How Estrogen Affects You (No Matter Your Gender)
Looking for a simple way to improve your health? Balance your hormones! Every single day, I see patients of all ages and both sexes with health problems related to hormones. One of the most misunderstood topics in the health arena, hormones can be your best friends or your worst enemies. The determining factor is balance. But these days, that’s no small feat. Currently, a potentially disastrous development known as estrogen dominance threatens to undermine all our efforts to stay healthy. I’m not exaggerating when I say we all need to make some simple changes to protect ourselves.
How Hormones Work
Simply put, hormones are chemical signals relayed from organs to specific points in the body, where they can turn cells on or off.The endocrine system, which consists of various glands and organs, is responsible for hormone production.
What to Know About Glands and Their Hormones:
- Adrenal glands: Produce more than 100 different hormones, including epinephrine, norepinephrine, DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone), aldosterone, and cortisol. These play various roles in blood pressure, heart rate, metabolism, and inflammation.
- Hypothalamus: Produces five different hormones, including one that monitors the kidneys and several others that activate the pituitary gland.
- Ovaries: Release the hormones estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, which relate primarily to female sex characteristics, reproduction, and other bodily functions.
- Pancreas: Produces two hormones, insulin and glucagon. Insulin directs glucose to its destination and assists with fat storage. Glucagon elevates blood sugar levels to provide the body with energy.
- Parathyroid: Produces parathyroid hormone (PTH), which controls calcium and phosphate distribution.
- Pituitary: Produces six different hormones, including growth hormone and others that work in conjunction with the thyroid, adrenals, ovaries, and testicles.
- Testicles: Release two hormones, testosterone and the less well-known inhibin. As with ovaries, these hormones primarily relate to the development of male sex characteristics and reproduction.
- Thyroid: Produces three hormones. Two of these regulate cellular metabolism, while the third monitors calcium levels in the blood and bones.
Here’s a good example of how hormones work in real life. Let’s say, for example, that you’ve just eaten lunch. The digestive process breaks the food down into various elements (such as glucose), which are then transferred to cells throughout the body to be used as fuel. The hormone insulin, produced in the pancreas, makes this happen. So in a sense, hormones act as traffic cops, directing specific substances to the right places.
Fortunately, hormones function automatically without any input from us. Of course, that’s true only when the endocrine system is working properly. For instance, we could consider diabetes a deficiency of the hormone insulin. This is because either the pancreas can’t produce sufficient quantities of insulin or the body no longer recognizes it, so we must relieve the symptoms with insulin or other medications from outside the body. Similarly, we could describe menopause as a deficiency of estrogen.
Clearly, hormones are essential to life as we know it. During the past few decades, scientists have unlocked quite a few hormone-related secrets, making it possible for us to take advantage of synthetically produced hormones. For individuals with serious hormone deficiencies, like thyroid disturbances, these developments are giant steps forward.
When Hormones Go Wrong
But there’s another hormone-related issue you should be aware of. It’s called estrogen dominance, and it is affecting all of us — men, women, and children alike. And as my patient Nick discovered, there are ways to remedy estrogen dominance. But first, let’s look at what’s happening and why.
Whether you’re a man or a woman, you have estrogen in your body, although women have considerably more. Estrogen encourages growth, which is fine as long as there’s progesterone available to balance it.
Trouble begins when our hormones get out of balance. This can happen for several reasons, including adolescence, pregnancy, and aging. But you may not have considered some other factors that play a role in hormone levels. Stress, for example, ramps up the body’s production of the stress hormone cortisol, which requires progesterone. That means there’s a good chance that estrogen levels will rise without progesterone to rein them in. Insulin resistance has a similar effect, as does the typical American couch-potato/poor-nutrition lifestyle. Clearly, the stage is set for elevated estrogen levels.
Why Extra Estrogen Hurts Our Health
To make matters worse, we have the relatively recent phenomenon of estrogenic chemicals in food, water, and the environment. Just one of these — a synthetic estrogen known as bisphenol A (BPA) — has attracted considerable attention, so much so that nearly 7,000 studies focus on BPA in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) database.
I won’t mislead you — not all the research is damning, and many questions about BPA have not been answered. But there is certainly enough proof to convince me of two things: One, just about everyone has BPA in his or her body; and two, it is definitely an endocrine-disrupting substance. Research shows that BPA may be linked to hormonal irregularities and health concerns such as obesity, heart disease, cancer, attention deficit disorder (ADD), genital abnormalities, and diabetes.
Signs and Symptoms of Plastic Toxicity:
- Brain fog, inability to concentrate
- Stomach discomfort or irritation
- Rapid heart rate
When Plastic Isn’t So Fantastic
By now, you may be wondering where BPA comes from. BPA is used in plastics of all kinds, as well as in the lining of cans used for food and beverages. Unfortunately, BPA leaches into the contents of the can or bottle, so we end up ingesting it. An article published last year in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reported that subjects who ate canned vegetable soup once a day for five days had BPA levels that were a whopping 1,200 percent higher than subjects who ate homemade vegetable soup.
You could probably live without canned soup, but that wouldn’t protect you from BPA. Think about the endless stream of plastic and cans in our lives. We put our vegetables in plastic bags at the supermarket, we grab a bottle of water when we’re rushing out the door, we buy medication and personal-care products packaged in plastic of some sort. And who doesn’t have at least a few cans of fruit or vegetables in the pantry? Even though urine removes BPA from the body, our exposure is nonstop, 24/7, so whatever we excrete is soon replaced. Not surprisingly, one recent survey found that 95 percent of Americans had BPA in their bloodstreams.
How to Put Plastic in Its Place
So what can you do to protect yourself and your family from this toxin and others like it? Here are a few suggestions I have found helpful:
- Swap plastic food-storage containers for glass or another plastic alternative.
- Do not microwave food in plastic because heat breaks down BPA, allowing it to migrate into the food.
- Replace a plastic shower curtain with one that is BPA-free.
- Buy a BPA-free water container, such as stainless steel or glass, to use instead of plastic bottles.
- Never reuse plastic water bottles and never drink from those left sitting in a hot car, since BPA levels could be even higher than normal.
- Try to avoid canned foods.
- Install a water filter to eliminate toxic substances from your cooking, drinking, and bath water.
- If you’re a fan of soy, eat only fermented soy foods, like tempeh, natto, and miso. Unfermented soy contains disruptive, estrogen-like compounds.
- Increase your intake of organic fruits and vegetables to reduce your body’s toxic load and to add substances that minimize the effects of toxins.
- Look into supportive supplements like beta-glucan (100 mg once daily), derived from grain and mushrooms; diindolylmethane (DIM), from cruciferous vegetables (100 to 200 mg twice daily); or a green food supplement containing assorted vegetable compounds (follow dosage instructions on the product).
- Finally, don’t forget to review my earlier newsletter on detoxification for more ideas on how to avoid these unhealthful substances.
We may not be able to avoid as many hormone-disrupting chemicals as we’d like; but with a little effort, we can eliminate many of these toxins from our lives. When it comes to changing lifelong habits, my favorite method is to take it one step at a time. Before long, you’ll begin to see how well-balanced hormones can make a difference in your health.