What is Estrogen?
Estrogen is a hormone, a substance produced by the body. It is needed for normal growth and development of female sex organs and for functions such as bearing children. During menopause, the body’s production of estrogen is decreased. Estrogen replacement is used for symptoms associated with menopause: hot flashes (feelings of warmth in the face, neck, and chest), sweating, sleep disturbance, vaginal discomfort (dryness and itchiness), poor concentration, and irritability. It also is used in the treatment of breast cancer in postmenopausal women and breast and prostate cancer in men. Estrogen is also used with diet, calcium supplements, and exercise to slow the progression of osteoporosis, a disease common in women after menopause resulting in bones that break easily.
Estrogen and Menopause
Even though estrogens are present in both men and women, they are found in women in much higher quantities. For instance, they promote the development of the female secondary sexual characteristics, like breasts, and also have to do with the thickening of the endometrium and the menstrual cycle. As a matter of fact, many oral contraceptives (pills) contain the hormone.
Estrogen and HRT
HRT can be defined as giving the female hormone, estrogen, to menopausal women to bring estrogen levels back to the normal pre-menopausal range. This therapy is approved by the FDA for the treatment of menopausal symptoms as well as for the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis (thinning of the bones). Also, in women who still have a uterus (womb), another female hormone, progesterone, is given either daily or for 12-13 days out of the month to prevent the development of endometrial cancer, which is a tumor of the lining of the uterus.
Nowadays, it is unlikely that HRT will be offered to you if for instance, you have had breast cancer. The jury is still out on whether hormone therapy increases women’s risk for recurrence or a new cancer, but most experts agree that the risks and unknowns outweigh the benefits at this point.
As more and more people become aware of the dangers of synthetic hormone replacement therapy, they turn to alternative health and natural remedies for solutions.
Perhaps the mistake relays on the wrong search for the “more” or “less” of certain substances our bodies seem to need. Perhaps we overestimate the necessity of our body’s “perfect balance”. As researchers, doctors, and the government struggle to come up with the answer on whether the intake of certain substances (to increase or decrease the amount of other substances) are safe or not, we strongly belief it is not increasing or decreasing what we need, but only balance. Furthermore, we strongly belief our bodies have the natural capacity to reach its desired balance. Capacity ruined perhaps by the years of intake of unnatural substances, unhealthy diets, habits, and life styles.
Fortunately, each day more and more information is available to us about the new natural alternatives available.
Trisha Posner, on her book No Hormones No Fear: A natural Journey through Menopause, Posner offers an alternative to HRT which involve a program of exercise, diet, and nutritional supplements and natural herbs that worked for her. Beta-carotene, Selenium, Vitamin E, Vitamin C, Zinc, Fatty Acids, Pycnogenol, Goldenseal, Calcium, royal jelly, and ginkgo biloba are among her recommended nutritional supplements and herbs.
The most recommended alternative to any hormonal change starts with a change in life-style. These very repetitive (but effective) recommendations are simple yet important for our body to be able to produce its needed substances, and be able to maintain their balance. For instance, start by:
- Changing your diet (avoid alcohol, caffeine, and cigarettes, increase the intake of natural products that may help you balance your hormones, increase your calcium dosage if needed, and choose organic vegetables, dairy products and meats.),
- Get a good sleep (sleep the always recommended 7-8 hrs!),
- Exercise Regularly (especially cardio to help protect your heart), and
- Get a distraction (do yoga, or any activity that might help your body relax, since stress does affect your progesterone production)
- Stop smoking if you do.