Janet is 45 years old and recently began to notice some changes in her body that have her worried and confused. Her periods, once a clockwork 28 days apart, are now happening every 2 weeks, and she describes them as a “crime scene.” Her breasts are sore and swollen for at least 2 weeks of the month. She’s gaining weight even though she lives a very healthy lifestyle. And sleep? She’s forgotten what it feels like to wake up refreshed and energized. She’s barely dragging through her day.
This is a prevalent scenario with my clients and generally points to levels of estrogen that are out of balance with progesterone. When you enter perimenopause, you stop ovulating every month, which causes levels of progesterone to fall. This allows estrogen to run the show in your body all month. Unfortunately, it also results in the symptoms I just described above. This situation is often called “estrogen dominance.” You can learn more about the basics here.
But there’s more to understanding what’s going on with estrogen than the ratio of estrogen to progesterone. You also need to understand how your body processes estrogen and how those metabolites contribute to your cancer risk and problems with estrogen dominance.
Your body actually makes 3 kinds of estrogen: estrone, estradiol (about 80% of what circulates in your body), and estriol (the weakest form and produced in large quantities during pregnancy). Your liver metabolizes each of the forms in a 2-phase process called sulfation and glucuronidation.
Let’s Take a Look at The Metabolites of These 3 Estrogens:
2-OH or 2-hydroxyestrone
The 2-hydroxyestrone metabolite is the product of several liver detoxification enzymes. Evidence points to the 2-hydroxyestrone metabolite as perhaps the “safest” estrogen metabolite, so it earns the label of “good” estrogen, although it is not without potential problems. 2-OH is the least associated with DNA damage that causes cancer and has the weakest estrogenic effect. Deactivated by methylation, this metabolite ultimately leaves the body through bowel movements.
4-OH (4-hydroxyestrone) metabolite
The 4-OH estrone metabolite is again the result of processing by liver enzymes. It then becomes detoxified by glutathione, a powerful antioxidant. According to most research, the 4-hydroxy estrone comes with an increased risk of cancer initiation and cancer growth. It causes the most DNA damage, has the strongest estrogenic effect, and binds very tightly to the estrogen receptors. It is the “ugly” estrogen.
16-hydroxyestrone (16-OH) metabolite
The third estrogen metabolite is the 16-hydroxyestrone (16-OH) metabolite. Historically, the 16-OH metabolite is the “bad” estrogen metabolite in the “the good, the bad, the ugly” trio. Higher levels of the 16-OH estrogen are associated with heavy periods, breast tenderness, breast cancer, obesity, hypothyroidism, pesticide toxicity (organochlorines), high omega-6 fatty acids, and inflammatory cytokines. It causes DNA damage and binds tightly to the estrogen receptors. Like the 4-OH metabolite, it inhibits programmed cell death which leads abnormal cells to grow continuously.
Measure Your Estrogen Metabolites
Fortunately, these metabolites can be measured in urine, allowing for a savvy provider to manipulate them to encourage more estrogen to flow into the 2-OH pathway and improve overall detoxification. By using a urine test, it shows not only the metabolites but how well you are methylating the metabolites for elimination through bowel movements.
Here’s what this looks like on a DUTCH test:
In this client’s test, Phase 1 estrogen metabolites are very out of balance. She has significant estrogen dominance (as noted by estrone, estradiol, and estriol levels). Additionally, she has an overabundance of the 16-OH metabolite. This manifests as excess weight, heavy periods, and extreme breast tenderness. Her methylation in Phase 2 is very good. However, the problem is that her metabolites in Phase 1 appear backed up. Addressing this issue will give her rapid relief from her symptoms.
The Bottom Line
If you’re wondering how to manage estrogen metabolites that are out of balance, stay tuned for next week’s post. I’ll cover that then!
If you’re interested in getting to the bottom of your hormone imbalances, consider my Connect the Dots program. I’ve recently added GI Map testing to the package since gut and hormone health are closely related. The first step is to schedule a consultation with me to talk about your unique situation and best next steps.
Dr. Anna Garrett is a menopause expert and Doctor of Pharmacy. She helps women who are struggling with symptoms of perimenopause and menopause find natural hormone-balancing solutions so they can rock their mojo through midlife and beyond. Dr. Anna is the author of Perimenopause: The Savvy Sister’s Guide to Hormone Harmony. Order your copy at www.perimenopausebook.com.
Also, she offers a membership group, Hormone Harmony with Dr. Anna Garrett, which provides women in midlife with affordable expert guidance and community support.
Dr. Anna is available for 1-1 consultation. Find out more at www.drannagarrett.com/lets-