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The Benefits and Pitfalls of Estrogen in Women's Health

 

By Archana Gogna MS, CNS, MBA

Estrogen refers to three major female sex hormones produced by the ovarian follicles.  These hormones are responsible for inducing estrus (menstrual periods), producing visible female sex characteristics and preparing the uterus for the reception of a fertilized egg.   While estrogen is critical for normal growth and development, excess (circulating) estrogen and its negative metabolic byproducts increase the risk of several conditions including the formation of uterine fibroids.  In addition, estrogen-like environmental disruptors xenoestrogens such as (phthalates found in plastics, pesticides, tobacco smoke byproducts and various solvents), have been shown to activate estrogen receptors in the body that can create cancer-causing estrogen metabolites.

Uterine fibroids (typically non-cancerous) are bundles of smooth muscle and connective tissue that grow in various locations on and within the wall of the uterus or uterine cavity.  As many as three out of four women have uterine fibroids (varying in size from a pea to a grapefruit), often without experiencing symptoms.  However, some women with larger uterine fibroids realize a wide range of distressful symptoms including heavy menstrual bleeding, prolonged periods, pelvic pressure or pain, frequent urination, difficulty emptying the bladder, constipation, back aches or leg pain. Uterine fibroids may shrink after menopause, most likely as a result of falling estrogen levels.

By and large, the medical community does not focus on the prevention of uterine fibroids.  Instead, doctors are oriented to the correction of fibroid symptoms, typically through a range of surgical procedures including hysterectomies.  However, evidence strongly suggests that a poor diet, lack of exercise, an overload of chemicals and stress can disrupt the balance of all hormonal systems, including estrogen, and promote fibroid growth.  This balance can be restored through a holistic approach that includes an improved diet, reduced stress levels, effective exercise, and the use of nutritional supplements.  Significantly, restoration of hormonal balance has been linked to the shrinkage and minimizing of uterine fibroids.

Vitamins A, C, D, E, B-complex, bioflavonoids, and minerals like calcium, and magnesium have shown in various studies to have a positive impact on women’s health by reducing the unpleasant symptoms of PMS and fibroids that many women experience.  According to a study at the National Institute of Environment and Health Science, inadequate levels of vitamin D may increase the risk of developing uterine fibroids.  Intake of these nutrients can be assured by taking a daily high-quality multi vitamin and mineral supplement designed specifically for women.

In addition, maintaining a healthy liver function helps the liver break circulating estrogen down into safe metabolites.  Glutathione (an important liver antioxidant) levels can be increased with supplements containing N-acetyl-cysteine and alpha lipoic acid.  Increasing the intake of green vegetables (the recommendation is between 5 and 9 – and as many as 13! servings a day) rich in chlorophyll and other phytonutrients, also supports liver detoxification.  Often, due to busy lifestyles, women fail to get the recommended servings of greens and can benefit from taking a food-based dietary supplement containing high quality greens.

Essential fatty acids, essential to the diet because the body does not produce them, are also key to hormonal balance.  Proper intake of two essential fatty acids (essential because our body does not produce them) omega-6 and omega-3, promotes reduced inflammation, and helps to alleviate many of the symptoms being experienced by women who are in hormonal imbalance.  While omega-6 foods are plentiful in our diets, many people run short of omega-3 fats.  An excellent way to compensate is to increase the intake of omega-3 rich foods (wild salmon, sardines, leafy greens, sea vegetables) and by supplementing with clean, high quality fish oils and krill oil supplements.  Omega-3 rich flax seeds, high in lignans, have also been shown to promote healthy estrogen balance. Indole-3-carbinole, a chemical found in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts and cabbage, as well as supplementing with I3C with DIM, can help to convert circulating forms of estrogen into healthy metabolites.

Studies have shown that fiber can also bind to and lower circulating estrogens levels.  Most American women consume far less than the recommended daily dose of fiber, at least 25-30mg per day.  A particular form of calcium, calcium d-glucarate, has been shown to decrease the enzyme called beta-glucuronidase, produced in the gut by pathogenic bacteria.  This enzyme increases dangerous estrogens in the body.  Calcium d-glucarate has been shown to prevent re-absorption of these dangerous estrogens. By following the recommendations noted above and avoiding the components of the ‘Standard American Diet’ many women have been able to significantly reduce the size of their uterine fibroids and lessen or eliminate the symptoms associated with them. 

References:
Fibroid Tumors and Endometriosis by Dr. Susan Lark, MD
Healing Fibroids by Dr. Allan Warshowsky, MD
Women’s Bodies Women’s Wisdom by Dr. Christianne Northrup, MD

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