Estrogens, PCOS and Breast Cancer
What is PCOS?
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is the name given to a metabolic condition in which a woman will have polycystic ovaries - the ovaries are larger than normal, and there are a series of underdeveloped follicles that appear in clumps, like a bunch of grapes - and a certain pattern of other symptoms reflecting imbalances in reproductive and other hormones.
The Estrogen Connection
Women with PCOS frequently do not produce enough progesterone - the balancing hormone to estrogens. Estrogen dominance is the condition where a woman has normal or even excessive estrogens, but she does not have enough progesterone in her body. In normal conditions, during ovulation the follicle releases the egg into the fallopian tubes causing a surge of progesterone. When the egg is not released, as is the case with PCOS, the surge is absent. The failure to ovulate along with the absence of progesterone, contribute to the condition of estrogen dominance.
If a woman has PCOS, she is considered to be at much higher risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes. She is also at greater risk for "estrogen-sensitive" cancers such as breast and ovarian cancer. The presence of estrogens may cause these particular cancer cells to multiply. PCOS sufferers tend to have estrogen dominance, or unopposed estrogens, indicating too many estrogens available to the cells in relation to progesterone availability.
Estrogens Come in Three's
There are three primary estrogens and along with having high estrogen levels, if there is an imbalance within the three estrogens, then the risk is upped again. The three estrogens are estradiol, estrone, and estriol. If the estrogens themselves are imbalanced it can be significant in the development of endometrial cancer. A woman with excessively high levels of estradiol and low levels of estriol has an increased cancer risk. It is important to seek the optimal balance of individual estrogens as part of the whole health picture for women with PCOS.
How Estrogens Set The Stage For Cancer
Estrogens can be metabolized in two ways. They can be converted into a powerful metabolite that acts to stimulate target issues. Levels of this metabolite, 16alpha-OHE1 can be elevated in response to obesity, alcohol consumption or toxic exposure. On the other hand, they can be broken down by the body into a much weaker metabolite called 2-OHE1 which binds weakly to cell receptors and may slow cell increases. High levels of 16alpha-OHE1 and low levels of 2-OHE1 have been linked to breast cancer as well as uterine and cervical cancers and lupus.
It is possible to achieve a healthy balance of 2-OHE1 and 16alpha-OHE1 estrogen metabolites by a healthy diet, a healthy lifestyle, good liver function, clean environment, weight control, good bowel function, and taking selected supplements. All of these things help to metabolize estrogens in a healthy way. One of the best ways to balance out the metabolites, and in turn reduce the risk of breast cancer, is to add flax seeds to the diet. Studies and tests have shown that flax seeds have the capacity to raise the level of 2-OHE1 metabolites in the body relative to 16alpha-OHE1 metabolites.