Pregnancy, Mood Swings and Hormones

March 10th, 2009

Ask VinCan you please explain why women are hormonal when they are pregnant and do you recommend any particular type of foods that may help alleviate the symptoms?

By “hormonal”, I’ll assume that you’re referring to the severe mood swings that many women experience during pregnancy.

Mood swings are also a common symptom of PMS, and in both cases, hormone imbalance is a likely cause. Unfortunately, hormone imbalance is quite common and is often a result of the unhealthy habits that our modern lifestyles promote. While there are many health factors that can cause moodiness, female hormone imbalance will be the focus of this discussion.

Female Hormone Imbalance

Estrogen and progesterone are the primary hormones involved in menstruation and pregnancy. In general, estrogen promotes tissue growth and progesterone regulates it. As such, when an imbalance between these hormones develops, serious problems can result.

Low progesterone is the most common form of female hormone imbalance and typically results in a condition called “estrogen dominance.” Even if estrogen levels are normal, they’ll still be high in relation to the low level of progesterone. This can cause mood swings, breast soreness, migraines, irregular menstruation, water retention, weight gain and much more. If left untreated, some of the major problems it can lead to include fibroids, infertility, endometriosis, cancer, heart disease and stroke.

Although the production of both estrogen and progesterone are dramatically increased during pregnancy, the severity of estrogen dominance can increase if the body is not able to meet the increased demand of progesterone. In extreme situations, this can even result in miscarriage.

What Causes the Imbalance?

The two primary factors that contribute to progesterone deficiency have to do with how it’s made and it’s involvement with stress.

Progesterone is synthesized from another hormone named pregnenolone which is created from cholesterol. Because we’ve been programmed to fear dietary cholesterol, many people follow a low fat and low cholesterol diet thus depriving themselves of the materials needed to synthesize important hormones such as progesterone. Furthermore, because cholesterol is important to the function of the brain and nervous system, the body will always sacrifice hormone production in favor of these more important areas.

Another dietary factor that contributes to estrogen dominance is the consumption of xenoestrogens and phytoestrogens. Respectively, these are chemical and plant based substances that mimic estrogen in the human body. Xenoestrogens are commonly found in plastics, pesticides, and other agricultural chemicals while soy products are notorious for containing phytoestrogens. This is just one of many reasons why it’s important to eat organic food, avoid storing your food or water in plastic, and minimize your consumption of soy products.

Finally, stress is a major contributor to progesterone deficiency. Cortisol, the body’s primary stress and anti inflammatory hormone, is derived from progesterone. As such, chronic exposure to stress will greatly reduce the availability of progesterone for other purposes. Furthermore, common sources of chronic inflammation such as infection and food sensitivities will do the same.

Many of us live with excessive stress, eliminate saturated fat and cholesterol from our diets, eat conventionally farmed foods that are laced with chemicals, and unknowingly eat foods that we’re sensitive to. In fact, this typically occurs on a daily basis. Each of these factors can cause estrogen dominance and modern society promotes all of them!

Adrenal fatigue is another example of how modern living promotes hormone imbalance and poor health. And it plays a role in estrogen dominance as well.

Regaining Balance

The question asked assumes that eating specific foods can resolve all of this. While diet is part of the solution, it’s far from being the complete solution. Searching for a particular food or supplement to resolve a specific problem is nothing more than a natural form of chasing symptoms. As always, the solution to all health problems begins with living a lifestyle that incorporates the 7 foundational factors of optimal health.

Because cholesterol is a precursor to many essential hormones, it’s important to get past the fear that dietary cholesterol and saturated fat cause heart disease. For further information about the fallacies of this belief, read The Cholesterol Myths by Uffe Ravnskov MD, PhD. A few good sources of saturated fat and cholesterol include beef, pork, butter, ghee, and eggs. Be sure to get these foods from quality sources, and consider following the Metabolic Typing Diet to understand what quantities of these foods would be best for you.

In chronic cases of hormone imbalance where progesterone is used excessively to produce the cortisol needed to handle frequent stress and inflammation, the body’s preferred pathways of hormone synthesis can become altered indefinitely. In such cases, lifestyle improvements are still necessary, but often not enough. Supplementation of bio-identical hormones will often be needed to reestablish the proper pathways. However, for this to happen, any existing food sensitivities or chronic infections must be addressed as well. For this type of treatment to be effective, and also safe, proper testing is absolutely essential.

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