Mary works full time while raising three young children and has been suffering with insomnia and night sweats even though she is far from menopause; Joanne, a busy stockbroker, has such heavy periods that she is locked in her house for seven days every month; and Melinda, newly married with an exciting job, is losing her hair, gaining weight around the middle, and feeling exhausted. All three women are suffering from estrogen dominance, a common condition in women.
Hormones Out of Balance
We are bombarded by environmental estrogens, also called xenoestrogens or estrogen mimickers. These man-made chemicals act exactly like estrogen in the body. Estrogen-mimickers are found in everything from plastics, cosmetics and pesticides to dry cleaning chemicals, dairy products and more. Too much estrogen upsets the body’s delicate balance of hormones. Some of the most common female estrogen-dominant conditions are PMS, endometriosis, abnormal PAP tests, ovarian cysts, uterine fibroids, cystic breasts, heavy periods, low thyroid, hormonal acne, severe menopausal symptoms, breast cancer and the list goes on. Too much estrogen can block the uptake of thyroid hormone, promoting low thyroid. Over 23 percent of Canadians take thyroid medication for low thyroid and an estimated 30 percent have undiagnosed low thyroid with symptoms that include hair loss, weight gain, feeling cold, constipation, night sweats, recurring miscarriage, heavy periods, high cholesterol and so much more.
Women need estrogen but not the toxic type found in the environment. Women are supplied with estrogen from their ovaries, adrenal glands and fat cells. When the ovaries take a much-needed rest at menopause, or if the ovaries are surgically removed during a hysterectomy, the adrenal glands become the main source of estrogen. The adrenal glands sit atop the kidneys and they also help us deal with stress and control water balance in the body. When our adrenal glands become exhausted from too much stress, hormone havoc ensues. Classic symptoms include insomnia where you fall asleep fine but wake up several hours later and can’t fall back to sleep, caffeine and salt cravings, no energy, difficulty handling stress, and weight gain around the middle. We must love our adrenals in order to have balanced hormones.
The liver is the key organ for detoxifying excess hormones, breaks down and distributes estrogen and other hormones. Your liver decides if your estrogen is going to stay in the healthy form or be converted into cancer-causing estrogens. Our liver becomes sluggish due to a diet of too many bad fats (from lard, margarine and refined oils), sugars and artificial sweeteners, fried foods, and not enough vegetables and good protein. Regular alcohol consumption also negatively affects the liver’s ability to maintain hormone balance.
The liver, thyroid and the adrenal glands must operate at peak performance to ensure hormone harmony. The basis of a healthy hormone program is a diet full of cruciferous vegetables and lean protein from wild, free-range sources. There are also key herbs and nutrients that been researched to support the adrenals, liver and thyroid.
Eight hours of deep restful sleep will reverse adrenal exhaustion quickly. At bedtime, take a natural sleep aid containing melatonin, chamomile, hops, valerian and passionflower to help with sleep. The following herbs should be taken in combination to nourish the adrenals and help reduce the effects of stress:
Rhodiola increases the body’s resistance to all types of stress; enhances mental and physical performance; and regulates the heart by increasing oxygen utilization. Suma is called “para todo” which means “for everything.” It is considered a regenerative tonic for the nervous, reproductive and digestive systems and is used to treat hormonal disorders, sexual dysfunction, fatigue, and stress.
Siberian ginseng, not a true ginseng, normalizes reactions to physical and mental stress, and increases the body’s ability to withstand adverse conditions such as heat, noise, increases in workload and physical endurance. It regulates blood sugar, protects the liver and supports optimal adrenal function.
Schizandra berry is a general tonic that promotes liver health and counters the effects of stress and fatigue. It is also used for insomnia associated with changing hormones.
Ashwagandha increases energy to improve overall health and longevity. Studies have proven powerful anti-stress effects as well as antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor and immune-modulating properties. Ashwagandha not only supports the adrenals but has also been found to improve thyroid function too.
Support a Low Thyroid The adrenal glands and the thyroid are directly linked so once the adrenals become exhausted, the thyroid goes low. The following nutrients have been found to help support the thyroid. These nutrients can be safely taken along with thyroid medicines. Never stop your thyroid hormone drug without your doctor’s recommendation.
Tyrosine is an amino acid necessary for the manufacture of thyroid hormones. Tyrosine assists a sluggish thyroid and can aid the loss of those unwanted pounds.
Ashwagandha supports the thyroid gland. Studies show that it enhances thyroid function and produces a significant increase in T4 thyroid hormone.
Guggal extract supports complete thyroid health while enhancing the conversion of T4 hormone to the more potent T3 hormone. Guggal extract and ashwagandha should be used together to support thyroid health.
Potassium iodide is essential for the manufacture of thyroid hormones, and was initially added to salt to combat the epidemic of low thyroid in Canadians. Since many people now avoid salt for fear of high blood pressure, low thyroid and goitres are on the rise in Canada.
Environmental Estrogen Protection
We must avoid products containing environmental estrogens such as cosmetics containing parabens, plastics with BPA, synthetic hormones in dairy and meat, to name a few. Detoxification of these estrogens using saunas and dry brushing the skin will help to eliminate excess estrogens, as does eating organic broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage and kale. Supplementing with the following nutrients can help protect you from the dangerous effects of environmental estrogens and balance hormones. If you have any of the estrogen-dominant conditions mentioned earlier, you need the following food-based nutrients every day. They can be purchased separately or in combo.
Indole-3-carbinol (I-3-C) is a powerful plant nutrient from cruciferous vegetables. I-3-C prevents the conversion of good estrogens to cancer-causing estrogens. I-3-C maintains a healthy cervix, protects against HPV cervical lesions and controls abnormal cell growth found in those with uterine fibroids, breast lumps and endometriosis. It is very effective for heavy periods caused by a thickened uterine lining.
D-glucarate is a powerful detoxifier of excess estrogens via the liver. It helps to maintain healthy hormone balance.
Green tea extract contains polyphenols, catechins and flavonoids shown to be protective against estrogen-related cancers and it stops abnormal cell growth. (Note: Although uterine fibroids, ovarian cysts, endometriosis and breast lumps may not develop into cancers, they are cells growing out of control.)
Curcumin is the yellow pigment of turmeric. This powerful anti-inflammatory agent works to inhibit all steps of cancer formation: initiation, promotion and progression. Curcumin also supports the liver.
Rosemary extract, a potent antioxidant, protects cells from cancer-causing agents, inhibits the growth of cancer cells and helps to detoxify toxic estrogens.
Sulforaphane, from Broccophane™ broccoli sprout extract, has been shown to stimulate the body’s production of detoxification enzymes that eliminate environmental estrogens. Sulforaphane is a powerful antioxidant and anticancer agent.
Mary found relief from her insomnia and night sweats within a few days by using the adrenal support nutrients and a natural sleep aid. Joanne is relieved that, after only two months of taking indole-3-carbinol along with the other estrogen-balancing nutrients, her periods are now four days in length with normal flow. Since Melinda started taking the recommended thyroid nutrients, her hair stopped falling out and the added weight is now coming off effortlessly.
Lorna Vanderhaeghe, MSC
A health journalist, Vanderhaeghe as been researching and writing on the subject of nutritional medicine for over 20 years. She is past editor in chief of Healthy Living Guide and Alive magazine. Lorna is the author of A Smart Woman's Guide to Hormones, A Smart Woman's Guide to Weight Loss, A Smart Woman's Guide to Heart Health, the A-Z Woman’s Guide to Vibrant Health and many more.