How EFAs can help you to manage the transition you may be dreading
Let’s break the hormone story down into manageable chunks, so that it’s easier to understand these important compounds, and how to manage them.
Hormones are messengers
Hormones are tiny chemical compounds, which act as messengers and cause specific signals to occur in your body and brain. Hormones are produced by glands, and transported via your bloodstream throughout your body, giving instructions and transferring information between cells.
Time influences their functioning
As you get older the production and functioning of these important components declines and can become unbalanced, so changes start occurring that can leave you feeling less than energetic, healthy and positive, experiencing mood disturbances and memory problems too.
Different names for different hormones
Estrogen and progesterone are produced in balance in a healthy women’s body, with estrogen helping to make cells grow, while progesterone keeps them healthy, so they work together. When you get older, this production can become unbalanced.
Estrogen is a powerful hormone or group of hormones, as you’ll see below. They have beneficial effects on the heart, bones, vagina and skin, which is why when they start to decline with age, approaching menopause, women are more at risk for osteoporosis, skin aging, CVD as well as sexual problems.
Estrogen is actually not only one hormone, it’s made up of three different kinds:
- estrodiol is the most potent form of estrogen, being 80 times stronger than estriol, the weakest kind. It’s secreted by the ovaries and is very potent or active during adolescence but gets weaker with age, declining severely as women approach menopause.
- estrone is the second type and is produced by the adrenal glands, and fat cells, that also produce estrogen. This release continues even after menopause. It is 12 times stronger in its actions than estriol.
- estriol is the weakest form of the trio, and it’s converted from estradiol and estrone by the liver
The ovaries produce progesterone too, and a brief lesson in female reproductive functioning is required here, to make the understanding of this hormone a little clearer.
So what exactly happens?
As soon as an egg is released from the ovary the ruptured ovarian follicle develops into the corpus luteum, which produces progesterone. With rising progesterone levels, the body temperature goes up too, signaling ovulation. So this is where the possibility of falling pregnant is increased, as the body is ready to incubate the egg if it is fertilized.
If fertilization occurs, progesterone will continue to rise. If not, it, as well as estrogen levels fall, and the lining of the uterus sheds, producing a period.
Progesterone is essential for maintaining a pregnancy, making it the most important female hormone during the second half of the hormonal cycle.
A miscarriage occurs when there isn’t enough progesterone being produced to maintain the pregnancy
Too much estrogen and too little progesterone
After the age of 35, your ovulation may cease, or become intermittent, and if you don’t ovulate, your body won’t produce progesterone. This is why most women will become estrogen dominant after 35.
Estrogen dominance occurs when there are too many estrogen signals in relation to progesterone signals, which occurs after the age of 35, leading up to the menopause. Estrogen dominance is related to the following symptoms, among others:
- Breast cancer
- Breast tenderness
- Decreased sex drive
- Fibrocystic breasts
- Irregular periods
- Mood swings
- Thyroid problems
- Water retention
- Weight gain around the hips, thighs and stomach
The use of a synthetic copy of progesterone called progestogen, artificially prevents the womb lining from building up normally, and is used in both the pill and HRT. Two different types of this synthetic hormones are used, one based on progesterone and the other from testosterone.
The first kind can lead to enlarged breasts while the second kind can lead to facial hair.
Unfortunately, natural progesterone, due to it being a fat-soluble compound, isn’t very effective taken orally, as the liver changes it and renders the amount too little to make a difference when it reaches the bloodstream.
Progestogen isn’t affected by the liver, and its dosage levels can be monitored and easily controlled.
Therefore, although it can fulfill a number of progesterone’s functions, this synthetic variety it is still not the real thing, so the body battles to recognize it 100% and this is why there are side effects associated with its use, such as weight gain, mood swings, anxiety and depression. It can also increase the synthesis of new blood vessels that may permit tumor development.
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) vs Bioidentical Hormone Therapy (BHT)
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) has been used for many decades to help women manage their hormones and move into menopause with greater ease. However, conventional HRT has proved not to be the wonderful panacea that it was originally thought to be, and the reason that researchers have highlighted as being the potential problem, is that the hormones used have not been natural, or bioidentical hormones, and they therefore produce side effects, as discussed.
BHT, or Bioidentical Hormone Therapy, is another, more natural way that you can handle the changes that accompany declining hormone levels, using naturally synthesized progesterone, that works in a much better way than artificial progestogen. However, your hormone levels need to be assessed, through blood and saliva tests, before you can start this process. There are very few side effects, and most women who have turned to this type of hormonal replacement, find it very helpful.
Cellular health influences hormones
However, its important to remember that the way your hormones function, whether you are a young woman, or a woman nearing menopause, depends on the way your cells function. As every single cell of yours requires an optimally functioning membrane, the way that your hormones are produced depends on the way that the cells perform their myriad of tasks.
Without the right balance of Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) your cell membranes will be unable to perform their duty optimally, and therefore your cells will be sub optimally nourished, unable to get rid of wastes adequately, and they will also be unable to generate energy optimally.
Unfortunately, you can be doing a lot of things right in your life and with your diet, but if you are not consuming the right blend of EFAs, you will be unable to optimally healthy, simply due to your health being dependent on the health of each cell. Furthermore, EFAs are required for hormone production, so if you are deficient in them your body will be battling to produce them in optimal supply.
A unique EFA just right for hormones
An important component of EFAs is GLA or Gamma Linolenic Acid, which is more commonly known as Evening Primrose Oil. This particular omega-6 derivative is particularly important for optimal hormone function and balance. Although you already may be taking it as a supplement, your body also needs the omega-3 components, which balance the omega ratio, so taking GLA doesn’t fulfill all your EFA
requirements. The right blend also helps to keep your skin looking great, avoiding the dehydration and wrinkles that can accompany hormonal changes.
Plants can help hormone functioning
Lignans are a group of phytochemicals, meaning chemical compounds found in plants. They are sometimes called phytestrogens, because they are weak, plant estrogens. Flax seeds have a large number of lignans in them, and they are capable of balancing out estrogen, so if you have too much or if you have too little, these lignans help out. Therefore, a product that contains flax seeds, and sesame seeds, which are also rich in lignans, will be helpful when hormones are not balanced.
Endocrine disrupting chemicals, or EDCs
Lignan are also very helpful against the harmful effects of man-made estrogenic molecules, which come from plastics and other toxic products that mankind has produced to make life easier, without any thought for possible side effects.
We are exposed to more than 70,000 of these man-made hormone disrupting chemicals, which interfere with the natural hormones that your body is producing.
You will help your body by avoiding pesticides and herbicides; as well as plastic compounds and industrial compounds such as PCBs, parabens in cosmetics and certain foods that contain preservatives such as butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA).
The time frames of hormone changes
Menopause can be broken down into three time periods, although these may overlap to some degree due to variations in how the hormones discussed above fluctuate in individuals:
- Premenopause when periods are still regular, but mood changes, or swings, and hot flushes may start to appear;
- Perimenopause when periods become irregular and the function of the ovaries declines;
- Postmenopause, when your final period occurs, and what happens afterwards.
Weight gain, when hormones start fluctuating before, during or after menopause, can cause distress. If you haven’t managed to adopt a healthy way of eating, then now is the time to do so. Optimal intake of vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains and seeds as well as nuts will lead to better health overall, including hormone production and function.
Being overweight at this time in your life, when your emotions can be on a roller coaster, and you could suffer from depression and anxiety, will only increase your unhappiness. Choose your food from sources as close to nature as possible, shun refined sugar, which causes further mood swings, and avoid excess alcohol.
Remember that the more often you eat refined carbohydrates, the greater the chances are that your body will turn those carbohydrates into fat, not use them for energy.
Focus on the right fats
And, very importantly, avoid low-fat diets! They have never helped anyone to lose weight permanently – the right fats, the EFAs help you to lose weight, because they help your body to burn energy more efficiently, as well as curbing carbohydrate cravings, and helping with hormone production.
Your bowels can help your hormones
Digestion and bowel health are also very important to consider at this time, especially when approaching changing hormone levels. If your digestive system is impaired, your body doesn’t discard the waste products that it needs to get rid of daily, and may also reabsorb old hormones, such as estrogen, which is not what you need.
If you are battling with bloatedness, and other digestive difficulties, get professional advice, as you are only as healthy as what you absorb, and even the best diet and supplements, cannot make up for suboptimal absorption.
Your liver helps too
Your liver is another organ that has to be working well to help you manage your changing hormone levels. The liver breaks hormones down, so they are very short-lived in the body. This is how the body prevents you from accumulating too much estrogen. However, if your liver isn’t working well, the estrogens will keep circulating through your body, and this means that you will end up with estrogen dominance.
This may explain the link between excess alcohol consumption and breast cancer, because the body battles to detox the alcohol and the hormones, so they’re in the body for longer than they should be. This is why the liver’s health is very important for optimal hormone functioning.
Specific nutrients and herbs can help
Optimal intakes of fiber, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fructose fruit will keep your digestive system working well, able to eliminate toxins efficiently. A good green blend can provide not only good fiber, but also optimal amounts of green nutrients, and phytonutrients, providing further nutritional benefit.
Specific herbs such as, Agnus castus, or Chastetree berry, as well as Black cohosh, and Dong Quai can be helpful, restoring balance. Dandelion and Milk thistle can also be helpful, cleansing the liver, helping to get rid of "old hormones" and preventing the buildup of excess estrogen.
A decrease in the production of hydrochloric acid, which can occur with age, can also lead to less than optimal nutrient absorption, so this may need to be assessed by a professional as well.
Exercise, stress and depression
Exercise can help you to lose weight by regulating your appetite, as well as facilitating the release of specific neurochemicals, called endorphins, which help you to feel positive, less anxious and increase levels of happiness.
Stress and depression are also known to be reduced significantly when you exercise regularly. You also help your bones stay strong, improve sleep, keep your posture, flexibility and your agility good. Furthermore, exercise protects your heart and your brain from decline, so there is absolutely no reason to avoid exercise.
Stress can further increase hormone havoc as it disrupts your ability to make peace with the changes that are happening in your body, and fuels anxiety and depression. Exercise can be very helpful in managing stress levels, as can meditation.
Friendships are very important
Increased social interaction can also be helpful at this time, as talking about the changes that you are experiencing can be very helpful, especially when you discuss them with people who have already moved beyond them. It’s important to find some way to enjoy emotional support and even if this means going to have your hair done more regularly, or enjoying a massage every week, you need to make yourself a priority.
Take charge of your life
This is a time when many women feel alone and therefore experience feelings of isolation. There are often also other changes happening in your life, such as children leaving home, career changes and elderly parents needing help. The multitude of conflicting demands can leave you feeling overwhelmed and powerless.
Make small, manageable changes, and take back control of your life. The best years are ahead, if you start making small steps every day to improve your health and well being.
Women have been experiencing this change since the dawn of time, so the acceptance of change, is inevitable. It is a normal cycle of being a woman, and can be enjoyed when you look at the positive aspects, such as less time spent looking after a young family, as they are growing up and leaving home, as well as increased wisdom and emotional stability. Look at the pluses and manage the negatives, with sound health choices.
American Medical Association. Health risks outweigh benefits for combined estrogen plus progestin. Clinical trial stopped early in major study. Ginecol Obstet Mex 2002 Aug; 70: 411-2.
Erasmus U. Fats that heal, fats that kill. Burnaby BC, Canada: Alive Books;1993.
Glenville M. The New Natural Alternatives to HRT. London: Kylie Cathie Ltd. Pub; 2002.
Mahmud K. Natural hormone therapy for menopause. Gynecol Endocrinol 2009 Aug 19; 1-5.
Somers S. Ageless: The naked truth about bioidentical hormones. USA: Crown Publ. Group; 2006.