ESTROGEN + PROGESTERONE 4EVA: THE MOST IMPORTANT RELATIONSHIP IN YOUR CYCLE
Like all hormones, estrogen and progesterone are chemical messengers that travel through the bloodstream delivering instructions to multiple different tissues in the body, so that they know what to do-- so yeah, they are V. important! They play a major role in your reproductive health.
You can thank estrogen for:
- Breast development
- The widening of the pelvis
- Increased weight distribution around the hips, thighs and butt (hello curves!)
- Stimulating the growth of pubic and armpit hair
- Clear skin and a head full of hair
- Stimulating the growth of the uterus and the uterine lining during the menstrual cycle
…just to name a few of its day jobs.
You can thank progesterone for…
- Preparing the uterine lining so that it’s strong enough to maintain a growing fetus (It puts a roof over the fetus’ head, ya know?)
- Your sex drive
- Menstrual regularity and cramp control (halleluyah)
Basically, progesterone has a one track mind: Reproduction. Reproduction. Reproduction.
How they work together in your cycle:
Your entire menstrual cycle (and the symptoms you experience) are a reflection of the relationship or ratio between estrogen and progesterone.
During bleeding, both estrogen and progesterone levels are low. After your period ends, estrogen begins to climb (while progesterone does not) and peaks just before ovulation. So your period through ovulation = the estrogen-dominant part of your cycle. After ovulation, progesterone begins to rise. Progesterone should dominate the second half of the cycle (beginning after ovulation until you start to bleed).
But symptoms you experience aren’t just about having enough or too much of one particular hormone. It’s actually the ratio between them that is the most important. You see, you may experience a state of estrogen excess, but this may be the result of too-low progesterone levels, not excess estrogen. Likewise, we can experience symptoms of estrogen deficiency, but it may actually be that progesterone levels are high. This is why it’s so important to always look at them together and not isolated from one another. Think Thelma + Louise.
Experiences of estrogen excess:
- Heavy flow
- Water retention
- Breast swelling and tenderness
- Weight gain
- Sugar cravings
- Uterine fibroids
- Mood swings
- Fibrocystic breasts
- Symptoms of progesterone deficiency!
Experiences of too little estrogen:
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Vaginal dryness
- Fatigue, brain fog
- Yeast infections
- Low libido
- Bone loss
- Symptoms of progesterone excess!
Experience of progesterone excess:
- Abdominal bloating
- Breast tenderness/swelling
- Vaginal yeast infections
- Mild depression
- Symptoms of estrogen deficiency!
Experience of too little progesterone:
- Breast swelling/tenderness
- Low libido
- Irregular menses
- Weight gain/retention
- Menstrual cramps
- Symptoms of estrogen excess!
How do you know if your hormone ratio is out of balance?
Think of it this way-- if you are having symptoms directly related to your period, difficulty with pregnancy, low libido, or symptoms that have a cyclic nature (i.e. I always feel this way the week before my period), your hormones may be the cause!
What should I do?
We cannot work toward balance until we understand what hormonal climate is responsible for your discomfort! Start by tracking your cycle for 3 full cycles. Note when the symptoms occur. Pay attention to how you feel at different times of the month. When do you feel best? If you are experiencing symptoms of fatigue, acne, low libido, or mood changes, note when they flare. Also note the length of the different phases of your cycle (bleeding, post-period through ovulation, post-ovulation-first day of next bleed) if you can.
This is very helpful information to bring to a naturopathic doctor, gynecologist, acupuncturist or integrative medical doctor who specializes in hormones (like Dr. Matluck!)
And as you are tracking, take inventory of your life. If you’re super stressed, consider a meditation practice, bodywork, restorative yoga, or take a vacation (even if it’s just a one day reset from your home. Seriously.) There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for hormone balancing, but managing our stress can go a long way!
Do biological men have estrogen or progesterone?
Absolutely! Estrogen and progesterone also play important roles in biological men as well. Progesterone helps regulate testosterone levels, which is very important as testosterone levels decline with age. As testosterone drops, estrogen levels tend to rise.
What happens in menopause?
Menopause is when these hormone levels drop and periods stop. Thelma + Louise worked hard and now they are retiring. It is common to experience symptoms of severe estrogen deficiency when in menopause (like those infamous hot flashes!) Prior to menopause, it’s possible to experience symptoms of either excess or deficient estrogen levels, as listed above. Most people enter menopause in their 50s (though earlier or later is certainly possible).
Is my life over when I enter Menopause?
Hell no! The infamous Carol Downer always says, “The main thing I want to convey about menopause and aging is that if we are lucky- it is going to happen to us.”
Research and contributions by: Dr. Erica Matluck, Naturopathic Doctor and Nurse Practitioner and Founder of Seven Senses.