In Which I Speak of Soy and Estrogen

I have recently been asked to articulate my concerns about soy as food. I have told some of my experience with soy and estrogen dominance in my dust-gathering-yet-unfinished series on Balance, but thought I would share this brief as well.

About five years ago, at 32 years of age, I was displaying the classic signs of pre-menopause (about 15 years earlier than average). I will not go into the details of my physical symptoms, but I was miserable. In addition to my obviously feminine-related symptoms, I had memory loss, confused thinking, mood swings, anxiety, depression, irritability, extreme fatigue, and blood sugar issues.

A midwife friend suggested that I might be dealing with the results of estrogen dominance. After research, I realized that while I had likely been dealing with estrogen dominance for most of my life (having displayed key signs of hormonal imbalance along the way), the soy-intensive diet plan that I had been following for the previous year plus had sent my balance further askew than ever before. This resulted in the symptoms mentioned above, all of which are linked with estrogen dominance.

After realizing that my consumption of soy was likely linked to my physical, mental, and emotional difficulties, I cut soy from my diet. I made changes to eliminate other sources of phyto (plant) and xeno (chemical) estrogens from my life, but the elimination of soy was by far the biggest change. Within a month, I could see a dramatic improvement in my mental, emotional, and physical state. In a few more months, it was like a new person (the person I had once been, but hopefully even better) had come to live in our house.

Hormone balance is all about balance… having the right proportions of estrogen, progesterone, etc. Large amounts of soy, a phyto-estrogen, can cause an imbalance in anyone. Some people are more susceptible than others to this imbalance or, already having an hormonal imbalance, to even greater extremes of imbalance. I am one of those people, but I am not rare. And I believe that there are many people whose health issues are, unknown to them, due to hormonal imbalance.

If I’ve peaked your interest, I would be glad to answer questions as I am able. Also, I have found Dr. John Lee’s website to be a helpful and informative resource.

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My Balancing Journey – Part 5 – The Big Lightbulb!

Part 4 is new today also! Be sure to read it first!

As I dug into learning about Estrogen Dominance and hormonal balance, it became obvious to me that I really was showing many symptoms of Estrogen Dominance – not just the early pre-menopause. Many things clicked into place over the next few weeks.

The immediate question at hand, however, was what to do next.

When I returned from the retreat and began researching, I was simultaneously getting back on my diet by returning to the “Jump Start” phase – 3 days of nothing but protein/fruit shakes to help make a break from the sugar habit. As I was researching, I kept seeing how soy is tied to estrogen dominance, because it is a source of phytoestrogen. I dismissed this as relevant to me, because I had read enough other research on soy that we just don’t “do soy” in our house.

However, on the fourth morning, as I prepared my breakfast protein/fruit shake (a shake which I had been making myself for breakfast almost every morning for over a year), I took a look at the label:

Soy protein.

I ran over to the pantry and took a look at the protein bars which I had used as a regular part of my dieting efforts for over a year:

Soy protein.

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I was angry because I had worked so hard for over a year to lose weight and get in better shape – and my reward, due to lack of education, was early pre-menopause and the possibility that I might never have more children. At the same time, I was relieved that I finally knew a direction in which to go to help myself.

Obviously, that was the last protein shake I had for breakfast. And the protein bars went uneaten.

Two weeks later, I had my next period. It was a week early, but my symptoms were obviously lessened. The only thing I’d changed was dropping the soy protein. I honestly thought it might be a fluke, so I waited to see what the next month would bring…

My Balancing Journey – Part 4 – Some things I’ve learned…

… about hormonal imbalance.

There are two primary female hormones secreted by the ovaries – estrogen and progesterone.

There are actually three types of estrogen made by the body, but when we talk about hormones, these three are usually lumped together, along with animal estrogens, synthetic estrogens, phytoestrogens (plant estrogens), and xenoestrogens (environmental estrogens), because the body responds to all of them in the same way. Estrogen is a pro-growth hormone.

Progesterone is the other side of the hormonal coin. It is a pro-gestation hormone, balancing out the estrogen at the proper times in a woman’s cycle.

The key with estrogen and progesterone is Balance. It isn’t that estrogen is the bad hormone and progesterone is the good hormone. It’s that they must be in proper balance for the body to function properly. In our society, there are so many sources, both environmental and dietary, of estrogen, that Estrogen Dominance has become extremely common.

Here is a list of some of the physiological effects of estrogen and progesterone. It’s copyrighted, so I can’t just copy it here. But it’s very important information – please check it out.

Some of the most common effects of Estrogen Dominance are breast fibroids, PMS, moodiness, forgetfullness, excessive tiredness, hypothyroid-like symptoms, early pre-menopause, miscarriage, breast cancer, and endometrial cancer.

Here are a couple of websites I’ve found that have good information on hormone balance:
The official website of Dr. John Lee, MD – Check out the main Articles page for lots of good information. Dr. Lee has also written several books, which you can probably check out at your local library.
Dr. Lam’s extensive article on Estrogen Dominance

And so you have it – the tip of the iceberg of the learning journey I never thought I would need to begin at age (almost) 33. Please take the time to check out some of this information.

My Balancing Journey – Pt 3 – What Next?!?

While I enjoyed the rest of that weekend retreat, I had a cloud of questions haning over my head. The biggest question, the one that shook me to the core, was whether this early pre-menopause meant no more babies. That could be a book by itself, and I’m not even going to try to do it justice right now.

So… I went home, greatly shaken, to begin a learning journey that I never expected to take at this point in my life.

My Balancing Journey – Part 2 – The Nerve to Ask

July 7-9, 2006, I had the joy of spending the weekend with a wonderful group of women who have a combined knowledge pool on women’s health issues that would blow you away. They are also a terrificly diverse group of dear friends, and this weekend retreat with them has been a life-changing event both years that I have gone.

On Saturday evening, I got up my nerve to ask about the things that were going on with my body. This roomful of wise women looked at me, then looked at each other. You know when folks look at each other like they know something you don’t know? Aggravating, isn’t it? Well, then they asked me how old I was (setting off alarm bells – yikes! It couldn’t be that!), and when I told them I would turn 33 at the end of the month, most murmured that I was too young. However, my dear friend Mary was in the back of the room, shaking her head, so I asked her what she was thinking.

Mary shared with me that she had been doing a lot of research lately, and was learning that it is becoming more and more common for women to be showing signs of pre-menopause early – even in their early 30’s! This is due in great part to the huge amount of estrogens and xenoestrogens (chemicals that act just like estrogens in our bodies) that are present in our environment. Indeed, my symptoms were typical pre-menopausal symptoms, and were probably due to an hormonal imbalance.

My Balancing Journey – Part 1 – Beginning to Grasp Reality

In May of 2006, we were down in NC to visit family, and I missed most of a day of precious fellowship with family because I was in such intense pain.

I was finally able to put into words some things that had been going on with my body for the last 6-8 months. It wasn’t cramps – I’ve known cramps for years. It was as if what my body had formerly done over the course of 5 days each month, it was now trying to do all in one day. It didn’t quite accomplish that; it took 3 days usually, but the intensity of that one day would blow me out of commission entirely.

I also began to grasp that something had to be going on. What, I didn’t know, and I didn’t know how to find out. Maybe I didn’t want to find out…

My Balancing Journey – Intro

I’ve been meaning to blog about this for months, and for some reason have found it rather daunting. I think it is important that I share this story, because it is one that so many women (and their husbands, for that matter!) need to hear. So here goes.