What really happens as a woman reaches her mid to late 40s? The common belief is that she becomes estrogen deficient, and that causes the symptoms of hot flashes, mood swings, water retention, missed periods, hair loss and body/facial hair, loss of sex drive, etc. I believe this is not the case. Instead, women become estrogen dominant, because they still produce some estrogen but the progesterone levels begin to drop dramatically in the mid 30s, to nearly zero by actual menopause.
Other reasons for estrogen dominance are the steroids and hormones in meats and dairy products, and the xenoestrogen toxins in our environment, usually from petroleum products.
During the first part of a menstrual cycle, estrogen dominates and builds the uterine lining in preparation for possible pregnancy. Then ovulation occurs, and the follicle becomes the corpus luteum which begins to produce up to 20 mg. of progesterone a day.
In their 30s, women begin to have some cycles where they don’t ovulate, so there is a month of unopposed estrogen. I feel this progesterone deficiency is what accounts for increasing PMS, and the beginning symptoms of perimenopause.
The chart below, written by John R. Lee, MD, compares the effects of estrogen and natural progesterone:
Obviously, the key to balanced hormones is to keep natural progesterone levels up. In cultures that eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, progesterone deficiency is almost unheard of, and women go through menopause with few symptoms. So, increase your consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables. There are more than 5,000 types of plants that make progesterogenic sterols.
Produce that is picked unripe, as found in stores, has low levels of vitamin C and sterols. Because the adrenal glands are very active in producing progesterone, many career women who are under stress go through early menopause from worn-out adrenal glands. I feel the natural steroid saponins in the yucca, ginseng, barley and alfalfa are excellent for adrenal support. Manganese with ovarian glandulars also provides excellent nutritional support for women, as manganese is the main fertility mineral for females. For males, the main reproductive mineral is zinc.
Dominant estrogen levels cause magnesium levels to fall. Symptoms of magnesium deficiency include water retention, calcium loss, anxiety and depression, chocolate cravings, and constipation. Supplement with chelated magnesium.
To relieve water retention, I also recommend drinking celery juice for organic sodium.
Many women resort to HRT (hormone replacement therapy) for symptom relief, making Premarin (Pregnant Mare Urine) conjugated estrogen one of the most prescribed drugs on the market, along with Provera synthetic progesterone. Above we looked at the symptoms of estrogen dominance, which are also the side effects of synthetic estrogen supplementation. Synthetic progesterone (like Provera medroxyprogesterone) also has serious side effects. Some of those listed in the Physician’s Desk Reference are: fluid retention, migraine, asthma, depression, decreased glucose tolerance, jaundice, partial loss of vision, blood clots, hair loss, increase in facial hair, nausea, sleep disorders, etc.
Compare these with the beneficial effects of natural progesterone, listed above.
For women who want replacement hormones or desire to “wean” off the synthetic hormones, holistic MD, Dr. Christiane Northrup recommends an all-natural estradiol/natural progesterone capsule made by Delk’s Pharmacy in Tennessee. There are also formulations on the market of tri-estrogens, a combination of three natural estrogens. Your practitioner can give you details or a prescription.
Other options to use with the above or instead are natural progesterone skin creams and/or oral products that contain diosgenin (wild yam extract) which is a precursor to progesterone. Most physicians do not realize that patent hormones are also made from diosgenin, but which has been chemically altered by the pharmaceutical companies so they can patent it, even though it is no longer compatible with the body. There are a number of these natural creams and capsules on the market now, some good and most not so good. Many do not use the saponin-rich root of the plant, or may contain harmful alkaloids. (See the note below for my favorites and their sources.) The change from synthetics must be done slowly. A knowledgeable health-care professional should be consulted for guidance with the change.
Many times, estrogen is not needed if the progesterone levels are adequate. This is because progesterone is the precursor for all the other sex hormones, including estrogen, testosterone and the corticosteroids, Pregnenolone, DHEA, and others are intermediate hormones all coming from progesterone.
Keep your fat intake up. Today’s low-fat diets lacking in essential fatty acids are contributing to hormone imbalances in women and men. Cholesterol is the precursor to progesterone and all the other hormones, so I like to see women’s cholesterol no lower than 225, with favorable HDL levels. Do this by using olive oil, fish oil from salmon, mackerel, sardines, or by taking evening primrose, borage seed oil, or black currant oil daily. Essential fatty acids also help skin and tissue elasticity. Avoid the trans-fatty acids found in coconut oils, margarine, etc. Eat unsalted butter instead of margarine. Avocados are also a great oil source.
Keep your liver cleansed for optimal hormone conversion. My carrot salad recipe is great for this. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables, preferably raw, and drink distilled or reverse-osmosis water. Support your adrenals by reducing stress, eliminating or reducing caffeine, sugar and stimulatory high protein foods. After menopause, the adrenals are the main producer of estrogen and DHEA, so they need to be healthy.
Remember that all hormones, enzymes and glandular functions are dependent on bio-available minerals, whether you choose drugs or natural alternatives, supplement to provide adequate calcium, magnesium and potassium. Keep your calcium level up and your bones strongly exercising, staying away from soda pop, eating a low protein diet, and not taking antacid products. As I mentioned last month, additional magnesium and manganese from may also be needed in addition to the above. Manganese, combined with iodine for optimal thyroid support, and targeted directly to the hypothalamus can help. This is the part of the brain that triggers the whole hormone-producing process by activating the pituitary gland and then the thyroid.
And, remember, thoughts are things and can definitely affect the endocrine system. In many cultures, menopausal symptoms are non-existent, because woman are considered to become wiser and more powerful after menopause so they celebrate the aging process rather than dreading it. We have all seen older women who are just as vibrant and beautiful (or more so!) as their younger counterparts. Keep your energy up with yoga, meditation, prayer and ritual, and celebrate all parts of the cycle of life.
NOTE: The hormone helper I often use is Wachters’® Women Herbal Guardian™.