The largest study ever undertaken on diet and health—the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC)—has turned up some interesting findings on women’s hormonal balance.
For starters, this long-term investigation of 521,000 subjects finds that the female hormone estrogen and male hormones (or androgens) increase breast cancer risk—both before and after menopause. But the female hormone progesterone does not.
A 2010 analysis of EPIC data published in the International Journal of Cancer linked lower estrogen exposure—and higher levels of progesterone—with lower risk for endometrial cancer. “A reduction in endometrial cancer was observed in women with late menarche [onset of menstruation], early menopause,” and other factors relating to a normal estrogen-progesterone balance were observed in low-risk women.
“Progesterone is crucial for the establishment and maintenance of pregnancy,” scientists recently wrote in the journal Immunotherapy. And Chinese research finds that progesterone treatments in the first trimester can safely prevent miscarriage.
Other benefits of sufficient progesterone? This hormone helps the body metabolize fat for energy and is a natural diuretic, preventing bloating and “false fat.” Other research finds this hormone facilitates thyroid function, normalizes blood sugar levels and blood clotting, helps spark a healthy libido, calms anxiety, promotes sleep, stimulates bone formation, and helps prevent cyclical migraines.
More than 75% of all women suffer hormone havoc directly or indirectly related to progesterone deficiency. Whether you’re pregnant or are beginning to experience the first signs of the “change,” it’s critical to balance estrogen with progesterone.
First described by the late John R. Lee, MD, estrogen dominance has been on the rise for over 50 years, partly due to pesticides and other petrochemical residues. “Even in very tiny amounts, they will have estrogenic effects,” he discovered.
The EPIC data also shows that adult weight gain—which numerous studies have linked to estrogenic chemicals in our food supply and environment—significantly increase the risk for breast and other cancers. So it’s not too surprising that a new study published in Cancer Causes and Control shows physical activity can help balance hormonal levels and decrease breast cancer risk.
Interestingly, engaging in strenuous exercise during adolescence and moderate workouts after menopause appears effective in lessening cancer risk. At any age, get moving to keep your progesterone levels from going too low!
Normally, estrogen starts up about eight days after a woman’s period. Then from day 12 to day 26, the body produces 100s of times more progesterone than estrogen. But if that balancing female hormone is missing, “you have estrogen from day eight to day 26. . .a whole month of nothing but estrogen,” wrote Dr. Lee. No wonder that estrogen dominance is one of the major factors in PMS and menopausal symptoms.
What Are Your Hormone Levels?
According to Dr. Lee, any woman still having monthly periods has plenty of estrogen, although vaginal dryness and vaginal mucosal atrophy are clear symptoms of estrogen deficiency. “Lacking these signs, the best test is the saliva hormone assay.”
A Salivary Hormone Test is an individualized evaluation to determine levels of bio-available female hormones (estradiol, estriol, progesterone), the androgen testosterone, as well as DHEA and the stress hormone cortisol. These results can help determine the lifestyle modifications you need to make for optimal hormone balance. While testing for all six hormones is the best way to evaluate total health, if you’re experiencing estrogen dominance or suspect progesterone deficiency, testing for specific hormones only can sometimes be sufficient.
A Safe Alternative
Even though some women thrive on hormone replacement therapy (HRT), we’re not all created equal. Not only have I personally experienced problems with time-release forms, but many of my clients have also had trouble with HRT. And of course, findings from the Women’s Health Initiative study have linked synthetic HRT with breast and uterine cancer.
Integrative physician Robert Wascher, MD, says there is “almost no solid clinical evidence to support the notion that bio-identical HRT is safer or more effective than the conventional ‘conjugated equine estrogens.’ Within a woman’s body, estrogen receptors really don’t care much whether estrogen-like hormones come from horse urine or from the human form of estrogen.”
Recent data from the EPIC study also casts doubts about the safety of alternative forms of HRT. Combining that research with data from the Women’s Health Initiative, Dr. Wascher advises any woman going through menopause NOT to take HRT medications.
“If you are one of the approximately 3 to 5% of postmenopausal women who have unbearable hot flashes or other severe symptoms of menopause and you are currently using some form of HRT, then work with your doctor to reduce the dosage to the lowest possible levels that adequately treats your symptoms,” he suggests.
If (like most women) you’re low in progesterone, I’ve found that all-natural progesterone crème derived from wild yam like ProgestaKey can help balance hormones and lessen symptoms of estrogen dominance. Depending on your life stage or age, follow the crème’s instructions for dosage and frequency. I recommend applying progesterone crème to soft skin rich in capillaries on a different area of the body (your neck, upper chest, breasts, inner arms, abdomen, back of your hands, and face) each day.
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