Today I want to tackle the subject of hormones. To truly write about women’s hormones would take an entire book or more, but I want to give you a high level education in order to keep yourself safe. The impetus for this article is 2-fold. One part is a new women’s hormone clinic that opened up locally. As an endurance athlete I have personally suffered from hormonal issues leading to brittle bones and weight gain and I currently drive 2 hours each way 2-3 times a year to see a specialist who has been helping me in this department. When this clinic opened up I was amazingly excited, but a quick phone call and 2 easy questions made me realize this place is a pill-pushing sham. Then last week I saw circulating on Facebook last week – touting an herb called Pueraria Mirifica (PM). I once again refused to link this article because quite simply the article is downright dangerous! The article is touting PM as a women’s cure-all herb but the truth is we as women need to be incredible careful playing with our hormones, especially using an herb as powerful as PM.
We are going to specifically target the hormones progesterone and estrogen at a very high level. There are many other hormones we need in balance but I do not want to over complicate this and confuse you. This article is simply a way to empower you to ask the correct questions to keep your body safe.
The first thing we need to understand is that women’s hormones vary throughout the day and throughout the month. A healthy women’s cycle will look like the following graph. You can easily see that the levels of progesterone and estrogen are meant to vary throughout the month. (Note that the levels of each hormone will change as we age so this chart has no values on the left).
Because of this, the very first thing you should ask when seeking to get your hormones tested is “What day of the month do you recommend I test on?”. The new clinic here in town had no idea why I would ask such a question and told me they had an opening on Tuesday. There is no way to get an accurate test if they are not comparing to the day of your cycle. For example, if you test on day 22 but they are comparing your levels to what they should be on day 4 you can see that your progesterone and estrogen would both be considered too high when in fact you may be deficient for day 22.
The other consideration is that blood tests are not anywhere near as accurate as saliva testing.
Saliva testing is much more specific and correctly identifies the level of hormones at the cellular level, in contrast to a serum (blood) test, which measures the level of hormones circulating in the bloodstream.
You want to take a saliva test that you do several times throughout the day so that your doctor can watch your levels rise and fall throughout the day. If a clinic or doctor recommends a blood test OR says that the day of your cycle you test on does not matter RUN. Run far away! Please note that there is a similar issue with testing men’s testosterone since their levels change throughout the day as well. They too should be doing a saliva test rather than a blood panel. The difference is that men can test any day of the month.
Now that you know how our hormones change (I know, it is MUCH more detailed than this, this article is to empower you to find a doctor that knows how to help you and keep you healthy, not to make you an expert on hormones), let’s discuss PM and it’s possible dangers.
I do want to say that PM is not all bad. For those who understand hormones on a much deeper level that I understand or could ever possibly teach in a blog post PM can be used in a highly controlled and cyclical fashion to re-balance hormones in those who are estrogen deficient.
However, most women in our society (the US) are not estrogen deficient. In fact, most of us are estrogen dominant (the latest statistics I have read indicate more than half of us are). Estrogen dominance leads us down a path of scary symptoms including higher breast and ovarian cancer risks. If we were to blindly use an herb that increases estrogen we are compounding our current problems and risks! Even if we are estrogen deficient if we don’t cycle PM (taking it only when our estrogen levels should be high) we can wreak havoc on our hormonal system and increase our risks for hormone related cancers.
To truly keep our bodies in rhythm women need to make sure our levels of estrogen and progesterone are in balance with each other and in the proper levels for our age. Please do not attempt home remedies when dealing with your hormones. Work with a competent doctor, preferably one who specializes in hormones and will prescribe bio-equivalent (ie non-synthetic) medications if it is determined medications are necessary. Most importantly know what questions to ask to make sure you are going to be tested and treated properly and please please please do not blindly take herbs just because an article on the internet tells you how wonderful they are and that they will heal you of all ailments. And yes, I recognize the irony that I am writing an article telling you not to listen to internet articles :).
For more information, here are some sites I recommend: