We’ve spent the last few weeks talking about what parts estrogen, progesterone and testosterone play in the story of your hormonal health. Individually, they can appear to be both villains and heroes, disrupting our bodies’ natural systems and convoluting symptoms. But together, these hormones make women unique and beautifully made. Here’s how.
All our hormones are made from cholesterol, the same cholesterol that band-aids your blood vessels when they’re damaged, provides anti-inflammatory effects, and is critical to your digestion. What’s more, our sex-hormone-producing glands (ovaries/testes and adrenal glands) also take up cholesterol, converting it into the hormones you know and love.
Estrogen, as you read in part 1, is the fiery hormone that, left to its own devices, will give you crazy PMS, heavy clotting and bleeding, and sore breasts. Its counterpart, progesterone, is the cooling, nourishing hormone that eases anxiety, helps you sleep, and supports fertility. They may seem like mortal enemies, just fighting against each other for control of your hormonal universe, but that’s not the case. Estrogen can be very supportive of progesterone production and even helps to stimulate ovulation (which you learned in part 2 is the stimulation for progesterone production!).
If you feel like your hormones are at war with your body, get worked up! Yes, I mean that in a figurative sense, but also in a more literal one—get a full work up from your doctor. This is key not only because you need to know what your hormonal picture looks like, but because you also need to figure out what’s actually causing them to act up in the first place.
Find your hormonal balance, naturally.
There are a few different reasons you can feel estrogen dominant (see the chart above)—you can have normal progesterone with high estrogen; low progesterone with high estrogen; or low progesterone with normal estrogen. Knowing which category you fit changes your treatment strategy!
What to Do If Estrogen is High
If your estrogens are high, you both treat the cause (poor gut function? inflammation? insulin resistance? poor detoxification?) and treat the estrogen by:
- Eating more cruciferous vegetables. They’re rich in I3C (indol-3-carbonol), which breaks down when you digest it into DIM (3,3′-Diindolylmethane). This supports proper phase 1 detoxification of estrogen, and promotes it being converted into the proper metabolite to be excreted.
- Examples of cruciferous vegetables: kale, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower.
- Supplementing with calcium d-glucarate, which can help decrease the absorption of extra estrogens through the gut.
What to Do If Progesterone is Low
When your progesterone is too low, you can work towards increasing the amount that you produce. First, check back in with part 2 on reasons why your progesterone can decrease and start digging into the cause of your deficiency! When treating progesterone deficiency, make sure you are targeting three big pieces: thyroid health, stress levels, and ovary health.
Your thyroid plays a big role in progesterone creation! If you have a difficult time producing thyroid hormone, or converting it to the active form (T3), this can decrease the amount of progesterone that your ovaries produce. Thyroid hormone can actually signal progesterone release from your ovarian cells, and in reverse, progesterone can stimulate healthy thyroid cell function – they’re best friends.
Another big reason your progesterone decreases is due to stress. Stress can cause disruption of the brain-to-ovary and brain-to-adrenal connection. So make sure you are taking measurable actions to decrease stress, and strengthen the brain-to-organ connection. You can try herbal adaptogens, nutrients such as B6, meditation/mindfulness, and exercise.
To increase progesterone levels:
- Treat the cause, including thyroid and adrenal stress support.
- Try supplementing with:
- Chaste tree berry (Vitex)
- Evening primrose oil or Borage oil
- Vitamin B6 (which encourages ovulation)
What to Do If Testosterone is Low
Most women start to blame their thyroid function when they really may have low testosterone (low energy, foggy memory, decreased endurance and stamina, difficulty losing weight, sadness, lack of motivation). But the reality is, it may be a combination of both!
Testosterone is shuttled around your body on a bus called SHBG (sex-hormone-binding globulin). When your cells require testosterone, it jumps off the bus and gets absorbed by the cells as free, bioavailable testosterone. When you have hypothyroid (low thyroid function), it will actually increase the amount of busses you have and make it harder for testosterone to jump off the bus and be used. Other common things that increase SHBG are oral birth control pills, and poor liver detoxification (because SHBG is made in your liver.)
Testosterone also has a similar story when it comes to stress as progesterone does. Twenty-five percent of testosterone in women is made in the adrenal glands, and 25 percent is made in the ovaries. So if you are chronically stressed out and disrupting the brain-to-adrenal and brain-to-ovary pathway, you’re potentially disrupting 50 percent of your testosterone producing capacity.
Testosterone can also be converted into estrogen via your adipose tissue. This conversion can be increased by inflammation, excess adipose tissue, high insulin production, and alcohol. So not only are you shunting most of your testosterone to estorgens, when you have high amounts of estrogen, it can mask all the feel-good benefits of testosterone.
When treating testosterone deficiency, try these three steps:
- First, treat the thyroid gland so you have more free and ready to use testosterone.
- Reduce your stress levels, and heal your brain-to-organ connection.
- Treat the cause of testosterone depletion.
You can also increase testosterone levels by:
- Incorporating resistance training into your exercise.
- Having regular sex!
- Supplementing with whey protein and proper nutrients like zinc, vitamin D, and iron.
- Adding herbs such as maca and tribulus to your diet.
It may seem complicated, but the interactions of our hormones play an important role in our health. By taking the time to understand what each one brings to your hormonal health story, you’ll be better equipped to take control of your symptoms and feel better, faster. Still have questions? Book a free 15-minute consult with me to better understand your story!
Dr. Cassie Wilder is a registered Naturopathic Medical Doctor (NMD) and founder of MIMC. Her passion is empowering her patients through education, understanding, and support through their healing journey. After graduating from Iowa State University with a Bachelors of Science in Kinesiology and Health, Dr. Wilder earned her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine & Health Sciences, a fully accredited and nationally recognized institution in Phoenix, AZ. During her clinical training, she received extensive hands-on training with many leading experts in the field of functional medicine and developed a passion for treating hormonal imbalances, thyroid disorders, cardiovascular concerns, and adrenal fatigue.