Estrogen Balance and Endometriosis

Disclaimer: I am not a health professional. My advice is based solely on my experiences as a patient. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your health regimen!

Happy Valentine’s Day! What better day to celebrate female hormones, amirite? (Hey, don’t look at me like that.)

If you’re a woman, you won’t be surprised to learn that everything in your body is connected to your hormones. The same is still true if you’re a man — but it’s especially true if you’re a woman.

And that doesn’t just cease to be the case if you have endometriosis. In fact, endometriosis can be a cause and an effect of hormone imbalance — especially when it comes to the female sex hormone estrogen.

As a symptomatic woman struggling to receive an endometriosis diagnosis, I identify with many of the symptoms of estrogen dominance: too much estrogen and (by comparison) too little progesterone.

But just what is estrogen dominance, and how can you tell if your estrogen is out of balance? This post covers everything from what estrogen is to how to get your estrogen levels back on track — especially if you, like me, have (or suspect you have) endometriosis.

All About Estrogen

Estrogen is a female sex hormone found in large amounts in women and smaller amounts in men. Occasionally, however, estrogen production can skyrocket — or we can be exposed to excess estrogen through hormonal birth control or our environment. This is how estrogen dominance develops.

But before we can fully understand estrogen dominance, we need to understand how estrogen functions within the body. Estrogen serves many functions in the body, especially for women’s reproductive health: produced primarily in the ovaries, it regulates the menstrual cycle and supports healthy pregnancy. Estrogen can also be produced in the kidneys and in fat (a.k.a. adipose) tissue.

According to the Hormone Health Network, the body produces three main types of estrogen:

  • Estradiol (E2): the most common type of estrogen in women of childbearing age
  • Estriol (E3): the main estrogen produced during pregnancy
  • Estrone (E1): the only estrogen made by the body after menopause

Your estrogen levels fluctuate naturally throughout your menstrual cycle. They are highest in the middle of your cycle, when you ovulate, and lowest during your period. Sometimes, however, women develop high or low estrogen for other reasons.

The most common causes of low estrogen are menopause or oopherectomy (removal of the ovaries). Today, we’ll focus on high estrogen, which consequently throws progesterone (another female sex hormone) out of whack in a condition known as estrogen dominance.

Symptoms of Estrogen Dominance

The growth and shedding of the uterine lining each month is controlled by estrogen — meaning, if you have endometriosis, the behavior of your endometriosis is also controlled by estrogen. Some recent studies (2019, Marquardt et. al.) suggest that dysregulation of the E2 form of estrogen may be partially responsible for endometriosis.

Estrogen dominance and endometriosis are intricately linked. Other signs of estrogen dominance include:

  • PMS
  • Ovarian cysts
  • Heavy and/or irregular periods
  • Early onset puberty
  • Weight gain
  • Fatigue
  • Low libido
  • Constipation
  • Anxiety
  • Bloating
  • Insomnia

Many of these symptoms surface not only because of the presence of excess estrogen, but also because the body’s progesterone levels are low in comparison.

The long-term consequences of estrogen dominance may also be grim. For example, women who started their period before age 12 (and therefore have been exposed to more estrogen) have a higher chance of developing breast and ovarian cancers, according to Bright Pink.

Rebalancing Your Estrogen

So, what’s a girl to do if she suspects she has estrogen dominance? I’m not a doctor, so I can’t promise to cure your estrogen dominance (or your endometriosis). However, research suggests that there are some surefire ways to reduce your exposure to excess estrogen from your environment, as well as to improve your overall hormone health:

  • Consume organic meat and dairy. Unless specifically labeled as hormone-free, regular meat and dairy may contain added growth hormones that can mess with your estrogen levels. Purchase organic, hormone-free meat and dairy if you choose to eat these foods.
  • Avoid BPA-containing plastics. Make sure you drink out of a BPA-free water bottle, replace your Tupperware with BPA-free containers and avoid any other sources of BPA, which can also disrupt your hormones. (Avoiding plastics also happens to be great for the environment, and is therefore great for everyone.) I love my glass BKR water bottle, which is a great alternative to plastics!
  • Take your vitamins. B vitamins and magnesium, to be exact — which have both been found to support the processing of estrogen. If you take other daily medications for chronic conditions, I highly recommend Pill Pack by Amazon, a prescription delivery service that will package your daily medications along with your OTC vitamins and ship them straight to your door.
  • Swap your personal care products. Using organic, all-natural beauty and personal care products is all the more important if you have estrogen dominance. This is because harmful chemicals like phthalates can mimic the effects of estrogen in the body — and because our skin is so porous, anything applied externally can be absorbed into our bodies and affect our hormone balance. So, swap to organic pads and tampons by brands like L. or Cora, and make sure to avoid any toxic chemicals in your beauty products.

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Five Endometriosis Hacks You Haven’t Thought Of

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, meaning I may receive payment for items purchased through my blog. Thanks for supporting Lovely & Lazy!

One of the reasons why chronic illness is so frustrating? Sometimes, it feels like we’ve exhausted every possible option. And trust me, after the 10th fruitless specialist visit, I get how it can feel that way.

Thankfully, something I’ve learned from my own struggles with chronic illness is that you’re never out of options — you simply need to know where to look. And now, I’ve done the deep digging on endometriosis so you don’t have to!

We all know the obvious tips for managing endometriosis at home: heating pads, NSAIDs and hormonal birth control all come to mind. But what about those less obvious tips you may not have thought of? That’s what this post is all about!

Electromagnetic Pulses

Although it might sound like something out of a sci-fi novel, electromagnetic pulses can help cure pelvic pain and period cramps! Livia is a scientifically-proven wearable device for controlling period pain. The Livia device attaches to the pelvis with gel pads and can be comfortably worn on the go. It works by stimulating the nerves with unique pulses that prevent the nerves from transmitting pain signals to the brain.

Kegel Exercises

In some cases, pelvic floor muscle dysfunction can result from endometriosis, worsening symptoms (particularly pain during sex). Thankfully, you can strengthen the pelvic floor muscles like any other muscle: with exercise! You can purchase relatively inexpensive kegel weights to aid in building pelvic floor muscle tone. Insert the weights into the vagina and tighten the muscles used to stop peeing mid-stream. Release and repeat for 15 minutes until it no longer feels challenging.

The Ohnut

Does sex hurt thanks to your endometriosis — especially with deep penetration? Meet the Ohnut, which was designed especially for women like you! This soft, flexible ring helps women comfortably explore different depths of penetration. Simply adjust the size of the Ohnut before inserting it to choose the depth that’s most comfortable for you and your partner.

Use my promo code LOVELYLAZY7 for $7 off your Ohnut! Click here to check it out.

Pelvic Massage

A 2010 study found that massaging the pelvis is helpful in reducing menstrual pain associated with endometriosis. Other studies have also found that women who receive regular massages have less pelvic pain associated with their menstrual periods. Manual therapy or pelvic floor physical therapy often includes therapeutic massages to reduce pain associated with endometriosis and adhesions.

Psychotherapy

Since so much of the pain experience is mental, it makes sense that psychotherapy can help with the management of endometriosis. Seeing a therapist can also help you cope with your diagnosis and any challenging emotions you may be experiencing as a result. It’s worth nothing that therapy that includes something called somatosensory stimulation (a.k.a. pressing different acupuncture points during the appointments) was more effective than ordinary psychotherapy when treating endometriosis patients.

Book Review: WomanCode by Alisa Vitti

I’m not going to lie: when I first read WomanCode, the book didn’t resonate with me the way it does now.

I first picked up the book hoping to learn a little something more about my hormones and the female body — which I did. But it didn’t teach me anything I couldn’t have learned in a sex ed class, if my school had actually taught me sex ed.

Now that I know about my endometriosis, however, I set out to reread this book, figuring that my hormones had become a much more important part of my everyday life. And I was right!

Image result for woman code by alisa vitti

Rereading WomanCode taught me so much about bringing my hormonal issues in check that I even preordered Alisa’s second book, In the FLO, and started working on the preorder challenge. (Follow along on Instagram @lovelyandlazy, where I’ll be holding myself accountable throughout the challenge!)

Here is my honest review of WomanCode, which is in no way sponsored by anyone affiliated with the book, and why I think women everywhere should practice the cycle syncing method.

Facts About Female Hormones

Do you think about your hormones on a daily basis? Probably not — but your hormones are affecting every move you make, whether you realize it or not! I recently attended an online webinar by Alisa Vitti, author of WomanCode, where she shared some fascinating facts about female hormones. For example….

  • Over 47% of women say they struggle with hormonal problems.
  • 60% of women report being sexually dissatisfied.
  • Most diet, fitness and medical research is performed on male subjects and is not actually applicable to the female body.
  • Your brain is up to 25% structurally different across your cycle, known as the infradian rhythm.
  • Many people are practicing Alisa’s cycle syncing method, including the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team!

Alisa’s Story & Advice

When Alisa Vitti was in college, she was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). Her doctor told her that her only option for treatment was basically to take birth control pills and hope for the best. So, Alisa asked, “What else can I do?” The doctor was stumped!

Fast forward years later, and Alisa’s research on women’s hormone health has led her to start FLO Living, a holistic wellness center for women based in NYC, as well as to develop the WomanCode protocol, a method for what Alisa calls “cycle syncing,” or adapting your diet, exercise and activities to the four phases of your menstrual cycle: menstrual, ovulatory, follicular and luteal.

In her book WomanCode, Alisa not only outlines her protocol, but also explains what the heck these four phases are and how women can tell what phase of their cycle they’re in by observing their bodies and their symptoms. She also explains the various hormones produced by the pituitary glands and other systems in the body, and how they affect our day-to-day lives.

My Takeaways

As a woman, and especially as a woman with endo, the idea that my cycle could work with me, rather than against me, was completely foreign to me…. until I picked up this book. WomanCode showed me how I could nurture my body and be more gentle with myself by adjusting my activities to match my cycle, rather than “pushing through” my menstrual fatigue or mid-cycle pelvic pain.

One of my favorite parts of Alisa’s WomanCode protocol is that it isn’t all “eat this, work out like that.” She also stresses the importance of tapping into your feminine energy and seeking balance in your life. While some people on Goodreads thought this part of the book was sexist, I think they’re missing the point. You shouldn’t have to act like a man to be respected like a man. You can still be loving and nurturing, and embody traditionally female characteristics, while totally kicking ass. Just look at Elle Woods!

Another highlight of the WomanCode protocol is Alisa’s chapter on sexuality. It’s my opinion that female sexuality has been ignored and woman’s concerns about low libido brushed off for far too long. As someone who’s often struggled with low libido due to depression and pelvic pain, I found it incredibly enlightening to learn about how my sexuality changes throughout my cycle and what I can do to naturally improve my sex drive.

My main issue with this book is its emphasis on diet and exercise, particularly Alisa’s “every meal, every day” mantra. The WomanCode protocol isn’t a diet, exactly, but it may trigger you if you have a history of an eating disorder — because unlike in other parts of the book, Alisa only very briefly mentions the idea of balance when it comes to following her nutritional recommendations.

Alisa does mention that you don’t need to be perfect when following the dietary protocol, but she also advocates for ditching dairy and gluten altogether, demonizes caffeinated beverages like coffee and neglects to mention that some “less healthy” foods, like dark chocolate, are actually fantastic for your health! She also has a detox plan listed in the book, which is utter B.S. considering that our liver, colon and other organs are literally designed to detox our bodies without any additional support.

Thus, my advice is to read the dietary section with caution (or skip it altogether) if you come into WomanCode with a history of an eating disorder, like many of you guys do. However, I did find value in what WomanCode had to say about female hormones and do believe that every woman would benefit from tapping into her female sexual and spiritual energy, whether at work or at home!

Health Update: Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Endometriosis & Chronic Pelvic Pain

Wow, what a whirlwind today has been! Today (as of writing this post), I just got home from an appointment at Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Endometriosis & Chronic Pelvic Pain. Finally, I feel like I’ve found answers after nearly two years of searching for them.

If you’ve been following my blog for awhile, you know that originally I was diagnosed with IBS. Yet something didn’t quite sit right with me about that diagnosis: I was eating low-FODMAP and doing everything right, but was still having symptoms. Plus, my symptoms worsened around my period.

Then I thought back on my history of painful periods and started to do some research into endometriosis. Every story I read from a woman with endo resonated with me, from having your pain dismissed to feeling like you’d tried everything to no avail. So, I made an appointment at the Cleveland Clinic Center for Endometriosis & Chronic Pelvic Pain here in Cleveland, where I met with Dr. Jessica Strasburg about my pain.

I have never felt more heard than when I stepped into the Center for Endometriosis & Chronic Pelvic Pain. After years of pain and suffering, Dr. Strasburg affirmed my suspicion of endometriosis. Here’s how my appointment went, and what’s next for me on my health journey as a woman with suspected endometriosis.

How My Appointment Went

My appointment at the Cleveland Clinic Center for Endometriosis and Chronic Pelvic Pain began the way most appointments do: with a weigh-in, a blood pressure check and a lot of questions from the nurse on duty. Then, I was asked to undress from the waist-down (like at any gynecologist appointment) and met with Dr. Strasburg.

Unlike most of the doctors I’ve had, Dr. Strasburg spent about an hour with me asking questions and examining my body. We talked about my history of painful periods and my newly-onset acute pelvic pain. Then, she did an abdominal and pelvic exam, which was painful, but incredibly informative.

After all that, Dr. Strasburg concluded that I was probably right: I probably do have endometriosis on the back wall of my uterus and bowel. In addition, I also have a pelvic floor dysfunction and vulvodynia, which have compounded my pain and made it even more difficult to overcome.

What’s Next for Me

According to my doctor, diagnostic laparoscopy is in my future — but whether that will be my immediate future is up to me. As of right now, I do think I want to have the diagnostic laparoscopy because it is minimally invasive and will provide me the answers I’ve wanted for so long now. To me, peace of mind and reduced pain for years to come is well worth a few one-inch scars.

But before we can get to that, I’ll have to have an MRI at Cleveland Clinic’s Main Campus (at this point, nothing I’m not used to). As long as it’s covered by my insurance, I’ll have the MRI because the contrast may show some of my endometriosis on-screen.

I’ll also be visiting Cleveland Clinic’s specialized physical therapy clinic for pelvic pain to work on my pelvic floor dysfunction. According to Dr. Strasburg, some women still have pain even when their endo is removed because their pelvic floor is still guarding (a.k.a. tensing up to protect itself). So, I will need to start PT exercises in order to work on my chronic pelvic pain and vulvodynia.