Mood swings, PMS, painful or heavy periods, breast tenderness, weight gain, anxiety, bloating, headaches, insomnia, cold hands and feet and loss of libido are just some of the unpleasant symptoms some women experience during menopause.
While some lucky women don’t notice any symptoms, I’m fairly sure many of you may be able to tick many if not all of the above boxes?
I’d like to share with you a very common reason that can contribute towards these symptoms, and of course explain what you can do to help reduce or banish them.
Have you heard of oestrogen dominance?
This doesn’t mean that you have too much oestrogen. It’s simply an expression that indicates that the gap between oestrogen and progesterone is too great, contributing towards symptoms.
There are five factors that commonly interfere with normal oestrogen metabolism, leading to the excess levels of oestrogen relative to progesterone:
1. Ageing ovaries. As early as age 35 your lowering reserves of oestrogen in the ovaries triggers the release of FSH, (Follicle Stimulating Hormone), which in turn promotes the production of more oestrogen. At the same time, progesterone is naturally falling.
2. Stress. Prolonged stress increases your cortisol levels, and cortisol reduces the production of progesterone blocking it’s receptors, therefore increasing the oestrogen-progesterone gap.
3. Exposure to xenoestrogens. Hidden everywhere in our daily lives, these chemicals mimic the function of our natural oestrogens. They attach themselves to our cells’ oestrogen receptor sites, overriding the functions of natural oestrogens.
Too much exposure to these xenoestrogens totally interrupts the balance of the entire endocrine system and can promote the unnatural growth of fibroids and cysts, and lead to weight gain.
4. Poor diet and nutritional deficiencies. Oestrogen is metabolised by the liver, and it needs to be broken down and excreted efficiently to avoid an unhealthy build up. An efficient digestive system is also essential to remove unwanted oestrogens and avoid them being stored.
An excess of animal protein, refined sugars and carbohydrates, processed foods, caffeine and alcohol can all challenge the liver and the digestive tract.
5. Being overweight. Although oestrogen is primarily produced by the ovaries, it’s also made and stored in fat cells. so being overweight contributes towards oestrogen dominance, and also breast and uterine cancers.
Research suggests that women who gain more than 20 pounds from age 18 to midlife double their risk of postmenopausal breast cancer (1-3). And women who gained more than 44 pounds since age 18 had a five-fold increased risk of uterine cancer. Uterine cancer incidence rates have increased overall for all of the broad age groups in the UK since the early 1990s. The largest increase has been in females aged 70-79 with rates almost doubling by 89% between 1993-1995 and 2012-2014 (4).
The good new is that all of these – except naturally ageing ovaries – are within your control. Here’s how:
“Easier said than done” you may be shouting at me! And I totally agree with you. Managing your external stress around work, relationships, family, finances and more is definitely easier said than done. Yet any small step you can make will be a bonus for your hormones, reducing the increased levels of cortisol which contribute towards oestrogen dominance. This raised cortisol creates an ‘internal stress’, a biochemical change that contributes towards other unpleasant symptoms, for example hot flushes and brain fog.
So you can see how powerful the stress response is in creating hormone havoc.
Love your liver
Your liver is so easily overburdened by environmental and emotional factors. The toxins in your food, in household products, cosmetics, toiletries, water, even the air that you breathe. On an emotional level it is challenged by raised stress, lack of sleep and – following the Traditional Chinese Medicine philosophy practiced by acupuncturists – the emotions of anger, frustration and resentment.
Your liver has over 500 functions, including the metabolising and excretion of hormones, so adding to its load is counterproductive.
Here’s 6 ways to show your liver a little TLC:
1. Reduce xenoestrogens
I explained earlier how these chemicals mimic the function of our natural oestrogens. I’d especially like to bring your attention to the use of plastics found in wraps, the lining of tins and especially in plastic water bottles. These are all more harmful when heated, so avoid using plastic in a microwave, and don’t leave a plastic water bottle anywhere warm. Like the car on a hot day!
Research published in Science Daily (5) shows that 78% of waters in plastic promoted significant hormone disrupting content.
2. Eat organic where possible
Fruit, vegetables and crops are sprayed with insecticides and pesticides. Organic fresh produce uses far fewer pesticides than non-organic. And I’m told that the UK Soil Association allows fewer than in the EU. So buying local may be beneficial, or ordering an organic delivery box? Livestock reared in over-populated farms and factories may over use antibiotics to ensure the collective health of the herd or flock to meet the demand for ever cheaper meat.
Organic meat is more expensive, but we don’t actually need to consume vast quantities of it for our health
3. Avoid challenging foods and fluids
By this I mean foods that have gone through a process, heating, addition of chemicals, colourings etc add to systemic inflammation and liver congestion. As does ‘junk food’. Caffeine and alcohol raise oestrogen levels and also disrupt the function of the liver. I rarely say ‘never’ to anyone regarding these two as I believe the liver can manage them in moderation. The key is to find the level that is right for you.
However, if you’re suffering from severe hot flushes and/or poor sleep quality, I would definitely recommend you avoid both for at least seven days to see if symptoms improve.
4. Keep hydrated
WATER! Drinking an adequate amount of water at the right times of day will help reduce so much liver stress. Starting the day with a pint of body temperature water with a slice of lemon would be a perfect kickstart.
5. Maintain a healthy digestive tract
Your liver is an integral part of your digestive system, and excess oestrogens are excreted via the stools. Being hydrated, eating fruit and vegetables high in fibre, even a pro-biotic if your digestion is challenged, will help relieve the burden on your liver.
6. Try supplements
Milk Thistle and Dandelion Root are two popular herbal supplements to support liver health. I always recommend that you do your research and ask for advice, particularly if you’re on any prescription medication as they may negatively interact.
Keep to a healthy weight
So important as oestrogen is not only produced by the ovaries, it’s also made and retained in fats cells. Maintaining a healthy weight is therefore essential to reduce oestrogen dominance and those unpleasant symptoms. Also for avoiding long-term chronic disease!
Diet and exercise alone may not be enough – have you tried this before and it not worked? If it’s difficult to attain and maintain a healthy weight then it’s important to consider and identify the mental, emotional and physical root cause.
These are all things to consider if you’re struggling with menopausal symptoms. But I wouldn’t recommend you try everything at once – you’ll just create more stress and raise your cortisol levels even higher!
Simply take one step at a time to gradually building up your confidence to make further changes as you start to notice the benefits. It’s all about making the choices that work best for you.
Vibrant Life is a membership programme designed to help you manage menopause symptoms and achieve long-term health and weight-loss goals in a natural way.
- Huang Z, Hankinson SE, Colditz GA, et al. Dual effects of weight and weight gain on breast cancer risk. JAMA. 278: 1407-11, 1997.
- van den Brandt PA, Spiegelman D, Yaun SS, et al. Pooled analysis of prospective cohort studies on height, weight, and breast cancer risk. Am J Epidemiol. 152:514-27, 2000.
- Reeves GK, Pirie K, Beral V, Green J, Spencer E, Bull D. Cancer incidence and mortality in relation to body mass index in the Million Women Study: cohort study. BMJ. 335(7630):1134, 2007.