The Female Hormone Problem
With increasing population pressure and modern independent lifestyles, procreation has become an option that is declined, or at least significantly restricted. But with these decisions women remove themselves from a natural biological role. Additionally, opting for synthetic milk formulas and treating the breast as an ornament, rather than a feeding organ, also disengages women from a natural biological function.
When these choices are coupled with the use of contraceptive hormones, hormone replacement therapy, an increasing load of estrogenic pollutants in the environment and food, and a diet that has veered significantly from its natural design, the formula for hormonal pandemonium, metabolic dysfunction and disease is in place. The results are manifest today in early menses in children (beginning as early as eight and nine years of age), infertility, abnormal and erratic menstrual cycles, cervical dysplasia, fibroids, endometrial cancer, breast cancer, premenstrual syndrome, dramatic mood swings, depression, osteoporosis, and the hot flashes, psychological problems, decreased libido, thinning of the vaginal wall and other symptoms of abnormal menopause.
If women would have as many children as they are capable of, nurse them for years as they are designed to, eat natural foods and live in a more pristine environment, these modern health problems would disappear. If money flowed out of our tap we wouldn’t have economic problems either, right? Nevertheless, although the ideal biological lifestyle may not be possible for any of us today, we can take a lesson and try to move our lives as close to the ideal as possible.
At present, the desire to eliminate or limit pregnancies is a personal choice. But it may one day not even be an option. We either curtail population growth or we will outstrip resources and be buried in our own refuse. Population is the engine that ultimately drives all environmental woes. We live on a finite planet with finite resources, but have an infinite ability to breed. We either live within the limits of Earth’s sustainable resources or we will destroy ourselves.
So we have a dilemma. As I will explain, women need to fulfill their reproductive role to achieve metabolic balance and health, but at the same time they do not want to be restricted by the burdens of large families, nor are large families socially or environmentally responsible.
In an attempt to solve this dilemma, women have turned to the quick fix of synthetic hormones. There are hormones to control conception, modulate abnormal menstrual cycles, for sex drive and to fix menopause. But there is no free lunch. Since the 1940’s, when estrogen therapy became popular, hundreds of thousands of women have succumbed to estrogen-sensitive cancer. For example, a woman is 13 times more likely to get endometrial cancer and there is a 30% increased risk of breast cancer by taking estrogen. The two top preventable breast cancer risks are now known to be oral birth control pills and estrogen replacement therapy.
Some women justify the use of estrogen for the putative benefits of decreased risk of osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease. But they have succumbed to marketing, not good sense. Proper exercise, diet and lifestyle choices can have the same beneficial effect without the potential consequence of cancer. But hey, why change lifestyle when all you need to do is take a pill?
Here’s what nature intended and why living in accordance with it is protective against the modern plague of female cancers. The average mom today chooses to give birth to about two infants. On the other hand, women in the primitive natural setting who may not even know what causes pregnancy or how to prevent it even if they wanted to, would have started menstruating and ovulating at age 12 and would have delivered 9 babies and breast-fed them all. When they did breastfeed, they did so for up to five or more years. Pregnancy stops the reproductive hormone cycles (that generate estrogen) since there is room in the uterus for only one pregnancy. Nursing also stops the cycle because the body “knows” that lactation and caring for an infant is about all one body can endure.
This means that the modern woman who has only two children would reproductively cycle and ovulate 438 times during her lifetime. On the other hand, the combination of more numerous pregnancies along with extended breast-feeding would have decreased the number of ovulations and cycles that a primitive mother would have had to about 9.
This means that women today cycle through their menstrual periods an abnormal number of times, causing repeated surges of estrogen--about 50 times more than nature intended. Little wonder that estrogen sensitive cancers abound in our modern world. The cancer-estrogen link is also proven by the fact that such cancers in humans and animals are decreased if the estrogen generating ovaries are surgically removed. (I am just making a point, not advocating the procedure since the absence of estrogen creates problems as well.)
The resting periods of lower estrogen that women experienced in the pre-modern setting during pregnancy and lactation served as a protective effect against cancer. (Women today can even dramatically decrease their risk of breast cancer by nursing their young for even as little as two years.) Additionally, the fresh foods of the natural diet contain compounds known as phytoestrogens. These plant estrogenic compounds are able to attach to estrogen receptor sites in the body and prevent the stronger ovarian estrogens from attaching to tissues. However, the phytoestrogens only exert a mild estrogenic effect and even inhibit oncogene (tumor genes) expression and thus are not cancer promoting. This is the logic behind plant-based nutritional supplements (nutraceuticals) to help women with estrogenic problems and cancer prevention.
Hormones are master regulators of body function. They cannot be manipulated either by lifestyle choices or medications without serious consequences. Women do well to think of their genetic heritage and try to live life as close to that as possible if health is the goal.