By Sheena Smith
Nowadays we are seeing more and seemingly healthy couples experience frustration when trying to conceive.
So what is happening? It is no coincidence that over the last 10 years, stress levels in our daily lives, processed food consumption and pollution have also increased. It is time we acknowledge that there is a direct link between what we eat and how we live our lives regarding fertility.
Hormonal balance is a key factor. Estrogen is one of the primary female sex hormones. Normally it is in balance with progesterone, the other primary sex hormone. “Estrogen dominance” is a state when the body has too much estrogen, either from overproduction of estrogen or lack of progesterone.
What might cause this higher estrogen to progesterone imbalance? There are many reasons, most of them linked to our diet and lifestyle.
Stress and weight can affect the ratio between estrogen and progesterone. Alcohol and other chemicals—in food, additives, plastics and cosmetics—also play a role.
Hormones are sometimes injected into livestock to speed up growth. When you consume the meat, you may be ingesting hormone residues. A chemical influx from plastics and cosmetics may also affect the hormone balance due to their ability to mimic estrogen. The xenoestrogens, which are often more potent than the natural estrogens, play havoc with the body’s very sensitive hormonal balance.
Your liver can usually detoxify excess estrogen, but alcohol and other toxic chemicals will put the extra strain on your liver. Therefore if it is compromised from having to detoxify, for example, the weekend’s excess alcohol consumption, estrogen levels will go up.
Stress affects the estrogen to progesterone ratio by depleting progesterone, as progesterone is actually needed in the production of the stress hormone cortisol.
Estrogen dominance can cause many conditions that affect fertility. The hormonal imbalance between estrogen and progesterone can also be linked to poly-cystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), which can disrupt a woman's ovulation cycle and drastically decrease the chances of conception.
Have Your Levels Checked
It is important to have your estrogen and progesterone levels checked. A simple hormonal saliva test is available at IMI. It needs to be undertaken on a specific day of your menstrual cycle to determine the ratio. The test result indicates to your practitioner what treatment plan is necessary to rebalance your hormones.
Managing the Hormonal Balance
Lifestyle changes can have a positive effect on this estrogen:progesterone ratio.
Stress negatively impacts your progesterone levels. Relaxation practices can help reduce cortisol, which will then help to regulate the balance. Reducing the amount of chemicals you are exposed to and getting regular exercise will also help in the metabolism of estrogen.
When possible, choose organic meat and vegetables to minimize exposure to added hormones and other toxins.
Supporting your liver’s ability to detox is also an excellent idea. Drink plenty of water and get enough minerals from your diet. Important minerals for liver detoxification include magnesium, potassium, selenium, zinc, and others. There are supplements such as turmeric and milk thistle that are known to support healthy liver functions.
Indole 3 carbinol and DIM—found in your cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli—are estrogen regulators. There are particular herbs, which can be used to help maintain the estrogen balance. They include Vitex, White Peony and Shatavari. Your Naturopathic physician can recommend the right combination of herbs and supplements based on your conditions and test results.
So if you think you may have a problem with your hormonal balance and have been finding it hard to fall pregnant, start by making some of these simple changes, and consult a naturopathic physician who can guide you through the process of rectifying the issue.
Sheena Smith is an Australian Naturopath who has worked in the health industry in Australia and Hong Kong for many years. Sheena specializes in women's health, digestive issues, weight management, pregnancy and fertility support, sports nutrition as well as diet and lifestyle advice for mental health.