What Is Progesterone, Anyway?
Progesterone is the other primary female hormone. It is produced in the ovaries. It is the precursor for both estrogen and testosterone, as well as all other natural steroid hormones (see chart above).
Progesterone's functions are
- maintains the endometrium in pregnancy
- new bone formation
- regulates blood pressure
- fat conversion
- sugar metabolism
- maintaining myelin (nerve insulation)
- regulates estrogen production
You'll remember that an egg is presented once a month from the ovaries, wrapped in an envelope called a follicle. After the follicle lets go of the egg, the egg journeys down the Fallopian tubes on its way to the uterus, where it awaits possible fertilization. The burst follicle still has an important job to do: it begins to produce progesterone, for the next two weeks. Progesterone's job is to maintain the uterine lining until one of two things happens:
- no pregnancy
If pregnancy occurs, progesterone production is taken over by the developing lining itself - the placenta. The burst follicle simply can't make enough progesterone for the demand, since the uterus will expand from the size of a lemon to the size of a basketball during the next nine months.
If no pregnancy occurs, the follicle stops producing progesterone, which triggers the collapse of the blood-rich lining, which is then expelled as the woman's monthly flow.
So the interplay between these two hormones estrogen and progesterone controls the entire infrastructure of reproduction, on a daily basis, after the onset of menarche (first flow) in adolescence. Estrogen creates the lining each month; progesterone maintains it.
Then what's the problem?
If estrogen levels get too high, progesterone can no longer keep the dynamic balance. This is exactly what happens in American women. who live their whole adult lives with pathologically high levels of estrogen. Three main reasons for the high levels:
- overrefined diet
- no exercise
- external toxic sources of estrogen : xenoestrogens
Refined carbohydrates, hard fats, empty foods and too much of it all serve to raise estrogen to abnormal levels, as much as twice the normal, which are maintained for the better part of the adult lives of most American women.
Second, lack of exercise. Dr. Ellison of Harvard University found that estrogen levels are much lower in women who eat little and perform strenuous physical work, as in locales with non-industrialized lifestyle.
The opposite is true for the American woman who eats too much and gets little exercise: abnormally high estrogen levels are the direct result. Dr. Lee points out the obvious corollary: menopause is a much bigger deal in our industrialized countries, because the estrogen decline is so radical - the difference between pre and post estrogen levels is significant. This hormonal rollercoaster dip is very stressful, and is the real cause of the discomforts of menopause.
Third, xenoestrogens. Huh? Xeno- means foreign. So the word xenoestrogen just means estrogens from outside the body. Many external toxins have been found to have estrogenlike effects in the body. Most are petroleum derivatives. Xenoestrogens are found in plastics, computer chips, PVC, pesticides, soap, clothes, DDT and other modern manufactured goods.
There has been extensive zoological research in the area of xenoestrogen effects on animals and the resulting birth defects. In studies of panthers, alligators, birds, turtles, seals, fish, and many other species from diverse parts of the globe, scientists are finding a common theme: feminization of males, decreased sperm counts, low male testosterone, and extremely high levels of estrogen in females, with plummeting numbers of offspring.
Though some scientists had known about the problem for several years, public attention was drawn by a series of articles that appeared in three consecutive issues of the LA Times in Oct 1994.
Alligator offspring studied at University of Florida had very high estrogen and low testosterone as a consequence of a large pesticide spill in Lake Apopka near Gainesville. Again, gonad shrinkage was observed in males, leading to a drop in alligator reproduction in the lake estimated at 90% since the spill occurred.
Wild panthers in the Florida Everglades have had their sperm counts reduced by 90%, due to high estrogen levels from years of state dumping of DDT and other toxic pesticides into the swamp waters.
Between 1950 and 1970, some four million pounds of the pesticide DDT, illegal today, was dumped into the ocean in Los Angeles. Examples of eggshell thinning, gonad shrinkage and feminization in males, overdeveloped ovaries in females, and failure to thrive are some of the defects found in seagull studies at UC Davis by Michael Fry. In 1981, Fry published his research in the journal Science. Shrugged off for years by the scientific community, Fry's work is now being corroborated all over the world in dozens of other species.
Males Are Also Affected
Think of the surfing implications for the L.A. spill ... "two girls for every boy"??? Not any more! Declining sperm counts in American males in the past 30 years is well documented. An article in Lancet, May 1993 estimates a drop in sperm count of 50% in the past 30-50 years, and links the decline to environmental estrogen mimickers.
Xenoestrogens, as well as a modern high-fat diet, are lowering the onset of menarche for young girls. In 1900, American girls matured at 14. Today the average age is 12, and for some groups is as early as 8 years old! (Beaton)
The effects of DDT and PCBs are often hidden, and often don't occur until many years later in the offspring of these exposed animals. Birds are born with twisted bills or deformed reproductive organs. Other animals have physical characteristics of both male and female, but can't function normally as either one.
The reason DDT and PCBs were outlawed was that they don't break down; they persist unchanged in the environment for years and years, still capable of the same trauma to living cells. These chemical simply don't degrade.
The effect of hormone-mimicking pollutants, the xenoestrogens, is being kept under wraps, because of its obvious implications for liability by the chemical manufacturers. Chemical contamination is not limited to a few isolated areas. It is a global problem, beyond the scope of this chapter. The reader is directed to Theo Colburn's startling book Our Stolen Future for a better look.
The point is, we are in the same ecosystem, the same food chain, the same biosphere as these animals. Human DNA is 98% identical to that of an ape. Our cells and tissues are susceptible to these same distortions. It is no coincidence that the women of the industrialized nations of northern Europe and the United States have two things in common:
- the highest rates in history of breast cancer, endometrial cancer, and HRT consumption
- high exposure to plastics, chemicals, computer chips, pesticides and other xenoestrogens
John Lee talks about the "sea of estrogen" in which we exist as the result of many factors:
The pathway of causation is clear: xenoestrogens maintain estrogen levels at double the normal values for the entire adult life of the human female. As the complementary hormone that's supposed to balance the delicate system of sex hormones, progesterone is simply overwhelmed by the dominant estrogens. Natural hormones are subtle and fragile and transient. Xenoestrogens by contrast are harsh and strong and long-lasting. Progesterone just doesn't stand a chance. HRT is just another xenoestrogen, making things worse.
Let's take a look at some of the Consequences Of Estrogen Dominance
As estrogen levels build up to twice the normal level, many systems of the body are adversely affected. Body fat stores increase. Fluids are retained, causing bloating and edema. There are defects in both fat and sugar metabolism, often severe enough to cause diabetes. Risks of endometrial cancer are increased to 5-14 times, as cited in the 1975 NEJM articles above.
Promotion Of Osteoporosis
Slow onset of blood poisoning (toxemia) due to inability of chemical xenoestrogens to be broken down. This in turn obviously contributes to autoimmune disorders like lupus, chronic fatigue, and arthritis, in which the body begins to attack its own cells as they become so toxic that they are unrecognizable as "self."
Alteration of zinc and copper uptake in brain cells causes mood swings, a nice euphemism. Incidence of stroke increases 50% with estrogen, according to an extensive project, known as the Boston Nurses Questionnaire Study, of 121,000 nurses. (Stampfer)
Normal estrogen stimulates breast and endometrial tissue. Excess estrogen causes excess stimulation of breast and endometrial collagen, resulting in fibroids in both locations. (McDougall, p87)
Another health detriment of estrogen is its destruction of B vitamins. Nutritionist Jean Sumption documents the opposition of estrogen with Vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6 and other B-complex vitamins: Biotin, Choline, Folic Acid, PABA, and Inositol. Most functions of cell metabolism depend on B vitamins. Symptoms of depletion include fatigue, sluggish memory, hair loss, and aging.
This Is Only A Partial List
It should be obvious that effects like these are systemic (everywhere the blood goes) and as such can affect practically any weakened tissue in the body. To say that drugs and chemicals cause a downward spiral of health is not just a metaphor.
A growing number of medical researchers (see References) who do not represent the interests of the drug cartels are stepping forward to show that the symptoms of menopause are not caused by too little estrogen, but by too much. To turn popular opinion around 180° from nature and trick American women into thinking that at menopause symptoms and postmenopausal dangers are caused by insufficient estrogen - once again, we are looking at mastery in the control of information. The motivation is simple: $1 billion per year.
Synthetic hormones are not harmless. The side effects of HRT are often the same or worse than the original menopause symptoms they set out to cure.
Side Effect of HRT