Let us start with Hormones 101, or the basics, to set the foundation for the rest of the book. Once you understand the basics of the sex and stress hormones, you will then be able to understand why a balance is so important in order to avoid all the symptoms of PMS, peri-menopause, and menopause including excess weight.
This book discusses in detail three of the major hormones: estrogen, progesterone, and cortisol.
I will start this chapter by explaining the basic interactions of the two female sex hormones (estrogen and progesterone), with the stress hormone cortisol. These three basic hormones will be mentioned in each chapter and serve as a foundation to your mood, weight and overall health.
The Delicate Balance of Estrogen, Progesterone and Cortisol
Our bodies need the stress hormone, cortisol, even if it is sometimes touted in the media as a fat-promoting hormone. We also need adequate levels of estrogen and progesterone for optimal health and childbearing. Problems begin to arise when these basic sex and stress hormones get out of balance. Therefore, let us take a closer look at them. When it comes to weight problems, moodiness, and risk for health issues or disease; estrogen is the “bad guy” when it is out of balance with progesterone. This female sex hormone is responsible for fat and fluid retention and is also associated with certain neuro-chemicals that will cause you to feel more anxious and depressed, or at the very least, irritable with mood swings. On the other hand, progesterone—the other major female sex hormone—is considered the “good guy” when it comes to weight, mood, and overall health. Progesterone is also associated with the production of certain neuro-chemicals that soothe and relax the body and aid in sleep. Progesterone is also a fat burner and a diuretic—which helps to control weight and blood pressure—and therefore, it is needed to balance out estrogen. This hormone keeps the body healthy and your symptoms at bay.
We need both of these essential sex hormones, but keeping them in balance is necessary for our health, mood and proper weight management. A good metaphor to explain the “excitatory” role of estrogen and the “inhibitory” role of progesterone is the following: when the “parent” (progesterone) is around, the “teenager” (estrogen) behaves, but in the absence or lacking of the “parent” (progesterone), the “teenager” (estrogen) gets into trouble. Scientifically, this means that progesterone keeps estrogen in balance by preventing it from stimulating the receptor sites of the cells in an excitatory way, which if left unchecked, could cause too much cell growth and division. This can lead to problems such as fibrocystic breasts (or eventually breast cancer if other factors are present), endometriosis (too much buildup of tissue on the ovaries or uterus), or even excessively heavy periods due to too much build up of the lining of the uterus. These are all common examples of more serious health issues that can occur when estrogen’s proliferation role is out of control along with our issues with PMS, mood, weight and energy.
The adrenal gland must prepare the body by speeding up the heart-rate, releasing adrenaline, slowing digestion, and increasing sugar and insulin production. Our bodies were not made to adapt to this constant drain on our cortisol levels, and over time, the adrenal gland runs out of the “reserves” needed to manufacture cortisol. Can you guess what the body uses when it needs “building blocks” to produce more cortisol? It converts the very hormone that we need to keep us happy and in balance—progesterone—the “good guy”. This is because progesterone is molecularly very close to cortisol, and therefore is easy for the body to convert. This back-up and for “emergency use only” plan is now a daily happening for American women of all ages.This is why stress is the foundation of the basic hormone “shift” leading to all hormonal imbalances and subsequent symptoms.
The result of the body’s unrelenting demand for cortisol causes us to have low progesterone, leaving us in a position of having too much estrogen in relation to progesterone. This state is accompanied by any of the varying symptoms associated with premenstrual syndrome, peri-menopause, and menopause (see questionnaire at the end of this chapter to note symptoms) including weight gain or the inability to lose weight! The degree of your imbalance will determine the amount and severity of your symptoms.
Too much estrogen in relation to progesterone is known as “estrogen dominance”, a term coined by Dr. John Lee, an influential and integrative hormone researcher, whom is considered a pioneer in progesterone therapy….
All the subsequent chapters in the book relate this basic hormone “shift” to specific areas you may deal with such as PMS, menopause symptoms, female-related cancers, thyroid problems, accelerated aging, weight gain and poor mood (depression/anxiety). Very specific solutions to this hormone “shift” are detailed in chapter 8 so that after you understand your body better, you can be on the fast rack to rebalancing your hormones to look and feel your best!