Im sure you dont have to think too hard to name someone you know that has (or had) cancer. It simply seems to be a sad fact of life nowadays. And you can likely narrow that list down by type of cancer. For the next couple of weeks, Id like to focus on one form of female cancer that has touched my family: ovarian cancer.
One of my mothers closest friends is Connie. I grew up listening to them giggle and plot throughout my entire childhood. I ate dinners at Connie’s house and had sleepovers with her daughters. In fact, Im friends with them on Facebook to this day.
Several years ago, my mother called me with very distressing newsConnie had ovarian cancer. What a shot that was. This is one of the wittiest, life-loving, fun people I knew. How could this happen to her?
While I dont know the exact reason in Connies particular case, I do know that estrogen dominance is a major risk factor for ovarian cancer. To fully understand why this is case, you have to look at what happens during a normal menstrual cycle and how that changes as you get older.
When you are in your teens, 20s, and even 30s, your normal reproductive cycle begins with signals from the hypothalamus and pituitary glands. These glands secrete a hormone (called FSH), which stimulates the follicle surrounding each egg in your ovaries and causes an egg to mature. During this process, your ovaries produce a powerful form of estrogen called estradiol, while your adrenal glands produce a lower-octane form of estrogen called estrone.
At mid-cycle, a second hormone called the luteinizing hormone (LH) is produced by the pituitary gland. LH triggers the egg to be released from the ovarian follicle. It also increases the synthesis of prostaglandins, short-lived hormones needed for ovulation. Once ovulation has occurred, the egg leaves the ovary and travels down the fallopian tube to the uterus.
Both estrogen and progesterone are produced during this second half of the cycle. If the released egg isnt fertilized, both estrogen and progesterone production decline rapidly, triggering menstruation at the end of the monthly cycle. Thus, estrogen is produced during the entire menstrual cycle, while progesterone is only produced during the second half of the cycle.
As you approach menopause, this process is even more exaggerated. Although your ovaries and adrenal glands continue to produce a lower potency estrogen (estrone), and some estriol (a weaker form of estrogen) is produced by your liver, the amounts dont support your systems the way your premenopause hormone production does. During this process, four things happen simultaneously:
- your ovaries age and shrink;
- they are less responsive to the hypothalmic-pituitary signals;
- you have fewer eggs to mature; and
- the eggs you have left are older and less healthy.
In an effort to bring your cycle back into balance, your brains triggering signals increase as much as ten-fold, trying to stimulate ovulation. During the early stages of menopause, this becomes more and more difficult to achieve. While estrogen production declines significantly, your progesterone levels decrease much more significantly, with production almost ceasing completely. This can lead to estrogen dominance, and consequently, put the health of all of your tissuesespecially your reproductive organsin jeopardy.
Thats because research has shown that unopposed estrogen levels may be carcinogenic to estrogen-sensitive tissues such as the ovaries, and may be a key cause of most female cancers.
If future blogs, Ill discuss the nutritional and emotional steps you can take to keep estrogen levels in balance and reduce your risk for both estrogen dominance and ovarian cancer.
In the meantime, you can try using natural progesterone to balance your hormone levels. A typical dosage of natural progesterone cream is 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon applied to any clean area of the skin once or twice a day.
If your menstrual periods are regular, Dr. Lark recommends using progesterone cream about 10 days before the expected start of your period. However, if you suffer from heavy or irregular menstrual periods, apply progesterone cream from day 12 to day 26 of your cycle.
If you are experiencing menopause symptoms and using some sort of estrogenic support, natural or otherwise, Dr. Lark suggesst using natural progesterone three weeks a month, with one week off.