What All Women Need to Know About Estrogen And Progesterone

naturopath victoria, naturopathic clinics victoria, naturopath women's health, women's health, hormones, menopause, perimenopause

Estrogen and progesterone are the two main sex hormones produced by the ovaries in women. These hormones are crucial components of women’s health and wellness. Not only do they contribute a woman’s menstrual cycle and the ability to conceive, and maintain a pregnancy, they also impact our mood, sex drive, bone density, skin health, heart health, and immune health.

In cycling women, estrogen rises in the first half of the menstrual cycle, and contributes to the thickening of the uterine wall (endometrium). Progesterone is produced upon ovulation and rises throughout the second half of the cycle; it drops towards the end of the cycle, which causes endometrial shedding/menstrual flow.

Naturally, we see that progesterone starts to slowly decline in our 30s. Estrogen on the other hand, starts to decline later, and deficiencies are not often seen until our 40s and 50s, as we get closer to menopause. To fully understand the changes that occur when estrogen and progesterone decline, we must first look at the myriad of functions that these two key hormones have in the body.

The Role of Progesterone:

  • Prepares the endometrium for implantation of the embryo, and helps maintain pregnancy.

  • Counteracts the effects of estrogen (ie. prevents heavy periods, cramping, PMS, fibrocystic breasts, etc.)

  • Acts on GABA receptors thereby creating a calming effect to the nervous system.

  • Helps with memory formation through the hippocampus.

  • Protects our nervous system by aiding in myelin repair.

  • Enhances the action of thyroid hormones.

  • Helps balance fluids in the body.

  • Promotes healthy bone mineral density.

  • Increases sexual interest.

  • Regulates metabolism.

The Role of Estrogen:

  • Stimulates the production of choline acetyltransferase, an enzyme that prevents Alzeimer’s disease.

  • Helps with memory formation through the hippocampus.

  • Regulates body temperature.

  • Decreases bad cholesterol (LDL) and improves good cholesterol (HDL).

  • Helps maintain the health of arteries, and prevents plaque formation.

  • Maintains the collagen and water content of the skin.

  • Promotes healthy bone mineral density.

  • Aids in the production of serotonin, which prevents against depression and anxiety.

  • Increases sexual interest.

  • Maintains the health of the vaginal mucosa.

  • Regulates inflammation in the body.

  • Regulates metabolism.

Because progesterone starts to decline before estrogen, there is a period of time in a woman’s life where there is a relative excess amount of estrogen in relation to progesterone, a phenomenon known as ‘estrogen dominance.’

Common symptoms of estrogen dominance, or progesterone deficiency include:

  • Heavy periods

  • Menstrual cramping

  • PMS

  • Headaches

  • Depression, anxiety and/or irritability

  • Low libido

  • Insomnia

  • Infertility

  • Pregnancy loss

  • Weight gain and bloating

  • Breast tenderness

  • Fibrocystic breasts

  • Poor memory and concentration

  • Hormonal acne

  • Low thyroid function

  • Fibroids and endometriosis

As we get closer to menopause, estrogen starts to decline, and menstrual periods become further apart, and eventually non-existant.

Common symptoms of estrogen deficiency include:

  • Hot flashes

  • Night sweats

  • Vaginal dryness

  • Chronic urinary tract infections

  • Poor memory and concentration

  • Low libido

  • Dry hair and skin

  • Depression and/or anxiety

  • High cholesterol

  • Weight gain

Lifestyle factors that can contribute to hormone dysfunction, and exacerbate hormone imbalance symptoms include exposure to environmental estrogens (xenoestrogens), and chronic stress. Xenoestrogens are found in plastics, pesticides/herbicides, and hormone fed meat products. These compounds act like estrogen in the body, and can contribute to the ‘estrogen dominant’ picture I mentioned above. Chronic stress on the other hand tends to ‘steal’ from our progesterone pool. When we are stressed, our body preferentially produces cortisol (our stress hormone), over progesterone, which again leads to a relative progesterone deficiency or ‘estrogen dominant’ picture.

If you suspect that your hormones are out of balance, I highly recommend that you have your hormones tested. A licensed naturopathic physician can offer you comprehensive hormone testing, and individualized treatment plans based on your results. Hormone balance is critical for a woman’s overall quality of life, and is a key step for achieving optimal health!

In health and happiness,

Dr. Meghan van Drimmelen | Naturopath Victoria BC

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