SURVIVING MENOPAUSE: WHEN SHOULD I TAKE OESTROGEN?
I'm dipping my toe into the tricky world of oestrogen today, so let me start by saying I'm not a hormones expert (I'm chinese medicine and natural solutions, like supplements), and I firmly believe HRT is a personal choice (just get the knowledge before you make a decision), but I have gotten interested in my lowering oestrogen levels and how they will affect my heart and bone health....
Then I got back my hair analysis and found out I was low in Genistein.
I'd never even heard of this so I had to do my research. And it turns out we get it from phytoestrogen foods.
It's an isoflavone found in greatest quantities in soya and in other legumes, but here's the rub for me; I'm allergic to soya! So I have found it in a smaller quantity in Red Clover Extract, but the question is, should I take it?
As Genistein falls under the label of phytoestrogens, these are foods that have weak oestrogenic qualities, anything with soya in, chickpeas, various legumes, seeds like sunflower and linseed and even apples.
Phytoestrogen foods are really beneficial as we start noticeably changing with our hormonal disruption and you can add them into your diet at varying degrees and alternate over your monthly cycle as you feel the need to. By this I mean go with what your body is telling you, if you're craving hummus it could be that you need more of these foods in your diet. However if at time of the month you feel hotter or more nauseous when eating these foods, lay off as it's too much for you. It really takes you listening to how you feel throughout the month, journaling is a great way to stay on top of what your ever changing body presents. Remember also that what did or did not work for you 6 to 9 months ago may have changed now. Going through the menopause isn't a straight downward slide or a black and white drop off, it's fluctuation, not only within the 'monthly' cycle but also with waves of what your health levels are like, what the weather is doing, where your stress levels are; all of these have an impact.
Here's an example, and it happened on and off for 2 or more years.I used to pop a medley of seeds on my breakfast (pumpkin, sunflower, linseed) but at certain times of the month, for certain months I'd be sick an hour or so after eating them! It took me a while to realise as it was only one day a month it happened, though I may have felt queasy for 2/3 other days, so quite a few things had to collide for it to happen. Then it started happening every month, so I became very wary of being out anywhere between 10am and 1pm. In the end I cut out the oestrogen seeds (sunflower and linseed and it stopped happening). I'm now eating these seeds warily, but I feel my body has changed again and this episode of my life is now past, and this could be due to me now being lower in genistein.
Another example of me trying a 'menopause' supplement, 4 years ago went completely wrong too! Why? Because I then learned the difference between menopause and perimenopause, and the blended supplement with soya isoflavones most likely was not the right thing to take at that time. Within 3 days of starting a free 7 day trial of this one I was getting hot flushes by 10am, admittedly I was still on caffeine, but this was a complete change in my symptomology. I stopped taking the supplement, and the flushes stopped - direct link, it was absolutely not the right time to take that supplement, but why?
I had Oestrogen Dominance
When you're getting into your mid 40s progesterone is declining, but oestrogen not so much, this leaves an imbalance known as oestrogen dominance. For some women the oestrogen has dropped considerably too and in this case it would be an early menopause, but if you have more than 2/3 of symptoms, you're more likely in oestrogen dominance:
Sleep problems (problem falling asleep and/or mid-night waking)
Anxiety and feeling unsettled
Mood swings at time of the month, PMS
Infertility or miscarriages
Other symptoms:: painful, lumpy breasts, fibroids, ovarian polyps or endometriosis
Carry extra weight around the thighs/cellulite
I didn't know this existed when I first found out I was 'menopausal' so I went straight to the end game, but it wasn't the right time for me; because I was perimenopausal. This is a time in your 40s when you're getting quite a list of symptoms but you still have regular periods; who knew? If you'd like far more insight into the perimenopause and what you need to know, check out last months blog - 5 Things I wish I'd Known ....
So I came way late to the game that not only was I in a period of Oestrogen dominance, I was virtually over it when I realised, but that I'd been in this state all my life. How do I know? Because I had miserable painful periods, breast pain, large thighs and volatile moods :) Oestrogen dominance doesn't just start at the menopause transition it can be there from your teens. Check back over your menstrual cycle life, and maybe that of your daughters, you can help her too.
What to do before taking Oestrogen
Work out if you are Oestrogen dominant or low. Periods is the biggest indicator, if you have them regularly and possibly heavily then you're dominant, if they're scant and erractic then you're very low. You may or may not have hot flushes, they are linked to a certain degree but there are also a lot of factors involved, they're complex! You may or may not have night sweats, they're more linked to your liver function. You may or may not have fatigue, anxiety, and achy joints/muscles, and are slow to recover from exercise, this is very much linked to your adrenals and nutrition levels.
Before taking oestrogen there are a lot of things you can sort out and resolve, and this will help alleviate symptoms AND most importantly help increase your overall health which is imperative now you're at this stage of life. Here are some of the things you should be doing anyway:
Taking nutritional supplements - you don't get enough from food and the hormonal stress of transitioning means excess cortisol is using up any nutrition you have, this leaves you with many symptoms, almost like an ongoing hangover I've decided!
Cutting out caffeine - as a stimulant its going to be adding to the exess cortisol you're producing. If your sleep is erractic, if you have energy slumps throughout the day, caffeine is the cause. I switched to a good organic decaf as a side benefit of doing a liver detox, and I have barely had a 3pm energy slump since; they used to be daily until I made this switch. We see caffeine as our crutch to get through the day but it's actually exacerbating your energy issues.
Blood sugar balancing - part of the magic trio with estrogen and gut health is managing sugars through the day, this starts wiht having a breakfast high in P,F,F (protein, fat, fibre) in real terms this would be yoghurt, nuts and seeds for example. On a more advanced level to eradicate night sweats, mood swings and irritability this would be doing daily liver cleansing and a twice yearly liver detox.
Boosting your gut health - this is the basis of you brain health, it starts here. Got brain fog? Look to your gut, getting colds and feeling run down? Gut. Aching muscles and joints? Gut. Our gut absorbs the nutrients out of food and supplements but it's got to be in good shape to start with. Mine wasn't, I only went and got a gut parasite 3/4 years ago (the one thing I never wanted to get). It takes 4 or so years to heal your gut and get your microbiome back into balance, and that's with taking a fantastic probiotic and eating some greenery every day (ideally every meal!)
Get started on your gut health reboost with this kit, it's what I used and the changes are amazing, even symptoms like body odour, bleeding gums, acid reflux and heartburn are resolved once you take your gut health back under control.
Taking herbal supplements - You're best doing this with advice, as there are thousands out there all claiming that they're the 'one', but you have a specific set of symptoms so it's finding the right ones for you. I can help you get started, if you have anxiety and fatigue then Ashwaganda is the starting point for helping calm your adrenal response and aiding control of excess cortisol , this will give your exhausted adrenals time to restore. You can get started on all supplements in my starter guide.
Can I take Oestrogen now?
The big question is when is the right time to take HRT or add in oestrogen based supplements? It's very right for some women (early menopause, hysterectomy) but if you're not feeling well and many of the symptoms listed above I urge you to sort out your health first.
It's amazing how many of your symptoms will go away because they were based on nutritional depletion, so sort that out first and foremost. With my helpful starter guide, you should start feeling change in 2/4 weeks. Then the symptoms left may need more work; I've been doing this for 5 years and I found supplements one at a time and added them in, so I was slow at working it all out, but still, I did not require any oestrogen.
I've started to question whether now is the right time to add in oestrogen (I've just turned 50) , not because I'm a year away from the average age of The Menopause in white western women's terms, but because a test has shown up that I'm low in Genistein, the isoflavone that is oestrogenic.
I don't have hot flushes, I don't have impaired sleep, I still have regular periods, I don't have aches or pains. I have a new annoying nerve ending twitch in my cheek, this could be oestrogen associated, and I ocassionally get tinnitus in my left ear (another recent noticeable change). Could this be signs of oestrogen decline.... maybe. My hair got thinner and my skin got dryer 3/4 years ago, also a sign of a drop off in oestrogen, and so here's the kicker - you can be Oestrogen dominant AND low in oestrogen at the same time - WHAT?!?!?!
There are right and wrong oestrogens, and they're introduced via your diet and hair/skin products. Xenoestrogens come from chemicals like pesticides , detergents and toiletries, then those that come in through the food chain as have been given to animals , like meat and dairy products. These love fatty tissue, where they like to accumulate, to you this is cellulite and belly fat.
These are different from your own oestrogen produced, and then the third type comes from food - phytoestrogens. These are the weakest form and as they're from our natural food sources are a good form to eat.
So there are 3 levels of oestrogens that you can consume:
HRT - Hormone replacement therapy. Originally extracted from plant saponines (fats) they under go a synthesise in the laboratory to become the treatment you can get on prescription. For the debate on whether you should have HRT or not, this is for you to research and discuss with your GP. Women either go on HRT and love it or hate it, I can only suggest that if it doesn't feel right then stop and address health issues. HRT won't resolve symptoms that are health related as opposed to purely hormone related.
Phytoestrogen supplements - like Soya Isoflavones, Black Cohosh and Red Clover, normally in a supplement with 'menopause' in the title. These are a condensed form of phytoestrogen extracted from the plants; but still a 100 x less than HRT. Try and get a supplement that is a pure extract so you can note the changes when taking it. A blended supplement may have something in that isn't right for you, it is good to journal your symptoms before you start taking a supplement and listen to your body to note changes for better or worse.
Phytoestrogen foods - eaten in their natural state, with their balance of oils, nutrients, fibre. The best way to start adding oestrogen into your diet, as you can manage the amount, and they are far weaker than supplements. Some women are very sensitive to soya and can notice detrimental changes with only adding in soya milk, every woman is different. I didn't feel the affects of having soya supplements but have now found out I am intolerant too, so I've removed it from my diet for the foreseeable.
You can see that this is not a black or white answer for me, or for you, it's whether your symptom set absolutely points the fingers at it being time to add in more oestrogen. Signs of periods going really erractic and hot flushes daily, this is the real flag waving time of 'more oestrogen please!'. However as your periods become scant we don't want to wait until hot flushes are an issue, as this is a sign of your cardio vascular symptom finding it difficult to regulate. With the decline of oestrogen comes the direct link to the decline of collagen, and with that a loss of flexibility and fluid retention. You'll see it visibly as dryer skin, thinner hair and vaginal dryness too, but inside it is also affecting the quality of your arteries.
Remember the old phrase 'hardening of the arteries'? It is your collagen decline that contributes to this, nowadays termed 'arterial stiffness', it is the loss of flexibility in your arteries, and hot flushes are partly attributed to this.
However there are health and supplement ways to boost your collagen and offset future heart health concerns,for example you can take a collagen supplement, but firstly take 1000mg of vitamin C a day, it's collagen boosting! There isn't the need to take oestrogen at this stage but to ensure good cardio health is supported from now on. Eating the right foods is essential to easing your symptoms now and setting you up for good bone and heart health for now and beyond the menopause. If you'd like to read further and what to eat then my book Understanding Your Menopause and my guide Eating for the perimenopause and beyond are going to set you on the right path.
GET HELP FROM ME
I help women understand and resolve their symptoms, many are health issues that are exacerbated by the hormonal change. If you'd like to have a free chat with me , book a clarity call. If you'd like to get to know me some more join my free facebook group. If you're ready to get started then look at my support options and free downloads here. I'm here to help you in any way that I can, whether you're ready to get started now or need time to think and have the confidence that working with me is right for you. You choose how you'd like to proceed and when you're ready I'm here to help you have the best healthy and happy menopause possible!
The New Natural alternatives to HRT - Marilyn Glenville PhD
Estrogen Dominance - Hormonesbalance.com
Phytoestrogens and genistein - https://www.zerobreastcancer.org/research/bcerc_factsheets_phytoestrogen_genistein.pdf