SEX HORMONES: Menstrual, Menopausal, Prostate, Weight or Libido Problems?

If so, check your hormone balance.

Hormones are like food. Too much is as bad as too little. Men and women produce the same sex hormones: estrogen, progesterone and testosterone, but what differs is how much and the ratio of one to another. For everyone, if a hormonal imbalance is in the mix – due to inflammatory foods, drinks or other habits – this is most likely to be high estrogen in relation to progesterone and/or testosterone. Some of the complaints I hear most frequently from patients are about fatigue; weight, sleep, skin, bowel, fluid/urination problems; moods and mental function. Addressing hormonal triggers can prove transformative.  Too much or too little estrogen is linked with anxiety, depression, mood swings, memory loss, fatigue, hot flushes, osteoporosis, water retention – and for women irregular bleeding. High levels are common with obesity; diabetes; high blood pressure; stroke; breast, prostate and other hormone sensitive cancers; heavy or painful menses; fibroids; endometriosis.

Low levels are linked with dry skin/vagina, underweight, anxiety, eating disorders, infertility, erratic or absent menses. When progesterone is high or low (the latter being far more common) symptoms include fatigue, anxiety, sleep problems, headaches, migraines, night sweats, hot flushes, fluid retention, and mood swings. And for women add breast tenderness, irregular menses and infertility. Most of this unpleasantness is typical to both PMS and menopause.

Low testosterone is linked with urinary infections, incontinence; lowered immunity, strength, muscle, bone density, cognition, sex drive, erectile function, vaginal plumpness. High testosterone (for both sexes) is marked by irritability, cardiovascular problems, insulin resistance, acne, hair thinning or baldness especially frontal, increased facial or chest hair, upper body weight gain; PCOS or polycystic ovaries and infertility for women. For men high testosterone is also associated with risky, addictive, anti-social, criminal behaviours.

Don’t Blame Age; It May be Your Hormones
Women have menopause as an obvious marker of change. Medicine once ascribed men’s more gradual changes as just ageing. This is now more specifically defined as a set of hormonal shifts or andropause. Commonly testosterone levels decline while estrogen increases. From as early as age 30 male testosterone levels tend to decrease around 1% each year. By age 50-55 men with low testosterone experience depression; irritability; increased body fat; less muscle and strength; thinning bones; difficulty with concentration, memory and sleep; decreased sex drive, erectile function and fertility.

Synthetic forms of estrogen are used in the oral contraceptive (OCP); hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for menopause; some cancer and osteoporosis treatments; and animals reared for dairy and meat. Outside forms or xenoestrogens are hormone mimics. You likely consume about ½ kilo of these from agrochemicals each year. As well there are the toxic chemicals in most toiletries, cleaning agents and plastics. These are inhaled, ingested, or absorbed through skin into the bloodstream. Taken up by estrogen receptor sites especially in sensitive tissue such as breast and prostate, they distort biochemical activity.

High levels are associated with early puberty, infertility and cancer. Wildlife in waterways with effluent estrogens becomes sterile, unable to mate, or males develop female sex organs. Water treatment facilities are not designed to degrade this hormonal onslaught evident in our foods, drinks, medications, homes, cars, offices and bodies. Drink filtered water from glass; limit plastics; switch to truly natural cosmetics and cleaning agents (see website TIPS page: Chemicals); eat pasture-fed meat and limit dairy products (see Modern Milk – no longer a natural food).

Estrogen is a generic name for female sex hormones including estradiol (most potent and major human estrogen), estriol (weak metabolic product of estradiol and estrone) and estrone (high in the placenta and pregnancy urine – hence pregnant horse urine is used to produce the OCP; Medications). Whether natural or synthetic, sex and adrenal hormones and some other fat-based compounds are classified as steroids. Steroids are produced from cholesterol, which is manufactured by the Liver.

Understanding Cycles
During a menstrual cycle estrogen and progesterone take turns guiding an egg to mature and release, and preparing the uterus for pregnancy. Estrogen rises and stimulates tissue growth until ovulation when ‘feel good’ progesterone and ‘feel interested’ testosterone rise. Many women sense this as a surge of creativity and attractiveness. Hormone ratios depend on a complex communication system between the ovaries, adrenals and in the brain the pituitary and hypothalamus. Stress and diet directly impact these feedback loops (Adrenals).

Poor Sleep (which lowers testosterone); Inflammation; allergens; excess Sugar, starch, salt, Caffeine and Alcohol; and low levels of calmative Magnesium all trigger a stressful, depleting cascade as much as any bad argument. From progesterone you can produce over 100 hormones including the other sex (and Thyroid) hormones and the stress hormone cortisol. But too much stress will divert production to pumping out cortisol leading to lethargy, poor sleep and libido. Progesterone is only produced at two sites: the ovaries and the adrenals. Estrogen is produced in the pineal, breast, liver, adrenals, ovaries, and body fat – even hair follicles. Sex hormones enable sexual maturity and reproduction. As people age fewer are produced.

During reproductive years estrogen is mainly produced by a woman’s ovaries; after menopause her adrenals take over most production. In the years leading to menopause estrogen levels decrease slowly but with fewer ovulations progesterone can dive sharply – hence the nasty symptoms. The dangers of unopposed estrogen are evident in the cautionary history of HRT. For many years only synthetic estrogen was prescribed. An epidemic of uterine cancer confirmed this folly. Synthetic progesterone was then added only to increase breast cancer, stroke and heart disease instead.

A hormone or any natural substance cannot be patented and thus mega-profitable, only artificial versions can be. But they just bully the body into hormonal compliance rather than address the cause of the imbalance. Busy doctors get wooed and informed of options by multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical companies – not by nutritionists.

Men primarily produce androgens such as testosterone, which can be converted into estrogen, just as women can convert estrogen into testosterone. Fat cells contain an enzyme aromatase that can be converted into estrogen. Excess fat is like growing an extra estrogen-producing organ. The #1 dietary factor for elevating estrogen within minutes – and decreasing testosterone for up to 12 hours – is alcohol.

For ENTHUSIAST and ANALYSER body types excess sugars, caffeine and starchy carbs are next in line. For DRIVER and SENSUALIST types the main culprit is too much, poor quality fat and animal protein (see The Shape Diet to determine your metabolic type and which foods will work for and against you). 7-8 hours of solid sleep helps raise testosterone. In animal studies olive oil and cranberries help enzyme activity in the testes produce more testosterone.

Ensure Balance with Tasty Foods and Healthy Habits

Sufficient progesterone can ‘oppose’ estrogen and break it down into forms for excretion. Unneeded hormones and metabolites are sent to the liver. If there is some fat in your meal when it leaves your stomach the liver and gall bladder are triggered to release wastes. But if there was no soluble fibre in that meal those wastes will be sent back. Instead with soluble fibre, they can form an inseparable bond and be eliminated. Breakfast is usually the longest time you go without eating, so morning intake is ideal – hence the value and popularity of my Linseed Cereal recipe (see HEALTH STORE for The Shape Diet).

Regular exercise is critical. The more lean muscle you have the less estrogen and more testosterone. However, excessive exercise and insufficient body fat will destructively lower women’s estrogen levels – thus many athletes and anorexics stop menstruating. Zinc , magnesium and B6 are particularly critical for hormone production and balance. For men, high estrogen and low zinc leads to testosterone being converted into dihydrotestosterone: a more potent form that leads to abnormal prostate growth (Male Health). Extremes are dangerous. Athletes who take anabolic steroids (which mimic testosterone) to build muscle, can become sterile and die young from liver or cardiovascular disease.

Women who drink more than 1 coffee daily have significantly higher levels of estrogen. Cruciferous vegetables (or brassicas) such as broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage act in contrast. They contain indole 3-carbinol, which breaks down estrogen for urinary excretion. Some natural foods are high in plant forms or phytoestrogens. Unlike xenoestrogens which distort normal activity, phytoestrogens can land in receptors and block entrance to excess circulating estrogens, whether self-produced or ingested. Or – adaptively – if estrogen is low they can stimulate mild activity.

Most plants contain one or more of the 3 main types of phytoestrogens. Isoflavones are highest in whole bean soy products, next are other legumes (dried/fresh peas and beans). Lignans are highest in whole linseed. Coumestans are highest in red clover (have as a tea or sprouts), alfalfa and legumes. Nations such as Japan, with a high phytoestrogen intake have much less hormone-sensitive cancer; prostate, menstrual and menopausal problems. So should you choose organic dairy products or soy – or other options? Contact this office for an allergy test to be sure.


Margaret Gunn

Hi Maria
Another good read and much information to take in – gradually, given I have only recently discovered I am an enneagram 5 / analyser type (figures for an accountant!) with a love of strong coffee in the morning. I will start with no caffeine after 2pm otherwise I may have trouble staying with anything.
Enjoy your new grand daughter and thanks for keeping me on your mailing list.

Maria Middlestead

There are so many Types to figure in! By the time we are 100 we should have it sussed.


Hi Maria
I am very interested in your in-depth understanding of hormones. I’ve been having issues which I blame on hormones (heavy and painful periods, mood swings and depression while PMS, stomach discomfort, and bowel problems). But 4 months ago I started with non-bacterial cystitis symptoms (bladder pressure and need to urinate, which vary from week to week and day to day) which never went away and I believe that this has to do with hormones as well. Do you believe that this is a possibility? could hormonal disbalance be causing these interstitial cystitis symptoms as well as all my other symptoms? Thank you in advance for your reply 🙂

Maria Middlestead

Natalia, that is very good reasoning. Interstitial cystitis can be triggered by menstruation, allergies, infections and auto-immune reactions. All of these can be influenced by the potentially inflammatory nature of certain foods. If you are in the Auckland area, or would like a phone or Skype appointment, please contact me through the website.

Maria Middlestead

Natalia, that sounds very concerning. Please email me via the Contact page and I will send particulars about an appointment.

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