This week I am still sticking with the theme of Endometriosis. If you aren’t sure what this is, please check out my recent article on this topic. If you have Endometriosis and are wondering where to start, read last week’s article where I discussed 5 important food strategies to help with this condition.
This week is all about supplements. Remember, if you don’t have the basics in place (ie. diet & lifestyle) then supplements are going to do little to help. They offer support and can help stimulate certain pathways in the body but if you eat junk, don’t sleep or exercise and are overwhelmed by stress, then don’t waste your money on supplements.
Start with the basics and come back to this article when those things are in place.
In the previous article I discussed cruciferous vegetable and how they contain a compound that is extremely effective at detoxing estrogen out of the body. DIM is the compound I was referring to.
I have found DIM to be one of the most powerful supplements for reducing excess estrogen. It is extremely effective, so this should only be used if you have been tested and know your estrogen levels are too high.
Not only does DIM lower estrogen overall but it also shifts estrogen metabolism to healthy pathways that protect you from estrogen dominant cancers.
Some people will recommend using Indol-3-Carbinol (I3C) instead of DIM. I3C is the precursor for DIM and in theory can be metabolized to DIM to have a similar effect. In my experience I3C is not nearly as effective as DIM and I don’t recommend it unless you cannot tolerate DIM.
My favorite products are Designs for Health DIM-Avail and Pure Encapsulations DIM Detox
Curcumin comes from Turmeric. It is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. Taking curcumin can help with some of the inflammation and painful side effects of endometriosis.
Curcumin has been found effective at reducing prostaglandins which promote inflammation.
In this study, researchers found that curcumin inhibited the growth of endometrial cells by lowering the production of Estradiol (the body’s most potent estrogen). This study was done in vitro so the results may be limited.
Curcumin is also powerful at detoxifying the liver. This is important as the liver is responsible for clearing excess hormones from the blood. Too much estrogen can be a result of poor liver clearance, resulting in excess estrogen floating around the blood.
N-Acetyl-Cysteine is a precursor for glutathione. Glutathione is your body’s most powerful anti-oxidant and detoxifier. It is needed to keep the liver free of toxins and reduce damage from free radical production.
Taken directly, glutathione is poorly absorbed but we can work with glutathione precursors to boost glutathione levels. NAC is a fantastic for boosting liver health and detoxification. Since estrogen dominance is tied to poor liver function, NAC is a good place to start.
This is a very powerful supplement for any women with Endometriosis or estrogen dominance. As discussed in my previous article, harmful gut bacteria can produce a lot of the enzyme Beta-Glucuronidase which can break the bond between excreted estrogen and glucuronic acid (the way in which estrogen in moved out of the body), thereby re-activating the excreted hormone and sending it back into circulation.
Calcium D-Glucarate helps keep estrogen bound to glucuronic acid so that it can be easily excreted from the body.
After the liver detoxifies hormones, it dumps them into the bile so they can be excreted from the body. If a woman has bile insufficiency then detoxification is impaired and estrogen is left to recirculate around the body.
A sign that you may have a bile deficiency is the inability to digest fat. If eating a fat meal makes you feel bloated or nauseous than you can benefit from taking a digestive enzyme with ox bile.
If you have had your gallbladder removed, you are likely struggling with bile production as well. My favorite product is Thorne Research Bio-Gest.
If you would like to be hooked up with an account to order any of the supplements I discussed in this article, please sent me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Last week I discussed endometriosis in detail. This condition should be taken seriously as it can lead to infertility and permanent damage of the Fallopian tubes and ovaries. It can also lead to cyst formation which puts you at risk for a ruptured cyst. If you want to learn more about Endometriosis and your risk, please read the article here.
If you have been struggling with Endometriosis, there’s a good chance you have been given little direction beyond surgery, birth control pills and pain killers.
I understand your frustration if you feel that these options are not right for you. Practitioners rarely discuss diet and lifestyle changes when it comes to this condition.
Thankfully, from a Functional Medicine prospective, there is a lot you can do to manage or even reverse your endometriosis. The first step to relief involves eating the right foods.
As you know, I generally recommend the Paleo diet as nutrition template for many hormone conditions. This recommendation mostly has to do with the fact that Paleo is a great tool for balancing blood sugar levels.
You can learn more about the Paleo diet and how it can help balance your hormones in this article.
Paleo isn’t your only option. Some women do better on different variations of Paleo (ie. less meat and more carbohydrates) or some women thrive with some gluten-free grains or beans and legumes in their diet. It really depends on your unique biochemistry, activity levels and carbohydrate tolerance.
The most important thing is that you eat real food. Your choices should be free-range, organic and local whenever possible. You food should not come from a box, bag or package. It should be chosen as you shop the perimeter of the grocery store, avoiding the nastiness of the isles in between.
Once you got the real food diet mastered, you can start being strategic with your food choices to optimize your body’s ability to prevent endometriosis from continuing to occur.
Cruciferous vegetables are a top choice when it comes to reversing endometriosis. The endometrial lining grows due to the effects of Estrogen (a potent growth hormone). Elevated estrogen is often at the root of Endometriosis.
Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, kale, radish, cabbage, Brussel sprout, collard greens and bok choy contain Diindolylmethane (DIM). DIM is a powerful tool in lowering estrogen levels.
When estrogen is broken down, it can head down the 2-OH, 4-OH or 16-OH pathways. The 2-OH pathway is thought to be a protective pathway. 4-OH is thought to be a damaging pathway, causing DNA damage and a possible cause of estrogen dominant cancers. The 16-OH is not damaging like the 4-OH but can lead to symptoms of estrogen dominance (ie. endometriosis).
DIM consumption actually shifts these pathways and helps you break your estrogen down that protective 2-OH pathway and away from the 4-OH and 16-OH. It also has the effect of reducing estrogen levels overall.
I find DIM to be one of the most powerful tools when it comes to dealing with estrogen dominance and endometriosis.
I have heard that fermented cruciferous vegetables are even more powerful in these effects. So eat your sauerkraut!
One way that estrogen can become elevated is due to poor liver clearance. It is the liver’s responsibility to clear excess hormones from the blood. The liver is one of the areas where the estrogen metabolism mentioned above occurs. In fact, 50% of estrogen metabolism occurs in the liver.
This means if liver function is not optimal, you might have excess estrogen floating around your blood, leading to nasty symptoms.
Liver friendly foods include:
Approximately 50% estrogen metabolites that enter the liver, are then excreted in the bile, sent to the intestine and then hydrolyzed by intestinal microflora. Following this process, hydrolyzed estrogen is either excreted via poop or are entered back into portal circulation.
From here it goes back to the liver for further metabolization. They are either sent back to the bile or pushed back into circulation.
Enter the Estrobolome. The estrobolome is a set of gut microflora that produce beta- glucuronidase, an enzyme that influences this metabolization. Claudia Plottel, MD, a Clinical Associate Professor at N.Y.U., and her team looked at how intestinal flora affects estrogen circulation
Plottel believes your microbiota species can create beta-glucuronidase that increase estrogen– allowing it to re-enter circulation in the body.
This makes your intestinal flora crucial to healthy estrogen levels. Some unfavorable microflora carry this enzyme and thus creating not only a dysbiosis in the gut but elevates estrogen levels.
Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt (if tolerated), pickles, kombucha and other fermented veggies contain a full spectrum of bacterial communities. Eating these foods on a regular basis can help repopulate your gut and increase the beneficial flora in your gut.
Another way your estrogen can become too high is due to something called aromatization. Aromatase is the enzyme which causes the conversion of testosterone into estrogen.
Inflammation can increase the presence of aromatase in the body leading to elevated estrogen levels. If you were to run a hormone panel and you had aromatization, you would see average DHEA with low testosterone and elevated estrogen.
Additionally, inflammation can negatively affect your adrenal glands leading to imbalanced hormones. It can also stress the immune system which is usually a reason excess endometrial tissue cannot be cleared from the body.
Top Anti-Inflammatory Foods:
If the immune system is strong and healthy, the body should be able to fight off the overgrowth of endometrial tissue. This is at least the thoughts of many of the practitioners I have spoken with.
It appears that many women with endometriosis also have reduced immunity. Most of the research suggests that low immunity is a result of endometriosis rather than a cause. Both ways, boosting immunity can likely help improve this condition.
Top Immune System Boosting Foods:
Have you been struggling with extremely painful periods, chronic pelvis pain or pain during sex? There are a number of reasons why periods can cause painful cramping, but endometriosis is a common culprit.
During the first half of the menstrual cycle, estrogen is the dominant hormone.Estrogen is a growth hormone and stimulates the growth of the uterine lining. Once an egg is released and not fertilized, estrogen starts to decline and progesterone becomes the dominant hormone in the second half of the menstrual cycle.
As the egg breaks down and becomes the corpus luteum, progesterone is given off. Both estrogen and progesterone reach their lowest levels just before the beginning of menstruation. This is what signals the start of bleeding where the lining of the uterus is shed for the next 3-7 days.
Endometriosis is a condition which tissue that normally grows inside the uterus instead grows outside it. The most common places in the body this tissue can grow is the abdominal cavity where it can land on the peritoneum, the thin layer that covers the inside of the abdomen, the ovaries, and fallopian tubes. This tissue has also been found in the knee and the nose, strangely enough. The body in it’s ultimate wisdom attempts to contain the growth by forming a cyst around the tissue. Then every time a woman has a period, this tissue proliferates and may lead to a ruptured cyst.
Like the lining of the uterus, the misplaced endometrial tissue is triggered by the same hormonal shift that begins the menstrual cycle (ie. low estrogen and progesterone). This tissue will then also shed and bleed. The blood, which is trapped in the abdomen, is irritating to the nerves in the abdomen, causing much of the pain associated with endometriosis. Some women experience chronic pelvic pain while others only experience pain during their periods. In certain cases, women experience no pain at all. The latter case can delay diagnosis and likely accounts for many undiagnosed cases. Statistics say 10% of women suffer from endometriosis but this is likely lower than the reality.
Over time the abnormal shedding can cause chronic inflammation and lead to scar tissue development. This abnormal cell growth will also instigate an immune response that can perpetuate the problem.
There is no concrete answer but there are many theories. In my experience, this condition is largely related to excess estrogen production. Since estrogen is involved in the growth of endometrial tissue, when it occurs in excess it can stimulate the over growth of the tissue.
Other factors that are likely involved in endometriosis are:
Dr, Stacey Roberts, natural fertility expert, mentioned that endometriosis may actually be an autoimmune process. According to this study, among 59 women who had a laparoscopy indicating endometriosis, 28.8% tested positive for antinuclear antibodies (a marker for autoimmunity).
The autoimmune connection is explored in detail in this scientific review. The authors conclude that endometriosis fits most of the criteria for autoimmune disease including blood markers of inflammatory cytokines and tissue specific autoantibodies. It seems endometriosis occurs with other autoimmune conditions such as Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis and inflammatory bowel disease.
Typically it is diagnosed through an ultrasound but this technique can often miss tissue growth that is hidden and lying deeper in the body. Some experienced physicians can find it using a physical examination, where they can pinpoint the adhesions and lesions in the abdomen. Laparoscopy, a surgical procedure, can also be used to identify lesions.
Unfortunately, endometriosis can lead to infertility issues. It can lead to scarring and damage of the filopian tubes which can make it incredibly difficult for a woman to become pregnant naturally.
If the fallopian tubes are damaged or altered in their function then this can set the stage for an atopic pregnancy. Up to 30-50% of women who have endometriosis may experience infertility, according to American Society for Reproductive Medicine.
In extreme situations it can perorate the bowel and lead to complications with digestion. This only occurs in very severe cases.
1. Surgerical Excision – This involves going in and removing overgrown tissue. This can be extremely helpful in removing adhesions and lesions but does little to address the root cause. If this is the only treatment used, adhesions may develop again. Surgery works best if it is used with natural therapies to prevent future tissue proliferation.
2. Progesterone Cream – Progesterone opposes estrogen and inhibits the growth of endometrial tissue growth. Lesions can be resistant to progesterone so typically high doses are needed. This treatment does not generally work on its own.
3. Hormonal Birth Control – This is the standard treatment as it suppresses ovulation and prevents the growth of the uterine lining. Again, this treatment fails to address the root cause and can mask other hormonal conditions. A woman cannot be on the pill indefinitely, so once she comes off it, she is likely to experience other hormone disorders that have been left untreated over the years.
4. NSAIDS OR Naproxen – This can help reduce pain associated with endometriosis but does nothing to deal with the problem. These drugs can cause many issues when used long term. They are known to stress the liver and thin the lining of the gut, even when only used once a month.
The good news is that there is a lot you can do to prevent endometriosis from continuing to occur. One of the most important starting points is to have your hormones tested via saliva or urine. I am not a huge fan of blood testing as it gives you a very limited piece of the overall picture.
In next few week’s blog posts, I will discuss some of the most effective diet, lifestyle and supplements therapies for dealing with endometriosis and preventing it from messing with your fertility. If you would like to learn more about the hormone testing I do and how it can help optimize your menstrual cycle and fertility, please book a free 20 minute consultation to speak with me directly. You can do that here.
Listen to me discuss this article in the video below!
Do these Symptoms Sound Familiar to You?
– Weight gain (that won’t come off not matter what you eat)
– Infertility (you have been trying for year with no luck)
– Varicose veins
– Mood swings before or during your period
– Swollen or painful breasts
– Variations or skipped cycles
– Vaginal dryness or itchiness (it just doesn’t make you feel very sexy)
– Excessive or scanty blood flow during periods
– Cyclic insomnia & hot flashes
What is Estrogen Dominance and What Causes it?
Estrogen is a potent hormone. For this reason it should be cleared from the blood immediately after it completes its job. This is one of your livers jobs. If you liver is sluggish or congested with excess toxins, estrogen is allowed to build up in the blood. Too much estrogen can be a nightmare for many women, causing all the symptoms listed above plus greatly increasing your susceptibility to breast cancers.
Excess Estrogen from a Sluggish Liver, which reduces estrogen clearence: In order to detoxify appropriately the liver needs all the necessary co-factors including an abundance of proteins and vitamins. Your liver may be struggling due to a lack of co-factors or because it simply has too many other toxins to remove from the body. If estrogen can’t be removed, it recirculates in the body causing dysfunction. This makes protein especially important for the liver. B-vitamins, selenium, Vitamin E, Vitamin C and Vitamin A are also necessary for proper detoxification.
Environmental Estrogens. Unfortunately many estrogens come into the body from external sources. Personal care and beauty products are a huge culprit. As women, we rub numerous products on our bodies such as moisturizers, creams, body washes, make-up etc. Sometimes one of the quickest ways to lower your estrogen is to switch to a natural skincare regime. Estrogen can also come into the body from BPA plastic so make sure you drink you water out of stainless steel or glass.
Excess Phytoestrogen Consumption. Foods like soy, flax and sweet potatoes contain isoflavones which are considered phytoestrogens (plant-based estrogen). While these may not be an issue in small amounts, some people overdo it. This is common in women eating a vegan/vegetarian diet. If you eat a plant-based diet, be careful not to eat these things in excess (especially soy products).
Low Progesterone. Estrogen and progesterone need to be in proper balance. While estrogen is a potent, feisty hormone, progesterone is the mellow, soothing hormone that balances estrogen out. Chronic stress and poor diet can deplete progesterone causing estrogen to be dominant over progesterone. Your estrogen may not necessarily be high but if it is too high compared to progesterone, then estrogen can take over. This balance is important. Progesterone needs cholesterol to be made effectively (yep, I said cholesterol) as well as Vitamin A and T3 (a thyroid hormone).
Chronic stress. The adrenal glands, which make a significant amount of your sex hormones, also make the stress hormone, Cortisol. If you are chronically stressed (this is not only mental/emotional stress but also hidden internal stress) then your body makes Cortisol at the expense of your sex hormone. Progesterone is commonly depleted this way.
Birth Control Pills. The addition of synthetic estrogen to your body will boost estrogen. This is a common reason why women gain weight when starting on the pill.
Aging. Estrogen levels generally decline with age, especially during menopause.
How to Tell if You Have Estrogen Dominance?
I always recommend testing to confirm this. In my experience, testing hundreds of women, something I have learned is that generally what you think is going on with your hormones, isn’t. Even if you have many of the symptoms listed above, this does not guarantee that you have estrogen dominance.We are all unique and not everyone follows the typical pattern.
Never confirm estrogen dominance with a blood test. Blood can only tell you about total estrogen. You cannot differentiate from estrogen which is free and usable and that which is bound up in proteins (and not usable). The best way to check for estrogen dominance is a saliva or urine hormone panel. My favorite test for looking at sex hormones at the moment is the Precision Analytical Dried Urine Test for Comprehensive Hormones.
Luckily if you suspect you may have estrogen dominance but can’t afford testing, there is still a lot you can do to improve your situation.
Nurture Your Metabolism
Stop the low-fat dieting and calorie counting. One of the crucial building blocks for hormones is dietary fat. If you eat a low fat diet than you are doing yourself a huge disservice. Often times introducing healthy fat back into the diet is enough to jump start a missing menstrual cycle and boost progesterone production.
Making sure you are eating enough is also necessary for healthy hormone production. Starvation can act as a huge stress on the body, causing your body to pump out cortisol instead of creating those sweet sex hormones. You can determine if you are eating enough food by taking your waking body temperature. Take your temperature under your arm and ideally you should fall between 97.8-98.2 F. If you are less than that, eat more food!
Keep in mind that a consistently low body temperature can also indicate low thyroid. To rule this out, have you doctor do a comprehensive thyroid panel that includes T3, T4, TSH, rT3, TPO antibodies and TBG.
Keep Your Blood Sugar Stable
Low blood sugar can also act as a stressor and deplete your hormones. You can keep your blood sugar stable by eating meals high in protein and healthy fat. Don’t overdo it on the carbohydrates. If you feel “hangry,” irritable, dizzy or shaky in between meals than you will need u your snacks or eat more frequently.
Love Your Liver
Make sure you are eating enough protein. Ideally you should be eating 0.4-0.7 grams of protein per pound of body weight. If you live a sedentary lifestyle, go for 0.4 grams and if you are a high performing athlete, go for the 0.7 grams. Note that 100 grams of chicken does not contain 100 grams of protein. Read labels to determine this.
Make sure to include eggs, dairy (if tolerated), fish, gelatin and shellfish to balance muscle meats (chicken, lamb, beef, turkey, etc). Eating the whole animal is important. Don’t shy away from fat, skin and bone broth (my favorite!).
Reduce your exposure to chemical skincare/beauty products and household cleaning products. Check out the toxicity of your favorite products here.
Emphasize liver friendly foods like turmeric, dandelion, lemon, asparagus, grapefruit, watercress and radicchio.
If you are going to take a liver support supplement, make sure to take one that supports both Phase 1 & Phase 2. Many liver support products only include components that support phase 1 liver detox. Make sure you also see Phase 2 supports like sulfur, cysteine, methionine and milk thistle.
Stress can be caused by mental/emotional distress, lack of sleep, over exercise, poor diet or burning the candle at both ends. Take a good look at your life and see what you can improve. Sometimes small changes make the biggest difference.
Do things that you love. While meditation and deep breathing are fantastic, I believe one of the greatest ways to reduce stress is to have fun and laugh. So many of us don’t take enough time for ourselves. So stop being so serious. Get out there and have as much fun as you can. Do it now!
Do you struggle with estrogen dominance? Please share in the comments!