For the general public there is often no real need to understand what hormones are or what they do, unless faced with specific problems related to them. As hormones are affected increasingly by our environment, which includes: Food, air, water, physical and psychological stress, it seems that a basic understanding of problematic hormones can be helpful for maintaining or improving health. Before I attempt to give a brief overview of a complex subject, here are a few terms to be aware of, mainly related to female function.
Follicular phase- first 14 days of cycle to ovulation and increased production of estrogen, primarily E1
LH- Luteal phase, last 14 days, corpus luteum, which increases progesterone
Progesterone- Hormone of gestation, bone formation, anti clotting concerned with cell differentiation.
E1-E2-E3 – Estrogen classifications of Estrone, Estradiol and Estriol. Estrogen promotes growth and becomes problematic in the face of increased cellular division and changes or mutations.
Xenoestrogens – synthetic estrogen like compounds found in plastics, contraceptives, fuel and industrial waste. These have the capacity to increase estrogen levels in men, compounding issues related to testosterone function.
Progestin- synthetic progesterone. Lacking in the benefits of natural progesterone and increases unwanted symptoms.
Estrogen’s primary role is one of growth. It is used to stimulate growth of tissue, especially so in the endometrium. During the follicular phase estradiol increases and just before ovulation starts to decrease. Progesterone’s protective effects are enhanced via increased production of the corpus luteum.
Problems with excess estrogen have increased due to changes in diet, increased exposure to environmental pollutants and other factors that are not offset by increased production of progesterone. Below are just some of the actions of both estrogen and progesterone.
|Effects of Estrogen||Effects of Progesterone|
|· Breast stimulation· Endometrial proliferation
· Increased body fat
· Salt/ fluid retention
· Decreased libido
· Impairment of blood sugar
· Reduced oxygen
· Risk of breast cancer
· Decreased thyroid
· Increases CV issues.
|· Anti tumour effects· Supportive to fertility
· Sedative effects
· Improves blood sugar
· Decreases Ovarian cysts
· and Menopausal flushing
· Removal of facial hair
· Decreased Menstrual cramping
· Improved auto-immune
· Hormonal balance
· Anti -Stress
· Decreased arthritis
· Promotes sleep
· Thickens hair on head
Balancing blood sugar levels, particularly an issue during pre-menses, can be achieved with Progesterone. Hypoglycaemia is often present (especially so when engaged in exercise, low carbohydrate or calorie consumption) and particularly when oxidative damage occurs to cellular function, oxygen use is decreased and therefore a reliance on glycolysis, a sugar using energy system, which creates an abundance of lactic acid, occurs. Elevated levels of lactic acid are problematic, not only to cellular function but are also inefficient means of energy production. It’s transportation and conversion back to glycogen requires much more energy than it produces. Progesterone protects against estrogen’s anti-oxygen effects.
Progesterone is non-toxic even at elevated levels, however anaesthesia and euphoria has been recorded, along with changes to the menstrual cycle which can be noted as mainly positive. Symptoms related to PMS have often disappeared and its use is recommended only between ovulation and menstruation. Estrogen/progesterone balance can be achieved by supplementation, however diet can help to facilitate the change and serve to maintain the gains achieved with progesterone supplementation. In many cases decreased thyroid allows for excess estrogen in the body, via mechanisms of decreased energy to detoxify, which include liver and digestion mechanisms. The reverse can also be true due to increased estrogen decreasing thyroid function
Excess stress can be the cause of decreased progesterone and increased estrogen's, increased cortisol and decreased thyroid. The use of adequate protein within the diet and carbohydrates will ensure that thyroid is provided efficiently. Daily sunshine helps to promote optimal progesterone conversion, in addition to supplementation and those who live in areas with less sunlight should also consider progesterone supplementation.
During pregnancy, progesterone production can be one hundred times more than the amount seen during the premenstrual phase. A lack of progesterone during pregnancy has been associated with toxaemia. Symptoms include high blood pressure, excessive weight gain, oedema (fluid retention) and protein loss in the urine. If excess progesterone is available, the mother will simply use it, therefore an excess of progesterone would be preferred to a deficit and the likelihood of toxaemia induced by too little progesterone. Progestins seem to make many unwanted symptoms much worse
It is clear that decreasing exposure to environmental pollutants is helpful to lowering xenoestrogenic load. Foods that contain natural phytoestrogens can also affect estrogen/progesterone balance and where symptoms exist decreasing foods such as uncooked brassica vegetables, soy, nuts and seeds would be helpful in attempting to restore balance.
Dalton, K The Menstrual Cycle.
Lee, J. Natural Progesterone, Multiple roles of a Remarkable Hormone. BLL Publishing
Peat, R. Nutrition for Women.
Tonilo, P.G. Endogenous estrogens and breast cancer risk: the case for prospective cohort studies. Environ Health Perspect. 1997 Apr;105 Suppl 3:587-92.