Dr. Alvin Pettle, OB/GYN, is a firm believer in the benefits of natural medicine for menopausal symptoms.
The Birth Control Pill provides about four times higher estrogen levels than would naturally be produced by a woman’s body.
Oral contraceptives (the “Pill”) are another contributor to hormone imbalance in women in the form of estrogen excess. The Pill contains synthetic estrogens and progestins in varying amounts and they are prescribed not only for contraception but for the treatment of acne, PMS and perimenopause. The birth control pills used today by 1 in 5 Canadian women contain much lower amounts of hormones compared to those used in the 1960s, however they still provide about four times higher estrogen levels than would naturally be produced by a woman’s body.
Natural alternatives to the birth control pill for PMS and perimenopause For many, the unpleasant symptoms of both PMS and perimenpause including: mood swings, breast tenderness, bloating and irritability are caused by hormone imbalance in women. And although the pill is highly effective for contraception, its use is associated with many side effects including weight gain, migraine headaches, decreased libido, breast swelling and tenderness, nausea, vomiting, vaginal dryness, spotting, skin rashes, and depression. For many women the negative side effects of the pill when prescribed for PMS and peri- menopause outweight the benefits. This is why more and more women are turning to natural health products to help balance their hormones and address the symptoms of PMS and perimenopause .
Women who don’t take oral contraceptives or HRT can still be getting hormones in the form of xenoestrogens and the hormones found in food. Women who do not take oral contracep- tives or HRT must still be aware that they could be getting hormones in the form of xenoestrogens, which are estrogen-like com- pounds that are present in pesticides, foods, plastics, perfumes, cosmetics and other surprising places. They can bind to estrogen receptors in our body and mimic, block or interfere with our hormones leading to both physical and emotional symptoms.
According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, hormones are used in beef cattle but not in dairy cows or poultry in Canada. Fish may be another source of estrogen-like compounds in our diet. The amount of these estrogenic and carcinogenic compounds is highest in most farmed fish however even wild fish contain some toxins.
Sherry Torkos, pharmacist and author of The Canadian Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, says there are steps take to deal with hormone imbalance in women and reduce their exposure to harmful estrogen.
Women should also:
- Choose organic produce, hormone-free meat and wild fish.
- Minimize use of plastics and never microwave or put hot liquids in plastic.
- Increase fibre and water intake to aid in detoxification and elimination.
- Limit exposure to xenoestrogens such as; non-stick coatings, stain repellents, phthalates in cleaning products, toys, nail polish and hair dye.
- Take care of their liver— it is the key detoxifying organ. Minimize alcohol use and drugs, such as acetaminophen which are hard on the liver.
Hormonal imbalance, if recognized, can be treated through lifestyle changes and proper supplementation. It does not have to be a life sentence.