Female problems seem to be on the rise. Between 40% and 60% of all women in the West suffer from PMS. In addition, women suffer from a plethora of symptoms, some menopausal and others not. Something quite serious seems to be happening. There is strong evidence that the proper hormonal balance necessary for women's bodies to function healthily is being interfered with by a number of factors.
Research has shown that many women in their 30s – some even younger – will occasionally not ovulate during their menstrual month. Without ovulation, no corpus luteum results and no progesterone is made. A progesterone deficiency ensues and several problems can result from this, one being the month-long presence of unopposed estrogen with all its attendant side-effects.
A second major problem results from the interrelationship between progesterone loss and stress. Stress combined with a bad diet can induce cycles where ovulation does not occur. The consequent lack of progesterone interferes with the production of the stress-combating hormones, worsening stressful conditions that give rise to further anovulatory cycles and so continues the vicious cycle.
Another major factor contributing to this imbalance between estrogen and progesterone is the industrialized world now live in, immersed in a rising sea of petrochemical derivatives. They are in the air, food and water and include pesticides and herbicides (such as DDT, dieldrin, heptachlor, etc.) as well as various plastics (polycarbonate plastics found in babies bottles and water jugs) and PCBs. These estrogen-mimics are highly fat-soluble, not biodegradable or well excreted, and accumulate in the fat tissue of animals and humans. These chemicals have an uncanny ability to mimic natural estrogen and thus are given the name "xenoestrogens" since, although they are foreign chemicals, they are taken up by the estrogen receptor sites in the body, seriously interfering with natural biochemical activity. Drinking sodas out of plastic bottles is one of the leading causes of estrogen dominance.
Extensive research is now revealing an alarming situation worldwide, created by the inundation of these hormone-mimics. In their book, Our Stolen Future, authors Theo Colburn of the World Wildlife Fund, Dianne Dumanoski of The Boston Globe, and John Peterson Meyers, a zoologist, have identified 51 hormone mimics, each able to unleash a torrent of effects such as reduced sperm production, cell division and sculpting of the developing brain. These mimics are not only linked to the recent discovery that human sperm counts worldwide have plunged by 50% between 1938 and 1990 but also to genital deformities, breast, prostate and testicular cancer, and neurological disorders.
Dr. John Lee, MD has discovered a consistent theme running through women's complaints of the distressing and often debilitating symptoms of PMS, perimenopause and menopause: too much estrogen or, in other words, estrogen dominance. Now, instead of estrogen playing its essential role within the well-balanced symphony of steroid hormones in a woman's body, it has begun to overshadow the other players, creating biochemical dissonance. Even natural estrogens should not be prescribed unless it is clear that a deficiency exists.
Female hormone imbalances can manifest in many and diverse symptoms. More specific suggestions regarding individual hormone levels may be made elsewhere in this report.
The hormone issue is a complicated one. There are three types of natural estrogen, and multiple degradation pathways and metabolites. Depending on the area of concern, a skilled natural doctor should be able to recommend those tests which will yield the most information, and guide you into balance. While a therapeutic trial of progesterone may help a condition of estrogen dominance, specific laboratory testing on a doctor's recommendation should be conducted prior to hormone replacement. Blood, saliva, or urine measurements may be made. Your doctor should be aware that the timing of specimen collection in relation to your cycle is important in progesterone testing. The best time is day 21 – 24 of your cycle (sooner if cycle is shorter and later if cycle is longer). If progesterone levels are normal, elevated estrogens can be reduced by means other than progesterone use.
The need for testing is seen in the situation of two menopausal women having similar symptoms but one with elevated estrogens (or an imbalance of estrogens) and the other with low estrogens. Both may have normal or low levels of progesterone. Giving natural estrogen to a woman in menopause seems the logical thing to do, but may make the situation worse if her levels are already too high. Giving a women low in estrogen, more progesterone won't solve the underlying deficiency.
Dr. Lee has been able to balance the estrogen-dominance effect through the use of transdermal natural progesterone cream.
Anti-aging Benefits of Natural Progesterone
Estrogen's role in osteoporosis is only a minor one. Estrogen replacement will reduce bone breakdown, but only progesterone increases new bone growth or deposition. Progesterone deficiency results in bone loss. In a three year study of 63 post-menopausal women with osteoporosis, women using transdermal progesterone cream experienced an average 7 to 8% bone mass density increase in the first year, 4 to 5% the second year, and 3 to 4% in the third year. Untreated women in this age category typically lose 1.5% bone mass density per year. Dr. Lee believes that the use of natural progesterone in conjunction with dietary and lifestyle change can not only stop osteoporosis but can actually reverse it – even in women aged over 70.
Effects of Estrogen Dominance
 Lee, John R., M.D., Natural Progesterone: The Multiple Role of a Remarkable Hormone, BLL Publishing, California, USA, 1993, p.29.
 Kenton, Leslie, Passage to Power, Random House, UK, 1995, pp.19-20.
 Lee, John R., M.D., "Osteoporosis Reversal: The Role of Progesterone," International Clinical Nutrition Review (1990), 10: pp.384-391.
You can develop a clearer understanding of the nature of your condition and the interplay of female hormones by reading an informative book such as Natural Hormone Balance by Uzzi Reiss, MD, or What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Premenopause and What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Menopause by John Lee, MD.
Progesterone has been shown in animal studies to promote the formation of new myelin sheaths [Human Reproduction 2000 Jun;15 Suppl 1: pp.1-13, J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol 1999 Apr-Jun;69 pp.97-107, Mult Scler 1997 Apr;3 pp.105-12]
Physicians have known for years that pregnancy can suppress some forms of immune response, such as allergies. In the early and mid-1980s, several doctors observed that MS patients had fewer symptoms during pregnancy and post-partum recovery. This may be due to the high progesterone level in the blood of a pregnant woman. Progesterone tends to be anti-inflammatory. Progesterone therapy may therefore be useful for MS especially as a medical report noted the association between enlarged adrenal glands and MS. Progesterone, being a steroid, often helps the adrenals deal with inflammation.
Other studies have indicated that symptoms are worse during periods when the progesterone to estrogen ratio is low.
Elevated estrogen levels often increase serum copper levels to more than double normal values, while at the same time red blood cell levels, where copper is important, may actually be lower. This may contribute to some of the psychological or other symptoms seen during pregnancy or with birth control pill use.
Testosterone is converted into estrogen naturally. When this conversion is overactive the result is too little testosterone and too much estrogen. High levels of estrogen also trick the brain into thinking that enough testosterone is being produced, thereby reducing the natural production of testosterone.
Progesterone increases sensitivity of estrogen receptors, and can therefore redirect estrogen activity and inhibit many of unopposed estrogen's undesirable side-effects, which includes interference with thyroid hormone activity.
Ovarian function was investigated in 30 women with postural idiopathic edema by measuring plasma estradiol and progesterone levels between the 21st and 23rd days of the menstrual cycle. Plasma progesterone concentrations were found to be lower than 5ng/ml in 53% of the cases and lower than 10ng/ml in 83%. The ovarian dysfunction most frequently observed was inadequate corpus luteum, i.e. progesterone deficiency with normal plasma estradiol levels. In virtually all patients the initial disorder in capillary permeability, as evaluated by Landis' test, was fully corrected by progesterone administered orally. However, clinical improvement was less marked with treatments of short duration (2-3 consecutive cycles). In view of the complex cause of the disease, combined treatments in which progesterone might well play the major role are usually required. [Presse Med 1983 Dec 10;12(45): pp.2859-62 (translated)]
In a normal menstrual cycle, estrogen and progesterone regulate the buildup of the endometrium (uterine lining of blood and tissue), which is shed each month during menstruation. Menorrhagia can occur because of an imbalance between estrogen and progesterone. As a result of the imbalance, the endometrium keeps building up resulting in heavy bleeding when it is eventually shed. Since hormone imbalances are often present in adolescents and in women approaching menopause, this type of menorrhagia (dysfunctional uterine bleeding) is fairly common in these groups.
The administration of natural progesterone is suggested by Dr. John Lee, MD and others to be a protective therapy that can reduce breast tenderness and the fibrocystic changes seen in FBD.
Hormone levels fluctuate at different stages of pregnancy, making it difficult to isolate any underlying imbalances during this time.
One study reported that women with the highest levels of estrogen were twice as likely to develop breast cancer as those with the lowest levels. [Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 17th April 2002]
Yeast infections are more common among women with increased levels of estrogen. This is seen in those who use estrogen-containing birth control pills and among women who are pregnant. The increased hormone level causes changes in the vaginal environment that make it a media for fungal growth and nourishment.
The inner most layer of an adrenal gland is the zona reticularis which produces small amounts of sex hormones. Specifically, it produces androgen, estrogen and progesterone. Adrenal exhaustion can therefore cause hormone deficiencies.
One of melatonin's roles is the reduction of estrogen production in the body, and probably also reduction of the number of estrogen receptors. Studies have shown that the protective, estrogen-reducing effects of melatonin are significantly reduced by excessive exposure to light (including late night TV viewing) and probably electromagnetic fields, chemical pollutants such as pesticides and fungicides, and many commonly prescribed drugs, such as beta blockers for heart disease, high blood pressure and headaches.
Cholesterol is the raw material used to make progesterone, and is therefore a precursor.
Vitex increases luteinizing hormone production while inhibiting the release of follicle stimulating hormone, leading to an indirect increase in progesterone and a normalization of prolactin levels. If taken regularly for several months, it helps to restore hormonal balance and alleviate PMS symptoms.
DIM encourages the conversion of estrogens to safer forms and helps reduce elevated levels.
Estrogens and progesterone tend to be antagonistic hormones, each balancing the other. When progesterone levels are low, it can seem as though estrogen levels are too high, which may or may not be the case. Supplementation with natural progesterone corrects the real problem: progesterone deficiency.
Before using estrogen balancing medications whether natural or not, laboratory testing should be conducted to confirm elevated levels.
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