How to Manage Hormonal Headaches - Ask a Nutritionist

June 15, 2023

20 to 60% of women who have migraines report they have a direct correlation with their menstrual cycle. That number gets even bigger if we include not just migraines but regular headaches also. The culprit of these hormonal headaches? Estrogen dominance! Tune into this week's episode of Ask a Nutritionist with Britni to learn all about what you can do to treat your hormonal headaches.

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Welcome to the “Ask a Nutritionist” podcast, brought to you by Nutritional Weight and Wellness. We are thrilled to have you join us today as we discuss the connection between what you eat and how you feel, and share practical real life solutions for healthier living through balanced nutrition. Now let's get started.

BRITNI: Good morning and welcome to Dishing Up Nutrition's new midweek segment called “Ask a Nutritionist”. My name is Britni Vincent, a Registered and Licensed Dietitian. On today's show, brought to you by Nutritional Weight and Wellness, we will be answering a nutrition question we've received from our Dishing Up Nutrition listener.

So the question today is, “Suggestions to manage hormonal headaches”. And I'm really happy to get this question actually, because I've had so many women over the years that have come to me that get hormonal headaches or hormonal migraines. I'm really happy to say that we've been able to completely eliminate them for these clients or at least dramatically improve them. So we're going to talk through all of that today.

Statistics on headaches and migraines

The original question was about headaches, but I will include migraines in this discussion too. So migraines specifically affect over 39 million Americans. Women are much more affected than men, and 20 to 60% of women who have migraines report that they have them correlated with their, with their menstruation.

Hormonal headaches are a sign of estrogen dominance

So of course these statistics do not necessarily include individuals who get headaches and don't necessarily get those full blown migraines. So these numbers are even bigger if we include that. So at at the root of it, hormonal headaches and migraines are really a sign of estrogen dominance. And if you are a longtime Dishing Up Nutrition listener, or you read some of our articles on our website, we have discussed this topic. And if you want to learn more, you, we have plenty of other resources out there.

What is estrogen dominance?

But for those of you who this term is new for, I want to, I want to explain it. So estrogen dominance is basically too much estrogen in comparison to your progesterone. And this can happen or exhibit with a couple different situations. So you can, your progesterone levels could be completely healthy and normal, but you have too much estrogen. So that comparison, that ratio between the two is off.

You could have fine estrogen levels, but low progesterone, and that would also cause these estrogen dominant symptoms. That situation is much less common. And then sometimes women can have low progesterone and then high estrogen, which makes this ratio even more imbalanced. And usually these signs and symptoms of estrogen dominance are even more severe in that situation.

How does estrogen dominance relate to headaches & migraines?

So you know how this relates to headaches and migraines specifically: usually headaches and migraines related to our hormones are caused by erratic fluctuations, usually in estrogen throughout your cycle. Most often the headaches and migraines occur right before your period or you know, within the first couple of days. And the reason for that is there is a big drop in estrogen right before you get your period. And with estrogen dominance, that drop in estrogen could be even more dramatic, making it even more likely that you develop a, a headache or a migraine. And, you know, other symptoms possibly that we're going to talk about in a minute.

Estrogen also drops right after ovulation, which is mid cycle. And so some women also get a headache or a migraine during this time, but that, that's less common from what I see. And then throughout different stages of our life, there are prolonged estrogen changes, of course during pregnancy, breastfeeding, perimenopause, menopause, so sometimes headaches and migraines can occur in relation to those stages of life as well.

And then oral contraceptives, hormone replacement therapy, that can dramatically influence or hormone levels and those can sometimes cause headaches or migraines. I've heard that from plenty of client clients over the years that they weren't able to take oral contraceptive birth control because it did cause headaches or migraines and sometimes causes these other estrogen dominant symptoms which we’ll touch on. And having low progesterone levels could contribute to these headaches and migraines as well. So that possibly could be a piece of the puzzle.

Signs of estrogen dominance

So I want to talk about other signs of estrogen dominance. I'm just going to run through a list here. You know, heavy painful periods, PMS, low libido, bloating associated with your period, mood swings, fatigue, anxiety and depression, breast tenderness, endometriosis, uterine fibroids or fibrocystic breasts. Hormonal weight gain: this particularly means weight gain in the hips, the thighs area. Acne that flares with your period or acne that you get on your chin, your jawline. That is hormonal acne caused by this estrogen dominance. Often that hormonal acne is, is cystic as well, that deep painful acne. PCOS or polycystic ovarian syndrome: those women also have estrogen dominance. And then women that have irregular periods would also be a sign of, of estrogen dominance.

Why are so many people estrogen dominant?

So unfortunately, estrogen dominance affects so many women these days. And not just women. It can affect men as well in a different way. But you might be wondering why are so many people estrogen dominant? And I'm sure many of you listeners right now resonated with at least one of those symptoms that I just listed.

Xenoestrogens contribute to estrogen dominance

So a, a huge contributing factor to estrogen dominance are xenoestrogens. Xenoestrogens are chemicals in our environment that are going to mimic estrogen in your body. These are referred to as endocrine disruptors. And xenoestrogens are going to come from all sorts of different things. You know, plastics. Those are huge ones. And even if you're purchasing BPA free plastic, the plastic is still going to contain some of these endocrine disruptors, these xenoestrogens; home cleaning supplies, personal care products and lotions, shampoos, pesticides, herbicides. Some names of these specific chemicals are DDT, PCB, sulfates are, are a common one that we see in a lot of different products.

So having, and you think about especially personal care products, we are, we're putting them on our skin and our skin’s our largest organ, so we are absorbing everything in that lotion that we're using. That that shampoo is going to, that can be absorbed through our scalp.

So all of these things really add up. And there's, I believe, close to 10,000 different chemicals that are allowed in our products that are not allowed in other countries. So this is, that's a big, big concern.

Body fat is a contributing factor to estrogen dominance

Another contributing factor to estrogen dominance is body fat. So in women estrogen, we make a lot of that in our ovaries, but we're also going to make some estrogen from our fat cells, our adipose tissue. So having extra weight can kind of create this vicious cycle. So estrogen dominance can cause hormonal weight gain, but then those fat cells can produce even more estrogen, making that estrogen dominance even more severe. Good news, we can break that cycle and we're going to talk, talk about that as well. The adipose tissue, the fat cells in our body will absorb and keep this estrogen in our bloodstream. So again, it can be this accumulative effect as well over time.

How to reduce estrogen dominance

So how to reduce the estrogen dominance, how to get rid of these hormonal migraines. I mean there's, there's not necessarily one, one magic answer. I think a lot of different things often need to happen.

Drink filtered water

But drinking water, specifically filtered water is really important to just help our body naturally detoxify from these estrogens. And I mentioned filtered water specifically because tap water, we can, we can actually get some of these, these endocrine disruptors from our water supply. So half your body weight ounces is the optimal amount to aim for.

Reduce sugar/processed carbs & keep blood sugar balanced

Reducing sugar and processed carbs are important. Having irregular blood sugar levels related to the intake of a lot of carbohydrates and sugar is just going to exacerbate or contribute to hormonal imbalances.

Healthy fats are necessary for hormone production

You know, fats, they are necessary for hormone production. So if you are consuming a lot of refined inflammatory fats like soybean oil, cottonseed oil, canola, vegetable oil, then your body's not going to make these hormones vary efficiently. So sticking to the real healthy fats: avocado, nuts, seeds, butter, olive oil, avocado oil, olives, those would all be healthy fats to consume on, on a regular basis every single time that you eat.

Eat cruciferous vegetables to detox harmful estrogens

And then a huge one is replacing those processed carbohydrates with lots of veggies, particularly cruciferous vegetables or those smelly veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, bok choy, because these are particularly helpful at aiding your body in detoxifying these harmful estrogens. And these will make a big difference in reducing the estrogen dominance.

So if you could consume at least a couple cups a day of these, that would be fabulous. The fiber in the vegetables also helps with detoxification, promoting a healthy gut, which is also key to hormonal imbalances. And you could even bump up your fiber even more. You could add, you know, a tablespoon or two of ground flaxseed every day and that could also help to balance out your hormones.

And then I talked a lot about those endocrine disruptors, those chemicals in our environment that mimic estrogen. So just being mindful about what you're storing your food in? What are you drinking your water out of? What type of lotion are you putting on your body?

Resource for determining safety of cleaning & personal care products

So I like to refer to the skin deep database. It is was created by the Environmental Working Group. And you can type in an ingredient or a product name, both cleaning supplies or personal care products, and then it will tell you how toxic it is and why those specific chemicals are harmful.

And then they also have a list of non-toxic products. So I know that change is very overwhelming, but one little thing at a time does make a difference. And we did recently do a radio show about detoxing your kitchen. And we do touch on some of this in more detail in, in that radio show or podcast that you can listen to.

Daily bowel movements are crucial

And then having a daily bowel movement is really, really crucial to this. So this is a really a final step of detoxification. And if you aren't having a daily bowel movement, then you're not getting these toxic estrogens out. And women that, that have constipation, they're more likely to have estrogen dominance for that reason.

Supplement that can help with hormonal headaches

There are, you know, supplements that can help with these hormonal headaches and migraines. My go-to that I have seen a lot of success with is something called Estro-I-3-C. And the I-3-C stands for Indole-3-Carbinol. It's a naturally occurring compound that comes from those cruciferous vegetables that I was mentioning.

So in addition to consuming them, taking them in a supplement form where it's a lot more concentrated can be really, really beneficial. This supplement also contains something called DIM, another compound that the I-3-C creates in your body. So the combination of the two is really, really beneficial at reducing the estrogen dominance.

I just want to share a couple research tidbits about the Indole-3-Carbinol, which includes, you know, getting them from food sources and then supplementation. So studies have indicated that I-3-C prevents a development of estrogen enhanced cancers. So I-3-C may also kill or inhibit cancer cells.

And then estrogen can be metabolized different ways through different pathways. So simply put, there's a healthy pathway. there's an unhealthy pathway. So the I-3-C is going to promote that healthy estrogen metabolism and helps, the I-3-C helps both the gut and the liver, me metabolize estrogen in that healthy pathway. And then the I-3-C will help remove the unhealthy estrogen from your cells and then helps your liver to remove it from your body. I-3-C also acts as an antioxidant and it reduces levels of free radicals too.

So lots of benefits here. There is a possibility that the I-3-C in supplement form could interact with birth control. So if you are taking oral contraceptives or an IUD for birth control reasons, you may not want to take this supplement. Otherwise, taking two to three capsules per day is what is recommended.

And most women do notice improvement in their estrogen dominant symptoms within usually something within three months. Many women need to take it anywhere between three to six months. And I will say you can't out supplement a bad diet, right? So without making all of these other lifestyle changes, just simply adding this supplement may not be enough. So it's, it's often the whole, the whole package to, to really rebalance hormones.

And I know from personal experience it's really overwhelming to, to deal with hormonal imbalances and, and it can be confusing and it's complicated. So just know that we are here to help if you, you want a more personalized recommendations for you to rebalance your hormones, we can do that by setting up a one-on-one appointment.

Schedule Nutrition Counseling

And as I mentioned earlier, we have lots of other articles and podcasts on, on this topic as well. So thank you so much for listening to Dishing Up Nutrition's “Ask a Nutritionist”. If you have a nutrition question you would like us to answer, we invite you to join our Dishing Up Nutrition Facebook community by searching Dishing Up Nutrition on Facebook.

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