MyMT™ Blog

Breasts feeling swollen and sore now that you’re going through menopause? Mine were too.

There are many tourists to the Cardrona Valley in the South Island of New Zealand who might recognise this ‘bra fence’. In winter I pass it on my way to the skifield when I’m staying down south. It was very concerning to think that I wouldn’t see the fence this winter, but New Zealand has done well so far with the Corona-virus management and I’m thankful to the ‘team of 5 million’ for all pulling together. As I drove up the valley this week, there were numerous younger women taking off their bra’s and hanging them up. Exclamations of glee and laughter could be heard as I paused to take this photo for you. At that age, I never gave my boobs a thought. But as I approached menopause and reached my late 40’s and early 50’s, they became tight, sore and swollen. I spent hundreds of dollars on new bra’s and exercised and ate well, but still my breast size increased. I didn’t realise that because the breast tissue is full of oestrogen receptors, they get a bit messed up with our menopause hormonal changes as well. So, if this sounds like you, then you may be experiencing a condition called ‘oestrogen dominance.’ Have you heard of this? I know I hadn’t when my breasts were tight, sore and getting larger by the day as I reached my early 50’s.   

For millions of women putting on weight in menopause, some of the discomfort experienced is in the breasts. There’s a reason for this. Breast tissue is known to have local oestrogen production and storage. Because of this, our breast tissue is responsive to the storage of xeno-oestrogens  – this is the term given to environmental oestrogens that get into our body as well as oestrogens in hormonal medications such as HRT. When fat cells store excess oestrogens, this may lead to women becoming oestrogen dominant. As I found myself, this can cause chaos with your health and your weight as  you move through menopause.

It’s important to turn around our weight during and after menopause. I’m passionate about women understanding this, because post-menopause is the time when millions of women living in western countries end up with changing cardiac health and a condition called ‘metabolic syndrome’ whereby they are at risk for Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and changing cardiac health. We move into post-menopause when periods have stopped for a year or more and it’s our menopause transition that makes us vulnerable to health changes. 

What is Oestrogen Dominance?

As far back as the 1970’s, Dr John Lee, a medical Doctor from California, was inspired to explore the role of progesterone in peri-menopause after noticing that many of his female patients were intolerant to the use of oestrogen replacement therapy [HRT].

Like a few other doctors and endocrinologists at this time, Dr Lee believed that the distressing symptoms that so many women experienced during menopause were in fact NOT due to the low oestrogen levels, which is a natural occuence during menopause, but in fact, due to higher than normal amounts of oestrogen present in the body fat tissues.

He realised that women with a pre-disposition to put on weight, had higher levels of oestrogen circulating in their blood stream and with new research into obesity, he knew that fat cells are a receptor or storage area for oestrogen too. This includes breast tissue. Because oestrogen, like other hormones, works in harmony with an opposing hormone, Dr Lee, began to explore the role of oestrogen’s opposing hormone, called progesterone.

Extra oestrogen stored in fat cells and liver cells can play havoc on progesterone levels, causing them to drop dramatically. This imbalance naturally causes oestrogen to dominate the hormonal environment, over-shadowing progesterone. What this then does, is to exacerbate the symptoms of low progesterone as the oestrogen is ‘unopposed’.  Hence, Dr Lee, coined a term to describe this phenomenon as ‘Oestrogen Dominance’.

What happens when you are oestrogen dominant?

Oestrogen dominance means that progesterone may be abnormally low. 

Perhaps the most critical concern caused by oestrogen dominance during menopause is that this environment impairs the functioning of cell membranes. If you feel that your breasts are tight and swollen and you’ve gone up a bra size or two as I did, then please read on. It’s what I needed to know when it happened to me!

When our cell membranes don’t work very well with the change in oestrogen storage and therefore, lower progesterone, then sodium is retained in cells. When sodium is retained, so is water.

The ‘puffiness’, bloating and swelling you are experiencing is also water retention and it’s not good for those women already at risk of high blood pressure.  Other symptoms of oestrogen dominance also start to be felt – sore and tender breasts, mood disturbances, low motivation, irritability and of course, weight gain, especially around the middle.

Why does my blood pressure go higher if I am Oestrogen Dominant?

Did you know that all of the hormones in the body work in harmony to stabilise the normal internal environment of the body? In technical terms this is called homeostasis – the term to describe how the hormones work together to maintain normal function. Hence, when both sex hormones, oestrogen and progesterone. are changing, then they exert influence on other areas of the body too.  As such, these hormones influence our blood vessels and regulation of our plasma volume too. 

When you are oestrogen dominant, your plasma volume is increased. This leads to a complex array of other hormonal changes which influences the hormonal system that has evolved to control thirst, fluid intake, sodium appetite and renal fluid regulation. It’s why you might crave salt or sugar, feel bloated, puffy and your breasts are sore and tight. This happened to Dianne as well. 

Sodium retention in cells causes an imbalance of fluid movement in and out of cells. This combined with increased plasma volume, combine to influence an increase in your blood pressure. If you are also not sleeping, putting on weight or feeling stressed or anxious then you increase your risk of high blood pressure (hypertension) further. It’s why I’m always telling women to get their blood pressure checked regularly throughout menopause and if there is a family history of heart disease, then it is imperative that you manage your oestrogen dominance during your menopause transition too. There is plenty of medical evidence available to remind us that post-menopause heart disease is one of the highest clinical conditions in women as they get older. It’s why I always say in my Masterclass on Menopause (now online for you HERE), ‘Menopause isn’t ‘just’ about hot flushes’

Why do I need to do something about Oestrogen Dominance?

Oestrogen dominance and increasing weight gain, left untreated during menopause can cause a host of other health problems in your post-menopause years. This includes:  

  • Increased release of histamine (do you sneeze a lot to certain triggers including wine?)
  • Increase in breast fibrocysts and a history of endometriosis
  • Obesity related health problems, including metabolic syndrome
  • Low thyroid function (hypo-thyroidism)

My 3 top strategies to turn around your Oestrogen Dominance: 

  1. Reduce animal foods in your diet. Many of these are high in oestrogen. It’s not forever, but changing your diet to mainly plant-based helps to ‘break the circuit’ of your oestrogen dominance. 
  2. Restore liver health. I have a big focus on liver health and metabolism in my 12 week Transform Me weight loss programme (currently on sale for you during lockdown). The reason for this, is because the liver is the main organ which helps to clear excess oestrogenic compounds. 

3. Improve lymphatic drainage. I wrote about the importance of your lymphatic system in menopause a little while ago, so you can access the article HERE. Your lymphatic system is an important toxin-removal system and a healthy lymphatic system means that you move fluid in and out of cells more easily and you help your blood pressure too. This is why stretching, breathing and some physical activity is important for you too. 

Earlier this year before we went into lockdown, I made this little video about the SCIENCE of your MENOPAUSE WEIGHT LOSS – when you get time, have a listen when you can. It’s around 6 minutes long. 

And don’t forget that if you are interested in joining me at the moment, then because I know times are tough out there, if you have been interested in coming on board, there is NZ$50 off the cost of my programmes. This makes them NZ$249 instead of $299 and you just use the promo code ATHOME20 to access these savings. There are 3 monthly payments if you would like that option as well. If you go to this LINK, then you can read all about the MyMT™ Transform Me weight loss programme . I’ve developed this powerful programme from my doctoral studies on women’s healthy ageing. 

Stay well where-ever you are in the world. 

Wendy Sweet, PhD/ MyMT Founder/ Member:Australasian Society of Lifestyle Medicine

“If you have ever wondered if there was a clear easy plan to follow to sleep all night, reduce hot flushes and prevent or reduce your weight gain during menopause, then ‘welcome’ – you’re in the right place now.”

Discover how either of my two Menopause Transformation programmes might help you too or take my Symptoms Quiz below… 

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