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The female hormone cycle. The ins and outs to bringing balance

Dr. Ernesto Medina, DC

Bay Are Health and Wellness Center 

www.BayAreaHealthAndWellness.com

The problem: cramps, irregular periods, infertility, birth control, PCOS, etc.

It seems as though finding women with normal, healthy and balanced hormones is becoming more and more rare these days.  Irregular cycle length, missed cycles, absent cycles, PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), extreme mood swings which is now being known as PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder) and extremely painful cycles are becoming the norm in today’s society. 

The percentage of women aged 15-49 with impaired fertility is 13% and 8.8% suffer from complete infertility according to the CDC.  These statistics are trending upward in the US and the only options available through the conventional medical system are infertility clinics that aim at masking the hormone imbalance temporarily to induce pregnancy and not addressing the root causes of the hormone imbalances in the first place. 

Young females in their teens often start off having distorted menstrual cycles from the very beginning. Again, the conventional medical model does nothing to investigate into the root cause of their hormone imbalance and often resort to prescribing birth control to try and synthetically balance a young woman’s hormones. 

Today I rarely see women on birth control for the intended use of birth control.  I most often see birth control prescribed for any multitude of symptoms associated with premenstrual symptoms such as irregular cycles, cramping, hormonally induced headaches or migraines and hormonal acne just to name a few. 

This often leads to decades of birth control use which has its own potential side effects known as post birth control syndrome which causes breakdown of the hypothalamus-pituitary-ovarian feedback loops and potentially can increase the risk of breast cancer. 

What do normal hormone cycles look like:

In order to understand how to balance hormones naturally we must first understand how the female hormone cycle works.  The female cycle is much more intricate and detailed than male hormones and they fluctuate throughout the length of the cycle.  That means testing female hormones through blood tests can be unreliable and are dependent on what phase of their cycle they are in at the time of the blood test.  If an individual has unpredictable cycle lengths or lack of menstrual cycles it becomes impossible to determine in what phase of the cycle they are in and where their imbalance is.  

The alternative way of testing and my preferred way is through saliva testing.  There is a lab that offers a test called an expanded female hormone panel which allows women to collect multiple saliva samples throughout the length of their cycle.  Once their next cycle starts, collection of samples ends, and they are mailed to the lab for analysis. 

The lab report is able to capture timing of ovulation, length of the first phase of the menstrual cycle, known as the follicular phase, length of the second phase of the cycle, known as the luteal phase, and it is able to measure pituitary output of FSH and LH from the brain to evaluate the hypothalamus-pituitary-ovarian axis.  

Below is a snapshot of a sample report. It represents the ideal balance of hormones throughout a menstrual cycle.

The important things to note are that in the first 15 days of the cycle you see a dramatic Estrogen/Estradiol spike (green line) that is triggered by the release of FSH from the brain, followed by a drop in Estrogen levels.

This spike and drop in levels activates the release of LH from the brain triggering a spike in Progesterone levels (red line) in the second phase of the menstrual cycle, days 15-29.  Towards the end of the cycle we should see an almost equivalent drop to baseline levels of both Estrogen and Progesterone in preparation for the next menstrual cycle.

Included in the report, but not pictured here are the levels of FSH and LH being released from the brain in the first and second phases of this cycle, as well as Testosterone which should not fluctuate much throughout the cycle.

Included in the report, but not pictured here are the levels of FSH and LH being released from the brain in the first and second phases of this cycle, as well as Testosterone which should not fluctuate much throughout the cycle.

Where does the hormone imbalance happen?

The hormone imbalance can occur with Estrogen, Progesterone, Testosterone, FSH or LH.  This is why it is so important to test all of your hormones throughout the length of your entire cycle.  A single blood test only shows you a snapshot of that exact point in your cycle which may appear normal then, but imbalanced at another point of your cycle.

The most common hormone imbalances that can occur are:  

- Estrogen levels normal, but low Progesterone in the second phase of a cycle 

- High Estrogen levels throughout the entire cycle length with low Progesterone levels 

- High testosterone levels leading to polycystic ovaries – the #1 cause of infertility 

- Low FSH/LH due to birth control use causing failure of the hypothalamus-pituitary-ovarian feedback loops causing low Estrogen and/or Progesterone

How can I fix my hormone imbalances?

The good news is hormone imbalances can be improved through healthier diet choices, exercise and specifically targeted natural supplements that have been shown to improve pituitary feedback loops and improve Estrogen and Progesterone levels..

Maca (Lepidium meyenii):

The maca plant belongs to the brassica (mustard) family and like broccoli and cauliflower, is a cruciferous vegetable. It grows in the mineral-rich mountains of the Andes at an elevation of about 12,000 to 14,000 feet. It is found in Peruvian provinces such as Junín and Pasco, where it thrives in extreme weather conditions that include powerful winds, bitter cold and harsh sunlight. Maca is a tuber, which means that under the ground, the plant stores its rich nutrients in a bulb shaped like a radish or turnip. It is rich in vitamins C and A as well as B2, B6 and Niacin. 

Red Maca

The hardy root is also packed with minerals, including iron, zinc, iodine, calcium, copper, magnesium and potassium. Maca is also rich in beneficial plant sterols that are biochemically related to hormones such as estrogen, testosterone and progesterone.  

Studies investigating black maca have shown to improve spermatogenesis in men.  

Given that spermatogenesis is dependent on healthy FSH levels being released from the brain, we can deduce that black maca may also have similar effects on improving FSH release for women and supporting healthy Estrogen production.  Black maca is available in both capsule form and powder form. 

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Aguaje ( Mauritia Flexuosa)

The main bioactive compounds in aguaje, or buriti fruit, are carotenoids, tocopherols, ascorbic acid, phenolic compounds, fiber, phytoestrogens, and essential fatty acids. 

A recent study has revealed two unique compounds in the aguaje fruit: lespeflorin G8 (LF) and 8-hydroxyhomopterocarpan (8-HHP), both of which seem to be responsible for the estrogenic properties of the moriche palm fruit. These mild phytoestrogenic compounds (particularly LF) have been shown to bind successfully with the human estrogen receptor (ER), thus relieving the symptoms related to hormonal imbalances along the female reproductive life cycle.

The unique properties of phytoestrogens allows for improvement of hormone receptor balance in cases of both too much or not enough Estrogen binding making it a good overall hormone balancing product.  

Another study published from Cape Peninsula University of Technology showed Aguaje oil improved testicular weight and hormone function in male rats due to the potent antioxidant effects on the sex organs found in Aguaje.  Both the ovaries and the testis are very sensitive to inflammation and free radial damage which decreases receptor sensitivity to the brain hormones FSH and LH which are necessary for healthy hormone production.

Huanarpo (Jatropha macrantha):

Huanarpo Macho capsules also known as "Natural Viagra" for being a natural powerful aphrodisiac is often taken to support male potency.  Although commonly marketed for males, it has many potential benefits for balancing female hormones as well. 

A study in a Japanese scientific journal showed Huanarpo in combination with Red Maca increased blood levels of Progesterone and Testosterone significantly in female mice.  The study was investigating ways of improving fertility by increasing hormone levels using natural herbal supplements.  While the direct mechanism of action was not discussed, we can extrapolate that the combination of Red Maca and Huanarpo improved hormone levels by either increasing brain hormone signaling of FSH/LH thus increasing hormone production, or by improving hormone receptor sensitivity causing an overall improvement in Progesterone and Testosterone levels. 

Either way, Huanarpo in combination with Maca can be a powerful tool in helping balance female hormones. 

In my opinion, taking only 1 supplement and expecting a major improvement in hormone balance is not always the most effective way.  Most people have multiple pathways that are broken or not functioning properly. The most effective route is to have personalized testing done as described at the beginning of this article.  

If you don’t have access to that testing or can’t find a provider who will do the test, using a combination of supplements to influence multiple pathways is a more efficient method of trying to balance your hormones.  Consistent use of the supplements is also important to note as it can take 6-12 weeks of consistent use to see initial changes in hormone based symptoms. 

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