How to Keep Your Body’s Four Most Important Hormones in Balance: Part Three – Estrogen.
This is the third in the four-part series to examine how our body’s four key hormones—cortisol, insulin, estrogen, and testosterone—all work in tandem to keep us balanced and healthy, as well as how to recognize and treat imbalances naturally through diet, exercise, and other lifestyle changes. PART ONE explains how CORTISOL, which, when out of balance, can have the biggest impact on the function of the body’s other three key hormones. PART TWO addressed INSULIN, which plays a vital role in our energy levels, weight maintenance, and can directly impact our sex hormones when out of balance. Part Three tackles estrogen—the female reproductive hormone that plays a vital role in our health whether we’re male or female.
What does it do? As it turns out, estrogen is responsible for quite a lot more than just a healthy female reproductive system. It also aids in carbohydrate metabolism, thyroid function, boosts serotonin, mental clarity, and supports healthy skin and bones. Men, too, need estrogen to ensure strong bones and a healthy sex drive (estrogen also supports erectile function and sperm production), though they require less than women. Estrogen also promotes insulin sensitivity, and women of reproductive age need complex carbohydrates to support fertility; completely eliminating carbs can stop your body from ovulating. Finally, insulin (discussed in Part Two) also plays a key role in thyroid function, and when cortisol, insulin, and estrogen are all in balance, they help you maintain your energy levels, a stable mood, and a healthy weight and libido. Even after menopause women continue to produce estrogen, just at lower levels, and those lower levels may be a reason why some women gain weight.
What causes an imbalance? Overall, diet and stress play the biggest roles in healthy estrogen production in both women and men. However, there are also environmental factors to consider. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), found in BPA, phthalates, dioxins, atrazine, fire retardants, and heavy metals like arsenic, lead, and mercury, are all detrimental to male and female reproductive hormones. EDCs can imitate hormones and alter production by collecting in the organs that produce them and scrambling the messages they send. EDCs can cause early puberty, fertility issues, birth defects, developmental disabilities and more. They can also damage the beta cells that produce insulin and interfere with how it works, leading to less-efficient glucose processing and consequent weight gain. Finally, foods such as unfermented, processed soy (like tofu and soy milk) and factory-farmed meat can push levels too high.
What are signs of an imbalance? Estrogen levels can be too high or too low, and both ends of the scale can contribute to health problems in women and men. Women with too little estrogen will experience irregular periods, painful sex, dry skin, mood swings, poor concentration, and hot flashes. When estrogen is too high—higher than progesterone—women may experience abnormal periods, bloating, decreased libido, difficulty sleeping, fibrocystic breasts, and PMS-related headaches. In men, low estrogen can manifest as sore joints, fatigue, lackluster orgasm, and emotional instability (estrogen balances testosterone, thereby preventing emotions from spinning out of control). Too much estrogen can lead to loss of muscle mass, fatigue, weight gain, and low sex drive.
How can I balance my estrogen levels? To best manage your estrogen levels, adopt a whole-foods, low-glycemic diet to lower blood sugar and balance insulin, both of which will help bring down estrogen levels. – Specific estrogen-lowering foods include liver-supporting cruciferous veggies (think broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts), and estrogen-boosting foods include flaxseeds, yams, and lentils.
Exercise is also an important tool in managing estrogen levels. Any kind of regular, moderate exercise can be beneficial to those experiencing either high or low levels of estrogen, as it can bring down body fat and strengthen bones.
•• What you should avoid: You can reduce your exposure to harmful EDCs by reducing your plastic usage, never heating food in plastic, and by reading labels on all personal care and home cleaning products. Cut out unfermented, processed soy, and while exercise is beneficial in the main, avoid extreme athletic activity that results in too little body fat if you’re female. As cortisol plays an integral role in keeping both insulin and estrogen levels regulated, reduce stress and cut caffeine if your cortisol production is too high.
Now that we better understand estrogen’s vital role in our hormonal health, let’s learn how it impacts the fourth master hormone, testosterone, in the final part of this series.