[image courtesy of DC Comics]
A couple of years ago, when I graduated from university and got my first “professional” job, my brother bought me a mug to put on my desk. It was a Wonder Woman mug, featuring a picture of the lady herself, powering through the sky in a pose of triumphant glory. I was highly bemused by this gift as I have never watched, especially liked, or expressed any kind of interest in Wonder Woman. I put it simply down to yet another of my brother’s delightful idiosyncrasies and chuckled every day I saw the mug sitting on my desk. Years later however, when I got my hormone test results, it became clear that I was indeed a “wonder woman”… my oestrogen was through the roof! Did my brother have some bizarre psychic insight to the cause of my ailments, as he likes to claim? We’ll never know, I suppose, but one thing was for certain, this was another imbalance that needed to be addressed before I could get well.
So, what’s wrong with high oestrogen, you might well wonder. Your skin would be hairless, your voice high and flirty and if you’re lucky, your breasts might even get bigger, right? Well, maybe that would be the case if the only problem was “high oestrogen” but unfortunately what I and many other women suffer from is actually “oestrogen dominance” and it means not necessarily that your oestrogen levels are higher than they ought to be, but that they are too high in relation to your progesterone levels. It’s all about the relationships and balance between the two hormones. A healthy ratio of progesterone to oestrogen would be, respectively, 1:6. Mine was closer to 1:300 and it is with a dubious sense of honour that I say my doctor claimed she had never seen a reading so high in all her career.
Oestrogen dominance, while it may conjure images of single-breasted Amazon woman style matriarchal societies, is not all fun and games. A handful of common symptoms are:
- Acne (the nasty, painful hormonal kind… you know, big blind pimples on the chin and jaw)
- Unpredictable mood changes and teariness (think: bursting in to tears at the supermarket because you just saw some biscuits your grandma used to like, and she passed away nearly 10 years ago. Yes, I did it.)
- Painful ovulation and menstruation
- Mastitis (swelling of breasts)
- Bowel disturbances (I love this term… sounds like something you might hear over a police radio “we’ve got a bowel disturbance in North Brooktown”… *chuckle*)
- Cravings for simple carbohydrates (oh, hello!)
- Weight gain around hips and thighs
So, you’re oestrogen dominant. It’s nice to put a label to a problem, it feels like a step in the right direction. But the satisfaction this brings is short-lived when you realise that you haven’t actually gotten any better yet. So how do you get better? Well, oddly enough, it’s about re-balancing those naughty female hormones.
Direct Hormone Therapy
If your oestrogen is up the wazoo, you probably need more progesterone. One of the quickest ways to get that is to take, you guessed it, progesterone! You can get progesterone cream and pills by prescription from your friendly doctor or, if you’re looking for a cheaper option, you might find a progestin-only contraceptive (like the mini-pill or Implanon) helpful. For many women however, these aren’t options. The progesterone supplements can be very expensive and the mini pill didn’t make much difference for me. For these people, it’s all about lifestyle changes.
Hippocrates, the founder of modern medicine, is noted to have said, “all disease begins in the gut”. Many medicos seem to have forgotten this in their eagerness to prescribe drugs, or perhaps it’s just that they know the likelihood of most patients adhering to a diet is slim (an example is my dear old mother who, shortly after being advised by her dietician not to eat fruit, I caught eating a bag of apricots). I’m not looking to start a doctor-bashing session, their heart is in the right place and if drugs can help us quickly, then of course they would want to see a fast recovery. But for those of us for whom medication isn’t an option though, diet is a great way to heal. You just need to know how.
A diet for an oestrogen dominant person would look like this:
Things to Eat Less Of
- Simple sugars
- Refined carbohydrates and “white food” (rice, pasta, flour, bread, etc)
- Processed food, especially diet food which tends to be low fat but high sugar
- Dairy (although this is only a problem for some, you will need to do your own experimenting)
- Fruit should be limited to 2 pieces per day, less if the fruits are of the high fructose variety
- Artificial additives- really, nobody should eat this stuff anyway, so that’s a no-brainer
- Alcohol and non-essential drugs- as with additives, this is applicable not just to folks with oestrogen dominance, but everyone who wishes to be healthy
Things to Eat More Of
- Fish and fish oil- you want high omega 3. 3g of fish oil a day or 3 fish meals (mercury free) a week is good
- Organic, grass-fed meats, organic chicken and organic eggs
- Lots of lovely vegetables, especially the ones with bright colours as this indicates high levels of antioxidants! Brassicas, like broccoli, cabbage and bok choy are good for oestrogen dominance too as they contain Indole-3-carbinol, but watch out of you have IBS, as these can cause excess gas
- Non GMO monounsaturated fats like olive oil, peanut oil, sesame oil, sunflower oil, nuts, seeds and avocado (yum)
- Fermented soy (fermented only please). Miso, tofu, tempeh and soy sauce are good. Soy milk and its derivatives are a thumbs down.
Supplements That Might Help
- B vitamins
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin E
- Selenium (I eat 4 Brazil nuts a day to get my selenium, so that’s one less pill to swallow!)
- St Mary’s Thistle (aka Silymarin)
- Minerals for bone protection (calcium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, etc)
Obviously you will need to talk to a doctor about starting on any new course of supplements, particularly if, like me, you have multiple health problems. Manganese, for example, can be a very good bone strengthening mineral for oestrogen dominance but for somebody with methylation problems, it could cause more difficulties. Everyone’s puzzle is a little bit different but with time, I hope we can all put the pieces back together.