Estrogen’s a real complex and intriguing hormone. Medicine and science have been confused about estrogen for a long time now. Estrogen is sultry and ancient. She was the first hormone that existed on earth. She’s been around longer than most other signaling molecules (much of life inside the human body occurs with one cell sending an email to another; this is a signaling system).
Estrogen is critical for many life processes and in most life forms. The estrogen emailing system in the fruit fly, gorilla, men and women and boys and girls is all the same. Each of us needs estrogen to thrive. Even the developing human fetal brain is flooded with the most estrogen percent-wise that the human body will ever see, which determines sex differences as well as many other life long health traits such as critical aspects of innate intelligence. This is because estrogen is smart as a whip.
Estrogen is the most prevalent and active sex hormone, but still it is widely and sadly often misunderstood. Many women have become scared of estrogen. Numerous women and even doctors often don’t appreciate how balanced estrogen signaling protects us against heart, lung, colon, bone and brain disease and even cancer and early death.
It’s time for a revolution and re-appreciation of this life-promoting hormone.
Estrogen Protects Hearts
The Mayo Clinic had come out with research in 2009 showing that women who had both ovaries removed at 45 years of age and didn’t go on estrogen replacement, were at very high risk of dying from heart attacks compared to women who did got this surgery but then choose to take estrogen replacement. Why? Estrogen protects hearts.
The investigators also showed that estrogen protects much more. In this study, these same post-hysterectomy women without estrogen replacement had other issues facing them: increased risk of Parkinson disease, dementia, depression and anxiety disorders.
But the kicker is that all of these serious issues occurred much less in the women who took estrogen replacement after their surgery.
Estrogen Protects Against Parkinson’s disease, Depression and More
That same year researchers at the John Wayne Cancer Institute in California wrote that it was a common practice to remove both ovaries when performing hysterectomies for benign disease. At that time, half the women in the US who got hysterectomies, which translated into 300,000 cases a year, had both ovaries removed when they under went hysterectomies. Yet, estrogen deficiency, these authors remind us, is linked to higher risk of heart disease, stroke, bone fractures, Parkinsonism, dementia, depression and anxiety. This is because estrogen shores up all these functions.
The authors say that unless a woman is at high risk of getting hormonal cancers like breast and ovarian, having both ovaries removed is not a good idea, in fact they clearly state it’s a harmful one.
All this being said, it’s amazing that our society has become so estrogen-phobic. And especially since we now know that estrogen delivers signals to diverse receptors (proteins that take the signals that estrogen delivers and pass them on to DNA which then directs cells how to carry out their functions).
One of these receptors, called estrogen receptor beta, when ‘turned on’ by estrogen, signals cells to actually fight cancer. In fact, there is now evidence that a normal cell can’t even turn into a cancer cell unless estrogen beta is ‘turned off’. That’s right, estrogen delivered to the right receptor protects against cancer.
The Anti-Cancer Estrogen Receptor
To stay well and avoid or heal cancer, we require stimulators of this protective estrogen receptor beta. Who turns on estrogen receptor beta? Healthy stimulators of estrogen receptor beta are a lesser-known estrogen called estriol (which is why it makes sense to add this estrogen to estradiol when taking HRT); a metabolite of the male hormone testosterone; specific foods such as soy (non-hydrolyzed or whole) and rhubarb and the natural family of mixed-tocopherol vitamin E such as found in whole grains, seeds and nuts as well as supplements.
All this screams that our understanding of estrogen is going through a much needed extreme makeover. We now appreciate that our 60 estrogens are much more complex than we had realized. Science is recognizing that healthy estrogen signaling protects our brains, immune systems, vocal chords, and even our kidneys and colons, and much more. We need estrogen signaling to stay vertical and out of hospitals and to have robust lung capacity to work out and keep our voices strong enough to deliver a speech or even enjoy a long conversation. We need estrogen to slow down what used to be considered inevitable symptoms of aging. We especially need estrogen to keep our brains from shrinking, especially the part called the hippocampus, that holds self-confidence and short-term memory skills.
Researchers at McGill University’s Psychiatry Department showed that estrogen replacement revolumized a shrinking hippocampus like Botox does to lips and wrinkles, turning back the Mac Truck of brain aging time.
If you put 100 women in a room, and if half the women were on hormone replacement, you would be able to identify which group was on hormones and which were not. Estrogen and other hormone replacement keeps us younger physiologically, and even younger and more attractive physically.
We’ve Been Looking At Estrogen Naively
We have seen estrogen in too limited and immature a light. It is not just a matter of too much estrogen increasing the risk of hormonally driven cancers. It is a matter of balance. To be healthy and stay healthy, there needs to be balance between the growth (ER alpha receptor) and the protection (ER beta receptor), as well as all the downstream metabolites (how our bodies processes estrogen and whether our bodies make the final anti-cancer, anti-proliferative metabolite out of the estrogen we carry around inside us).
But the new take home is that a healthy balance of estrogen protects against cancer and even premature death!
Recent News about Unfortunate Deaths
A study came out last week that reported that 91,600 women might have died unnecessarily, because they avoided estrogen replacement after hysterectomies. These women choose not to take estrogen because of the estrogen-phobia that has understandably but unfortunately occurred in the last decade. American Journal of Public Health July 18 2013
Others have refuted this analysis, calling it too simplistic and inaccurate. So the debate goes on. But many specialists in the women’s related health fields have been saying since the mid 1990’s that a whole generation of women is going to have more disease and earlier death because they were, in essence, denied hormone replacement by being made scared to death about it.
Don’t let this happen to you.
Of course, sensible safe hormone replacement means: you get tested, monitored, and the protocol is individualized and recommended in the light of addressing supportive nutrients, diet and digestion.
But you should consider a complete hormonal evaluation with a qualified professional. This intake should analyze all your complete personal and family health history, your exposures, sex, adrenal and sugar hormones, your fasting insulin, and your sex hormone binding globulin level. Also add the critical nuances of your thyroid functioning (free T3, free T4, rT3 and even thyroid antibodies along with typical TSH).
All of the hormone family must be considered within a complete hormone interview as they function and dysfunction together as one interrelated group.
And exciting news continues!
Stay tuned to hear more about the highly unknown estrogen metabolite, 2-methyoxyestradiol (2-MEO). This end-estrogen metabolite (the last break down product of estrogen metabolism) acts as a protective anti-estrogen (helping to keep balance in how estrogen works inside the body) and as a powerful, safe and natural anti-cancer agent.
I hypothesize that within the next decade; 2-MEO will become a regular part of a healthy hormone protocol for many of us, even high-risk women (and possibly men). I have been on it myself for several years now and feel that it is an evidence-based, critical part of keeping me healthy.
There is a transformation occurring in our understanding of how hormonal replacement, especially if both our ovaries have been removed, can keep women healthier and younger… don’t miss out.