Help for Managing Estrogens
Estrogens are a vital aspect of female (and male) hormonal health. When properly balanced, they play an important role in helping women protect against inflammation, prepare the uterus for pregnancy, boost muscle mass, keep us thinking sharply, make us feel sexy and support the production of serotonin. Pretty crucial stuff!
However it is possible to have too much of a good thing—or too much in the wrong places at inopportune times—and this is certainly true of estrogens. Particularly for women of reproductive age. Like so many things you may read about here, context is key. The details can easily become overly technical, but understating some of the basics can make a big difference in your hormonal quality of life. So let’s introduce a few ways to keep your estrogens working for—rather than against—you.
The body produces three main types of estrogens: estrone coming primarily from the adrenal glands and adipose tissue (especially in post-menopausal women), estradiol from the ovaries, and estriol which is made primarily in the liver and is most prevalent in pregnancy. Throughout a woman’s reproductive years, all three types follow a similar monthly rhythm that generally climbs after the period ends and peaks just before ovulation, then drops sharply followed by a smaller peak about a week after ovulation. Estradiol tends to dominate as it is the most active type, binding most strongly to estrogen receptors in the body. If ovulation has occurred, then progesterone will oppose estrogen in the second half of the cycle and dominate the luteal phase. Things tend to get out of whack if there is no opposing progesterone (leaving estrogen to dominate the entire cycle), or the estrogens are not being efficiently eliminated, or both.
Either scenario can lead to what is sometimes referred to as estrogen dominance, with unpleasant symptoms such as bloating, weight gain, heavy/clotty/painful periods, fatigue, mood issues (including depression, irritability, anxiety, mood swings), and breast tenderness. Fortunately, this does not have to be a chronic condition, and there are several things you can do to help your body’s estrogen detox run more smoothly.
For starters, the cyclic production of progesterone facilitates estrogen detox by destroying estrogen-binding proteins, thereby releasing estrogen from the cells into the bloodstream where they can be inactivated by the liver. This is one of the numerous reasons to support ovulation and natural progesterone production.
There are two primary metabolic pathways the body uses to metabolize estrogens, one of which creates oxidative stress that can predispose to cancerous conditions if left unchecked for too long. This pathway is typically a last resort that generally will not overflow if the other means of elimination are working adequately.
The preferred pathway of estrogen processing is the safest, and it begins in the liver. It consists of two phases, and hang-ups in either can be problematic. The first phase transforms estrogens into intermediate compounds that are highly reactive (and potentially most troublesome), and the second makes those reactive substances water-soluble so they can be more easily eliminated. Phase I is supported by components found in foods from the brassica family, as well as rosemary, fish oil and flaxseed. The brassicas include turnips, kale, radishes, collards, cauliflower, mustards, and others. They contain special nutrients such as indole-3-carbinol (I3C), which the stomach breaks down into diindolylmethane (DIM), and sulforaphane glucosinolate (SGS), which help pull estrone and estradiol out of circulation. Including plenty of cooked brassicas in your diet can support this phase. These beneficial substances are quickly cleared from the body, so supplementing regularly or at certain times of the month may provide relief if your system is getting bogged here.
Edibles from the Apiaceae family are also quite helpful to direct estrogens toward this pathway, and these include things such as carrots, fennel, coriander, dill, caraway, cilantro, parsley and parsnips. The fibrous nature of raw carrots is especially helpful for clearing phase 2 estrogens and endotoxins from the body. Making a habit of raw carrots can significantly diminish unpleasant PMS symptoms like bloating, cramping and breast tenderness.
Phase 2 is a type of methylation process that neutralizes the detox compounds. Various nutrients help feed this process, including B-complex nutrients such as B-12, B-6, folate (B-9) and magnesium. These are available in foods like eggs, yogurt, avocados, asparagus, lentils, leafy greens and bright-colored fruits. If supplementing, be sure to go for methylated forms of the Bs.
To support the final phase of estrogen detox, be sure you are eliminating well—which means regular bowel movements. Without adequate elimination, estrogens get reabsorbed into the bloodstream and contribute to a vicious cycle of holding estrogens. Fiber, hydration and movement are fundamental for this.
In addition to the natural estrogens produced by the body, our diets often include large amounts of “weak” estrogenic substances which add to the liver’s metabolic burden. Depending on where you are in your reproductive journey, this may or may not be desirable. Some estrogenic foods include soy, legumes and red clover, isoflavones and less desirable but very common things such as seed oils and poly-unsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). If you are sensitive to estrogen excess, these would be good items to restrict in your diet, particularly in the luteal phase. Minimizing exposure to estrogen disruptors such as BPAs, xenoestrogens and phthalates is also a good idea.
As mentioned much of the estrogen detox actions described here happen in the liver. So be kind to your liver by keeping blood glucose relatively stable and fueling it adequately throughout the day with a proper balance of macros and nutrients.
At Naturna, we are big fans of caring for the gut because of its fundamental role in whole-body health. The more modern research teases apart the details of these inner workings, the more miraculous it seems. Estrogen balance is no exception—so much so that there is a special term for the gut microbes that metabolize estrogen and manage its excretion: the estrobolome. For instance, many of the species of human microbes are responsible for creating enzymes such as beta-glucoronidase, steroid sulfatase and hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase, which are key in regulating the amount of processed estrogen that gets sent back into circulation.
Probiotics can help restore healthy estrogen balance, having a positive influence on estrogen-related issues such as androgenic PCOS, endometriosis, breast tissue health, and menopausal osteopenia. Diet plays a huge role because the foods we eat can either work for or against us. It likely won’t wreck your cycle to have an off day, but having more than you can reasonably offset will eventually have an impact. Many of us are familiar with the experience of a necessary recovery period following an evening of binges, for example.
If you have questions or concerns about your estrogen levels, come see us at Naturna. TCM and acupuncture are fantastic ways to help enhance your detox functions, with numerous additional benefits. For a deeper look at your individual detox pathways, we’d be happy to consult with you about a DUTCH test. This is a urine test that provides a fairly comprehensive picture of how you are metabolizing steroid hormones and will help us customize your treatments for targeted results.
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