There are two primary hormonal drivers of PMS: Oestrogen & Progesterone.
In this blog we’re exploring a few oestrogen scenarios and how they are linked to PMS.
Unless your period comes and goes without a peep, you should probably read on, we’ll be diving into:
- The PMS signs that are ‘normal’ and those that indicate a possible hormone imbalance;
- What oestrogen has to do with PMS and how it can become imbalanced;
- What you can do about it.
A quick recap: the PMS basics:
PMS stands for pre-menstrual syndrome, which is really just a fancy way of saying ‘collection of symptoms that occur before your period.’
Why before your period? Our reproductive hormones don’t just turn our period ‘on’ and ‘off’ each 28 days. They cycle through a range of stages to build uterine lining, ovulate and shed said lining (a magical process which you can read all about here, in 5 minutes or less).
The time before your period however, is when your hormones are fluctuating and falling away rapidly. If your sex hormones are dancing out of step with one another, or behaving a little wildly, this is the time where your body is going to tell you all about it, in one way or another.
PMS: What’s normal, and what’s not?
Feeling a little different as your hormones fall away at the end of each cycle to trigger a bleed; and the start of the next cycle; is a normal, natural, and healthy process.
As oestrogen and progesterone drop from their peak luteal-phase level right down low, you’re probably going to know about it.
Whether you notice it at the time, or you realise in retrospect when your period arrives and suddenly yesterday’s slight uneasy feelings make sense; adjusting to this lower level of feel-good chemicals can equal a rocky day or two. Even for women with beautifully balanced hormones.
But what if PMS for you isn’t just a day of feeling a bit off? What if it’s a week or more of acne, bloating, fatigue, anxiety and/or tender breasts that affect how you feel in your body and in yourself?
The reality is; many of the PMS-symptoms we have come to know and accept as a ‘normal’ part of being a women, are really just indications from our bodies that the ratios between oestrogen and progesterone has become imbalanced.
Here are three ways that oestrogen can contribute to PMS.
Oestrogen Scenario 1. Your oestrogen levels are high, and your environment is contributing to this.
If your oestrogen levels are high, the most important thing to do is understand where the excess is coming from, so that you can take steps to reduce it.
High oestrogen levels can be a result of internal and/or external factors.
Common causes of higher oestrogen levels include:
Exposure to xenoestrogens
Xenoestrogens are man-made compounds found in our modern-day environments that are absorbed into the bloodstream and mimic oestrogen inside the body. These are commonly found in conventional:
- Skin care, makeup & sunscreen;
- Synthetic fragrances,
- Household cleaning products.
Reducing exposure to these chemicals is a powerful health choice to make.
The stuff sprayed on food we eat
Many pesticides and herbicides used to grow fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds & grains are oestrogenic. You’ll also want to watch out for poor quality meats that have been fed soy products and hormones.
This is yet another reason why eating organic is a great idea for great health.
The synthetic form of oestrogen found in the OCP is a whole lot more potent than the natural forms of oestrogen your body makes, which can contribute to an oestrogen-dominant picture in some women. Hormonal contraception is often recommended to help with erratic periods and heavy bleeding. But some studies have shown that adding synthetic oestrogens on top of high natural oestrogen levels doesn’t address the root cause of the symptoms; but rather just hides them while you are on that form of contraception.
High levels of body fat
Oestrogen is produced in the ovaries, adrenal glands and visceral fat cells.
All other factors aside, the more visceral fat you have, the more oestrogen you will be making from these cells.
This oestrogen-fat connection is important to know about for women who are above or below their healthy weight range and struggling with either high or low oestrogen respectively.
An Eve test shows your levels of Estrone (E1), Estriol (E3) and Estradiol (E2) , to help you understand where your total oestrogen levels are at, in comparison to the optimal range. For example:
Oestrogen Scenario 2. Your oestrogen is being broken down in ‘unfriendly’ ways.
What do last nights pinot gris and oestrogen have in common?
They’re both dealt with by the liver, which is the organ that’s tasked with cleansing and ridding your body of any chemicals (natural or synthetic) that it has used up and no longer needs; including hormones.
This is why it’s so important to love your liver for balanced oestrogen levels.
During phase I metabolism, oestrogen is broken down into metabolites called 2-OH-E1, 4-OH-E1 & 16-OH-E1.
Ideally, we want more of the 2-OH-E1 metabolite, as higher levels of 4-OH-E1 & 16-OH-E1 have been linked to PMS symptoms, and increase your risk of the signs of oestrogen dominance.
While your genetics play a role in which pathway your liver uses, so do factors you can control, such as:
- The effects of alcohol, drugs and medications;
- Whether the liver has enough of the essential nutrients it needs to do its job properly;
- The influence of other substances, such as supplements and herbal tonics.
Thankfully there are ways to improve your oestrogen metabolism, a great place to start is eating more cruciferous veggies and less liver loaders, such as alcohol, sugar, caffeine and trans fats.
If your Eve test shows that oestrogen metabolism is an issue for you, there are also some powerful nutrients that can support your body in producing more friendly metabolites, and less not-so-nice metabolites. For example:
Oestrogen Scenario 3. Your gut is holding on to old oestrogen.
Once oestrogen has been broken down by the liver, it’s handed over to the gut to get it out of the body through elimination.
If your digestion is on the sluggish side or you experience gut issues (indicating that your gut microbiome has more ‘bad guys’ than ‘good guys’), there’s a good chance that your gut health may also be also affecting your hormone balance.
Oestrogen should reach the gut in a nice ‘ready-to-dispose’ package, however if your gut health isn’t so flash, you can quickly become oestrogen-dominant through one, or even both, of the following ways:
- An excess of beta-glucuronidase, a sneaky enzyme in the microbiome that likes to 'unwrap' the oestrogen and set it free - ready to be reabsorbed by the body.
- Sluggish bowels or constipation, the longer oestrogen hangs out with your gut bacteria (including beta-glucuronidase), the more likely it is to be absorbed back into the bloodstream.
While it may not be something you give too much thought to, pooping at least once a day is essential for keeping your oestrogen levels in check.
To keep yourself regular, eat plenty of fibre-rich foods (plants), and drink enough water (roughly 0.33ml per kg of bodyweight is a good rough guide to follow. More if you exercise).
Fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, yoghurt and kefir can also support a healthy microbiome.
What Can You Do?
As you might have noticed, there are a whole range of ways oestrogen levels can become imbalanced and contribute to PMS-type symptoms, such as mood swings, irritability, tender breasts, water retention, bloating and cramping.
Testing provides you with a whole lot of information about your oestrogen levels and metabolism, to help you identify which of the above might be going on for you.
Stay tuned for the second half of this two-part series where we’ll take a closer look at the other side of the PMS equation: Progesterone.
Looking for more information? Head over to our FAQs page where you can find out about Eve.