As well as thyroid hormones, many other hormones are also part of the endocrine system, which all work in a delicate balance with one another. They regulate body temperature, metabolism, energy and reproduction and many thyroid patients are learning that they actually have more at play than just thyroid issues. They also have something called Oestrogen Dominance.
I’m one such patient who, after years on the combined contraceptive pill, with period issues such as menorraghia and irregularity as well as my thyroid issues, found out that I had oestrogen dominance; when the balance of oestrogen to progesterone is very ‘off’.
For me, this presented not only with those period issues, but also with severe cystic acne, adrenal fatigue, oily skin, PMS and more. Endometriosis, decreased sex drive, struggling to conceive, PCOS, cervical dysplasia, breast cancer, uterine fibroids and weight gain can also be signs.
The link between oestrogen dominance and hypothyroidism is hard to miss, considering that for every nine or ten women that suffer from an underactive thyroid, only one man does. We also know that big hormonal shifts in a woman’s body, such as pregnancy or the menopause, can bring hypothyroidism to surface. Many medical professionals are now blaming oestrogen dominance for the cause of some hypothyroidism cases, as a none autoimmune cause on it’s own, but also as a trigger for the autoimmune version of hypothyroidism: Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. Which 90% of us have.
Oestrogen is primarily produced by the ovaries and is responsible for the growth of the uterine lining during the first half of your cycle. Day one of your cycle is the first day of your period. Progesterone is produced by the ovaries as well and its primary role is to prepare the uterus for conception. Both hormones are present throughout the whole cycle but in different amounts depending on where in your cycle you are. Oestrogen dominates the first half and progesterone dominates the second.
Many of us with hypothyroidism have this hormonal imbalance, since the endocrine system is such a delicate balance of various hormones and when one part of that system (the hypothalamus, pituitary, thyroid, parathyroids, adrenals, pineal gland, reproductive organs, pancreas) goes awry, it can have a knock-on effect to others. We already know that many of us have adrenal dysfunction anyway. So it’s well worth testing. Women shouldn’t have to live with on going complaints when progesterone supplementation (natural progesterone cream is most often preferred) often solves the issue, along with some targeted gut health tasks, to ensure your body is eliminating ‘old’ oestrogen efficiently. Otherwise that stuff goes back around your body too, causing even more oestrogen dominance.
To check if you have oestrogen dominance, you can test your sex hormone levels as did I, testing your progesterone at its peak, around day 21 of your cycle (this may differ or be difficult to predict if you have an irregular cycle), and oestrogen on cycle days 3-5. Testosterone can be tested at anytime during the month and checking FSH is also often beneficial. These test results should be able to indicate whether you have an imbalance in your ratio of oestrogen to progesterone, but any symptoms of oestrogen dominance form part of the diagnosis. If you want, you can order your own tests here.
So what can you do to avoid or combat oestrogen dominance?
First of all, there are some simple changes you can make and things to be aware of.
You should ensure that you’re eating plenty of fibre and that your bowels are moving often enough. One to two times a day is what you should be aiming for, so eat plenty of fibre rich food (though not close to taking your thyroid meds or it can affect absorption), start your day with half a lemon squeezed in to some hot water and start there. After that, if you still have no joy then please do explore leaky gut and digestive enzymes etc. to get your digestive system working happily.
There is some belief that eating meat and other products of animals can contribute to high oestrogen levels since they contain hormones from the animal itself, so sourcing protein from other places instead of relying on these products entirely may help to lower levels somewhat.
Look for BPA free water bottles, storage containers and minimise exposure through cosmetics and other household products.
Avoid using hormonal contraceptives, which inevitably upset the oestrogen-progesterone balance and even when you come off them, can take years to correct (like me).
And avoid stress. Easier said than done, I know! But stress is linked to sex hormone levels very delicately. When a person is stressed, the adrenal glands pump out extra cortisol, the stress hormone. Stress can come from mental stress, emotional and physical and when this goes on for a long period of time, you develop adrenal dysfunction, or adrenal fatigue, a condition many thyroid patients have. And many aren’t even aware that they have it. Symptoms include on going fatigue, sugar and salt cravings, headaches, sleep disruptions, anxiety, feeling irritable and so many more. When this becomes chronic, it disrupts the normal circadian rhythm and the stress response of the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal axis. Eventually, the adrenals start to run low on cortisol and begin ‘stealing’ progesterone to convert in to more cortisol, depleting levels even further, increasing the imbalance between progesterone and oestrogen.
This stress and pressure can then inhibit the liver from converting thyroid hormone T4 (the storage hormone) to T3 (the active hormone), which contributes to us feeling like rubbish and can also prevent it from detoxifying the excess oestrogen. When this happens, the oestrogen can start to build up in tissues and cause oestrogen levels to rise even further.
What can be frustrating is that whilst conventional medicine recognises that increased oestrogen levels can lead to increased chances of fibroids and breast cancer for example, they don’t typically look to address the issue directly, looking at the body and endocrine system as a whole. If you’ve attempted to address oestrogen dominance yourself and aren’t having much luck, I strongly recommend seeking out a naturopathic or functional doctor.
You can click on the hyperlinks in the above post to learn more and see references to information give, but further information can also be found at:
Rachel, The Invisible Hypothyroidism
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