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Estrogen: The Goldilocks Hormone with Kate Vazquez

 

In this interview, Laurie and Kate Vazquez discuss Estrogen: The Goldilocks Hormone with Kate Vasquez as well as what estrogen dominance may look like and what you can do to improve your hormone health.

Kate Vazquez is a Functional Medicine Physician Assistant, founder of Radiant Health, and an Award Winning Author. She loves empowering high performance women to reclaim their health and vitality to become the confident leader and lover they aspire to be. She created an online course, The Estrogen Reset, and wrote a bestseller, Estrogen Is A B*tch, to bring awareness about estrogen dominance. Kate teaches women how to naturally balance their hormones, use their cycle as their superpower, and reconnect to themselves at their highest level, so they can create a life by design that they love living.

This is a transcription of an Instagram live conversation. You can find the full video on Laurie’s IGTV tab on Instagram and on soon on YouTube.

Laurie: 

Hi everyone. I’ve invited Kate Vazquez to join me today. Kate Vazquez is the award winning author of the book Estrogen is A b*tch and we are gonna learn all about estrogen, the Goldilocks hormone today. 

We’re gonna be talking about all things estrogen dominance today. We’re gonna dig into it for those who are curious to know more about it and to know what it looks like and what they could possibly do about it. 

First I’d love to start with knowing a little bit more about how you got into this.

Kate:

My journey has been just an awesome journey, when I think about it, because without it I wouldn’t have written the book. 

I’m a physician assistant functional medicine practitioner. When I first started practicing medicine, I was in urgent care and also did a little cardiology and ER. I realized that people just weren’t getting better even though I dove into urgent care, mostly because it was only a quick fix. 

I wanted people to help people feel better in the moment, but I realized it was more than just helping them feel better in the moment. We don’t really look at what’s going on in a person’s life and help them to heal, this is why so many people are getting chronic illnesses and women have hormonal imbalances and period issues, which is not normal.

I also had my own issues that I was struggling with. However, it didn’t seem like a struggle, because I have always had a high pain tolerance and I always just pushed through. Daily I saw other people worse than me, but since I was a child, I had migraines. I was the only one in my immediate family with migraines. So normally it’s genetic, but in my family I was the only one. 

It was weird. I wondered why I was the only one with migraines. So I had the migraines and then I started getting acne when I was in puberty and I was put on birth control. I was going to the different doctors, trying all these creams, thankfully I never took accutane or antibiotics, but they figured it was probably hormonal and put me on birth control, which did help with the signs of hormonal imbalance.

I started developing a lot of anxiety in middle school, high school, and way into my adult life in college. 

In college I also started developing a lot of digestive issues. I had constipation and bloating and I didn’t think that all these things were related until I finally learned about functional medicine and how everything is all interconnected and related. I thought “Wow!”

In Western medicine we view each thing individually. When you have migraines, you go to the neurologist. If you have constipation, you go to the gastroenterologist. If you have acne, you see the dermatologist.

All of those things were happening in my body. Mostly because I had a lot of the same issues. I had a lot of stress. I was taking medications like birth control, which was impacting my gut health. So everything kind of tied into the gut, which then caused me to develop all these symptoms and issues with my hormones, the anxiety and everything.

It was just crazy to think about and learn this through functional medicine. Once I learned about it, I worked on healing my body and my gut. I had to learn how to adapt to stress for the first time, because when I was going through PA school I had a lot of stress. I call it medical bootcamp, because it was the hardest thing that I ever did. It was so tough. 

So I had a lot of stress during that time and I was even put on Prozac to manage the stress, but the stress was still there and I still was anxious and all it did was suppress my emotions. No one ever taught me how to adapt to stress. So I finally learned yoga and meditation and deep breathing to calm my body down.

Once I started doing all these things, I felt a lot better, but I was still on birth control and until about three and a half years ago. I finally came off of birth control. What happened next actually surprised me, because I was reading Jolene Brighton’s book Beyond the pill. I was doing all the right things for my gut and taking the supplements. 

I thought this was going to be an easy and smooth transition. That wasn’t the case though, because for the first time I had irregular cycles. My periods were coming every 36 days or 32 days. It was just all over the place. Whereas before the pill, I had always been regular. I had PMS symptoms, which I never used to have like cramping and breast tenderness. 

I also gained a little bit of weight in my butt, hips and thighs. I was super confused and didn’t know what was going on. I’ve always had a very lean athletic build. All of a sudden I’m gaining weight even though I’m eating healthy and I’m exercising. 

That’s when I dove into my hormones. When you are taking birth control, it doesn’t make sense to test your hormones, because they’re suppressed. When I checked, I discovered I had an imbalance of estrogen in relation to progesterone. My progesterone levels were so low, because they were suppressed for over 15 years. I needed to help support the estrogen metabolism through my liver, because it wasn’t being metabolized properly. I had all this estrogen and accumulated in my body, which was contributing to all these symptoms.

That led me down this path of estrogen dominance. That’s when I started seeing the same things happening to my clients, that I was seeing. I realized that this is way more common than I thought. Around 80 to 90% of women I see have estrogen dominance. I was just thinking about estrogen dominance and all the crazy symptoms that women experience and I thought, “Wow, estrogen’s a bitch.”

Now the point I wanna make is that estrogen is a good hormone. I don’t wanna give it a bad rep. The problem is, when it becomes imbalanced, it creates a lot of crazy symptoms in our body and it makes us not feel well. It can set us up for a lot of hormonal disorders, like PCOS, endometriosis, fibrocystic breast disease and even estrogen related cancers and not just breast, endometrial and uterine cancer, but also thyroid, intestinal and lung cancer.

Women are developing these issues and let’s look at estrogen and see what’s happening there because it’s the Goldilocks hormone. We don’t want too much and we don’t want too little. We want just the right amount of estrogen and progesterone to balance it out. When that is the case, we feel so good. We feel optimal and everything’s functioning optimally.

So that’s my story, which led me to writing this book. I needed to write a book about it to help educate women and let them know that they can do something about all these symptoms that they’re having. It’s not normal, but they can do something about it and actually learn to really help support and balance their hormones naturally.

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Laurie:

When I hear your story, I think, “I’ve heard this story.” So many women are struggling for years and years and getting to the point where they believe that having all these symptoms is normal. But then new things keep popping up until you realize that it might not be normal and in your case decide to dig in and solve it. We’re so lucky that you did, because then you wrote the book. So now we can all learn from you. 

So let’s dive in and talk about estrogen dominance, because it is a big topic to unpack. It’s so common for women and there are multiple reasons women could be struggling with estrogen dominance. Let’s start with, what is it and what does it look like when a woman is struggling with estrogen dominance?

Kate:

So estrogen dominance is the term that we use in functional medicine, but it’s basically that imbalance of estrogen and progesterone, especially during a specific phase of the cycle.  Our hormones are constantly fluctuating throughout a menstrual cycle. We have four different phases and two of those are the follicular phase and the luteal phase, which breaks up our menstrual cycle in half. Then we have the menstrual phase, which is when we have our period and the start of the follicular phase. Ovulation is right in the middle, at the end of the follicular and in the beginning of the luteal phase.

Women need to know the fluctuation of their hormones and how that impacts the way that they’re feeling. Maybe all of a sudden you’re feeling really low energy, even though you got really good sleep last night and then you start your period. That’s because all your hormones are at a low baseline level. Around ovulation, you just wake up and all of a sudden and you feel so good, like you’re ready to take on the world. That’s because you’re around ovulation and your hormones like estrogen and testosterone are at their peak.

During the luteal phase, our estrogen starts coming back down and that’s when progesterone starts being produced. We release an egg every month with the opportunity to get fertilized. If it does get fertilized and progesterone rises, that’s our pregnancy. If it doesn’t our progesterone levels still rise. 

Progesterone is our feel good hormone, but we also always have estrogen in the system. We have a lot of estrogen before ovulation and then we get another bump in the luteal phase. So we need the progesterone during that luteal phase to really balance out that estrogen. If the two are not balanced out, that’s where the problems happen.

I’ve discovered that there are actually different patterns of estrogen dominance. So the three different patterns I discovered were:

  1. normal progesterone levels and higher levels of estrogen 
  2. low progesterone and normal levels of estrogen. 
  3. low progesterone and high levels of estrogen. 

Really understanding these patterns made me better at supporting my clients. Rather than just saying that they have estrogen dominance and throwing supplements at them, which can make them feel worse. That’s because estrogen’s being metabolized through our liver and there’s two phases and then it’s metabolized out in our intestines. 

Some women need support with only one of those phases, for others it’s two and some need support for all of it. So really having an understanding for why this is so important and being aware of our hormones and getting them checked, because this can really help a lot of those issues. So to sum up, estrogen dominance is just that imbalance of estrogen to progesterone and just, it depends on which is too high and which is too low. 

Then as far as symptoms of estrogen dominance go, I realized there were five tell tale symptoms. So the first is irregular periods. That’s when periods are all over the place, so one month maybe 36 days and the next 30 or even only one period every two to three months. A regular period is around every 26 to 30 days and if that varies by a day or two from month to month that’s fine. 

The next sign is a heavy period. On average women will change and use around six to eight tampons or pads per day. When you change it, they shouldn’t be completely soaked through. It’s normal to have a heavier flow during the first two days, but then it should start tapering off. Most women will have a period anywhere from three to seven days, which is normal. But if you’re having a period that’s longer than seven days and you’re bleeding through, your tampons, pads or cup that’s not normal. So that’s another sign of estrogen dominance because excess estrogen causes the endometrial lining, which is right inside the uterus, to thicken. If it’s really thick you’re gonna bleed a lot when you have your periods.

The third symptom is PMS symptoms. That includes menstrual cramps, mood swings, headaches, insomnia and breast tenderness. All those are going to be due to either high estrogen or really low progesterone levels. I also like to separate the breast tenderness from the PMS as well.

Breast tenderness is the fourth symptom, because when estrogen is in excess, it causes the breast tissue to swell. There’s a lot of women that can develop fibrocystic breast disease too, or they’ll get the little cysts and nodules, because of the excess estrogen. If you don’t have the fibrocystic breasts, you just experience tenderness and swelling. Oftentimes it’s super tender to touch and you can’t even lay on your side or put on a bra, because your boobs are so tender. 

The last symptom is weight gain, especially around the butt, hips and thigh area, because estrogen is responsible for our curves. When women are starting to gain even more weight in that area, that’s probably the most telltale sign of estrogen dominance. 

I usually say if you have two or three of those five symptoms, there’s definitely a likelihood that you have estrogen dominance. Other symptoms can also include fatigue, brain fog, acne, low libido and even infertility. I have a quiz so you can see if you’re likely estrogen dominant. 

“Self care is all about connecting back to your body and getting out of our heads.”

 

Laurie:

When I had estrogen dominance, I had Melasma. That was the prominent symptom for me and it wasn’t one of the five typical ones that you had mentioned. So I had this darkening spot on my forehead and also under my eyes and I had that for a few years, until I sorted out the estrogen dominance and it all went away. 

I just wanted to point that out, because sometimes a woman could have estrogen dominance and have some completely different symptoms that are related, but they’re not the most common ones. And I am a person who has the weird symptoms and that can make it harder to figure out what the root cause is.

Kate:

That’s a great point. You may not have exactly all the symptoms, but when we actually look into the testing, we can see that you might need to support your estrogen metabolism, because if not it might result in problems later on in life.

Laurie:

We’ve already touched on birth control and I think that’s a big one, because a lot of women have been on it for a very long time or they just came off and are struggling with symptoms or struggling to get pregnant. And then there are women, who may be on birth conrol or not, but they still struggle with estrogen dominance. How do we get to this place of estrogen dominance? 

Kate: 

There’s so many different causes of estrogen dominance. Obviously birth control is one of those causes, because it contains synthetic estrogen. Anything that’s synthetic and mimics estrogen is called a xenoestrogen.

So birth control is one of those, but we also have tons of toxins in our environment. The products we’re using on our body like makeup, shampoo, body washes, lotions, detergents, household cleaning products and even the non-stick cookware and the plastic water bottles contain different chemicals that act like estrogen. When we’re exposed to them, those chemicals attach to the same receptors that we have for estrogen in our body. That’s contributing to a lot of the estrogen dominance symptoms. 

The toxins in our environment and birth control can also cause gut issues. Looking back when I started having acne, I probably had issues in my gut. Also going back to toxins and the food that we’re eating, if we’re not eating organic we take in all those pesticides. For animal products, cattle are fed with antibiotics and hormones, which you ingest. So that can also upset your microbiome, but also medication can do that. That includes things like Advil.

So that impacts your gut health and there’s a lot of microorganisms in there. They are also responsible for estrogen metabolism. When the microbiome gets disrupted, we are actually not eliminating estrogen properly. That’s why gut health is so important. To support that try eating good, organic wholefoods.

 I touched upon it too, but stress is also a main cause for estrogen dominance, especially in busy, ambitious women on the go. The type of personality where one is constantly just driving to success and accomplishment after the other and wanting to be perfect all the time. It creates a lot of stress on our bodies. So that stress also creates high cortisol levels, which then takes away from the production of our progesterone. I see a lot of women that are under a lot of stress which have low progesterone levels, which creates that estrogen dominance effect.

Then we talk about birth control and histamines is another thing I dive into in my book. Histamines and estrogens attachto the H1 histamine 1 receptor. Some people are sensitive to a lot of things and have a histamine intolerance. An imbalance in estrogen also contributes to that, but histamine can flare up the estrogen too. With some clients that I had, I would support their gut, adrenals and hormones, but they wouldn’t get better until we pulled out the histamines.

Then alcohol and caffeine can also create estrogen dominance. So all of those are some common causes for estrogen dominance. I dive into all of those in my book, so if you’re interested you can read more about it. 

Laurie:

Yes. There’s so much great information in that book that all women should know. Especially about this estrogen dominance conversation and how you would mention that it’s a Goldilocks hormone and there are different scenarios when we could be experiencing estrogen dominance symptoms.

There are a lot of reasons that could lead us there and sometimes when we are trying to unravel all of that, solve it and figure it out, it can be a little bit complex. So it’s always good to either work with a practitioner or to read your book and learn more about it.

Before we go I would love to leave with some tips for people, who think that they might be estrogen dominant. What are some of the ways that you can begin to rebalance it or begin to tackle it now?

Kate:

The first thing I recommend is to just look at what you’re eating. Pull out a lot of processed and packaged foods and shoot for organic as much as possible. The environmental working group does an amazing job looking at the clean 15 and the dirty dozen. The dirty dozen are the 12 foods that have the highest amount of pesticides. Buying organic can be costly so if it isn’t available to you stick to the clean 15 foods, when you are shopping. That can help reduce your toxic burden.

So look at what you’re eating, increase your cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, bok choy. Add loads of fiber from leafy greens and vegetables that are in season, because that’s going to support your microbiome. Especially the cruciferous vegetables are gonna help with estrogen detoxification.

Also eat fermented foods, because they are gonna put those healthy gut bugs back into your microbiome. Be careful though if you have gut issues. If you eat fermented foods like cabbage, yogurt, pickled veggies and drink kombucha and you start feeling really bloated and gassy, that’s a sign that there’s stuff going on in the gut. So you wanna get the gut addressed as well, but these are the things that you can do right now. 

My favorite thing is seed cycling, because I believe food is medicine. So I resorted to sticking to food and seeing what I can do to really help support my hormones. Seed cycling is so easy. You’re basically gonna grind up specific seeds of flex and pumpkin seeds for or 14 days.

So basically on the day your period starts and for the next 14 days you start the day by grinding up one tablespoon each of flax and pumpkin seeds. After 14 days you switch to grinding up one tablespoon each of sunflower and sesame seed. Keep alternating between these seeds every two weeks, whether you have a 28 day cycle or not. Try to switch between the seeds for the next three to six months. 

That can really help, I’ve had clients who have significantly reduced their PMS like this. One client was actually able to lose some weight. We barely did a lot of stuff on her and she just started her seed cycling and she was already losing weight, which is really cool. Something simple like that can be so helpful. 

My last tip is to start looking at the products in your home and getting rid of any toxins. I love the Think Dirty app, because there’s a little scanner in the app and you can scan all the products that you’re using to see how clean or dirty they are. If you realize that most of the products that you are using are dirty, go to the store and scan your products before buying them to see if they are better alternatives. 

That too can get overwhelming once you realize that nearly everything that you are using is toxic. It’s best to just start focusing on one part of your home first. Maybe start with your toothpaste and shampoo, then move on to your make up and home cleaning products and over a period of time, you’ll finally have everything non-toxic. Switching over to cleaner products can really make a difference.

Laurie:

I love it.

Kate:

Of course there’s more tips in my book, but those are my main three.

Laurie:

Thank you. There’s a lot in our environment that can be disrupting our hormones and affecting the balance of estrogen and progesterone. You touched on stress and that’s so important. For many women getting a handle on stress can greatly improve things for them. 

Kate:

Oh yeah. I’d always recommend that. I’ll add a fourth tip, which is creating a self care routine. This made a huge difference for me too, because I used to be so wound up, anxious and overwhelmed. But once I started adding in a self care routine every single morning, it made a huge difference. If I don’t do it one morning, I can feel it.

You don’t have to spend hours doing it, even just five to ten minutes is enough. Especially if you have a really busy day, find 10 minutes to do deep breathing, meditation or even a little yoga flow. Anything to calm your body down and connect yourself back to your body and your breath is gonna make a huge difference. 

I’m a huge fan of self care, because I think if we can all add that in, we’ll have less people on medications. It’s really all about connecting back to your body. We’re always in our head all the time. We need to connect back to our bodies. Our bodies tell us so much and we don’t listen to it. We take it for granted a lot of the time, but self care and loving our bodies can really help get us back into a better place and help lower cortisol levels which in turn also helps with the hormones.

Laurie: 

Yes. All of that. Thank you so much for joining me Kate.

Find out more:

Connect with Kate Vazquez on Instagram @katevazquez_pa, where you can also find her quiz. Check out her website for more information on her book and to work with her.

This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, manage, or treat disease or serious conditions. Always check with your doctor before making any changes. It’s important to consult a well-informed health practitioner for personal advice about your situation before relying on general information we’re all wonderfully unique.

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Laurie Villarreal, FNLP, CHWC, FNS, LMC, CPT, RYT

Hi, I'm Laurie, a functional nutritionist and health coach, athlete, dog-mom, and biohacking adventure-lover. After having struggled for years to find lasting solutions for my own debilitating hormone-related symptoms, I created my online practice to begin helping other active, driven women get the support they need. I now help  women around the world elevate their health, energy, business and life by optimizing their hormones with personalized nutrition and lifestyle tweaks. Together, we discover new tools and strategies that keep you showing up at your best so you can play even bigger in your life and work.