When progesterone levels fall, ironically it can mean an increase in oestrogen through the production of another hormone called androstenedione. You may have low progesterone levels either as a result of anovulatory cycles or at menopause, and this can cause the body to respond by increasing androstenedione production and this masculinising hormone is one step in the pathway for making oestrogen.
If oestrogen is made this way there is a tendency, particularly if the receptors sites for oestrogen are filled with synthetic or xenoestrogens, for testosterone to be produced instead. This can lead to symptoms like hair loss on the scalp and unwanted hair on the legs and face.
Which hormone falls furthest?
We hear a lot about the declining levels of oestrogen at menopause, but at menopause the production of oestrogen only falls by half to one third. The decline in progesterone is far greater to a staggering 120th of the body’s normal baseline levels and yet it is oestrogen that is widely prescribed – and believed to be essential – to treat menopausal symptoms.
Of course women need oestrogen but they need it to be balanced by progesterone in order to avoid the effects of excess oestrogen because of its known health risks. The condition identified by the late Dr John Lee as oestrogen dominance is still not recognised widely by the medical profession though at the highest research levels it is acknowledged that progesterone does have a role to play in hormonal balance.
What conditions are linked to oestrogen dominance?
The most well known and acknowledged are oestrogen’s role in breast and uterine cancer, as around 80% of breast cancers are termed oestrogen receptor positive. However it is also a significant factor in the many problems women can have with their reproductive system such as fibroids, heavy menstruation, endometriosis, PMS, migraines, depression, PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) and weight issues as it interferes with thyroid hormone production.
Keeping in balance
It is clear we need both progesterone and oestrogen to function optimally, but when oestrogen overwhelms the progesterone levels in the body we are more vulnerable to the effects of oestrogen dominance.
Simple actions can help such as maintaining a healthy weight as oestrogen is produced in the fat cells so if overweight you will be producing more of it than you need. That extends to regular exercise and a healthy diet which consists of organic produce where possible, reducing meat intake and certainly increasing foods which provide plenty of fibre from fruit and vegetables is also known to be good for balancing oestrogen intake.
We cannot obtain progesterone from the food chain but supplementing with bioidentical natural progesterone will also help keep oestrogen dominance in check and reduce your risk factor for breast cancer, osteoporosis and heart disease.