Monday, August 18, 2014

The Effects of Estrogen on Women: What Men Need to Know

     I was originally going to let all references to estrogen and things like that be included in my "pink posts," the posts geared only towards women.  But in this particular instance, I remembered that when we women go through zone-outs, mood swings, and depression because of our hormone levels, the men we know--at home, at work, at church, even at the grocery store--have a lot to put up with, and some may not be quite savvy about what's going on with us.  So, this article is for all you guys out there, whether you're husbands, fathers, brothers, co-workers, parish priests or pastors of non-liturgical churches.  You guys need to know how estrogen levels affect the women you know, love, work with, or spiritually counsel, so that you can discern whether or not the social interactions and emotional patterns you're seeing are regular girl stuff, or off-the-chart reactions brought on by a sudden onslaught of estrogen to the brain.

     That's not to say that all womens' emotional responses are caused by our hormones, monthly cycles and life cycles.  To suggest such a thing would be demeaning to us, because it would invalidate all of our emotional responses as human beings. It is important that when we feel certain ways, our feelings are listened to and acknowledged.  However, at the same time, estrogen is a very powerful hormone (as are all hormones, really), and its power can often make our perceptions and responses very different from the way they would be with normal female estrogen levels.  At certain times of the month or at certain stages in our lives, we women must labour mentally to put our emotions into perspective.  So must others around us, especially men.

     I don't need to explain to my readers what estrogen is.  I'm sure everyone knows.  We're taught in high school what estrogen and testosterone are.  I also don't need to talk as much about low estrogen, as about high estrogen, since it's the higher levels of estrogen that affect women so much in their emotional and psychological perceptions.  Besides, I really don't have any experience with the phenomenon of low estrogen.  I'll talk to you about that when I get to that point in my life, when I approach the hallowed state of elderhood.  Right now, I can rightly be called a matron, but hardly an elder.

     So, guys, I now will state the obvious, which most of you probably already know.  High levels of estrogen occur in women in the following situations and stages of life: the monthly cycle of ovulation and menstruation (age 11 or 13 until menopause), childbirth, the post-childbirth and breastfeeding stage, perimenopause (roughly age 33 or 35 to 45 or 50), and menopause (anywhere between age 45 and 55).   That means that see-saw estrogen levels are pretty much a daily or monthly feature of life, depending on the age and physiology of the woman.  If you haven't ever heard of perimenopause, it's basically a huge hormone shift that women go through in their thirties and forties that prepares them for menopause.  Having gone through it since I turned thirty-four or so, I can tell you that it's absolutely dreadful.  A woman goes from being fairly knowledgeable and in control of how her hormones will fluctuate during the month, to being in a state where she can't predict from one day to the other how she might be emotionally.  It really kind of stinks. 

     To summarise, high estrogen levels can cause the following emotional states, behaviours and physical symptoms in varying degrees with women, depending on the individual:

(1) heightened emotional and social sensitivity, in extreme cases to the point of neurosis:  All women in Western society are taught from Day 1 that excellent social graces are integral to their success, so all women worry to some extent about the impressions they make on others and whether or not people like them.  But if a grown woman is talking about social anxiety in such a way that she sounds like a thirteen-year-old, something's amiss, lads!

(2) getting easily upset or angry: outbursts of temper, weeping, shouting, and all that good stuff! (Worst case scenario: screaming--very rare, usually only occurs if the woman is on birth control or has responded negatively to the estrogen boost that comes from eating foods with soy)

(3) Anger, fear and other emotions seem to come from nowhere, often way out of proportion to the situation that triggered them.   Such emotions can grow even worse if they are not checked or otherwise diffused.

(4) incidents of forgetfulness, lack of focus and seeming ditziness (not to be confused with dizziness):  Maybe the ditzy blond in the classic jokes isn't really ditzy; perhaps she's merely ovulating!

(5) clouding of our reasoning and analytical faculties: the thought process becomes fuzzy--see #4 on this list

(6) physical fatigue, headaches, nervous stomach, cramping, sore muscles especially in the back, swelling of the abdomenal area, weight gain, oily skin, dandruff, occasional thinning of the hair, and zits: lovely, ain't it?   We often get very unhappy with our physical appearance when our estrogen levels are up; we feel fat, ugly, pimply, swollen. . .you name it.  It would help greatly if we weren't socialised to believe that our physical beauty is all-important, but alas, pigs will fly over a frozen hell before that ever ends.

(7) mood swings or depression: sometimes we can appear to exhibit bipolar symptoms, or high estrogen can throw us up onto an emotional high that seems really out there.   The depression caused by hgh estrogen can be dangerous.  Birth control pills can cause levels of depression that can drop to a suicidal level.   If a menstruating or otherwise hormonally affected woman is suddenly deeply depressed out of the blue and starts talking about suicide, don't leave her alone, and hide all of her tweezers, fingernail scissors and other sharp objects.  Stay with her until the poison works its way out of her nervous system.  If you can't stay with her, call a family member to come over and keep an eye on her, while you do whatever it is you must do.

(8) In worst case scenarios, where the estrogen level is off the charts, a woman can become physically violent. When the estrogen has settled down, she often will not remember her violent episode, like throwing dishes in the kitchen or hitting furniture with the broom.  Did she curse and swear at you?  Did she smash her cell phone?  Chances are that she likely won't remember it at all, because this particular level of estrogen can affect her short-term memory.  Don't ask me why, because I haven't studied the science of it.  I just know that it's true because I've seen it happen.

    My husband's advice is: gentlemen, duck and cover!  No, actually, he's just kidding.  But he has found the following safety precautions and steps helpful in aiding a woman who is in an emotionally altered state due to an influx of hormones:

(1) Never tell her, "Oh, it's that time of month, isn't it?" unless you want a vehement and possibly volatile response of "You never validate my emotions!   My feelings aren't real to you!", or unless you want a delicate third finger raised and pointed in your general direction.  Rather, help her to relax.  Give her something she likes to eat or drink, like an egg salad sandwich, a cookie or a nice hot cup of tea.  Sit down with her.  If you're married to her, cuddle with her.  If she's your sister, rub or pat her back.  If she's your parishioner, give her some comforting spiritual counsel and Scripture verses.  She might need some quiet prayer time.  Eastern Orthodox icons, with their great beauty, can be very therapeutic.  Other sacred works of art can help also, as long as she doesn't find them too contrary to her personal taste (in which case she'll probably tell you).  If she's your co-worker, do the whole thing of sitting down and giving her a cup of tea, or tell one of her female buddies at work that she's having a bad day and let them take it from there.

(2)   If she's really emotionally upset, crying or on a rant, try to help her avoid getting behind the wheel of a car.  She needs to calm down and decompress before driving.

(3)  Some women just want to be left the heck alone.  You'll know whether or not she's one of those, and if you don't, she'll probably tell you.

(4)  Use calm but logical arguments to break down misperceptions of reality that she might express due to heightened estrogen (e.g., "I have no friends in this town!" or "Everybody avoids me!":  the trick here is to logically demonstrate the reality of the situation by pointing out who her friends are, or how so-and-so is busy with such-and-such in life and isn't really avoiding her at all).    However, if her statements are about her looks, don't use an analytical approach because that will likely get on her nerves or make her pipin' mad.  Just contradict her negative statements:

WOMAN:  "I'm ugly and fat!"
YOU:  "You're beautiful, and there's nothing wrong with your body shape."
WOMAN:  "I've got zits all over my face!"
YOU:  "I can't tell.  You look just fine to me."
WOMAN:  "I'm all swollen with water weight!"
YOU:  "You don't look that way to me."

    The best words of all, if you're not her pastor, are "I love you."  If you are her pastor, the best words are, "God loves you, and your church community cares about you too."   Talk to her about the Divine, unconditional love of Christ.   If you're Orthodox Christian or Roman Catholic, you might also direct her attention towards the Theotokos and women disciples of the Lord as a source of comfort.

(5) Sometimes, if the woman has a good sense of humour, taking her statements to the absolute ridiculous extreme can cause her to laugh and realise that she's a bit off in her perceptions.  For example, if she says, "Nobody at work likes me!", she might respond well if you say with a wry smile, "Yes, everybody loathes and abominates you so much that they plan to serve you up a dish of worms during the next corporate luncheon, and then they're going to force you to wear pink and orange tye-dye shorts with your purple dress blouse for the whole rest of the day, with red flip flops. And they'll force you to dye your hair bright green!"

    In a pastoral situation, she might say to you, "Jesus doesn't love me!" and then you tell her, "Yep, that's Jesus all right. . .wrathful, condemning, hates everyone. . .never mind that He died on the Cross for you."  You get the general gist.

(6)  To discern whether or not her emotions and sufferings are caused by hormones, look for the suddenness that I mentioned:  emotions and outbursts that seem to come out of nowhere with no visible antecedent.  Also, note whether or not such things seem to occur cyclically.  Priests, if she's crying in Confession every month, she may be a fervent soul with a longing to truly repent. . .or she might be confessing at the same time every month, at a time that just happens to be the height of her monthly cycle.  If the weeping is chronic and seems unwarranted in proportion to what she has confessed to you, then you might discreetly check with her husband, brother, sister, mom, dad or other family member about the nature of her cycles and whether or not she's on any medication such as birth control (which sometimes women end up taking for reasons related to medical conditions) or an anti-depressant.

(7) Watch her diet.  If she has really high estrogen levels like me, then it's possible that foods with estrogen-enhancing substances like soy and emulsifiers might cause mood swings.  If this is the case, she has to avoid food with any of the following:  at least three soy ingredients in the list,  any food with a soy ingredient listed in the front of the list, soy protein concentrates or isolates, PGPR or TBHQ as additives, more than 2% of soy leichtin or soybean oil, most types of vegetable oils and mayonnaise (in which case she'll have to buy oils and mayonnaise made with canola or safflower oil), Italian dressing or any other standard brand names (in which case she'll need to substitute an organic vinaigrette made with olive oil), and most American chocolate products unless she carefully reads the ingredient list first.  She also needs to read the ingredients of hummus and avoid certain brands.  No soy milk or tofu!  Read the ingredients of batter on fried chicken or fish, because batter is often made with soybean oil.  She'll need to substitute teriyaki sauce for soy sauce, because the brewing process of making teriyaki neutralizes the dangerous soy protein.   She can't have margarine either or veggie spread: these all have soy.  She'll have to eat regular, natural butter.  If she's on an Eastern Orthodox vegan fast, then she can eat almond butter.

(8) If she's in perimenopause or menopause, keep empirical documentation of her emotional ups and downs with additional information about diet, life situations that are causing her stress, etc.  However, don't let her know you're journaling this unless you think she's open to it.  The data is there to show you whether or not there are any consistent patterns or triggers for certain reactions and behaviours, and also to help her know which foods to avoid, if she's open to hearing that.

(9) Very important:  she needs to avoid making any major, life-altering decisions when she's in this particular condition.  A friend recently told me about a woman going through menopause who got divorced from her husband during the crazy ups and downs with her emotions.  When she came out of menopause, she recognised how off her perceptions of things were, but now she had to live with the pain and regret of her decision to get a divorce.  Unless the marriage is abusive or the husband has been unfaithful, a woman needs to stick it out until things settle down.   Sudden talk of divorce when the marriage is happy or has always been happy is a sure sign of something not being balanced.

(10) This I learned from experience:  a woman in a hormonal state needs to get off of the internet, or else at least avoid e-mail!  She's liable to send all kinds of crazy letters out, or post things on Facebook that she might regret posting later.  If she gets on the internet while her estrogen levels are high, she needs to just watch Youtube or Netflix, or read interesting articles.

FOR EVERYONE:  How to Handle Estrogen Spikes
     Men, pay attention to this because you need to know this. Ladies, here's what to do if the estrogen spikes:  (1) Immediately take two 1000 mcg-B-12 vitamins and two Omega-3 fish oil tablets, each one 1200 mg.  This restores the function of the synapses in your brain, which have been numbed by the estrogen.  The vitamins will help you start to logically reason through the emotions when they start going awry.  (2) Pray or meditate, immediately.  (3) If things seem to be out of control, talk to someone immediately--a friend, a husband, whoever.  (4) Exercise: go swimming, fitness-walk, or ride a bike.  (5) Turn off the computer unless you're watching movies or reading.  (6) Don't watch intense or depressing films/videos, or read depressing books.  (7) Sleep, if you feel that you can.  (8)  Find something constructive for the kids to do while you take it easy, or call someone to watch the kids while you get away and decompress.  (9)  Don't eat any food or drink anything with soy products in it.  You even have to watch it with pizza!  Check the ingredient list online for restaurant menus before going out to eat.  Usually, Indian food is pretty safe.  Thai food is not.  (10) If you get severely depressed, don't remain alone: find someone you love and tell them what's going on in your head.  (11) Don't take contraceptives unless you have a medical condition where you absolutely can't avoid it.  Contraceptives have estrogen and soy in them.  Antidepressants have soy.  Avoid medication like this, if possible.  If you can't avoid them, do some research to find medicines that will produce a less volatile effect with you.  (12) Don't drive, if you can avoid it.

     That's about all I have to say on this subject, and I hope it helps any male followers of my blog.  As for my fellow sisters, some of you might recognise symptoms or problems I've mentioned.  I speak about these things with a certain amount of sardonic wit, but I'm dead serious about the need for us and the men around us to pay heed to these things.  Also, in some of the extreme situations I mentioned, I'm not joking or exaggerating.  Estrogen levels really can get that high, and they really can cause behaviour that extreme.  I'm a witness of it.

     Cheerio until the next post!  The portrait attached to this article is of Mary, Queen of Scots.  From reading about her life, she seems like a classic example of a woman who made bad decisions during key hormonal shifts.


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