By Liz Orchard, ND
Naturopathic medicine can address many common health concerns that women have: hormone imbalance, PMS, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), acne, infertility, weight issues, mood swings, menopausal symptoms — and that is certainly not an exhaustive list. Often times women are put on birth control or hormone replacement therapy to deal with their concerns, but this is not meant to be a long-term solution. These synthetic hormones can have significant negative effects long-term, as evidenced by the Women's Health Initiative's landmark hormone replacement research published in 2002, which linked combined hormone replacement therapy (estrogen plus progestin) to significantly higher risks of heart disease, stroke, and breast cancer. Naturopathic medicine offers an array of options for women wanting to truly address their underlying health concerns and minimize their long-term risk.
"Estrogen dominance" and “estrogen deficiency” are key factors underlying many female health concerns and understanding what they are and how they happen can help us reverse their effects.
Understanding Estrogen Dominance
Estrogen dominance occurs when there is an excess of estrogen in the body relative to the amount of progesterone. In other words, the ratio of these two hormones is very important and when the amount of estrogen outweighs or ‘dominates’ the amount of progesterone, there can be many undesirable effects such as PMS, bloating, breast tenderness, breast cancer, uterine fibroids, and osteoporosis. Common reasons why a women might experience estrogen dominance include high-stress, poor diet, constipation, current or past use of hormone replacement therapy or oral contraceptives, and excess weight. Sound familiar? Many women will experience one or more of these at some point in their life and experts claim that approximately 50% of women over 35 are estrogen dominant.
Understanding Estrogen Deficiency
Conversely, “estrogen deficiency” is most common in menopausal and perimenopausal women (particularly among those who are petite and/or slender) but can also be caused by hysterectomies, radiation and chemotherapy treatments or conditions such as anorexia, genetic disease, insufficient body fat, and thyroid problems. Common symptoms experienced in those with estrogen deficiency include hot flashes, night sweats, anxiety, mood swings, depression, memory problems, dry skin, painful intercourse and loss of libido. Symptoms of estrogen deficiency are experienced by most women in their lifetime.
Nutrition & Hormone Balance
We put food in our bodies about 3 times a day and each time we do so we have the opportunity to choose foods that can act as powerful medicines. Proper nutrition can aid in balancing hormones. Something as simple and inexpensive as adding 2 tablespoons of flax meal to a woman's diet each day can have a balancing effect on both estrogen dominance and estrogen deficiency. Similarly, daily doses of Brassica vegetables such as kale, cauliflower, broccoli and Brussel sprouts can also help improve the body's metabolism and balance of estrogen.
Botanical Medicines Commonly Used to Balance Hormones
- Vitex, also known as Chaste tree berry, is used to regulate menstrual cycles and boost fertility and in clinical trials has been shown to increase progesterone levels and improve symptoms of PMS.
- Black Cohosh increases estrogen levels and is utilized in treatment of menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, insomnia, and depression.
- Maca has quickly become a popular herb for hormone balancing, which makes sense because it actually belongs to the Brassica family of cruciferous vegetables.
Supplements for Balanced Hormones
Other major dietary considerations for optimal hormone function include making sure a woman's body is getting adequate levels of essential fatty acids, magnesium, B-complex vitamins, and vitamin D from her diet and/or supplementation.
Naturopathic doctors are trained in all of these areas and can help determine the right combination nutrients, botanical medicines and supplements to help bring a woman's hormones back into balance.
"Most people have no idea how good their body is designed to feel."
And because no good blog post goes without an awesome foodie recipe attached, here is a wonderfully delicious hormone-balancing smoothie for you to try featuring flax seeds, cacao, and maca powder!
Hormone Balancing Super Smoothie
1 cup almond or coconut milk
1 cup ice
½ frozen banana (for creamier smoothie use 1 whole)
1 scoop favorite protein powder or 1/2 of an avocado
1-2 T flax meal or ground flax seeds
1 T cacao powder
2 tsp. maca powder
Blend and enjoy.
Dr. Liz Orchard is a naturopathic doctor and founder of Be Well Natural Medicine. Dr. Orchard earned her Doctorate in Naturopathic Medicine (2008) with honors from the oldest fully accredited Naturopathic medical school, National College of Natural Medicine, in Portland, Oregon, where she completed extensive hands-on clinical training with experts in the field of natural medicine with an emphasis on women’s health and endocrine disorders. She also studied various forms of mind-body medicine, including homeopathy, biotherapeutic drainage, Vipassana meditation, Tai Ji, Qi Gong, and Yoga.
Dr. Orchard was the resident ND at an integrative medicine clinic in New York City from 2008 to 2009, where her focus was preventive medicine, digestive disorders, and integrative cancer care.
After her return to her Minnesota roots in September 2009, her private practice soon blossomed into Be Well Natural Medicine. In addition to helping her patients, Dr. Orchard enjoys teaching local Qoya classes and destination retreats, dance, music, travel, cooking, and spending time with her family and friends.