Hormone Balance and Estrogen Dominance
HRT vs Bio-Identical Hormones
Assuming that the medical profession has all the answers is a dangerous assumption. It seems that the older generation in particular has always put unending trust in everything the doctor says, assuming that they are the ones with the degrees on the wall and the extra letters after their names, so they must be right. But even though most doctors do have your best interest in mind and do the best they can, the fact remains that the vast majority of their "knowledge" comes straight from the drug companies and studies funded by them. The whole system is biased in their favor, and whether you want to acknowledge it or not, profit is the name of the game. The Pill, HRT, mammograms and hysterectomies are all big business.
The truth is, you know your body better than anyone else. You know when something is working and when it isn't. And it's no crime to go against their advice; in fact, it is wise to be skeptical. There is no reason to be miserable. We all owe it to ourselves and our families to find out the truth so we can make informed decisions, and that truth often will not be found in a doctor's office. I want to demonstrate the difference between synthetic HRT and natural or bio-identical hormone therapy. I hope that many of you will find answers you have been looking for and find relief.
Women are often in for a rude awakening when they experience firsthand just how badly their health needs have been managed. ---Sellman, Sherrill. Hormone Heresy: What Women Must Know About Their Hormones. Box Hill, Victoria, Australia: Getwell International, 2000, p. 24.Woman image is free clip art from clker.com.
Myth Number One: If You Are Menopausal You Must Be Estrogen Deficient
Early on, estrogen alone (or unopposed estrogen) was prescribed to save women from the horrors of menopause. But it soon became apparent that just estrogen was causing more problems than it was helping. Enter synthetic progesterone, or progestins- chemical concoctions that mimic the actions of progesterone but are not natural. More on that later.
The bottom line is that the medical community has pretty well assumed that women become estrogen-deficient, triggering menopause symptoms; and it is estrogen that women need to make it through the change of life and beyond. HRT is promoted as a preventative for heart disease and osteoporosis when in fact, the opposite is true.
This basic assumption has not changed in spite of the fact that most doctors now agree that estrogen alone is just plain dangerous, greatly increasing the chances of cancer and heart disease. And even though the dangers of the currently prescribed HRT with synthetic progestins are being clearly demonstrated, doctors still push estrogen as a fix-all; they are still influenced fully by the drug companies that make this stuff.
Female symbol is free clip art from clker.com.
Myth Number Two: HRT Will Save You from Heart Disease and Osteoporosis
In a statement from the American Heart Association, HRT is no longer recommended for heart health- "HRT should not be initiated for the secondary prevention of CVD." This is a very long, technical article, but the bottom line is that they no longer recommend HRT for heart disease prevention. Looks like the mainstream medical community may finally be seeing the truth.
As for osteoporosis, this is true but only to a degree. Estrogen does indeed prevent bone loss (at least for awhile) but as stated earlier, most people are awash in a sea of estrogens anyway and certainly don't need any more. It is progesterone that actually stimulates the production of new bone tissue. Dr. John R. Lee MD has proven over the years that osteoporosis is indeed a reversible disease with progesterone supplementation.
This goes entirely contrary to prevailing thought, so don't expect to be supported by your doctor in this. They will try to convince you that you will lose bone density if you don't take HRT. Don't believe them- this is ultimately nothing but a scare tactic emanating from the drug companies that influence your doctor.
Osteoporosis is also caused by a diet that is unbalanced where pH is concerned. An acidic diet that is high in protein and carbs will leave your body overloaded with acid residue that must be neutralized to be excreted. Calcium will be leached out of bones to do the job, to maintain the vital pH balance required. This can result in osteoporosis and bone spurs, the sites where calcium is being leached. For more information about reversing osteoporosis, see Osteoporosis and Arthritis: They CAN Be Reversed.
Dr. Lee's website is by far the best place to go to begin educating yourself about hormones and hormone replacement therapy. Dr. Lee is the one who coined the phrase "estrogen dominance".
Human skeleton is free photo from Wikimedia Commons.
The truth is that, generally speaking, most women have an excess of estrogen all the time and are in need of progesterone to balance it out. First of all, estrogen is manufactured by fat cells. If you are over 50, you are more than likely well aware of the tendency to gain weight around the middle. Just look at sugar, and it flies straight to your hips and stomach! This is natural to a degree - it is your body's way of continuing to produce estrogen after 50.
Estrogen continues to be produced by the inner part of the ovaries (the "inner stroma") after menopause. The outer part is retired, with the stroma becoming active for the first time at menopause. Far from being useless, ovaries continue to produce hormones as we age. (p. 17 Sellman).
A side note: like the ovaries, the uterus is anything but useless after menopause. It continues to produce a hormone called prostacyclin that protects against heart disease and unwanted blood clotting. The medical industry actively promotes hysterectomies, the removal of an organ that has a definite purpose throughout life. (pp. 17-18)
Another factor is the proliferation of xenoestrogens in the environment. We are positively surrounded by synthetic estrogens all the time in plastics, pesticides, household cleaners, etc. All these products permeate our environment and affect our hormone balance.
Another source is commercial meat. Estrogen is added to cattle feed to fatten them up faster, demonstrating the fact that estrogen promotes weight gain. So we are exposed to more estrogen by eating the meat, as well as the fact that cattle waste no doubt contaminates ground water supplies.
I believe that estrogen dominance plays a rather large role in the obesity epidemic in this country. Between estrogen and our addiction to sugar, obesity has become a national plague. And the catch-22 is that fat cells just produce more and more estrogen that triggers more weight gain . What is so sad is that an overweight woman will walk into a doctor's office with estrogen-dominant symptoms, and that doctor will more than likely prescribe yet more estrogen. The medical mindset does not change readily.
Stress is another very important factor in estrogen production. Stress creates a vicious cycle that leaves you "tired but wired" and is generally accompanied by higher levels of adrenaline and/or cortisol. Cortisol shuts down progesterone production, and triggers symptoms such as memory loss, mood swings and bone loss. Chronic stress will also result in chronic fatigue. There is a definite connection between exhausted adrenal glands and estrogen dominance. If stress is not managed, cortisol levels will remain high, and there is only so much progesterone will do. Stress management is vital to good hormone balance.
Scales are free clip art from wpclipart.com.
Signs of Estrogen Dominance
Breast tenderness, fibrocystic lumps, breast cancer
Red flush on the face
Cervical dysplasia (abnormal pap smear)
Hypoglycemia or symptoms of low blood sugar
Symptoms of hypothyroidism such as cold hands and feet
Candida or yeast infections
Hair loss and increased facial hair
All of these conditions can be helped by using natural progesterone. Dr. Lee and others go into detail with all the explanations about why excess estrogen causes these symptoms, and how progesterone works to relieve them; I will just refer you to their books for more information.
Grumpy Woman is free clip art from clker.com.
Myth Number Three: Hormones Produced in a Laboratory Are Perfectly Safe
Drug companies make money off their patents. Drugs they create and patent are a cash cow and are continually altered to keep the patents renewed. There is no money for them in natural products, so they alter nature to rake in the profits.
Huge problems arise when nature is tampered with, and those problems come in the form of side effects. Your body doesn't know what to do with foreign, laboratory-altered substances, so it rebels. We've all heard the ads for prescription medications that list all the possible side effects, making you wonder if it wouldn't be better to suffer than take their products!
Technically, Hormone Replacement Therapy is a misnomer because they don't contain actual hormones; they start with hormones, then alter them to make them patentable. Only the real, natural products are actual hormones; HRT is a drug. The list of side effects of HRT are the same as those for estrogen dominance. Here is a list of side effects associated with just the synthetic progestins- molecularly altered progesterone included in standard HRT. This list can be found in Hormone Heresy by Sherrill Sellman in chapter 6:
Increased risk of birth defects and early abortion
Hirsutism (abnormal hair growth)
Be aware that the medical community often uses the terms "progestin" and "progesterone" interchangeably. They aren't, by any stretch of the imagination. Progestins will actually block both the action and production of progesterone naturally manufactured in the body and leave you with the preceding list of side effects in the process. Chemically altered substances just can't be good for you. One study shows that ten years of unopposed estrogen increased chances of breast cancer by 30 to 40 percent, while women who took both estrogen and progestin increased their chances by 100 percent. (p. 47 Sellman) And I find it alarming that many doctors honestly don't know that progestins are not progesterone.
Laboratory is free image from Wikimedia Commons.
Myth Number Four: Blood Hormone Tests Are Accurate
Blood tests are routinely ordered to measure hormone levels, but this does not give an accurate picture of the hormones that are actually bio-available. Progesterone is found in the red blood cells, not in the serum because it circulates in the fatty part of the blood, not in the watery part. Blood tests are notoriously inaccurate, yet they are routinely ordered, resulting in wrong diagnoses.
Bioavailable hormones can be measured accurately in the saliva, not in the blood. And saliva tests can be done at home and mailed in. Kits are available online at a reasonable cost and this will give you a much more accurate reading, giving you a much better picture of where you stand.
They [physicians] don't realize that most of the free bioavailable hormone isn't found in serum . . serum testing (blood testing) of hormones is irrelevant- it doesn't reveal how much of the free hormone is present. Fortunately, the free hormone is soluble in saliva. Lee, John R. MD, Zava, David, PhD; Hopkins, Virginia. What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Breast Cancer. New York, NY: Warner Books, 2002, p. 160.
Blood test photo is free image from Wikimedia Commons.
Natural Hormone Therapy
The Positive Effects of Progesterone
Natural hormone therapy uses bio-identical hormones rather than synthetic ones. Remember that to your doctor, progestins and progesterone are more than likely synonymous, but your body knows the difference. Progestins trigger side effects because they are chemically altered.
Natural progesterone has a very soothing, balancing effect on excess estrogen. For example, where estrogen tends to wake you up, progesterone has a calming effect. Estrogen promotes cell proliferation, triggering endometriosis and even cancer, while progesterone has the opposite effect, encouraging cells to mature and die when they should. Unopposed estrogen will eventually cause cancer, breast and uterine cancers in particular.
It is estrogen's tendency to promote cell growth that makes its excess such a dangerous promoter of cancer. This is also why it's so important to use progesterone if you have the symptoms of estrogen dominance . . . or if you're taking estrogen for hormone replacement. Progesterone gives your body the ability to keep estrogen's growth-promoting properties in check. Lee, John R. MD, Zava, David, PhD; Hopkins, Virginia. What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Breast Cancer. New York, NY: Warner Books, 2002, p. 98.Where estrogen promotes weight gain, progesterone aids in fat being used for energy. Estrogen interferes with thyroid function, often resulting in symptoms of hypothyroidism, but progesterone has the opposite effect. While estrogen will prevent bone loss, or resorption, progesterone actually stimulates the production of new bone tissue. A progesterone deficiency will result in osteoporosis, a condition that is reversible, in spite of what your doctor may tell you.
Estrogen will also cause fluid retention, abnormal blood clotting, migraine headaches, loss of zinc and copper, reduced oxygen levels in cells and many others too numerous to mention here. Progesterone has the opposite, balancing effect on all these. One interesting side note- when I read that estrogen reduces oxygen levels in cells, I remembered reading years ago that cancer cells thrive in an "anaerobic" state, an oxygen-free state. Progesterone increases oxygen in the cells, and I would think that this would be another way progesterone inhibits cancer cell growth.
Sleeping Woman is free photo from Wikimedia Commons.
hormone test at Dr. Lee's website. You may also be able to obtain the test materials from a local apothecary. This will give you an idea of where your hormones are. Saliva tests can be done but often you can just judge what you need by how you feel, and many natural practitioners choose to just monitor symptoms. If you see that you need progesterone, you can keep track of your symptoms as you start to supplement with a cream.
There are some women that will need a little extra natural estrogen, and I am one of them. Dr. Lee's site covers all the possibilities, so you can find the symptom lists there. Generally it will be women who are smaller and thinner. Some women can get results with herbal phytoestrogens in products like soy isoflavones or black cohosh. If this doesn't work, then bioidentical estrogen from a compounding pharmacy would be the way to go.
Finding a doctor that will agree to the use of natural supplements can be hard, but if you follow the guidelines outlined in Dr. Lee's books, this can be done on your own. The key is education- you have to research this for yourself to know how to manage your own treatment because doctors just don't have the background or the time to find out for themselves. I have included quite a few links that will point you in the right direction to the help you need.
Hormone balance is more than just supplementing with progesterone. Stress, diet and exercise all affect your hormone balance and must be considered. For example, a diet high in refined flour products and/or sugar will put on weight, and that fat will produce estrogen. Stress will eventually lead to estrogen dominance through a path explained above. These are all vital aspects of regaining control of our own bodies. And often well into menopause, women find they do need a little natural estrogen. The key is balance. We don't have to be entirely at the mercy of the medical/pharmaceutical industry, but it is a major decision to make.
We have to take charge of our own health and do what is necessary in spite of the opposition we may face in the medical community. It is not a crime to be skeptical. It takes a lot of intestinal fortitude to go against the prevailing tide of standard treatment, but it is something we need to do to protect our health. The consequences could be drastic if we don't.
Woman reading is free image from Wikimedia Commons.
Hormone Balance Made Simple- This is Lee's easiest read- he summarizes his findings and offers guidelines to get your hormones in balance.
What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Menopause- This is Dr. Lee's primary book with the best detailed information on hormones and bringing them into balance.
What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Breast Cancer- Hormone balance as it relates to breast cancer.
Hormone Heresy- Sherrill Sellman's book that covers the hormone topic very well, including information on the dangers of traditional, synthetic HRT.
Internet Sites with Information
Dr. John R. Lee MD- the best place to start; he makes articles, resources, hormone tests and trusted products available here.
Progesterone Info- Home page for Natpro, a natural progesterone product; this site has good info as well.
Natpro- a facebook page for Natpro
Women to Women- a wealth of information available here; they offer their own natural home program to bring your hormones into balance.
A Healthcare Revolution- Science and research are making advances in diet and health, but the medical institution isn't. We need a revolution.
Challenging the Concept of White Coat Authority- Your medical treatment is based on a system fraught with bias and flaws. Assuming your doctor knows what he's doing may not be smart.
The Science of Weight Loss- Find out why the standard advice won't work and what will.
Real Food Creates Real Health- Change WHAT you eat, not how much, and change your health.
Breakfast Cereal Diets- Really??- Why eating cereal can't possibly help you lose weight for the long term.
Sugar- The Real Villain- This was my first blog post on this subject; some information is repetitive, but there are other points made, as well as links and a list of sugar substitutes.
"Healthy" Foods That Aren't- Several foods that are perceived as healthy but really aren't.
They Told Me He's a Quack- Several people I have found out about that have gone against the tide of public opinion and "expert" advice and have given thousands of people help and hope.
Alzheimer's, Dementia and Statins- Statins are dangerous drugs that cause memory loss and muscle damage.
Cholesterol- Mother of All Scams- The whole cholesterol scare has been based on faulty research and has been exploited by pharmaceutical companies to keep an otherwise healthy population on their drugs.
Water for Health- Why we need water to stay healthy.
Why You Can't Trust the Medical Industry- The entire medical industry has been corrupted by greed. It pays to be skeptical.
Arthritis and Osteoporosis: They CAN Be Reversed- Two conditions that can be reversed naturally as proven by doctors who have treated their patients with natural supplements.
Restless Leg Syndrome- Treat the Cause, Not the Symptoms- My experience with RLS and what has helped me.
Phonics and Dyslexia- Information that can help dyslexic adults as well as children, and a post about the phonics-whole language wars and why phonics wins every time hands-down.