A Natural Approach to Hormone Health
Published in: Vitalité Quebec | May 2011 Issue
Written by: Marita Schauch, BSc, ND
Healthy hormonal balance is essential for a woman’s quality of life during her reproductive and menopausal years. Disruptions in hormone balance can lead to menstrual disorders such as irregular bleeding and heavy bleeding, symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), as well as menopausal symptoms later in life. It is estimated that 30% of all women experience symptoms of PMS during their reproductive years.
It is now well known that one of the most prominent causes of PMS related symptoms, endometriosis, uterine fibroids, fibrocystic breast disease and breast, uterine or ovarian cancer, is excessive estrogen exposure from both endogenous (estrogens that are made inside the body) and exogenous (estrogens from outside the body) sources. There are many lifestyle and environmental factors that can influence estrogen production, metabolism and balance. Obesity, alcohol and an increased insulin response to glucose will all increase endogenous estrogen levels in the body.
Two major sources of exogenous estrogens are oral contraceptives (the birth control pill) and hormone replacement therapy. These hormones are considered “foreign” which the body does not recognize to be identical to its own hormones. These foreign hormones can create damaging by-products and metabolites which can put a lot of stress on the liver. Other major sources of exogenous estrogens are environmental toxins found in pesticides, herbicides, plastics, refrigerants, and industrial solvents which are structurally similar to estrogen and have the ability to mimic the harmful estrogens in the body. Additionally, the hormones used to fatten livestock and promote milk production are found in meat and milk products, thereby increasing our exposure to environmental estrogens even more. So buy organic!
There are many fundamentals of good nutrition and diet which play an important role in estrogen metabolism and detoxification further supporting a woman’s healthy hormonal balance.
It has been found that increasing the consumption of cruciferous vegetables like cabbage and broccoli can significantly eliminate potential bad estrogens in the body. Increased dietary fiber can also promote the excretion of excess estrogen by binding this hormone in the digestive tract.
When a woman’s childbearing years come to an end, she will begin to experience the first signs of menopause. During this time the body is adjusting to fluctuating hormone levels. Various signs of menopause include: irregular or absent menstrual periods, hot flashes/flushes or night sweats (80% of women experience this), mood swings, insomnia, depression, urinary problems and loss of libido. A woman’s risk of heart disease and osteoporosis are also increased during menopause.
Not to be forgotten during menopause are the adrenal glands. Once a woman reaches menopause, the adrenal glands become the primary source for sex hormone production. The adrenal glands are two small glands that sit on top of each kidney and support the body’s ability to cope with, or adapt to, stress. Therefore, the stress of everyday life as well as the transition into menopause no doubt creates much strain on the adrenal glands. Many women have “stressed” or “fatigued” adrenal glands long before they reach menopause which makes their menopausal symptoms much harder to cope with.
Support for menopausal women should focus on symptom relief and disease prevention. Strategies should include ways to balance fluctuating hormone levels, support the adrenal glands and prevent the risk for osteoporosis and heart disease.
The following are important nutrients and herbs for healthy hormone balance:
- Vitamin B6: has often been referred to as an “anti-stress” vitamin. Supports the adrenals.
- Vitamin B5: supports sex and stress hormone metabolism and is also involved in memory and brain function.
- B-Complex: in general, helps to ease stress-related fatigue.
- Vitamin C: support for the adrenals as well as supports liver and immune function. Protects against cardiovascular disease and cancer.
- Vitamin E: helps to relieve hot flashes as well as protect against heart disease.
- Calcium/Magnesium/Vitamin D: supports bone health, muscle relaxation and cardiovascular health.
- Flax and Soy: phytoestrogens that help lessen menopausal symptoms as well as support healthy hormonal balance.
- Black Cohosh: one of the more popular herbs used today to treat a variety of female health problems such as PMS, painful periods and hot flushes.
- Chaste Tree Berry: is another herb widely used today for the treatment of several female complaints such as PMS, painful periods, premenstrual acne, mood swings, irregular periods, infertility and menopausal symptoms.
- Indole-3-Carbinol: is a natural constituent of vegetables of the Brassica family (cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts) that helps with healthy estrogen metabolism.
- Calcium-d-glucarate: is a naturally occurring compound that plays a very important role in the detoxification of toxins and carcinogens.
- DIM: is a phytonutrient found in cruciferous vegetables and has been shown to promote the formation of 2-hydroxylated estrogen metabolites instead of 16 –hydroxylated estrogen metabolites; therefore balancing good to bad estrogens.
Some other well known herbs that help with women’s health concerns are: dong quai, licorice, wild yam, alfalfa, red clover and crampbark. But remember, each woman is an individual with individual hormonal fluctuations so what might work for one person might not work for another. It is always important to seek the guidance of a licensed health care practitioner when using the above herbs and supplements.