I talk a lot about the liver in my daily life! A lot of women don’t realize that their livers play an integral role in their hormonal health. Let’s put it this way…if you’re hormones are all whacked out, then it’s most likely that your liver is not feeling so hot.
Here’s why the liver is so important for hormonal health:
Your liver functions in your body in much the same way a pool filter functions in a pool. Just as a pool filter cleans a pool by catching the dead leaves, dirt and insects, the liver detoxifies our bodies from harmful chemicals and toxins found in food and our environment. This is done in two phases and requires certain vitamins and minerals to do it effectively. Too much booze, drugs (illegal and legal – xanax has to be processed by your liver too), pesticides in foods, chemicals and environmental pollution (your liver doesn’t like smog), and too little nutrients can cause your lovely liver to get really bogged down. It ends up working all day long to remove these excess toxins that we’re exposed to, instead of doing it’s main jobs in the body.
One of the most important functions of the liver is to break down and remove excess hormones from your body. One hormone in particular is estrogen. As you know, estrogen is a big player in our menstrual health – it helps build the uterine lining, it keeps our vagina’s lubricated and even helps keep our mood elevated!
Here’s how the liver impacts estrogen levels in the body:
Once estrogen has done it’s job in the body, it is sent to the liver so it can be broken down and removed through the colon. Unfortunately, if your liver is all gunked up from the excess toxins it is exposed to then it is unable to function optimally and thus cannot remove estrogen at it’s normal rate. Estrogen is not metabolized properly and can be reabsorbed back into the body.
Even if a woman’s liver is functioning properly there is another factor to consider. Chronic constipation because of lack of fiber. Fiber increases the expulsion of excess estrogen so it would make sense that too little fiber would be a problem. As I mentioned above, the liver sends that broken down estrogen to your colon for removal. If your bowels aren’t moving then that estrogen can get reabsorbed back into the bloodstream. Ah, no good.
In addition to all of this, if you are consuming a diet with too much fat, such as the Standard American Diet, your estrogen levels may go up. The reason for this is that excess dietary fat encourages reabsorption of estrogens from your gut into your blood stream rather than excretion of this excess estrogen.
And so it begins – a build-up of estrogen in the bloodstream. This results in a condition called estrogen dominance, where estrogen becomes dominant in the body, especially in relation to progesterone. It’s like a store where there are no sales but the owner keeps buying new products. Estrogen dominance can result in some rather unpleasant symptoms and conditions:
:: Fibrocystic breasts
:: PMS & PMDD – especially emotional symptoms like anxiety, depression and snappiness 🙂
:: Migraines, especially right before your period
:: Irregular periods and heavy bleeding
:: Endometriosis – from an overstimulation of the uterine lining by too much estrogen
:: Fibroids – similar to how endometriosis begins
:: Infertility – caused by many of the symptoms above
Here are a couple other things that contribute to the condition of estrogen dominance:
1. Stress. I said it! Chronic stress can cause chronically high levels of cortisol (the stress hormone). Read more about all that here. Cortisol actually blocks progesterone receptors which can lead to low levels of progesterone in relation to estrogen. This results in symptoms of estrogen dominance.
2. Xenoestrogens. These are synthetic chemicals that mimic estrogen. They are found in plastics, and many many other products that we use in everyday life. We live in a pretty toxic world. Did you know there are over 80,000 chemicals currently on the market and the majority of them have not been tested for safety, much less proven safe. Xenoestrogens act like estrogen in the body making it seem like you’ve got more estrogen than you do. They are total impostors and wreak havoc on your delicate hormonal balance. BPA and phthalates are two of the worst offenders.
3. Alcohol. Do you know that alcohol consumption raises estrogen levels and slows down fat burning? Not cool! Just two servings a day for four weeks has been shown to raise estrogen levels by 22 percent!
So, how do you improve your liver function for optimal hormonal health?
Here are 4 of my best recommendations for improved liver function:
1. Get that fiber in! Sounds boring right? It has been proven that women eating higher amounts of fiber have lower levels of circulating estrogen. This means that there is less estrogen wreaking havoc on your hot bod. What’s not to love? Try getting 25 grams of fiber a day into your diet. What does 25 grams of fiber look like? Here it is: 1 apple-5 grams, 1 pear-4 grams, 1/2 cup of kidney beans-6 grams, 1 cup of brown rice-4 grams, 1 cup of mustard or collard greens-5 grams. That’s 24 grams of fiber! So easy right?
2. Cut back on the zin. Alcohol impairs your liver’s functioning so much that circulating estrogen levels increase significantly with just two drinks a day. If you are struggling with any of the estrogen dominance issues above then reducing the amount of alcohol you drink could really help. The same goes for the men in your life. Liver impairment caused by too much alcohol can cause a condition called gynocomastia, which is characterized by enlarged breasts in men.
3. Reduce exposure to Xenoestrogens. As if we needed any more estrogen! PCB’s, pesticides, chlorine, you name it; they all have this effect on us. And let’s not talk about the ingredients in shampoo, body lotion and makeup. There are some serious offenders out there. Check out the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database to find out how your products rate. http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ Start replacing your toxic products with products that contain more natural ingredients and less chemicals. Your body and your liver will thank you.
4. Eat foods that cleanse your liver. Dandelion greens contain many compounds that aid in the cleansing of the liver. I used to be scared to try new greens but they are seriously the best thing I ever incorporated into my diet. Avocados have been shown to protect the liver against toxic overload and turmeric has been found to protect the liver against toxins. In fact, turmeric is one of the most powerful liver cleansers out there.
In the comments below, tell me if you’re dealing with any of the conditions I mentioned above and what you’ve incorporated into your life to address them.