IRRITATION, DRYNESS & LOW LIBIDO: COULD YOUR OESTROGEN LEVELS BE TOO LOW?
Please note: I'm British so I spell oestrogen the British way, but I am referring to Oestrogen interchangeably with Estrogen.
Lack of sex drive, not feeling your usual vibrant self? Low oestrogen isn't as common as high oestrogen or oestrogen dominance, but more women are coming to me with issues for low oestrogen:
Wrinkles and saggy skin
Vaginal dryness, irritation or loss of feeling
Feeling dry (both vaginally and elsewhere such as skin and eyes)
Poor memory and brain fog
Emotional fragility, depression, anxiety or lethargy
Bladder infections, leaky bladder or overactive bladder
Droopy breasts (or not so flattering changes in shape)
Trouble sleeping or waking up in the middle of the night
Night sweats or hot flashes
Sun damage more obvious
This isn't just women who are peri-menopausal, but women in their 20s and 30s too. There are times when you expect oestrogen to be low: being on the pill (and for the time it takes afterwards for your body to re-adjust), moving into menopause, postpartum and breast feeding. But there are other times when you don't notice it creeping up on you until you perhaps read a list of symptoms above.
So What Is Oestrogen, Anyway?
There are several types of oestrogens, but in this case we are talking about oestradiol, the type of oestrogen produced my maturing follicles in the ovaries. It gives us that inner juiciness and sparkle. It gives us energy, improves our skin texture and that extra va va voom. Ever notice how in the lead up to ovulation, we feel confident, sociable and studies have shown we are more attractive around ovulation. This is because oestrogen is building and at a peak during this time.
Often when we talk about issues with oestrogen, it's usually the problem with too much, see my blog on oestrogen dominance. But oestrogen levels being too low can cause an issue too. Whilst you can use the above symptom list as an idea of your oestrogen level, it is alway best to get your it tested. you can arrange this with your doctor, just remember it needs to be done on day 3 of your cycle.
If your oestrogen level is low, there are several things you can do to improve it.
I hate to keep going on about stress, but it is so true, when your body feels there is an emergency, your reproductive system is the first thing to shut down. So it is super important you get your stress levels under control before you try and get these under control.
2. Body Fat
We need to have a healthy amount of body fat in order to produce hormones. If you are very lean or have a high muscle to fat ratio, you may not have enough body fat for optimal hormone production. There is no one right weight for everyone but you can measure your body fat percentage in comparison to your estradiol levels, your symptoms and even your periods.
Exercise can help to metabolise and detoxify oestrogen. But if you do too much, you might be lowering your oestrogen levels too much. It may be that you need to reduce the length of the workout, the intensity or the type of exercise you are doing until you find your hormonal goldilocks zone.
4. Eat Fat
To make hormones you need to eat fats, but the right ones. Healthy fats such as avocados, coconut, olives, oily fish, seeds and some nuts. Flaxseeds in particular can be great for helping raise oestrogen levels.
5. Cut Out Gluten
There are a number of studies linking gluten intolerance with oestrogen related disorders, altered oestrogen levels, amenorrhoea, infertility and diminished ovarian reserve. Whilst these don't affect everyone, it is important to figure out if it is something that affects you. Unfortunately gluten is in many things, including medications, shampoos, processed food, even restaurant food such as rice to make it sticky so you really have to learn to read the labels.
The good news is that we know gluten has a half life of 23 days, so you can cut it out for one cycle and see if there is any improvement in your symptoms.
6. Vitamin E
This has to be the oldest remedy in the book for certain symptoms of low oestrogen: hot flashes, vaginal dryness and mood swings. Sara Gottfried in her book "The Hormone Cure" recommends a dosage of 50-400 IU to manage symptoms of low oestrogen. This is one of the more straight forward remedies you can try.
7. Abdominal Massage
Sometimes, we are making the right hormones to stimulate our ovaries, but we have adhesions or muscle restrictions in our pelvis which results in a decreased blood flow. This means less nutrients, oxygen and hormones reaching your pelvic organs.
There are many different modalities of massage available that can help with hormonal issues. I offer well woman/well womb massage which combines several abdominal and pelvic massage techniques both in my clinic in person or teach you how to massage yourself in an online session.
I have left this one until last because the research is conflicting and it is so controversial. There are studies that show soy to be helpful and worse with low oestrogen and this could easily be a dissertation rather than a blog post. But a brief summary is: women who have eaten soy as part of their diet for their whole life, especially in Asia, often find that soy can help with low oestrogen and menopausal issues.
However, women who have not had soy as part of their regular diet may find that it makes no difference or can make their symptoms worse. The one key thing to remember though before you experiment is the type and quantity. Soy should only be consumed as a condiment (e.g. a small portion on the side of the plate), organic (most is GMO) and fermented. So look for forms such as natto, miso and tempeh.
Find Out More
Read more about Oestrogen Dominance
Read more about Getting Pregnancy Before Your Period Returns
Read more about Luteal Phase Defect