Estrogen Dominance Part 1

When a female turns the corner from youth and lands smack dab in the middle of middle age, many things can happen, and are even expected. Things like night sweats, weight gain, mood swings (the big kind where you lose your stomach in mid-air), beautiful, chin-reshaping cystic acne and fatigue, to name just a few. I addressed some of the issues I’d been having a while back through nutrition and exercise.

But we’re clearly into Act II of the ‘Welcome to Perimenopause’ program, kind readers. I have alluded to my insane nighttime cravings, which have progressed since my last discussion about them. So much so that only about 1 week out of 4 was met with a normal appetite (meaning I wasn’t power-eating through every single, solitary carb that I could scrounge up in the pantry).

Additionally I’ve been experiencing zits of pretty epic proportions. And not just a few doozies once a month. I’m talking a half-dozen large nodules, accessorized by daily additions of smaller, more surface based white heads. The texture of my skin is looking like the surface of my driveway, and every cystic blemish that appears lasts for a month or so, at least. Some have worn out their welcome and have lingered a few months. And this was despite 2, YES TWO separate prescriptions for acne medication.

And a new symptom came into play, which up until now I hadn’t experienced. I will call it the ‘meh’ syndrome. Meaning that during those same 3 weeks of insane cravings and PUS’s (pimples of unusual size), I became very indifferent and uninterested in my life. I just couldn’t get excited about anything, and felt tired and about 98 years old all the time. I lived in the valley, and rarely peaked with my moods at all. I can’t say I was depressed, but I would venture to guess that I was well on my way.

Finally, I have been grappling with a mysterious neck ‘injury’ since last November, and I had been to two osteo docs and a physical therapist, to no avail.  6 months was WAY too long to not see progress, and I read somewhere that hormonal imbalance can cause joint stiffness and pain.
saliva testSo back to the doctor I went to bemoan my circumstances. And AGAIN she declared me estrogen dominant and recommended progesterone supplementation (not listening to my Dr. is my thing, you know). You can see by the date on my lab test results that I’ve been dodging this one for over a year and a half. Well, sort of, anyway.

If you are new to the term estrogen dominance, see this link to the site of the Dr. who coined the term, and this link to a doc who points out that hormone balance isn’t just a one pony show.

I DID start progesterone before. A few times. The first time was immediately after I got the saliva test results telling us that my progesterone levels were bottom of the barrel, back in December of 2013. The bio-identical progesterone was compounded for me by a local pharmacy and presented in a 100mg capsule format. I was to take one capsule on days 7-14, then up it to two capsules on days 15-28 of my cycle. The first day of my period began the cycle at day 1.

So I followed the directions for about a week. I promptly blew up like a balloon, and grew an entire pants size. Knowing me and where I’ve come from, you probably suspected that this was NOT OK. Not OK at all. I threw the progesterone pills in the trash.

The second time I tried progesterone was after my latest appointment with the doc in December of 2014. I described the sheer horror of the progesterone pill experiment, and she acknowledged that it can cause weight gain. She was a little annoyed, however, that I hadn’t at least called her to talk about what to do next (and waited an entire year to address it). Good point. All or nothing is not the way I usually roll, but I guess the shock of being out of control of my body was just too distressing.

This time she recommended a topical progesterone cream in a 20mg dose. I purchased this over the counter from the same compounding pharmacy, and took it home to try. The cream was to be applied in 1/4 tsp doses for 14 days, beginning on day 12 of my cycle. Again I tried it, and again I gained weight, though not as dramatically this time. I’d like to note that I also only tried it for about 5 days before abandoning the concept yet again.

But that was before the current insanity that I’ve been experiencing. I have since dug into the research around what my doctor and my hormone level saliva test was telling me all those months ago. I clearly am a victim of estrogen dominance, and I’m over it. Thank goodness I kept the cream this time. So see, I AM learning. Just not very quickly.

I am currently on day 42 of my progesterone cream supplementation, and wanted to achieve some results before reporting anything. To date this is what I’ve experienced:

1. My moods are much better. I still have a few ‘meh’ days, but not weeks. This is good news, and it’s the most important result of this treatment.

2. I have gained weight. I can’t be sure of how much, because I still don’t look at the scale much, but I think it’s around 10 pounds. I’m not happy about it, and have resumed my old ways of talking about it way too much as a coping strategy. Being a personal trainer can bring a lot of shame for those of us not in tip-top condition, and who pride themselves in walking the talk, like I do. I still have a lot of work to do in this department, but my improved moods are helping me with that. I have to wonder, though, if my crazy carb bingeing wouldn’t have led to the weight gain anyway. I’d rather be overweight and reasonably happy than be overweight and ‘meh’ girl.

3. The acne is still not abated, and in fact I am baffled by how freaking determined it is to stick around.

4. The fatigue is basically gone. That can also be attributed to the fact that I am back on schedule with my regular workouts, which we all know helps with that too.

5. Cravings. Yay! I still have them from time to time, but again it’s measured in days and not weeks anymore.

6. The neck. I can’t be sure on this one, because it has slowly been improving over the past few weeks. However, that has also coincided with my first visit to a chiropractor (which scared the holy crap out of me, but we’ll save that for another post). After my first adjustment, I did have significant pain relief that has lasted. The jury is still out on whether the cream is helping here.

It’s my understanding that if you’ve been out of whack with your progesterone levels for a long time, then it will take a long time to get them back up to snuff. I’ve also learned that it can get worse before it gets better. With only 42 days in, I’m hoping to see additional progress with some of my symptoms, particularly the acne. What a relief it will be to finally get off the antibiotics. I’m prepared for the long haul. I’ve read that it can take up to 6 months to see the full potential of progesterone supplementation. And I’ve steeled myself for the fact that I may need to up the dosage or abandon the progesterone all together. It’s all a big experiment.

As you’re reading this, please remember that I’m a medical nobody. This is an account of my personal experience, and what works for me may not work for you (and this may not even work for me either). Every woman is different. You should consult with your doctor before taking any type of supplement. If you’re having issues like I’ve been, then it may behoove you to get your hormones tested. Supposedly the saliva test is the most accurate measurement currently available. Insurance doesn’t cover it (it cost me about $250), and you’ll have to be patient. The timing of the spit procurement is very precise. You may have to wait a while before you actually get the results if your cycle isn’t in the right place when you get your kit. But I feel like it’s worth it to take this first step before doing anything. I believe most doctors will tell you to get a clear picture of the problem before you go trying to solve it.