The Female Hormone Dance!
-by Dr. Sherrill Sellman, ND
An ancient adage from Chinese medicine says, “A doctor would rather treat ten men than one woman.” Chinese medicine validates what women have always known; we are indeed intricate creatures! Our hormones are in part responsible for this complexity. Their ebb and flow influences all aspects of a woman’s physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing.
When our hormones are in balance they create a sense of inner wellbeing and vitality. This inner harmony may be experienced as painless menstrual cycles or a symptom-free menopause. Other expressions of this inner harmony include an emotional equanimity, creativity, and mental acuity. However, if those inner rhythms are altered, hormonal havoc ensues.
Why do hormones have such a profound impact on our health?
The Delicate Dance of Hormonal Balance
Hormones are very powerful chemical messengers secreted from endocrine glands such as the ovary, adrenals, pituitary, and thyroid. A woman’s physiology and psyche are intimately connected to her monthly flow of hormones, which stimulate, regulate, and control all of her vital bodily functions.
Hormonal balance affects not just the reproductive system, but all systems of a woman’s body – the cardiovascular, respiratory, neurological, digestive, musculoskeletal, and immune systems.
Hormones also affect the neurotransmitters that determine moods and the thinking processes. No wonder hormonal balance plays such a major role in maintaining optimal wellbeing throughout a woman’s life.
Modern life has created many challenges for maintaining hormonal health. Hormones are extremely sensitive to physical and emotional stress, environmental and dietary toxicity, hormone disrupting chemicals, and nutritional deficiencies.
Women of all ages are now experiencing hormonal issues. There are unprecedented numbers of young women diagnosed with menstrual problems, endometriosis, ovarian cysts, polycystic ovarian syndrome, fibrocystic breast disease (lumpy, painful breasts), endometriosis, hormonal migraines, fibroids, acne, allergies, fatigue, mood swings and infertility. Premature menopause is becoming commonplace as is peri-menopausal and menopausal distress.
Unfortunately, finding a solution can be difficult since the path to hormonal balance is strewn with many myths and misconceptions. Making truly informed decisions requires, first and foremost, sorting out fact from fiction.
MYTH #1 – A Woman’s Body is Innately Flawed.
Without a firm foundation of truthful information regarding the physiological changes that occur during menopause, it is difficult to make truly effective and safe choices. The belief that a woman’s physiology is innately flawed dates back 2,600 years to the time of Hippocrates, the father of medicine, who rhetorically asked, “What is Woman?” His answer – ”Disease!”
This idea has persisted into modern times. In 1966, New York gynecologist, Robert Wilson published the best-selling book, Feminine Forever. He reinforced the cultural myth that a menopausal woman “becomes the equivalent of a eunuch” because her ovaries shrivel up and die at this time.
He also proclaimed that menopause was an estrogen-deficiency disease and that estrogen was the long sought after “youth pill”. He wrote, “Many physicians simply refuse to recognize menopause for what it is – a serious, painful, and often ‘crippling’ disease.”
He won women over with scientific-sounding promises of beauty and good sex, even though the FDA banned Wilson from certain research for making unsubstantiated claims.
Dr. Wilson successfully convinced doctors and women that estrogen was the salvation for the “horrors of this living decay.” He wrote, “The myth that estrogen is a causative factor in cancer has been proven entirely false. On the contrary, indications are that estrogen acts as a cancer preventive.”
Dr. Wilson is credited with enshrining the belief that estrogen efficiency was the hormonal profile of all menopausal women. He also convinced the medical fraternity that estrogen replacement was the obvious solution. This paved the way for making menopause a medical condition that required treatment with estrogen and synthetic progestin, (Hormone Replacement Therapy).
Fortunately, Dr. Robert Wilson and his unfounded theories were proven to be entirely wrong. He was also very wrong about the non-carcinogenic effects of estrogen. This was a tragic medical mistake that had drastic consequences for millions of women who not only embraced estrogen replacement therapy, but also the later version of hormone treatment, Hormone Replacement Therapy.
In 1975, the New England Journal of Medicine published two studies documenting a strong association between cancer of the lining of the uterus and estrogen therapy. The publication of these studies coincided with the increasing incidence of uterine cancer in women who were prescribed estrogen therapy. In fact, the increase was a shocking 800 percent! To this day, the only known cause of uterine cancer is from estrogen excess. Tens of thousands of women who were diagnosed with uterine cancer either had to undergo a hysterectomy as the only acceptable form of treatment or they lost their lives to this cancer.
By 2002, The Women’s Health Study showed that women who took the combination of estrogen and progestin had increased their risk for breast cancer, stroke, heart attack, and blood clots. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences listed all steroidal estrogens and progestin’s as known human carcinogens.
As a footnote to history, Wilson’s original research, which was the basis of his book, was eventually declared flawed by the FDA, and Dr. Wilson himself, was discredited as a researcher. It was also discovered that Dr. Wilson’s book and lecture tour were financed by a pharmaceutical company that manufactured estrogen.
MYTH #2 – The Failing Ovary Myth – Why Perimenopause ISN’T What You Think It Is.
The doctors have told women for decades that perimenopause is a time when the ovaries begin to wind down…and then finally poop out completely at menopause. No ovarian function = no estrogen production.
So you think that perimenopause is the beginning of the end for the functioning of your ovaries? When women in their 40’s and early 50’s start complaining of hot flashes, night sweats, weight gain, insomnia, migraines, and moods swings, they are lead to believe that these perimenopausal symptoms are all about a declining estrogen level from a failing ovary.
Here’s the good news!
Research has discovered that the perimenopausal ovary (the period 5-10 years before cessation of menstrual cycles) is more active than it has been since adolescence.
One leading researcher, Endocrinologist Dr. Jerilynn Prior, has found that “the perimenopause ovary produces erratic and excess levels of estrogen, with unpredictable moods, heavy flow, hot flashes and mucous symptoms that appear suddenly and unexpectedly.”
The many symptoms that women experience during the perimenopause years, such as weight gain, irrational hunger, increased migraines, heavy periods, worsening endometriosis, breast swelling (with pain or lumps), new or growing fibroids, new or increasing PMS, pelvic pain, and uterine cramps, are caused by high levels of estrogen…NOT low levels.
Dr. Prior has found that the average estrogen levels in perimenopausal women are higher than in younger women. The older women not only had higher levels of estrogen but also had lower levels of progesterone.
So, contrary to popular belief, the ovaries are, in fact, working overtime during perimenopause. In a sense, trying to do the last Hurrah! There is usually plenty of estrogen being produced. However, it’s the progesterone that tends to be the deficient hormone during perimenopause.
The truth is, that during Perimenopause, estrogen levels are higher than normal, while progesterone levels fall significantly due to erratic ovulations. Progesterone deficiency is really the problem during perimenopause.
And what’s more amazing is, [as of the latest understanding], that not only do the perimenopausal ovaries remain active, but the menopausal ovaries remain active as well!
According to the research of Dr. Celso Ramon Garcia, M.D, noted physician, educator, and internationally renowned pioneer in the field of reproductive endocrinology, after menopause, the ovaries continue to function.
Our awesome menopausal ovaries work in conjunction with other body sites such as the adrenal glands, skin, muscle, brain, pineal gland, hair follicles and body fat to produce hormones.
It is now known that postmenopausal ovaries maintain a steroid capability for several decades after menses has ceased. As Prior once wrote, “Older ovaries, replete with stroma material, are now understood to actively produce androstendione– the hormone that, in the menopausal woman, is converted to estrone in the fat deposits of the body. This pathway can be significant in preventing osteoporosis.”
Far from shriveling, the ovaries of menopausal women continue to secrete androgens, often late into the menopause, which support a woman’s well being.
MYTH #3 – The Estrogen Deficiency Myth
Although it has been an accepted belief that menopause is a time of declining estrogen levels, the facts that are becoming known reveal that many women actually have an excess of estrogen.
According to Dr. John R. Lee, in his book, What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Menopause: the Breakthrough Book on Natural Progesterone (Warner Books, 1996), estrogen dominance is a major factor contributing to women’s hormonal imbalances.
The truth is that it’s not an estrogen deficiency which is behind most of women’s hormonal issues, but an excess of estrogen.
According to Dr. John Lee, “Estrogen dominance syndrome” is a term that describes a condition of an imbalance between estrogen and progesterone. The delicate balance between these two hormones is skewed in estrogen’s favor. Stress, nutritional deficiencies, processed foods, environmental estrogen mimics, i.e. substances found in pesticides, herbicides and plastics, are the likely contributing factors to the creation of estrogen excess.”
Estrogen dominance describes a condition where a woman can have deficient, normal, or excessive estrogen, but has little or no progesterone to balance its effects in the body. Even a woman with low estrogen levels can have estrogen dominance symptoms if she does not have any progesterone. It’s all relative matter when it comes to our hormones.
Estrogen dominance causes or worsens the following conditions: allergies, breast tenderness, low libido, depression, fatigue, hair thinning, fibrocystic breast disease, polycystic ovarian syndrome, headaches, hypoglycemia, blood clots, strokes, infertility, irritability, memory loss, miscarriage, ovarian cysts, endometriosis, PMS, hypothyroidism, fibroids, bloating, weight gain (especially around the abdomen, hips and thighs), and autoimmune disorders.
To feel your best at any age, one must keep the proper hormonal balance.
Hormones are intimately connected to every other part of our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual experience-from how we think and feel, to how we eat, exercise and live our lives!
Myth #4 – Hormone Havoc is Inevitable
Hormones are our most sensitive barometers of how we are really doing. The choices we make when it comes to our diet as well as environmental exposures, directly impact hormones, our health and well-being.
While many women brace themselves for stormy seas of menstruation, perimenopause, or menopause, it is important to understand that nature did not intend women to struggle during these times. For instance, it is commonly believed that the discomfort of PMS is an inevitable experience for menstruating women…that somehow it is normal to have monthly cramps, bloating, migraines and mood swings. These are actually symptoms of hormonal imbalance and are generally an indication of an estrogen dominance problem.
In fact, these cycles of a woman’s life should be symptom–free…to the degree that there are uncomfortable symptoms is a message that some aspect of their health is out of harmony.
Thus, the real journey to hormonal wellbeing requires not only a more accurate understanding and appreciation of our amazing female bodies, but choosing natural solutions – with diet, life style and supplements.
The most notorious hormone wreckers include: sugar and sugar substitutes, refined carbohydrates, trans-fats, caffeine, pesticide-laden foods, alcohol, dehydration, lack of sleep, stress, emotional upsets, chemicals in commercial personal care products, and lack of exercise. These hormone wreckers are guaranteed to compromise your health, imbalance your hormones, and accelerate the aging process.
A hormone harmonizing program includes organically grown, whole foods, plenty of fresh vegetables, fruits, seeds, nuts, healthy fats, (virgin olive oil, fish oils, flax seed oils, coconut oil and butter), filtered water, getting 7-8 hours of sleep, relaxation, staying hydrated, and regular exercise.
The Ancient Secret for Hormonal Balance
The immortal words of Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, “Let your food be your medicine, and your medicine be your food “, have never been a truer statement when it comes to hormonal health. The healing power of nature has always provided the balm to restore health and balance. This is particularly true when it comes to our hormones.
One of the gifts of nature that has a very long tradition of being a powerful medicinal food is the pomegranate. Mankind has revered the magical, mystical pomegranate since the dawn of recorded history. The ancient Greeks, Romans, people of China, India, and the Middle East, found its properties to be life-giving and invigorating.
Furthermore, the pomegranate fruit has been revered for thousands of years in all the world’s major religions as “The Fruit of Life”, springing from The Garden of Paradise. As the traditional symbol of fertility and rebirth, it was also thought to bestow invincibility upon the person who enjoyed its glittering, sweet tartness. It is a fruit of legend and power– a sacred symbol of human civilization.
This fruit, known as the “jewel of winter”, was used for centuries in Middle Eastern folk medicine to treat many symptoms. It has been shown that pomegranates contain polyphenols, tannins, ellagic acid and anthocyanins. These compounds are powerful anti-oxidants. In fact, it is difficult to find a body part that is not supported by pomegranates. Recent studies demonstrate that pomegranates can:
• Support a healthy cardiovascular system (heart, veins, blood and arteries)
• Support brain health
• Support liver health
• Support stomach health
• Support immune health
• Support healthy lipid levels in people with diabetes
• Support bone health
• Support oral health
• Support skin health
• Support prostate health
The Pomegranate, A Woman’s Elixir
Traditionally the pomegranate has been renown for being one of the most powerful elixirs for women’s health, hormonal balance, beauty and fertility.
In the herbal tradition there is a guiding principle called Doctrine of Signatures relating specifically to the similarity of plants and herbs (and their medicinal uses), to parts of the body, (i.e., by careful observation, one can learn the healing properties of a plant from some aspect of its ‘nature’ or place of growing). This is “the ancient idea that the Creator left a signature on the plants to tell you what they’re for.”
In this regard, Doctrine of Signatures can give greater appreciation about the pomegranate’s color and to form the correlation to its medicinal properties. The reddish, round fruit, filled with its many seeds, are each surrounded by fluid sacs known as arils. These arils are encased with delicate inner membranes that are very similar to the order, structure, and appearance of the milk glands within the breast.
The pomegranate’s shape also reminds us of the structure of the ovaries with its many follicles. There is also one other correlation, and that is of the similarity with the color and shape of the heart, and with the red juice, which is reminiscent of the blood.
Far from just a quaint notion, modern science has actually discovered that the benefits of the pomegranate, from its seeds, juice, peel, flowers and stem, do indeed have a profound impact on breast health, fertility, hormonal balance, skin rejuvenation and heart health.
The Pomegranate, Hormones and Menopause
What particularly intrigues scientists is the unique biochemistry of the pomegranate tree. The flowers, peel, juice, and pericarb all contain ingredients that especially help to support and modulate hormones and hormonal balance.
One of the most powerful parts of this plant is oil extracted from its tiny seeds. Although it takes 500 pounds of pomegranates to make just one pound of the oil, the effort is definitely worth it. It turns out that the pomegranate seed contains the greatest variety of phytoestrogens found anywhere in nature.
Pomegranate seed oil contains many impressive estrogenic components. About 80 percent of the oil contains a very rare fatty acid known as punic acid. Punic acid is similar to conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which has potent fat burning abilities as well as anti-inflammatory effects. Not surprising, CLA also exhibits estrogenic properties.
In 1966, it was discovered that the pomegranate seeds have the highest plant source of the estrogen, estrone. More recently, it was found that the main steroidal estrogen in pomegranate seed oil was 17 alpha-estradiol, a “bio-identical” estrogen that is hundreds of times weaker (and safer), than other forms of estrogen. In fact, 17 alpha-estradiol is the mildest of all steroidal estrogens.
The wide assortment of safe phytoestrogens makes the pomegranate unique. Not only does it contain a wider range of phytoestrogens than any other plants, the estrogenic richness of pomegranate encompasses not only steroidal estrogens, such as estradiol, estriol, and estrone, but also an assortment of many phytoestrogenic flavinoids.
There is even more goods news when it comes to the pomegranate’s support of hormone health. The leaves of the pomegranate are one of the rare plant foods that contain apigenin, a progesterone-like compound with a calming, anti-anxiety, and anti-depressive effects.
Dr. Ephraim Lanksy, one of world’s leading researchers and experts in the health benefits of pomegranates, has discovered that, “The entire fruit is laced with estrogens of various potencies in varying amounts. The mildest forms are the most common while the strongest kind is the rarest. There are over 10 estrogenic compounds found in the pomegranate fruit. Estrogen is defined as anything that binds to estrogen receptors. The forms that can bind but not stimulate a strong estrogenic effect are considered anti-estrogenic and prevent stronger (estrogens) from having an effect. This is important for modulating diseases that are provoked by too much estrogen.”
The ability of the many components found in the pomegranate fruit to help safely modulate and regulate hormones is certainly good news for women of all ages. These weaker and safer forms of estrogens, while helping to stimulate the less responsive menopausal estrogen receptors will not, however, contribute to estrogen dominance. Pomegranate’s oil, as well as its juice, peel, and flowers, all help reduce many of the symptoms of hormonal imbalance. With the added progesterone-like benefits, women can experience more balanced hormones. The pomegranate assists women of all ages – it can enhance fertility, balance menstrual cycles, and correct PMS, as well as help alleviate the hot flashes, night sweats and other hormonal disturbances of perimenopausal and menopausal women.
Another challenge to women’s health is the increasing incidence of chronic inflammation.
Inflammatory conditions include, endometriosis, fibroids, polycystic ovarian syndrome, arthritis, autoimmune disease, asthma, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even cancer. Inflammation goes hand-in-hand with free radical damage.
Dr. Ephraim Lanksy developed a process creating a potent pomegranate extract combining fermented pomegranate juice, peel, leaves, flowers, and cold-pressed seed oil. This combined antioxidant activity has a powerful synergy. Research demonstrated that the pomegranate extract’s anti-inflammatory effect inhibited the inflammatory enzyme COX-2 by an impressive 31-44 percent.
Since estrogen dominance also exacerbates inflammatory conditions, this superior fermented pomegranate extract, in addition to its hormonal benefits, also has a huge impact on reducing inflammation. This is another huge plus for women’s hormonal health!
Pomegranate and Breast Health
The pomegranate is a paradoxical fruit. It has beneficial estrogenic properties as well as anti-estrogenic properties.
Dr. Ephraim Lansky reported in Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, that his pomegranate extracts selectively inhibited the growth of breast cancer cells in culture.
According to published studies, Dr. Lansky’s unique Pomegranate extract and seed oil kills breast cancer cells in culture. Dr. Lansky’s ongoing research has demonstrated that pomegranate extract initiates 8 different actions/mechanisms that can prevent breast cancer as well as help in the treatment of breast cancer. Pomegranate extract’s effects include:
. Suppression of breast cancer cells
- Interference with cancer’s growth cycle
- Inhibits products of hormones that stimulate cell growth
- Stops tumor cell invasion
- Initiates apoptosis, cell death
- Promotes cell differentiation
- Has anti-angiogenesis properties, (stopping the growth of blood vessels to tumors)
- Acts as an aromatase inhibitor, (stopping fats cells from making estrogen).
Another amazing ability of the pomegranate seed oil and the extract is that they are able to effectively kill both estrogen positive and estrogen negative breast cancer cells.
The latest research has also yielded promising results with pomegranate extract in the treatment of ovarian cancer. A yet unpublished study conducted at Yale University found impressive results with the pomegranate extract. The study used the most virulent ovarian cancer lines, which had been resistant to all forms of treatment. The pomegranate extract was able to inhibit the cancer growth. In the future we may find that Pomegranate extract may have as much potential with ovarian cancer as well as it has with breast cancer. Other types of cancers have responded positively in studies using pomegranate extract including prostate, stomach, lung cancers and leukemia.
According to Dr. Ephraim Lansky, “Pomegranates are unique in that the hormonal combinations inherent in the fruit seem to be helpful both for the prevention and treatment of breast cancer. Pomegranates seem to replace needed estrogen often prescribed to protect postmenopausal women against heart disease and osteoporosis, while selectively destroying estrogen-dependent cancer cells.”
Pomegranate and Vaginal Health and Libido
If there is one problem that is really the bane of a woman’s existence, there’s no doubt it would be vaginal dryness.
Vaginal dryness is a common problem for women during and after menopause, although inadequate vaginal lubrication can occur at any age.
Symptoms of vaginal dryness include itching and stinging around the vaginal opening and in the lower third of the vagina. Vaginal dryness also makes intercourse uncomfortable which can certainly take its toll on relations as well!
A thin layer of moisture always coats your vaginal walls. Hormonal changes during your menstrual cycle and as you age affect the amount and consistency of this moisture.
Most vaginal lubrication consists of clear fluid that seeps through the walls of the blood vessels encircling the vagina. When you’re sexually aroused, more blood flows to your pelvic organs, creating more lubricating vaginal fluid. But the hormonal changes of menopause, childbirth and breast-feeding may disrupt this process.
Without adequate lubrication, the vaginal tissue becomes dry and thin. Besides painful intercourse, it can also lead to incontinence, bladder infections, and pelvic floor problems. The only really effective solution has been the prescribing of a vaginal form of stroll cream. It requires a prescription from a doctor and is not advised for any woman who is diagnosed with breast cancer or at high risk of breast cancer, since, even though it is a weaker form of estrogen, it can still increase estrogen levels.
This is where pomegranate seed oil can come to the rescue. Dr. Earl Surwit, a clinical, full professor in the University of Arizona’s College of Medicine, specializes in pelvic floor disorders and incontinence. He conducted a clinical study looking for alternatives to estrogen creams, which increased the risk in patients that had a previous history of breast cancer, blood clots and strokes. He investigated effects of pomegranate seed oil on vaginal dryness and pelvic floor disorders in older women. The results showed that the pomegranate seed oil successfully restored vaginal lubrication and healthy vaginal tissue. It also had a positive effect on incontinence and helped to strengthen pelvic floor muscles. In every way, the pomegranate seed oil was as effective as estrogen creams without raising estrogen levels.
Pomegranate seed oil has the ability to restore epithelial cells, which means it repairs and helps regrow new cells. It can be used intra-vaginally, applying it directly into the vagina as well as taking it orally.
As it turns out pomegranate seed oil is also has cosmetic benefits. It can be used as a face cream to help stimulate new healthy skin cells for younger-looking skin.
Pomegranate seed oil blend can help in the following ways:
• Nourishes and revitalizes your skin and your body
• Stalls the effects of aging while strengthening and supporting your immune system
• Soothes minor skin irritations as it smoothes away wrinkles
• Helps the body naturally restore moisture and health for those “intimate” needs
Vaginal Dryness Program
Here’s the best program to address vaginal dryness. Use the pomegranate seed oil, both topically, applying 2-4 drops daily to the vulva and intra-vaginally. In addition take 3-4 capsules per day of the pomegranate extract product available from Pomegranate Health called Estragranate Original. Women, who have been using the combination of pomegranate seed oil and the pomegranate extract to alleviate vaginal dryness have reported an unexpected bonus. To their delight, they have experienced increased libido.
Back to the Future with Pomegranate Fruit
Ancient cultures have always regarded the pomegranate as a profound healing food. We now know, as well, that the pomegranate fruit is, indeed, a pharmacopoeia of health-promoting nutrients. It is evident that this amazing pomegranate fruit provides a cornucopia of health benefits for both women and men.
Modern science has revealed what the Doctrine of Signatures told us about the pomegranate. It’s uncanny how the pomegranate is similar to the ovary. It produces a unique assortment of estrogenic components; both human estrogens and phytoestrogens. It also has extraordinary adaptagenic hormonal effects, appropriately balancing and modulating key hormones such as estrogen and progesterone. The pomegranate plays a major role in helping women to regain and maintain their hormonal wellbeing throughout their lives.
The pomegranate also helps to balance an estrogen dominant condition. The many phytoestrogens found in the pomegranate are able to safely bind to the estrogen receptors. These weaker estrogens signal the body to benefit from the estrogen without stimulating a more potent and possibly dangerous, estrogen effect.
The pomegranate’s symbolic representation of the female breast has also found correlation in science. It’s ability to assist in the prevention and treatment of breast and ovarian cancer, makes the pomegranate an important ally in breast health.
The pomegranate’s resemblance to the human heart has also proven true. It’s powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects protects against key factors that compromise cardiovascular health and increases the risk of conditions such as atherosclerosis. Inflammation also plays a major role in many other health problems including hormonal issues, metabolic syndrome, cancers, diabetes, and most other chronic diseases. All these conditions can benefit from the pomegranate’s anti-inflammatory actions.
The pomegranate rightly deserves its place as a symbol of fertility, women’s health, beauty, and healing.
As the interest in the humble pomegranate continues to grow, ongoing research will no doubt reveal more of the many health-promoting secrets that Nature has hidden within the leathery red skin of this extraordinary fruit. Our 21st century knowledge will agree with the ancient wisdom: the pomegranate fruit is, indeed, the “Fruit of Life”.
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