How our periods change our brain and what it taught me about loving estrogen as an Endo Sister.
A couple of weeks ago, I woke up feeling foggy after a full night of vivid dreams.
I carried on with my usual routine of making a nice cup of tea; however, it all started to unfold a little differently. I tried to pour my almond milk in the kettle. I tried to fit the kettle into the fridge. I only really processed something was off when after numerous attempts the kettle really wasn’t fitting in the fridge.
Bedazzled. Confused. My day continued in this hazy cumbersome unfolding.
I couldn’t find my words when I needed to speak. I bumped into almost everything I passed. I dropped things right in front of me. I couldn’t react or respond. I just watched. Clumsy just didn’t quite cut it that day. What was going on?
Ah there she is. My period. Hello, period brain.
Is period brain a real thing?
Throughout our menstrual cycle, it’s safe to say our brain changes—and perhaps you feel it too? These changes influence everything, from spatial skills to our sexual desires to the type of dreams we have each night.
Our ovaries are the main source of these changes. These two pearls release different levels of estrogen and progesterone hormones each month, responsible for thickening the lining of the womb (called the endometrium) and deciding when to release an egg. Biologically speaking, if an egg isn’t fertilized, our hormone level drops and the tissue of the womb breaks down and bleeds with the beginning of our menstrual cycle.
Living with endometriosis, it took me a long time to even want to get to know my period, let alone love her natural cycle of hormonal changes and understand how they influence my behaviour.
Estrogen and endometriosis.
For women with endometriosis, periods can get complicated.
Endometriosis is a condition where the tissue that behaves like the lining of the womb is found in other parts of the body, mainly the pelvis, such as the ovaries, behind the uterus, on the bowels, and/or the bladder. When estrogen rises it not only signals for the endometrium in the womb to thicken but also for the displaced tissue of endometrium around the body to grow.
And you guessed it, when pregnancy doesn’t happen, the displaced tissue around the body also breaks down and bleeds with the menstrual cycle. But, and this is a big but, this displaced tissue cannot leave the body. It can cause large cysts, the development of scar tissue, and adhesions stitching pelvic organs together. This trapped tissue can cause extreme pain, heavy periods, and infertility affecting women on all levels: physically, mentally, emotionally, and even their social well-being.
Preposterous promises of your period brain.
As an endo sister, you can probably imagine why I hated estrogen to begin with. Then, I started to tap into some of its wondrous positive powers. Rather than trying to completely eradicate estrogen from my body, hoping to alleviate my pain, I began balancing my estrogen levels. This significantly improved my symptoms and quality of life with endometriosis.
I started to get inquisitive with my period. I began to work with it and its preposterous promises. And I fell in love.
When female hormones, estrogen and progesterone, are high, they give us an edge. We have a powerful ability to tap into “implicit remembering” within our subconscious minds. Our communication skills are effortless and we express ourselves with a full delight of vocabulary-wonder!
As both hormones peak each month we’re better able to use both sides of our brain. We’re more flexible in our thinking and can adapt to solve problems between logic and holistic ways—depending on what is needed. We’re fully flowing in the zeitgeist!
Estrogen in particular affects our two brain regions. When this level of hormone is high our hippocampus, basically a floating seahorse of delights in the middle of our brain, gets bigger. It’s responsible for storing memories and therefore our ability to recall the past is heightened. And so then is our ability to display empathy by understanding the motivations of others through our past experiences.
Estrogen also affects the amygdala, a little almond shaped beauty close to the hippocampus. The amygdala helps us to process our emotions, especially fear, meaning we’re much better at making decisions.
Balancing estrogen levels with endometriosis.
Estrogen can be pretty wonderful. Our key aim with endometriosis then, or any condition with estrogen dominance for that matter, is to balance our estrogen levels.
Here are a couple of ideas how:
Limiting Xenoestrogens found in foods, plastics, and everyday products like makeup. These bad boys are endocrine disruptors, increasing the amount of estrogen within the body and causing endometriosis to grow
Dietary modifications: limiting or avoiding fatty foods such as dairy products and red meats that may be high in dioxins. Dioxin is a chemical and estrogenic pesticide that mimics the action of estrogen. Dioxin is classed in the group of chemicals known as a Persistent Organic Pollutant (POP). They are toxic, persistent (do not break down in the environment), and are bio-accumulative (stored in the body).
Supporting detoxification with DIM, a supplement that helps release undesirable estrogen metabolites from your system. DIM is derived from cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower. It metabolises estrogen into components easily eliminated and removed by the body
Liver vitality: every day, I dedicate time for gentle yoga twists helping to activate my liver and therefore my body’s detoxification process. Even if I’m pushed for time I’ll do them in my chair just before a meeting, on the bus, or in bed before falling asleep. It also feels great on any tightness in the lower back caused by endometriosis
Accupuncture: in China, endometriosis translates as blood stagnation. Acupuncture helps to break down and move stuck chi and blood in the liver releasing toxins, regulating hormones, and having an anti-inflammatory effect.
Fascinating female biology.
As women, we’re often taught that our hormones are something to hide and fear. They’re not. They’re fascinating.
Understanding the changes that take place within our body each month and the influence upon our hormonal balance is empowering. When we have the right information about how our body really works, and how she responds, we can make health choices that are right for us.
So, hormonal? Why, yes I am.Browse Front PageShare Your Idea