Let’s take a second and admire your body. You eat, breathe, and think, without thinking about it! How about the amazing trick where our brain remembers every word from a song of our childhood? These types of innate learning happen so frequently. Our brain has an enormous capacity to perform these automatic functions for us.
In one sense, our bodies are repetitive learning feedback machines (think muscle memory and daily habits). In another sense, it is an adaptive being that adjusts internally from outside stimulus- unconsciously (think fight or flight response & adaption to stress). A human’s reproductive system is a magnificent combination including both types of feedback! Estrogen and progesterone work synchronously to help women become & stay fertile every month. Testosterone and its metabolites work to help men build muscle and produce millions of half copies of DNA daily. (Fun fact- both women and women have these 3 hormones & need them!). It’s important to understand the basic functions of your amazing hormones to both understand your own body and health, and ensure you are aware of the signs of when hormones can become whack!
Female Sex Hormones
Are hormones need to be in a beautiful balance in order to have a thriving, healthy body! The primary hormones in a woman’s system are:
Estrogen and Progesterone
Every month a woman’s body uses these hormones to prepare for conception. Women on average begin menstruation around age 12 and end around 52, in state called menopause. On average an adult woman’s cycle lasts from 21-35 days. It’s important to note that the average teenage girl cycle can last anywhere between 20-45 days. This means that normal teenage cycles can be a month and a half long and this timing can last for a few years. It’s also common for women in perimenopause (the period before menopause), to have irregular cycles, as estrogen and progesterone swing up and down.
The menstrual cycle is broken into 2 phases, the follicular phase and the luteal phase. Below are is a chart on the rise and fall of these hormones on an IDEALIZED cycle. Note that day 14 marks ovulation, however not all women ovulate on day 14. Ovulation marks the change from the follicular to the luteal phase of your menstrual cycle. It also marks the implantation and growth of a baby if you are pregnant!
Tracking your cycle is an important tool to monitor your reproductive health. Learning the signs of hormones will help you determine if your cycle is normal or not. For example, below are the signs of estrogen dominance or deficiency!
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ATTN WOMEN ❗️High or low Estrogen can make or break your health and physique goals! However, estrogen is not the enemy- abnormal levels of estrogen is. . ✅FACTS: Estrogen Dominance occurs when estrogen is too high in relation to progesterone (it can even occur with “normal estrogen levels” but low progesterone levels!). Estrogen Deficiency occurs when there are low levels of estrogen, which can be lead to early perimenopausal or menopausal levels of estrogen! . ✅TRUTH: Estrogen issues can prevent you from getting pregnant, cause loss or an abnormal menstrual cycle, create or worsen thyroid disorders, cause difficulty maintaining or losing body weight ( or gaining muscle!), increase your risk for cancers (breast linked to high estrogen!), & even can cause bone loss & elevated risk for heart disease (with deficiency). . What can cause these issues?⬇️ -Estrogen Dominance: thyroid disorders, poor liver health, birth control rebound, excess body fat, chronic stress, low fiber & high inflammatory diet, environmental toxins, nutritional deficiencies, heavy metals, gut dysbiosis -Estrogen Deficiency: thyroid or pituitary disorders, undereating and/or overexercising, low body fat, chronic stress, hysterectomies, radiation, chemotherapy, nutritional deficiencies . 🗣🗣 Increasing or decreasing estrogen requires specific protocols based on your own symptoms & root cause- make sure to work with a health professional like me along with a doctor if you have symptoms in order to get the personalized care you need! Many of the symptoms can be confusing- so you want to TEST don’t GUESS (I use the DUTCH test if I can!). A big indicator of low estrogen is lack of lubrication with low sex drive, along with night sweats & hot flashes. For high estrogen- tender breasts, heavy PMS, fibroids or cysts, & mood swings. #hormonebalance #hormonehealth #estrogendominance #progesterone #pcos #hormoneimbalance #chronicfatigue #thyroidhealing #thyroidproblems #registereddietitian #functionalnutrition #healthyhormones #amenorrhea #periodproblems #periodcramps
Estrogen is the most well-known female sex hormone. It’s made primarily in the ovaries. It’s made in small quantities in the adrenals, brain and in fat cells too. Estrogen is responsible for the development of female features during puberty such as:
- Growth of breasts
- Pubic hair
- Start of menstrual cycles
It’s important for your monthly cycle to
- Thicken your uterine lining
- Create vaginal mucus (used for fertility tracking)
No estrogen or low estrogen? Cue vaginal dryness, low sex drive, no ovulation, no period!
Did you know men produce estrogen too? Men produce estrogen in lower quantities simply because they don’t have ovaries. This amazing hormone acts on the body outside of the reproductive system to do a few of the following things.
- Estrogen counteracts bone loss as you age by preserving bone density
- It reduces plaque build up in your arteries by regulating cholesterol synthesis
- Goes back to your brain to regulate your temperature
When looking for signs of high estrogen there are two factors to consider:
Estrogen Dominance Vs. High Estrogen
Estrogen dominance is when a woman has a normal level of estrogen, but low progesterone. This causes symptoms of high estrogen. Let’s dive into the differences, as noted in the above instagram post as well!
High estrogen is a problematic level of estrogen regardless of any other hormone levels.
Here are a few of the signs:
- Extreme PMS
- Weight Gain
- Cold hands/feet
- Trouble Sleeping
- Decreased sex drive
Low estrogen comes in the form of:
- Dryness of the vagina
- Hot Flashes
- Mood Swings
…To name a few. Here’s the thing. These symptoms are CATASTROPHIC. This is your body crying out that something is wrong, and you need help!
Some women live with these symptoms for YEARS- but please know, you can get better!
Here’s another thing- estrogen doesn’t act alone. As I said before- it is not the only reproductive hormone. It’s important to keep in perspective that these issues can be caused by progesterone issues.
Progesterone, in women, is made in the ovaries after ovulation has occurred. That means if you don’t ovulate, you don’t produce progesterone! The follicle that the egg was released from in your ovaries becomes a gland called the corpus luteum once it is implanted in your uterus. The corpus luteum produces progesterone while it waits for pregnancy to occur.
Meanwhile, progesterone makes women’s breasts feels fuller and it acts on the endometrium to thicken the uterine lining. Perfect for a developing fetus. If pregnancy doesn’t occur, the corpus luteum breaks down, causing progesterone to fall, and bleeding (aka your period!) starts. If pregnancy does occur, the levels of progesterone continues to rise until the placenta takes over to produce all necessary pregnancy hormones. Then, you don’t get your period! Progesterone also prevents ovulation during pregnancy. Here’s the thing– you either ovulate and get pregnant, or you ovulate and have your period. There is no cycle with ovulation & no period. However, you can have what is called an anovulatory cycle. In this case, ovulation never occurs, which also includes no production or rise in progesterone! (Cue low progesterone symptoms and no period).
Men make progesterone too. It’s mostly made in the adrenals. It has many different functions in the body outside the reproductive system.
- Relaxes blood vessels.
- Helps muscles contract correctly
- Raises the core temperature
- Assists in using fat stores for energy
- Helps regulate nerve function
Progesterone is considered high when it doesn’t have the right about of estrogen to balance it out. It is unlikely women will have extremely progesterone levels (unless you’re pregnant). Although, low progesterone will cause estrogen to spike or give high estrogen symptoms. Your hormones can also impact your mood!
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Ladies- your menstrual cycle (if not on birth control!), can impact your mood, energy, fuel utilization, & behaviors! 👩🏻 Even what kind of men your attracted to 💑👀 . Depending on the changes in progesterone, estrogen, & testosterone- when it comes to MOOD & BEHAVIOR- Estrogen & Progesterone are what play major roles 💁🏻♀️ . ✅ Estrogen: highest in the follicular phase (first day of bleeding on your period to right before ovulation aka end of week 2), plays a key role in boosting your strength, energy, willingness & desire for adventure & socialization. It makes you feel more confident & motivated! ( . ✅ Progesterone: highest in the luteal phase (week 3- starts right after ovulation to the start of your menstrual cycle), calms (or even “sedates” you, may increase anxiety & depressive symptoms, slows digestion, makes you more inward, quieter, and moody. (Also puts you at more sick for blood sugar drops so important to not skip meals & have snacks ready) . ❓How to eat for healthy hormones? ➖Consume lots of colorful fruits & veggies to get plenty of antioxidants & polyphenols to combat inflammation ➖Eat whole grains & complex carbs to minimize blood sugar swings (very important for PCOS related to insulin resistance!) Keep refined carbs & added sugars to a minimum ➖Enjoy lean proteins & ensure you get enough iron, zinc, & b12 (that can be low in vegetarian or vegan sources) ➖Balance omega 3 fats to omega 6’s (think add in nuts, seeds, avocados, salmon!) to help reduce inflammation & get essential fatty acids ➖ Incorporate cruciferous vegetables for natural liver detoxification- that can help detoxify environmental toxins or excess estrogen ➖ Get adequate fiber to help with digestion, feeding a healthy gut flora, and aid in estrogen metabolism #healthyhormones #hormonebalance #hormoneimbalance #womenshealth #womensdietitian #dutchtest #pms #menstrualcycle #menstrualhealth #pmsproblems #estrogendominance #hypothyroidism If you could rename a phase or week- what animal would you be and why?👀❓
AGAIN- Ladies- your menstrual cycle (if not on birth control!), can impact your mood, energy, fuel utilization, & behaviors! Even what kind of men your attracted to.
Depending on the changes in progesterone, estrogen, & testosterone- when it comes to MOOD & BEHAVIOR- Estrogen & Progesterone are what play major roles 💁🏻♀️
1. Estrogen: highest in the follicular phase (first day of bleeding on your period to right before ovulation aka end of week 2), plays a key role in boosting your strength, energy, willingness & desire for adventure & socialization. It makes you feel more confident & motivated! (
2. Progesterone: highest in the luteal phase (week 3- starts right after ovulation to the start of your menstrual cycle), calms (or even “sedates” you, may increase anxiety & depressive symptoms, slows digestion, makes you more inward, quieter, and moody. (Also puts you at more sick for blood sugar drops so important to not skip meals & have snacks ready)
How to eat for healthy hormones?
-Consume lots of colorful fruits & veggies to get plenty of antioxidants & polyphenols to combat inflammation
-Eat whole grains & complex carbs to minimize blood sugar swings (very important for PCOS related to insulin resistance!) Keep refined carbs & added sugars to a minimum
-Enjoy lean proteins & ensure you get enough iron, zinc, & b12 (that can be low in vegetarian or vegan sources)
-Balance omega 3 fats to omega 6’s (think add in nuts, seeds, avocados, salmon!) to help reduce inflammation & get essential fatty acids
– Incorporate cruciferous vegetables for natural liver detoxification- that can help detoxify environmental toxins or excess estrogen
– Get adequate fiber to help with digestion, feeding a healthy gut flora, and aid in estrogen metabolism
You can also eat for where you are at in your menstrual cycle!
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💁🏻♀️Ladies this is for YOU! Help your body out by knowing what is best for your cycle (if you’re on hormonal birth control- this doesn’t technically apply) . 1️⃣Follicular Phases (Weeks 1-2 where first week is start of period!) -Body uses more carbs (more insulin sensitive) -⬇️ in hunger -Drops in energy if iron deficient (may benefit from more iron rich foods- & vitamin C which increases iron absorption!) -Period cramping can be aided with nutrient dense, anti inflammatory foods -Spicy foods & high salty foods may make bloating worse -Focus on B-vitamin rich foods to help boost energy! . 2️⃣Luteal Phases (Week’s 3-4: ovulation then right before your cycle): -Body uses more fat (more insulin resistant) -⬆️ in hunger -Blood sugar swings if sensitive to progesterone (have snacks on hand! Nobody wants you hangry 🤣) -Slowed digestion due to progesterone (maybe less gas/bloating foods & limiting high sodium foods) -Magnesium rich foods (or taking 400mg Magnesium) may help in reducing PMS symptoms, decreasing headaches, cramps, cravings, & fatigue (excuse to eat dark chocolate? 😜) -Add in a sweet health treat to curb cravings! (I make a protein mug cake daily because I need my daily sweet tooth fix!) . ‼️Ways to ALWAYS eat throughout your cycle to reduce cravings, fatigue, & inflammation‼️: -Limit too many added sugars -Limit alcohol -Limit YOUR food intolerances -Balance your blood sugar (always pair a carb with a protein or fat!) & don’t skip meals -Drink water (about a gallon a day) -Don’t overdo artificial sweeteners (moderation!) -Get adequate fiber to balance estrogen -Get enough Omega 3’s by eating fatty fish 2x a week or taking a high quality Omega 3 supplement -Add in 1000mg curcumin if you struggle with inflammation -If estrogen dominant- incorporate cruciferous veggies – cauliflower, broccoli, brussel sprouts, bok choy . 🌱‼️Make sure to catch the presale of my “Exposing the Root Course” -which exposes the root cause of thyroid & gut troubles & aims to give you the knowledge, strategies, & confidence to take your health back into your own hands!‼️Link in bio! #hormonebalance #hormonehealing #fertility #hormoneimbalance #estrogendominance #PCOS
Ladies- you also have testosterone in your body that is required for healthy hormones, a metabolism, and providing sufficient energy levels, however we will list below the functions and side effects for you as they can cause the same in women as they do in men.
MALE SEX HORMONES
It’s been previously mentioned that men made both estrogen and progesterone, but men make testosterone in the greatest quantity. Primarily made in the testes of men- it’s important for:
- Muscle Mass
- Hair Grown
- Increased bone mass
- Normal libido
- Growth of body hair
Low testosterone is a highly marketed male issue. This can be induced by many different reasons. Including estrogen excess, injury to the testes, medications, liver issues, complications from diabetes.
Low Testosterone has some of the following symptoms.
- Bone density loss
- Muscle mass loss
- Erectile dysfunction
- Thinning skin
- Low libido
On the other side high testosterone can also happen. Anabolic steroid usage and excessive testosterone supplementation can cause some of the following symptoms of high testosterone. In addition, poor liver health, environmental toxins, and insul resistance can cause high estrogen. Even gut infections can cause high estrogen! (high levels of what are called beta glucuronidase can unravel your estrogen in the gut- causing it to recirculate and unable to be excreted).
Symptoms of high testosterone:
- Loss of scalp hair
- Increased body hair
- Oily skin
- Aggressive behavior
Women with high levels can see the above symptoms plus infertility. A woman with low testosterone will also see the same symptoms along with vaginal dryness and may also notice muscle loss or weakness. There is is an optimum level of testosterone for men and women that is needed to keep our bodies in check- just like estrogen and progesterone, amounts matter!
The consequences for having a hormone imbalance is devastating. It’s important to talk to your doctor and get simple blood testing done to check all your hormones. This can help you live a longer, fuller life.
The human body is a miraculous creation. Our sex hormones carve deep canyons of neural pathways through our brain- leaving a hot trail for other hormones to follow. On the other hand, external factors like stress can change those pathways immediately. It’s of vital importance that you understand your body and the hormones you produce. Your hormones areIMPORTANT! They aren’t just another bodily function to accommodate. Hormones are a part of a greater story that tells of your overall health.
Chelsea Macias, Dietetic Intern (Lacey’s Dietetic Intern- www.ladybirdhealth.org)
Lacey Dunn, MS, RD, LD, CPT
Progesterone: The Forgotten Hormone in Men? The aging male : the official journal of the International Society for the Study of the Aging Male. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15669543/.
Cruickshank K. Hand H. Signs and Symptoms of High Estrogen: Diagnosis, Treatment, and More. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/high-estrogen. Published April 19, 2018.
Estrogen’s Effects on the Female Body. Estrogen’s Effects on the Female Body – Health Encyclopedia – University of Rochester Medical Center. https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentTypeID=85&ContentID=P00559
Estrogen Hormone Biology. Current topics in developmental biology. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28527569-estrogen-hormone-biology/.
Low Testosterone (Male Hypogonadism). Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/15603-low-testosterone-male-hypogonadism. Published April 10, 2018.
Male Reproductive System Information. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/9117-male-reproductive-system. Published November 7, 2016..
Ray L. Progesterone 101. Progesterone: Definition, Levels, Symptoms of Low Progesterone and More. https://helloclue.com/articles/cycle-a-z/progesterone-101. Published November 28, 2019.
What Does Estrogen Do? OUP Academic. https://academic.oup.com/jcem/article/99/4/31A/2537122. Published April 1, 2014.
For more reading- look into reading:
-The Fifth Vital Sign by Lisa Hendrickson Jack
-The Period Repair Manual by Dr. Laura Briden
-Beyond the Pill by Dr. Jolene Brighten
Also make sure to listen to Lacey’s podcasts on period health- a few linked below: