It happens every month exactly 7-10 days before your period. The week from hell.
You start to brace yourself because you know it so well. Your boobs are swollen and getting bigger by the minute. Your muffin top seems to have taken on a life of it’s own. You’ve got a case of “the bloat” which means nothing fits, not even your “fat” clothes.”
You’re more impatient than ever and you’re quickly morphing into someone you don’t recognize! Even worse, you’re practically craving chocolate in your sleep. WTF?
Or maybe you’re Anxiety Girl. She’s stressin’ like crazy, she’s got heart palpitations, she can’t sleep and worst of all she has random outbursts usually directed at the easiest target – the man in her life. Oh yes, the poor unsuspecting dude.
Here’s how women describe their emotions to me the week before their period:
“I feel like I want to take a running jump off a cliff Nicole! I’m cursed!”
“I become such a hot mess, I get so anxious I bite all my nails (I’m not even a nail biter!) and then of course I totally freak out on my poor boyfriend.”
“I just seem to spiral into a mini depression for one week every month.”
“Nothing makes me feel better during this time of the month. I just have to wait until I get my period to feel any relief.”
As if the symptoms are not bad enough, it seems that every month they continue to get worse and worse. You know something is wrong but you don’t know what it is, much less how to actually start dealing with it.
You’ve decided that there is no running or hiding from this monthly madness. You’ve just come to expect it and accept it for what it is. It seems to you that this is just one of the pitfalls of being a woman in the 21st century.
This is just not cool. For some reason many women feel they have to suffer – that it’s somehow preordained. This photo was too good to resist – can you tell I’m trying to add a little humor to this very serious convo? There really is a battle being waged within so many women’s bodies and it’s time to make peace yes?
I think you’re getting the point here right? You’re either suffering from one or all (maybe even more) of the issues I’ve described above and I’m gonna bet that you’re over it!
All you’ve been offered is the pill for your period woes.
Maybe you’re taking the birth control pill for your issues. Nearly 60% of women who are on the pill take it for reasons other than birth control. You might even have been prescribed other medications – diuretics, anti-depressants or maybe ovulation-suppressing drugs.
The problem is that most women don’t want to treat the symptoms with drugs, they want to know what the heck is going on in their bodies and they want to fix the root cause.
Are your period problems a result of hormones gone awry?
These issues and symptoms could be related to something called Estrogen Dominance. This means that *estrogen levels are too high relative to progesterone levels.*
Estrogen is a pro-growth hormone, and as we know, too much of anything is never a good thing. That’s where progesterone comes in – it offsets the growth effects of estrogen. The goal is to keep these two hormones balanced in relation to each other.
Estrogen dominance really just means two things:
- Progesterone deficiency, which is caused by lack of ovulation or ovulation that occurs but the corpus luteum health is compromised so it produces less progesterone.
- Compromised estrogen detoxification pathways, which lead to higher levels of estrogen in the body
There are five scenarios I see in my practice:
- High estrogen, normal progesterone
- High estrogen, low progesterone
- Normal estrogen, low progesterone
- Low estrogen, even lower progesterone
- Normal estrogen, normal progesterone but the person is exposed to too many xenoestrogens (usually through environmental chemicals that are estrogen mimickers in the body), which creates symptoms of estrogen dominance
Estrogen Dominance can be caused by a number of factors:
The main contributor is a lack of ovulation or irregular ovulation. Either of these scenarios will lower progesterone production, allowing estrogen to become dominant.
Ovulation is hampered by a number of things…
- The food we eat.
- Excess unmitigated stress
- Environmental toxins like estrogen mimickers (BPA, phthalates, etc)
- Thyroid disorders
- Too little caloric intake or low body weight
- Excess body weight or obesity
Estrogen dominance symptoms include:
- Difficulty getting or staying pregnant
- Breakthrough bleeding or spotting during the 2nd half of the cycle
- Emotional PMS symptoms (like we talked about at the start of this article)
- Menstrual migraines
- Heavy menstrual flow
- Shorter menstrual cycles (less than 25 days), or more frequent periods
- Anxiety heightened in the 2nd half of the cycle
- Swollen and/or painful breasts
Wait, what about LOW estrogen?
Okay not to confuse you but… Remember #4 above, of the 5 scenarios I typically see? That’s low estrogen and even lower progesterone. Technically speaking this is still a case of estrogen dominance. A few symptoms of low estrogen with even lower progesterone include:
- Sporadic periods
- Low sex drive
- Vaginal dryness
- Painful sex
- Hot flashes
- Joint pain
- Dry skin & eyes
- Mood changes
- Poor cognitive function
We’ve gotta get you ovulating consistently, girl! Keep reading.
Exacerbation of conditions influenced by estrogen I often see:
- Uterine Fibroids
- Fibrocystic breasts
- Blood clots
- Ovarian cysts
- Luteal phase migraines or headaches
- Mid-cycle or ovulatory pain
How can you find out if you’re estrogen dominant?
If you want to test your estrogen and progesterone to determine if there is an imbalance, I recommend the Female Hormone Test Kit and the Progesterone Test Kit from Lets Get Checked. They are my go-to provider for hormone testing kits for myself and clients. You just order them online, have the kit shipped to you, then do the tests at home and send the kit back in the mail.
Then a nurse will call you to deliver your results and discuss treatment options.
Check out my “Hormone Testing Cheat Sheet” for more guidance and answers to all your hormone testing questions!
So what should you do if you’re estrogen dominant?
1. Check that you are ovulating.
- This is the only way your body makes significant amounts of progesterone. You can use a thermometer to track your basal temperature each morning when you wake up to see when you have ovulated. Your temp rises about 2/10th’s of a degree after ovulation occurs. See chapter one of my book Fix Your Period for additional instructions.
2. Make small changes to your diet to focus on gut and liver health
- Incorporate cruciferous and leafy green vegetables into at least one meal a day. Kale, collard greens, spinach, bok choy, arugula, swiss chard, brussels sprouts, beet greens, dandelion greens. They have special magical powers that work to support the liver’s detoxification pathways.
- Get adequate protein. Women need more complete protein than they think. Aim for 1 gram of protein for every pound of ideal body weight. If you weight 125 lbs, and this is your ideal body weight, then you should be aiming for about 125 grams of protein a day. This protein will stabilize your blood sugar and insulin, which will reduce inflammation and support ovarian function. Not the mention, the amino acids in the protein will support your liver’s detox pathways.
- Eat some fat! Yup, your body holds on to fat if you’re not getting enough of the right fats in the food you eat. The reason it does this is that we’re evolutionarily (that’s a word?) programmed to store fat if our diets are lacking in fat. Blame it on our cavemen ancestors. And, we need fat in order to ovulate efficiently and make sex hormones. No fat = hormone imbalance. Incorporate avocados, wild-caught salmon, sardines, beef tallow, grass-fed meat, cold pressed olive oil, grass-fed butter, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds into your meals daily.
- Eat as many organic foods as possible. There are a lot of estrogen-mimicking chemicals in the many pesticides used to spray our food. The less exposure, the better our ovaries and boobs will feel. Do your best to source organic, grass-fed, locally grown food.
- Reduce processed foods, seed oils (e.g. canola & sunflower), refined grains, cane sugar and corn syrup
- Add gut loving options like bone broth, digestive bitters, warm water with lemon, more fiber, fermented foods or a probiotic like Megaspore
3. Support your gallbladder (yep!)
After the 2nd phase of estrogen detoxification, processed toxins are transported from the liver in the bile on their way to phase 3 of detoxification in the gut. They pass through the *gallbladder* and into the intestines. So it’s also key that your gallbladder is functioning optimally so that waste can properly exit your body!
I have an entire protocol for gallbladder health for you, check it out: “How To Address Gallbladder Dysfunction Guide”
4. Incorporate some supplements to support healthy estrogen detoxification
- Some of the most potent liver supportive ingredients include milk thistle, N-Acetyl Cysteine, Alpha Lipoic Acid, turmeric, artichoke extract, broccoli sprout concentrate or sulforaphane, and methionine. Overall, these compounds act as potent antioxidants, they reduce inflammation in the liver and they support phase 1 and 2 of liver detoxification.
Some of my favorite brands include Pure Encapsulations Liver GI Detox, Protocol for Life Balance Liver Detox, NOW Foods Liver Refresh, Douglas Labs Ultra Liver Support and Vital Nutrients Liver Support. You can find any of these at a 15% discount in my Fullscript Supplement Dispensary.
- Magnesium is amazing for liver detoxification and supports the menstrual cycle in myriad ways. It literally calms us down and also helps relax muscles, including our uterine muscles – this reduces and/or eliminates menstrual cramps. I LOVE the magnesium citrate supplement from Natural Calm. Just mix 1-2 teaspoons in water each night and your constipation (and your PMS & cramps) will likely disappear! If you take more than 350mg of citrate you may experience diarrhea, so just experiment and see what works for you. Also, epsom salt baths! This is a great way to get magnesium transdermally (through the skin) and, bonus, it’s great for stress relief.
5. Anxiety girl no more! Stress strategies for you:
- Focus on your morning routine. If you are jolted awake every morning by an alarm and the first thing you reach for is your phone to check email then this is for you! Checking email first thing every day depletes you. This week do not check your email before 9am each day. Instead wake up to something empowering, like these questions: “What can I do to be of service today?”, or “How can I have more fun today?” So much better than stressin’ over your inbox!
- Hang out with your girlfriends. Seriously? Seriously! Do you know that women live longer than men by an average of six years? Part of the reason for this is our stress response. We go into what is known as “tend and befriend” whereas men are much more apt to go into “fight or flight” mode. Time with our friends actually boosts our oxytocin levels, the hormone of love, bonding and compassion. This leads to more happiness and fulfillment and less stress!
There are many more things you can do on your journey to balanced hormones but this will get you started. One of the first things I ask every woman I talk to is “How do you want to feel physically and emotionally?” and “What is most important to you in your life?”
Almost 100% of the time, women feel their hormonal symptoms hinder every area of their lives in some way or another. Do you feel this way? If you want to feel and live differently definitely grab my book Fix Your Period, which contains a full 6-week plan to help you harness your hormones.