As I am writing this blog post, the COVID-19 pandemic is peaking amongst us. Establishments like restaurants, shopping centers & even public parks are forced to shut down or face a hefty fine if they don’t comply with the CDC’s social guidelines. It is definitely an uncertain time in our world & thus, there’s a lot of fear, confusion & anxiety around what the future holds. We have never before faced anything like this in our time, and it may not be the last either.
With most of us now having more time on our hands and/or are working from home, social media usage has increased significantly. I’m a fan of it myself as it can truly be a great outlet for connection, creativity & entertainment. However, I’ve recently seen many posts & memes joking about how if ‘everything else in society is ‘cancelled’, our monthly period should be as well’. As funny & relatable as it may seem, it honestly saddens my heart to hear people joke about their menstrual cycles in this way. Don’t get me wrong, if you experience a lot of pain & symptoms associated with your period, I can definitely understand how you might want to ‘cancel’ it until further notice just like everything else... And of course, I get that it’s ‘just a joke’, but I believe that it’s the small actions & word choices like these that continue to distill the negativity associated with the menstrual cycle.
Most of us have grown up being told that our periods are ‘dirty’, or should be kept ‘private’. We’re led to believe that having a period is a ‘curse’ or a ‘burden’ bestowed upon our female-born bodies. On top of it, we’re programmed to believe that period pain & PMS are unavoidable ‘side effects’ of menstruation, or else ‘all in our head’. We are not commonly taught, shown, or even given permission to fully love & embrace all that our cycles can offer us – we live in fear of them, we see them as an inconvenience rather than a gift, when they can actually be a huge blessing & powerful tool to help us achieve our dreams, aspirations & optimal health.
These seemingly harmless thoughts/words/actions surrounding the menstrual cycle are only perpetuating society’s negative associations of them & the female body. Over time, it has led to there being a lot of confusion, misinformation & disassociation with the natural biological process of a womxn’s cycle. When in actuality, the menstrual cycle is an incredibly beautiful & empowering gift of life that only female bodies have access to. Within the menstrual cycle lies a wealth of power, wisdom & innate intelligence. Those who have seen & witnessed it for themselves, understand just how empowering the menstrual cycle experience can be…
Getting into the mindset of fully loving & embracing your cycle first starts with how you think, how you talk, & how you treat your experience. Can you imagine how freeing it would feel to get to a point where you actually look forward to getting your period instead of dreading its imminent arrival? What if you had the opportunity to know exactly when your period would arrive each month, so that there were never any surprises? If you were able to form such a harmonic relationship like this with your cycle, just imagine all of the freedom & opportunities that would naturally present themselves. This, my friend, is entirely possible & absolutely within your reach.
In order to get there, you first have to choose. You have to choose to see your menstrual cycle for all the beauty & wisdom it is, despite how it treats you once per month. You have to make the active choice to listen, respect & surrender to what your cycle is telling you. If your experience consists of a ton of pain, PMS & other cyclic symptoms, your body is literally crying for your attention. You have to choose to be there for it, through thick & through thin. Being present with the positive & the negative aspects of your cycle is the first step to hearing & honoring what it needs. Once you learn to listen & how to provide, your cycle becomes a tool to harness & utilize to obtain your optimal health, creativity & abundance so that you can design the life of your dreams.
The Menstrual Cycle - Your Internal Report Card
The menstrual cycle is way more complex than just the experience of having a period. The entire menstrual cycle consists of a month-long process beginning with the first day of your period, to the day before your next period. It can be broken up into 4 distinct phases, each consisting of different metabolic processes such as specific hormonal fluctuations, the buildup of the nutrient-rich endometrial (uterine) lining & of course, the most important event of them all, ovulation. Click here to read more about the menstrual cycle phases.
The period is often thought of as the ‘highlight event’ of the menstrual cycle… However, the period is actually the least significant part… Did you know that your period would literally not exist if it weren’t for ovulation? Ovulation is the process of releasing a matured egg from the ovary down the fallopian tubes to be fertilized. It is the entire reason the menstrual cycle exists.
At the end of each month, your uterus sheds the blood & nutrient-rich endometrial lining that it built up before ovulation, which results in your monthly period. The quality & outcome of your period, and how painful or painless it is, greatly depends upon the choices you made throughout the month, which all had an influence on your hormones & ovulatory health.
The menstrual cycle is malleable; in a sense, it is a reflection of your previous month, as well as the status of your overall health. The quality of your diet, sleep patterns, stress levels & exercise routine, all have an influence on your hormones, which play a huge role in your ovulatory outcome. Have you ever noticed how after a very stressful month (and a few binge-eating crap food episodes), your period experience was a little worse than normal, or perhaps it arrived earlier or later than you were expecting? We’ve all been there, we’re only human & sometimes life can get to the best of us! However, this just shows us first-hand how impactful our dietary & lifestyle choices can be on our cycles!
Your period gives you the opportunity once per month to pause, check in with yourself & reflect on your progress. It is your internal report card, showing you precisely where you need to make adjustments in order to experience a healthier, symptom-free cycle.
The truth is, Periods are not meant to be painful. PMS symptoms are not normal. A healthy period may be slightly uncomfortable, but never should it ever be unbearable. Your body talks to you in symptoms because it cannot speak to you with words. Your symptoms are your guide; they are your body’s language. The first step to understanding your body’s language is to start paying attention, and then honoring what it is asking from you.
How to Experience a Symptom-Free Cycle
As I mentioned above, the first step to experiencing a healthier cycle is to listen & pay attention to your symptoms & internal cues. The best part about the menstrual cycle is that it is malleable. For many, just making small, specific shifts in diet & lifestyle, can lead to profound results in just a few, quick months.
Here’s how it works:
Do you find yourself struggling with PMS symptoms, a painful period, heavy bleeds or other symptoms like water retention, fatigue, and bloating right before your period? It’s possible what you’re experiencing could be due to a hormone imbalance. Estrogen Dominance is a common hormone imbalance that can contribute to many uncomfortable symptoms like PMS, period pain, irregular or heavy periods, weight gain, acne, fatigue, hair loss and in more serious cases; fibroids, cysts, PCOS, endometriosis and/or infertility.
In general, I think that the word ‘hormone’ puts a bad taste in many people’s mouths. So to begin, I’d like to shed some light on the subject because hormones are more than just components that make us emotional or irrational, they are in fact biologically necessary for a healthy functioning menstrual cycle experience (which I’ll get to here in a bit) as well as for every other organ system in your body to function, regardless of your sex. Hormones are not limited to the female reproductive system alone. They have an influence on all body parts, from the how the digestive system works, to regulating bone density, all the way to influencing a healthy libido in both men & women, as well as a healthy menstrual cycle & optimized fertility.
To put it simply, hormones are chemical messengers that the body uses to facilitate communication between the brain and other parts of the body. The primary hormones that run & facilitate female reproductive & sexual health are Estrogen, Progesterone & Testosterone. In a healthy female, these hormones delicately dance around each other influencing various important actions throughout the course of a monthly cycle. During the first half of the menstrual cycle, estrogen rises along with a few other hormones that work to thicken the uterine lining & trigger ovulation. Around ovulation, estrogen dips and testosterone peaks to increase sexual desire. After ovulation, progesterone rises and estrogen decreases until all hormones are at their lowest point just before menstruation, and then the hormonal cycle begins again. Click here to read more about the menstrual cycle and accompanying hormones.
Most cycle symptoms that women experience are derived from an imbalance in her monthly hormonal fluctuations. For example, these hormone imbalances can manifest in estrogen dominance, low/high testosterone or progesterone deficiency. It’s important to know that all of these hormones have huge influence on each other, so if one hormone happens to misbehave and get itself out of balance, the others are surely close to follow behind.
What is Estrogen?
‘Estrogen’ is actually a group of sex hormones called estrogens that are produced primarily by the ovaries, but also by the adrenals & fat cells. The three main estrogen hormones are Estrone (E1), Estradiol (E2) & Estriol (E3). Each of these estrogens play different roles within the body throughout the course of a women’s reproductive life. E2 is the ‘most potent’ estrogen, and is the primary estrogen in charge during a woman’s fertile years. E1 is also quite abundant & a potent estrogen as well. E3 is the weakest of estrogens and is typically is highest only during pregnancy. Although when not pregnant, E3 is still a valuable player contributing anti-inflammatory & anti-oxidative properties that support bone health, heart health & more. When not pregnant, E3 can be made via the liver from conversion of E1 & E2.
Estrogen’s main role within the female reproductive system is to promote growth. One of its jobs is to stimulate the cells of the uterine lining to deposit a thick layer of nutritious blood in preparation for an embryo (it is this uterine lining that sheds resulting in your monthly period). Estrogen also stimulates the growth of follicles in the ovaries, which leads to a mature egg that will eventually ovulate. When it comes to our reproductive health, estrogen plays a critical role in our fertility & the outcome of our monthly period.
So what is Estrogen Dominance?
Estrogen dominance occurs when there is too much estrogen in the system that the body cannot keep up with AND/OR excess estrogen in relation to the hormone progesterone.
Too much estrogen in the system can be triggered by either endogenous (internal) or exogenous (external) sources, or a mixture of both.
Excess endogenous estrogen - occurs when the body is producing too much estrogen or not eliminating excess estrogens properly. (See next section)
Excess exogenous estrogen - occurs when the body is subjected to various estrogen-mimicking substances such as xenoestrogens which can be found in hormone disrupting chemicals.
Progesterone deficiency can lead to estrogen dominant symptoms as well. This is because estrogen & progesterone are on a teeter totter with each other. When progesterone goes up, estrogen goes down, and vise versa. As I mentioned above, estrogen stimulates growth and so progesterone’s role is to stop that growth process, hold the uterine lining intact, inhibit ovulation & promote a relaxing, chill demeanor after ovulation has occurred. If there is a problem with producing sufficient progesterone, this pushes estrogen up and can lead to estrogen dominant symptoms such as the continual of growth of the uterine lining which can result in very heavy, painful bleeds, or the growth of fibroids, cysts & endometriosis flairs.
Regardless, estrogen dominance is not a condition to take lightly as it can lead to more serious complications if not controlled once diagnosed. Although estrogen dominance may be fairly common, it is not by any means normal. It is often at the heart of many women’s hormonal-based issues and can set a woman up for a lot of frustration & pain throughout her life.
Although estrogen has many important roles within our body, it needs to be the right kinds and in the right amount in order for it to contribute healthful outcomes. It’s kind of like the goldilocks situation… When there is too much estrogen in the system, it can wreak havoc and lead to a host of uncomfortable (and potentially dangerous) situations. If there is too little, it can lead to other issues like weight gain, loss of menses, and a low libido. So in the end, we need our estrogen levels to be juuuust right for things to run smoothly.
In order to keep this state of estrogen balance, the body has to be able to eliminate excess estrogen properly. The estrogen elimination process can be a lengthy one, and is often where many women experience issues leading to their estrogen dominant symptoms.
Estrogen, once shuttled to the liver for elimination, gets broken down into 1 of 3 different estrogen metabolite pathways: 2-hydroxyestrone (C2), 4-hydroxyestrone (C4), or 16-hydroxyestrone (C16). C2 is the pathway you want it to take, as it can lead to many beneficial aspects such as heart protection, bone health, breast health and a healthy functioning reproductive system. Whereas the C4 & C16 pathways tend to be quite mischievous, leading to free radical production, oxidative stress & issues like PMS symptoms, fibroids, cysts, autoimmunity, obesity, and in some cases, endometriosis, PCOS & cancer.
Ultimately, it is when we experience too many of the unhealthy metabolites & too much of the ‘potent’ forms of estrogen (E1 & E2) in our system, that we experience the dreadful symptoms of estrogen dominance.
After the estrogen has been metabolized and gone through one of the 3 pathways listed above, it then gets ‘methylated’ by the liver, which means it gets transformed from a fat-soluble compound to a water-soluble compound. Those with methylation problems or the MTHFR gene may have issues methylating estrogen metabolites properly. After methylated, the metabolites get sent to the kidneys or the intestines to be eliminated via urine/feces.
What you can do to support healthy estrogen metabolism & elimination?
If you suspect that your symptoms are related to estrogen dominance, It's best you work with a qualified practitioner to help you get to the bottom of your hormone imbalance ~ contact me for more info! However, as a starting point, here are a few things you can do to help support the healthy detoxification of excess estrogens:
For even more support & streamlined guidance on how to support your hormone balance naturally, download your free copy of The Hormone Balance Protocol.
Ashe Milkovic, NTP is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, Womxn's Health Specialist & Hormone Expert focusing in the field of womxn's reproductive health.