By now you know that the constellation of PCOS symptoms is considerable and different for every woman. Weight gain, PMS, headaches and infertility are all common in women with PCOS, and many of these symptoms are attributable to estrogen dominance. While scientists are unsure if estrogen dominance is caused by PCOS , we do know how estrogen dominance happens and what we can do about it.
*PMS *headaches and/or migraines * fluid retention
*heavy or painful periods *endometriosis *moodiness/anxiety/depression *hypothyroidism
infertility/miscarriage *breast pain/tenderness
Do any of these symptoms sound familiar? They may be due to an imbalance of your naturally occurring female hormones called estrogen dominance, progesterone deficiency or luteal phase deficiency. During a normal menstrual cycle, estrogen, progesterone and testosterone all work together to prepare the egg and uterus for a possible pregnancy.
Estrogen goes to work first, levels peaking around the time of ovulation when progesterone and testosterone take over. The amount of each hormone your body produces at any given time is the result of an intricate feedback system between your brain (specifically your hypothalamus and pituitary glands), your ovaries and your adrenal glands. If this system breaks down at any point, you may produce too much or too little estrogen.
If you produce too much estrogen, it crowds out progesterone which is needed to ward off osteoporosis, convert fat into energy, metabolize glucose, prepare the uterus for an egg, and other important cell functions. The resulting imbalance can produce a combination of common PCOS symptoms including those listed above.
Balancing these hormones should be simple, right? There must be a magic pill. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Since every woman is different and the causes of this imbalance are wide ranging, there is no simple answer, but there are answers. First, you need to know what is causing your particular imbalance. Experts attribute estrogen dominance to three main causes: environmental, dietary and lifestyle factors.
It may seem strange to think that environmental factors can influence your hormones, but it is true. Manmade chemicals in our environment, called xenoestrogens, often mimic naturally occurring estrogen in our bodies and act as endocrine disruptors as well as causing damage to our immune systems. Worse, these toxins can be stored in our fat cells for decades.
The biggest source of these toxins is pesticides. The average American consumes over a pound of pesticides a year just by consuming fish, poultry and other foods that have internalized pesticides through runoff into their habitats or through consuming other feed, plants or animals that have been exposed. A second source of xenoestrogens is the growth hormones given to livestock and poultry. When we consume those animals or their products, like milk, the xenoestrogens make their way into our systems.
Finally, you may consume xenoestrogens as a result of drinking or eating foods from containers that transfer the toxins directly, such as plastic food containers or water bottles. You have probably noticed water bottles, etc. that advertise themselves as “BPA or phthalates free.” That is because these plastics are known to be harmful and are still common elements in the products we buy. These new bottles may be free of one or both of these xenoestrogens, but that does not mean they are safe. Be on the look-out other for sneaky places that xenoestrogens may hide like in toothpaste, sunscreen and canned foods.
If you have tried any of my Meal Plans, you know that I am always alert to these toxins and offer easy ways to avoid them. I often suggest brands that use safe packaging. For example, in the Fall menu’s delicious White Bean Chili recipe, I suggest Eden brand beans because their cans are BPA free.
Your dietary and lifestyle choices directly affect the balance of hormones in your body. Unfortunately, the diet of the average person is loaded with refined flour and sugar, simple carbohydrates and artificial ingredients. We know that this type of diet can lead to insulin resistance, obesity, digestive problems and cardiovascular disease. If that is not enough, now we know that it affects the flow of hormone production. Diet may be a particular cause of estrogen dominance if you are sensitive to gluten. If this is the case, every time you consume gluten, you cause inflammation in your body. Your adrenal gland interprets this constant inflammation as stress and begins to produce cortisol instead of regulating your metabolism and producing a hormone required to make estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. Whether you are gluten sensitive or not, when you feel stress (be it from work, family or inappropriate foods), your body produces extra cortisol to manage the stress and stops producing important sex hormones.
Now that we know the causes, what is to be done? Since hormonal balance is always a “moving target,” it is important to realize that simply taking a pill to raise or lower your estrogen or progesterone will not work, though it may be something you and your doctor chose as a part of your plan. Lifestyle is the biggest factor in hormone balance. As such, monitoring your diet, stress levels and exercise are the most important tools at your disposal.
Remember, food is medicine. Be careful to enjoy only lean, organic meats and dairy products, and wash and peel all produce; organic is usually best. A diet rich in phytonutrients may help protect estrogen receptors in your body from accepting xenoestrogens. Finally, do what you can to limit your exposure to xenoestrogens. Drink and heat food in metal, ceramic or glass containers- never, never in a plastic container or with plastic wrap covering it.
In addition to diet and lifestyle adjustments, you have a range of homeopathic options available. I suggest trying vitex agnus-castus. This is the fruit of the chaste tree and can be easily found in supplement form. It helps regulate your progesterone levels and eases uncomfortable menstrual symptoms. DIM or Diindolymethane is a phytonutrient that I take in pill form, but can be found in smaller doses in many vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, cabbage and brussels sprouts. This nutrient has proven effects on your estrogen metabolism. Finally, consider adding more fiber to your diet. Fiber helps to flush out extra estrogen.
As in all things, balance is the key to hormone health. As you take control of your diet, exercise and stress, you will likely find balance in your hormones, alleviating many of your most frustrating PCOS symptoms. If you follow my Meal Plans, you are already reaping the benefits of these changes and transforming your body in to a balanced powerhouse.