Understanding oestrogen's rollercoaster ride in your 40s
In this blog I’m going to explain what the hormone oestrogen is doing as you move closer to and into your 40s and how you can best support your own oestrogen balance for a happier hormones and vibrant health!
WHAT’S OESTROGEN DOING AFTER 35 & PERIMENOPAUSE?
From around your late 30s the communication between your brain and ovaries is starting to change as your body begins its (slow) journey towards menopause. Believe or not the journey to menopause can take around 10 years and usually starts, to at least some degree, in your late 30s, in the form of less stable levels of oestrogen and less progesterone production (see my progesterone blog here).
The further you move towards and into your 40s the more pronounced these hormone changes can become, and this is known as the perimenopause phase of womanhood. By your mid 40s it’s likely that oestrogen levels are on a bigger rollercoaster rising to almost 3 times higher than ever before at some points in your cycle, then crashing down to a really low level at other points, occurring month after month for the duration of perimenopause.
Some hormone experts call this phase second puberty (!!) because oestrogen was erratic when your menstrual cycle first began as a teen, then it settled down for your 20s and 30s and becomes erratic all over again in perimenopause.
SYMPTOMS OF THE OESTROGEN ROLLERCOASTER
Symptoms of HIGH oestrogen include breast pain, heavy periods, water retention (‘puffiness’), and changes in mood. Symptoms of DROPPING oestrogen can include hot flashes, and night sweats, insomnia, irritability, depression, weight gain and migraines.
UNDERSTANDING ‘OESTROGEN DOMINANCE’ (AKA HORMONE IMBALANCE)
As well as oestrogen going on a rollercoaster ride during perimenopause it’s also likely to be the ‘dominating’ hormone. Let’s now look at why and what this actually means.
Oestrogen dominance basically means a hormonal imbalance where progesterone levels are lower which leaves oestrogen to be the ‘dominating’ hormone of the two as they are no longer in healthy balance with each other.
This can lead to typical symptoms of high oestrogen such as breast pain, heavy periods, water retention (‘puffiness’), changes in mood and irritability and exacerbate oestrogen-driven conditions such as fibroids and endometriosis.
Three other factors make this hormone imbalance situation worse and therefore your symptoms worse, these are:
1) Making too much additional oestrogen in your body (for various reasons)
2) High exposure to xenoestrogens. 'Xeno' meaning foreign or from outside, these are various chemicals in your environment that mimic oestrogen once inside the body and negatively impact your total oestrogen load. These chemicals can also disrupt the actions of your hormones and cause havoc. Learn more about them in my blog here.
3) Impaired oestrogen metabolism or detoxification. This causes the body to hold onto used oestrogen that should be detoxified. All oestrogens (including xenoestrogens) must be detoxified in the liver and then leave the body permanently via the gut. The phases of oestrogen breakdown that occur in the liver require amino acids (protein), B-vitamins, selenium, and other key nutrients to do their job properly. Oestrogen breakdown (metabolism) can be impaired by xenoestrogens and alcohol, which is why alcohol causes higher levels of oestrogen and so isn’t helpful for hormone health AT ALL :-(. The final phase of oestrogen detoxification takes place in the bowel, where oestrogens are sent to the bowel attached to another ‘escorting’ molecule (conjugated) so they can leave the body permanently via a bowel movement. The presence of healthy bacteria in the gut assists with the removal of the conjugated oestrogens from the body. The presence of unhealthy bacteria however, can result in the conjugated oestrogens being broken apart from their escorting molecule (by an enzyme called beta-glucuronidase), reactivated and sent back into circulation. This results in excess oestrogen.
I work with my one-to-one clients to optimise all of these areas and we usually carry out a dried urine hormone test called the DUTCH Complete, which provides a great amount of information on how much oestrogen their body is currently making effectively it’s being broken down, so we can know EXACTLY what needs to be addressed. If you’d like to work with me one on one to address this or as part of my group programme you can click here to book a free call in with me to discuss it or send an email to email@example.com.
HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR OESTROGEN BALANCE
Now that you have an insight into what’s happening with oestrogen after 35 and the factors that create and worsen a hormone imbalance you should now understand that 35 onwards is a time to support the proper clearance of used oestrogen from your body whilst also minimising your exposure to hormone disrupting chemicals/xenoestrogens.
Here are my top tips for doing just that:
IMPROVE PROGESTERONE PRODUCTION
(Ovulate each month! See my progesterone blog here).
REDUCE YOUR EXPOSURE TO HORMONE DISRUPTING CHEMICALS
Also known as xeno-oestrogens these chemicals have been shown to disrupt the actions and communication of your hormones as well as impair the proper breakdown (metabolism) of used oestrogen (see my blog here for more info and what to do).
REDUCE OR AVOID ALCOHOL
I know, I’m sorry! The proper breakdown (metabolism) of used oestrogen can be slowed down and impaired by alcohol, which causes higher levels of oestrogen in your body and therefore hormone imbalance. When there’s ANY alcohol in your system the liver prioritises its detoxification over anything else which means hormone detoxification will take a back seat.
EAT PLENTY OF CRUCIFEROUS VEGETABLES
This family of vegetables, which includes broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, watercress, rocket, and bok choy, contain 3 key compounds needed for healthy oestrogen detoxification in the liver called DIM, Indole-3-carbinol, & sulphoraphane.
Try to eat a few generous handfuls of these vegetables daily.
OPTIMISE QUALITY PROTEIN WITH EVERY MEAL
Amino acids from protein are the raw materials for your liver’s hormone detoxification abilities. Your liver will struggle to process used oestrogen effectively without adequate amino acids coming in from the diet. Include a portion of protein with every meal (and snack if having), such as fish, organic grass-fed lamb and beef, chicken, turkey, eggs, beans + pulses, unprocessed organic soy (e.g., edamame beans + tempeh), nuts + seeds, and unflavoured protein powder.
UP YOUR FIBRE + PLANT CHEMICALS
The final phase of oestrogen detoxification occurs in your gut as mentioned above. In order for this final phase to work well you need to have a healthy population of friendly (protective) bacteria in your gut at all times to support the proper clearance of oestrogen. Then you need to pass a (fully-formed) bowel movement at least once a day so that the detoxified oestrogen actually leaves the body and isn’t left to be reabsorbed back into circulation. So, include plenty of colourful vegetables and berries (greens, yellows/oranges, reds, purples, whites/browns) plus nuts + seeds, beans + pulses, and wholegrains such as oats and buckwheat. Also be sure to include ‘prebiotic’ fibre, a type of fibre that encourages the growth of friendly bacteria, such as leeks, onions, garlic, asparagus, artichoke, and cooked and cooled rice and potatoes. The different colours of the vegetable and berry rainbow also contain various and numerous phyto (plant)-chemicals (such as antioxidants + flavonoids) that help to manage inflammation and support your livers detoxification pathways to work efficiently.
INCREASE HERBS + SPICES
Herbs and spices provide EVEN more all-important phyto (plant)-chemicals so add them to everything! Fresh or dried, use plenty of turmeric, ginger, paprika, sumac, cayenne pepper, parsley, coriander, basil, oregano, rosemary etc. Add them into stir fries, salads, soups, smoothies, teas, any and all cooking!
INCLUDE 1-2 TBSPS OF GROUND FLAXSEED DAILY
Because they contain lignans. Lignans are known as phyto (plant) oestrogens because they ‘act’ like oestrogen in that they interact with oestrogen receptors in the body and can bind very weakly to the receptors effectively blocking the stronger more harmful form of oestrogen entering the cell, sheltering you from high oestrogen levels and the symptoms and conditions associated with that. PLUS flaxseed is a great source of fibre for your friendly bacteria and regular bowel movements! Mix ground flaxseed into plain yoghurt, smoothies and sprinkle over salads.
UP YOUR OMEGA 3 FATS
For a few good reasons! The omega 3 fats EPA + DHA, which come predominantly from oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring, and anchovies, exert anti-inflammatory effects in the body, which is crucial for healthy hormone balance as inflammation can slow down and hinder oestrogen detoxification pathways. Inflammation also up-regulates the action of an enzyme called aromatase, which converts other hormones (DHEA + testosterone) into more oestrogen. These fish oils also contain lignans, which can help to balance oestrogen levels. Aim to get 4 - 5 100g portions of oily fish each week minimum.
DON’T SCRIMP ON OTHER FATS
Fat is essential for healthy hormone communication, balance and detoxification as well as a healthy menstrual cycle, so don’t scrimp on it! Include plenty of extra virgin olive oil, avocado, olives, nuts + seeds, coconut oil, coconut milk or cream, and even butter!
KEEP YOUR COLON HYDRATED
This is so important for regular bowel movements as it’s difficult for your colon to effectively pass stool through if it’s not hydrated. Stay hydrated with plenty of clean water & herbal teas throughout the day. Check for very pale urine (like the colour of straw or hay) in order to know if you are properly hydrated, if it’s very dark yellow (e.g., first thing in the morning) or even just too yellow you are dehydrated.
CHEW, CHEW + CHEW EVERY MOUTHFUL!
This is to help your digestive system to properly breakdown and digest your food, which in turn encourages friendly gut bacteria and bowel movements.
INCLUDE FERMENTED FOODS
Because they contain beneficial bacteria such as raw sauerkraut and kimchi & unflavoured kombucha & kefir.
Other key nutrients for hormone balance include choline, B vitamins especially B12, B6 and folate, zinc, selenium, magnesium, vitamin D3, vitamin E and vitamin A (as retinol). Therefore, it’s important to eat a varied diet that doesn’t restrict or completely cut out an entire food group which risks leaving you deficient in one or many of these really important nutrients. Balance your meals with protein (from quality meat, fish and eggs, plus beans + pulses, unflavoured protein powder and nuts + seeds), plenty of dark green leafy vegetables and other colourful veg, good fats and nutrient-dense carbohydrate.
[IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE] I hope you can see from these tips that ‘detoxes’ in the form of no food or juices only are NOT supportive of your liver detox process.
I hope this blog has been helpful. I’d love to hear from you if you have any questions, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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