Unbalanced Hormones Affect the Female Reproductive Cycle
by Dan Gleason, DC
There are two phases of the reproductive cycle: the follicular and the luteal, each lasting about two weeks, with ovulation at the midpoint. Problems with the complex hormones during this cycle can cause health issues.
The beginning of the cycle is the first day of menstrual flow, when 100 to 200 follicles start to develop. During the next four to seven days, pituitary and ovarian hormone levels are quite low. At the beginning of the second week, estrogen level starts to rise and stimulate regrowth of the endometrium, the lining of the uterus. Substances that mimic estrogen can also stimulate endometrial growth. Heavy or dark menstrual flow can be the result of too much estrogenic stimulus.
As ovulation approaches, the pituitary and ovarian hormones start to spike. This causes one key follicle to rupture, releasing an egg to travel the fallopian tube to the uterine cavity. The egg-releasing follicle then assumes a different role: It becomes the progesterone-secreting gland known as the corpus luteum. Progesterone’s primary function is to “ripen” the endometrium and limit its growth in preparation for a fertilized egg to implant, or for the production of a “normal” period. Progesterone’s secondary function is to cause the dissolution of the secondary follicles that started to develop on day one of the cycle.
A common cause of menstrual or premenstrual symptoms is a premature corpus luteum failure, which causes a precipitous drop in progesterone. When this happens, the endometrium continues to grow thicker and fails to mature or ripen. Unresolved secondary follicles then continue to make testosterone, which account for symptoms like acne and aggression. Premature corpus luteum failure can also lead to painful cramps, dark or clotty menstrual flow, breast tenderness, or premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Other, more serious, consequences can include endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or infertility.
It’s important to determine why these conditions occur and how to mitigate their effects.
The corpus luteum is regulated and supported by the pituitary luteinizing hormone. The herb chaste tree has been shown to be effective at supporting this hormone, especially for young women. Medical doctors may prescribe the birth control pill, a synthetic progestin, which is often helpful. Functional medicine and naturopathic doctors may suggest bioidentical progesterone taken orally, topically or sublingually.
Avoiding substances that mimic estrogen is also important, especially in skin-care products, as their ingredients can be absorbed by reproductive tissues prior to filtration by the liver. Clinics that specialize in natural approaches can provide lists of these chemical and plant-based estrogen mimics that should be avoided by those suffering from menstrual problems.
Balancing glucose through diet is also often necessary. When too many carbohydrates (sweets and starches) are consumed, insulin levels tend to run high. Insulin disrupts a natural hormone-suppressing protein, sex hormone binding globulin, which causes estrogen and testosterone to be over-expressed.
Women who experience hormonal, menstrual, fertility or metabolic problems might want to consult with an OB/GYN or functional medicine clinic specializing in hormone balancing. There are saliva, serum and urine test that can help in diagnosis and treatment.
Dr. Dan Gleason is the owner of The Gleason Center located at 19084 North Fruitport Road in Spring Lake. For more info: go to TheGleasonCenter.com or call 616-846-5410.