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Hormones & the Female Reproductive System – Part 2

The verdict is still out on this, however there have been promising results of managing our hormone levels through diet and mindfulness practice. As a follow-up blog from our last entry, let’s recap on the predominant hormones within our bodies:

  • 1) Estrogen: known as the “female” sex hormone, there are three major forms of estrogen. Both females and males have this hormone.
    • Estradiol: the strongest of the three forms and also the form men carry but in smaller amounts compared to women.
    • Estriol: primarily secreted by women, it will spike in women who are pregnant. This type of estrogen promotes uterine growth and supports the placenta.
    • Estrone: the least powerful of the three estrogens, estrone is secreted by the ovaries, adrenals, and adipose tissue. Estrone can be converted into estrogen when needed. These levels are highest in postmenopausal women.
  • 2) Progesterone: a steroid hormone that prepares the endometrium for pregnancy after ovulation. Progesterone levels will spike when women become pregnant. Men also have progesterone to counteract the effects of estrogen and it is also a precursor to testosterone. 
  • 3) Testosterone: the main sex hormone found in men, that control male physical features like growth of penis, testes, facial, pubic, and body hair; building of muscles and strong bones; height; and deepening of the voice. 

The two other hormones we haven’t discussed yet are cortisol (stress hormones) and thyroid hormones. The interplay of all these hormones is undeniable, however, for the sake of lengthiness, we will only be talking about sex hormones in this blog.  

What Are Symptoms of Too Much or Too Little of a Hormone?

Hormone

Too Much

Too Little

 

Estrogen 

(we will look at estrogen levels as a whole vs. individually)

  • Bloating / Puffiness
  • Weight gain
  • Heavy & painful periods
  • Mood swings and irritability
  • Fibroids
  • Migraines
  • Gallbladder issues
  • Memory difficulty
  • Menstrual cycles <3 days
  • Smaller breasts/beginning to droop
  • Dry, thinning skin
  • Vaginal dryness 
  • Pain with intercourse
  • Low libido
  • More fine lines and wrinkles
  • Recurrent bladder infections
  • Problems with urinary leakage
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Struggle with anxiety & depression

Progesterone

  • Not a whole lot to report here – remember that levels will increase if a women has successfully conceived and should remain elevated during the pregnancy
  • Frequent anxiety
  • Headaches and migraines around your menstrual cycle
  • Painful, heavy, or difficulty periods
  • Painful breasts before menstruating
  • Miscarriage occurring in 1st trimester
  • Difficulty getting pregnant
  • Restless legs

Testosterone

  • Abnormal hair growth on face, chest, & abdomen
  • Acne
  • Oily skin and/or hair
  • Diagnosed with PCOS
  • Difficulty getting pregnant
  • Thinning hair on head
  • Presence of skin tags
  • Low libido
  • Lack of motivation
  • Problems with urinary leakage
  • Loss of muscle mass/unable to gain muscle
  • Difficulty achieving orgasm
  • Anxiety or panic attacks
  • Decreased bone density
  • Tired and fatigued throughout the day

Can you start to see how all of our sex hormones have to work at optimum levels so we can function appropriately? 

So, what can we do about it? Like with all major medical decisions, it’s important to talk with your doctor if you feel your hormone levels are off. There are many options out there to achieve the proper balance necessary to have improved function. One option is to follow “Seed Cycling.”

Seed cycling has been around for ages and is considered more of an alternative medicine option. Although there have been few studies on the efficacy of seed cycling, the inherent properties associated with the four types of seeds seem to make sense as to why they could help with our hormone levels. 

* Disclaimer: seed cycling is not meant to be a complete treatment or “cure” of the mentioned symptoms below, but seems to be a low risk, management option.

The consumption of seeds is said to improve hormones and help to alleviate symptoms of irregular or heavy menstrual cycles, PMS, infertility, symptoms of perimenopause and menopause. If you go back to the previous blog about hormones and the female reproductive cycle, you’ll remember that we need higher levels of estrogen in the first half of our cycle and higher levels of progesterone in the second half of our cycle.  

  • During days 1-14 of your cycle, it is recommended to eat 2 tablespoons of freshly ground flaxseed and pumpkin seeds, daily. This helps to increase your estrogen levels. 
  • During days 15-30 of your cycle, it is recommended to eat 2 tablespoons of freshly ground sesame seeds and sunflower seeds, daily. This will help to increase your progesterone levels. 

If you’re interested in learning more about your hormone levels, check out the DUTCH test website. In the meantime, if you would rather try more natural ways to manage potential hormone imbalances, you can always try seed cycling and know that it can sometimes take 3-4 cycles until you notice results (although some others report a difference after the first month). 

Mindfulness practice is also helpful in managing stress and, consequently, the secretion of our sex hormones. Although not talked about too much in this blog, meditation is a wonderful mindfulness practice to settle down our nervous system. It has been observed in research that it can be just as effective as medications for mild forms of anxiety/high stress. There are so many apps out there, but here are few to look into: Calm, Headspace, Insight Timer, Aura. 

Complications with your hormone levels can also impact your pelvic floor. Pain around and during your period (dysmenorrhea, endometriosis ), pain with intercourse (dyspareunia), and difficulty urinating (hurts to pee / dysuria) or defecating can all be treated by a pelvic floor physical therapist. Hormone imbalance is one piece to the puzzle and we encourage you to get in contact with a pelvic floor physical therapist to help assist with these secondary effects. 

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