Oestrogen Dominance and Your Thyroid

Blog 4The oestrogens are a group of female hormones which, along with progesterone are responsible for the “secondary sex characteristics” of women. This is a fact known to most every adult but what is not well-known is that hormone levels also play a part in the functioning of thyroid hormone – and vice versa.

YourHormones in Balance

All of the “sex” hormones, including oestrogensare present throughout a woman’s life and also present in men to a smaller extent.The sex hormones are produced by the uterus and ovaries in women – and the testes in men. Oestrogens, progesterone and testosterone exist in a balance in both men and women – women obviously have more oestrogens and progesterone than men and men have more testosterone.

The sex hormones are also responsible for other functions including maintenance of skin, acceleration of metabolism, protein synthesis, fat metabolism, lung function and many others.

For men, the balance of hormones stays fairly constant until the later ages but in women, the levels of oestrogen and progesterone vary throughout the month in a cyclical pattern that relates to ovulation and menses.For both men and women, as aging occurs – hormone levels fall. As women age and approach menopause however, hormone levels begin to change.

Menopause is technically the cessation of the menstrual cycle. The ovaries stop producing eggs and menstruation ceases. Only a small percentage of women are actually bothered by the disappearance of their period but menopause causes a lot of bothersome symptoms as well such as:

  • Intolerance to temperature changes (hot flashes)
  • Night sweats
  • Insomnia
  • Forgetfulness or clouded thinking
  • Mood swings
  • Irritability and anxiety
  • Aches and pains
  • Headaches
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Vaginal dryness and infections

Most people believe that all of the symptoms of menopause are caused by falling oestrogen levels and for many years the medical community has responded by prescribing oestrogen replacement therapy to millions of women.

Oestrogen replacement therapy has been given not only to “help” with menopausal symptoms but also to “protect” women from the effects of cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, breast cancer and uterine disorders. It has recently come to light that the “protective” factor may have been vastly overstated – in fact it may be wrong. It may also be making some menopause symptoms a lot worse and some of it is related to the thyroid gland.

Oestrogen Dominance

Even though doctors have prescribed “hormone” replacement therapy which was mainly oestrogen, little attention has been paid to progesterone – which actually begins to drop earlier. Even though true menopause does not usually happen until after a woman is about age 50, progesterone levels really start to fall, sometime between 30 and 40 for most women. When progesterone levels fall, the balance is destroyed – resulting in a condition known as “oestrogen dominance”.

Oestrogen dominance or excessive oestrogen levels cause many of the symptoms of early menopause or perimenopause such as:

  • Mood swings
  • Irregular periods
  • Dry skin
  • Hair loss
  • Fatigue
  • Hot flashes
  • Heart palpitations

Excessive oestrogen also has another effect – it blocks the action of thyroid.

Oestrogen Dominance and Your Thyroid

The thyroid gland is a small butterfly shaped gland around the trachea that produces thyroid hormone. Thyroid is important for the functioning of every organ in the body. It is responsible for many metabolic processes as it helps the cells convert sugar into energy. It also increases the use of oxygen and stimulates the production of protein. When thyroid levels are low – the metabolic functioning slows down which means everything in the body slows down too.

Low thyroid affects up to 25 percent of all women and about 10 percent of men. As you get older, the condition becomes more common. Underactive thyroid or hypothyroidism causes symptoms such as:

  • Fatigue
  • Weight gain
  • Intolerance to extreme temperature
  • Cloudy thinking
  • Dry skin
  • Depression and irritability

These symptoms are very similar, if not the same as the early symptoms of menopause.

Because thyroid hormone makes every organ in the body work – when thyroid levels fall, things don’t work as well or as fast. Though most people, including medical practitioners don’t think about it – this affects the uterus and ovaries too.

If the uterus and ovaries don’t have enough thyroid hormone to function properly, they can’t produce enough of the progesterone that is needed to balance the hormone system – making oestrogen dominance worse. To make matters worse – that isn’t the only problem with thyroid and oestrogen.

Oestrogen and Thyroid Binding Globulin

Hormones can only work if they are in the blood in a free form. Thyroid, like many other hormones in the body is bound by protein. Unless a hormone is “free”, or not bound to a protein, it can’t work. As proof of this – laboratory tests for hormones measure the free amount and not the protein bound amount.

In the case of thyroid, there is a specific protein “thyroid binding globulin” or “thyroxine binding globulin” (TBG), which is produced by the liver. TBG attaches to the free thyroid hormone and inactivates it. TBG is normally used by the body to keep the thyroid levels in check – and not overactive.

Unfortunately, excessive oestrogen levels can stimulate the liver to produce more TBG than normal. This means that whatever amount of thyroid is being produced may not be active and able to work.

So now, we have a multi-layer problem:

  • Oestrogen dominance can increase the amount of thyroid binding globulin which inactivates free thyroid
  • Low levels of thyroid can decrease uterine and ovarian production of progesterone making oestrogen dominance worse
  • Oestrogen dominance and low thyroid symptoms are similar

For many years – women who are entering menopause have been told to simply accept the symptoms of menopause as a natural effect of aging – in a “grin and bear it” kind of situation. Additionally, though it is known that underactive thyroid is a problem of aging – in a lot of women the condition is never diagnosed.

Men, Oestrogen Dominance and Thyroid

Men have been virtually been left out of the “falling hormone levels” discussion. Men too, experience a change in hormone levels with increased age. In this case, it is not the progesterone and oestrogen levels that drop – obviously it is the testosterone. Falling testosterone levels in men result in similar symptoms as women, though usually not as severe:

  • Fatigue
  • Foggy thinking
  • Weight gain and muscle wasting
  • Dry skin
  • Hair loss

Again, some of these symptoms may not be so much a problem with testosterone – but also a slight case of oestrogen dominance and thyroid problems. Men, particularly older men, have about a one in ten chance of having a hypothyroid condition and are also often left undiagnosed just like women.

If you have symptoms that you think might simply be related to the natural process of aging, you might want to get your thyroid levels checked – especially if the symptoms are severe or particularly bothersome. It might be a problem of oestrogen dominance, it might be a problem with hypothyroidism – or it might be oestrogen dominance and your thyroid.