Hormonal Imbalances: Understanding Environmental Factors in Estrogen Ecology

by Juliet Blankespoor

Women today live in a very different world than our foremothers. Our female predecessors began menstruating later in life, had more children, breastfed longer, underwent menopause earlier, ate whole foods, and lived in a cleaner environment. Women today have approximately ten times as many menstrual cycles as their great-great-grandmothers. Our bodies did not evolve with the hormonal inputs of perpetual ovulation and menstruation.


As a result, more women than ever are experiencing reproductive disorders, such as endometriosis, uterine fibroids and ovarian cysts. Painful menstrual cramps, persistent acne and cyclic breast tenderness are so common that they are taken for granted as a normal aspect of female physiology. Many natural practitioners address these issues with herbal hormone balancers, such as chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus, Lamiaceae) and black cohosh (Actaea racemosa, Ranunculaceae). These herbs are often effective, and certainly have their place in treating female reproductive disorders. However, it is important to not overlook underlying dietary and lifestyle factors that contributed to the initial hormonal imbalance, as these harmful inputs are likely to create other issues down the road, if left unaddressed.


To explore various factors affecting the hormonal ecology, or hormonal environment, of contemporary women, I’ll outline the three major sources of estrogens.

  • The term endogenous is used to describe any substance generated from within an organism. Thus, endogenous estrogens are estrogens produced by the human body.
  • Phytoestrogens are compounds, produced by plants, with an ability to bind to estrogen receptor sites.
  • In contrast, xenoestrogens are human-made chemicals, which are also capable of binding to estrogen receptor sites. Xenoestrogens are a subclass of endocrine disruptors (hormone disruptors).

It is important to understand that a variety of compounds have the ability to fit into estrogen receptor sites—natural and human-made molecules will alter a woman’s overall estrogen pool. A woman’s ovaries may be producing healthy levels of estrogen and progesterone, but her cells may be bombarded with strong estrogenic inputs from unnatural substances in her diet, water and air.


Humans are exposed to environmental chemicals beginning at conception, absorbing novel compounds through the placenta, and then through breast milk. These endocrine disruptors (chemicals which disrupt hormonal physiology) have the potential to alter the reproductive ecology of the body, often with drastic effects, such as reproductive cancers and chronic female reproductive disorders.


This is a small excerpt (reprinted with permission) of a detailed article on Juliet’s Castanea blog. Click here to read the article in full which covers food and environmental influences and walks through body systems to consider when addressing reproductive and hormonal issues.

Juliet-BlankespoorJuliet Blankespoor, the founder and director of the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine in Asheville, North Carolina, has a wealth of knowledge on this topic. On September 27 she will be teaching a seminar class Female Reproductive Herbs and the Ecology of Estrogen in Nevada City, California, which will cover this topic in-depth:

Do see a lot of clients with female reproductive issues, or do you suffer from them yourself? Have you wondered about the potential impact of environmental chemicals on the hormonal system, and what role they might play in women’s health? In this intermediate to advanced class, join nationally recognized herbalist and teacher Juliet Blankespoor to examine the various factors affecting estrogen metabolism and excretion in the female human body.

Herbs are wonderful allies for addressing most reproductive conditions, but if we fail to examine root causes, further problems can arise. By exploring underlying imbalances in diet, lifestyle, intestinal flora health, and body fat, we can holistically help women in the treatment of female reproductive disorders. In addition, a working knowledge of estrogen ecology is an essential foundation for healthy reproductive hormone balance in the changing world environment. The differences between phytoestrogens (from plants), xenoestrogens (from chemicals) and endogenous estrogens (from the body) will be discussed. As a group, we will examine a few case histories to explore how a deeper understanding of the estrogen cycle and estrogen ecology can be applied to help design a more effective, holistic treatment plan.

This class will be highly informational and geared toward the intermediate to advanced herbalist and allied health care practitioners. All levels are welcome, however, we ask that beginner-level participants refrain from asking questions during lecture to maintain the advanced nature of the class.

Register by August 19 for Early Bird pricing! Click here for the online registration link or visit the HAALo Herb Shoppe in person.


Juliet is teaching two other classes:

All photos ©Juliet Blankespoor. All right reserved. Used with permission.



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