This is a hard article to write because I don’t want to discredit the amazing work so many naturopaths around the world are doing, but sadly I am also learning natural medicine at the moment and have already found recommendations for Endometriosis that I don’t agree with.
The key thing which really worries me about the way many naturopaths or practitioners treat Endometriosis is an approach of simply looking at the hormone imbalance of the condition. Though hormone imbalance is certainly a key factor in getting better management of Endometriosis, I personally don’t believe treatment should end there. I also feel there is a real danger in only recommending hormone treatments, even if they are natural, without considering other factors.
I am guilty. Through my own journey with Endometriosis, I can tell you that I also started by only looking at the hormone imbalance side of things. I thought that if I only found a natural way to balance my hormones that everything would be okay. I went on a mission to try every hormone treatment out there that wasn’t synthetic. I explored herbs, teas, tinctures, creams and all sorts of foods which were supposed to rebalance my hormones. Initially, I was super excited about many of them, including red raspberry leaf tea and red clover. I really believed they were the answer to my prayers!
I also explored all sorts of phytoestrogens (plant hormones), such as red raspberry leaf tea, dong quai, black cohosh, red clover, flaxseeds etc. So many books, websites and many naturopaths recommend them. The idea behind taking them is to replace the receptor site inside the body, where there is currently a higher estrogen (usually from xenoestrogens), with a less dominant estrogen by using plant-based hormones. It sounds logical and when I first tried many of these, they seemed to instantly provide me with the relief I was looking for. My PMS symptoms seemed to go away. I had less moodiness, breast tenderness and it seemed to help with my monthly.
After a few months things started to change though. I experienced more pain than I had done prior to the first few months. It was aching and pounding and suddenly everything was making me emotional. I felt panicky at the smallest things and it felt like my life was in huge turmoil for no apparent reason.
I began to research all of the theories around phytoestrogens a little more and discovered insights which I would like to share with you, so you can get why I no longer recommend them.
What I have learned about using phytoestrogens:
- They build up. Our bodies don’t only have a few receptor sites, which get filled, and then everything is great. New ones will be created to accommodate for the additional estrogens. This means we can develop an imbalance by taking more phytoestrogens than our bodies really need. I believe this is why women will often experience relief in the first few months but as they continue to take these hormones, the balance is thrown and they have an oversupply.
- We need to flush out the excess. Regardless of whether we are adding in more plant-based hormones or we are still overcoming the xenoestrogens (unnatural estrogens), the body needs to be able to effectively flush them out. This means our liver health and bowel health need to be looked after. If they are not, ALL of these hormones will simply be reabsorbed by the body.
Some other factors to consider with Endometriosis:
Endometriosis has been indicated as an auto-Immune condition by many researchers. (More here and here and here.) This means, the immune system is simply not functioning as well as it should be. It is overreacting to the dispersed cells. We therefore want to ensure that we are supporting the immune system. The best way to do this is to ensure we eliminate toxins from the body and support the immune system with herbs and better food choices.
My conclusion on how to approach Endometriosis
Yes, we can certainly use phytoestrogens as an introductory approach for Endometriosis, though it wouldn’t be my first choice. I would much rather focus on stimulating progesterone than adding more plant-based estrogens, as I would personally not want to risk an oversupply of these.
My personal recommendations:
- Use Vitex herb or progesterone cream for hormone imbalance rather than phytoestrogens. This stimulates progesterone instead of trying to compete for receptor sites. Note: use only for a period of no more than 6 months.
- Support the liver with milk thistle seed, dandelion root and other detoxifying herbs.
- Support the immune system with nettle tea, mushroom powders and adaptogenic herbs.
Some additional key points:
Our hormones are delicate and easily fluctuate within our cycle, our environment and what we eat and do each day. Simple things within your lifestyle could be contributing to hormone imbalances such as poor sleeping patterns, eating overstimulating foods, using caffeine within your day and the level of stress your body is currently under.
I have always preferred to look at the root cause of the imbalances going on in the body and believe that our lifestyle, what we eat and what we think all play a far bigger role in how we feel. I approach Endometriosis holistically.
Though we can use herbs and treatments to overcome the hormone imbalances, we are not addressing the underlying cause as hormone imbalance as merely a symptom of Endometriosis. The real focus should be on liver health and our immune system.
Share your thoughts…
What have you explored, when it comes to phytoestrogens and hormones? Have you had a different experience? Do you agree or disagree?
This Post Has 13 Comments
It is a tricky one hun. I can’t find any evidence either but I guess we have to go with what feels right to us and if we feel better. I can just go by what other women within the Endo Empowered community have shared and that many of them have shared similar thoughts. Hopefully, someone will prove this theory in the future but in the meantime, we can keep searching 🙂
Thanks so much for posting those two bullet points about what you’ve learned with phytoestrogens. I’ve learned the same thing, however, I cannot find any reputable proof to back these statements up. If you can give me anything–clinical evidence, etc. I would be so grateful. Otherwise, I simply went by how I felt. I would like to be able to tell others with more certainty that phytoestrogens are not always helpful. Thanks!
I appreciate this article very much. I agree with most of what you have written. The only thing I would suggest is for women to look into Naprotechnology. The doctors who follow the Creighton Model of Fertility Awareness actually look at your individual biomarkers monthly and also do lab work as needed. Dr. Hilgers has done over 30 years of research. They can prescribe Progesterone at the right time in your specific cycle according to when you ovulate. You only want/need the progesterone post peak. They have medical consultants across the country to help women. I did progesterone cream for 5 years with no help. Now doing injections and feel 100% better. This is natural and not synthetic progesterone. Check it out!
Thank you for this. This makes me wonder if my recent terrible flare after ten years could be down to the increase in flax and red raspberry leaf I have been taking. I also added DIM but am wondering if I just didn’t flush it out and it’s ended up aggravating it. I don’t usually eat flax but did tbjs month.
Thank you for this info. Your website is pretty helpful.
Have you written any articles or had any experience with pycnogenol? French Maritime Pine Bark?
I have only seen 2 references to it and article by Dr. Axe referencing a pubmed link.
Great article Mel. It explains why despite me trying to always be healthy, I can still get sick easily…
I added a probiotic into my regime about 3 months ago now and the difference has been incredible. Nowhere near as many painful hormonal breakouts and better periods… Health really is in our gut.
When I found your work, this is what I most appreciated about you — finally someone respectfully looking at just trying to directly alter hormone levels. I knew this was a place I wanted to keep an eye on, so thank you!
Thank you for this. I’ve been using natural progesterone on and off for awhile. I was using it diligently before we got pregnant with our second child (an 8 year wait because of infertility). I believe it helped me get pregnant (along with God doing a miracle). After finishing breastfeeding my period came back even worse. So I started the progesterone again, which stopped my period. Then when my period came back it wasn’t nearly as painful. I apply it to a different area each time (usually), and I don’t take it daily…just right before my period if I know I’m not pregnant. I haven’t had success with other natural treatments, and surgery isn’t an option for me. I’m using Now Solutions progesterone cream. ~Amber D.
Firstly, this is a fantastic article, and I completely agree with your view/approach. I am a holistic Nutritionist and have been focusing my studies on women’s health. My own experience with endometriosis, hormone imbalance, unstable blood sugar and exploring effective treatments led me to realize that many of the treatments did not work for me and in fact some made the pain and imbalances worse. Immune system function is a huge part of the condition, and I’ve noticed significant differences in how I feel when I am using immune boosting techniques vs when i’m not. Thank you so much for sharing this information.
I agree wholeheartedly with these recommendations and found tremendous success using them.
Great article Mel! Very interesting and informative . As someone who has studied natural health for some years, i think it makes total sense.
What do you think about coffee enemas for liver and intestinal cleansing?
I found it very helpful. In my experience I found that taking vitamins and a probiotic for immune health helped me a lot after about 5 months. And reducing stress helped a lot also. I went from having pain two weeks a month to about a couple days when I get my period.