The link between hormones, pain and function

It occured to me lately, and not for the first time, that hormone imbalance (which affects us all, men included) lay at the very root of some of my health stuck points, a topic introduced a while back with my hormonal epiphany post. This one, by the way, is an extract from a longer discussion of “balance” shared in my other blog yesterday, now expanded a little to fit the health theme of this space. If my suggestion that hormones affect health sounds very obvious, want I’m doing here is taking the topic a little deeper into the areas of chronic pain conditions, specificaully fibromyalgia and ehlers danlos syndrome and even autism, all of which add other factors into the equation. The way that hormones tilt our brains towards one gender manifestation or another feels particularly pertinent to these topics.

These days, we are nearly all off-kilter in our hormones (which profoundly affect human behaviours on a grand scale) as a result of all the xenoestrogenic environmental pollution going on in the air, food and water supplies, and the culturally endemic tampering with hormones that goes on from puberty to the grave, especially in the case of women who often leap straight from the birth control pill to HRT. For just one example, its been found that many of the popular oral contraceptive brands remodel the female brain over time, making women more masculine, which then affects their ability range, the way they process information, their emotional traits and how they perceive and prioritise the issues of the world, for instance they have been shown to be less articulate and less empathic, if better at spatial tasks, they even look different. So just imagine the effect of these chemical effects on the tilt on our world situation over the last 50 or so years…but don’t get me started.

To quote Belinda Pelizer, who has conducted studies to examine the effect of oral contraception on the brain:

“Within about a century, physicians, biologists, and chemists around the world elucidated the physiology of the ovary, manipulated its function, and triggered a global experiment, which influenced our society”. 

She continues:

“when athletes take steroids we call it ‘doping’ – it’s considered abuse and strongly condemned by society. But we’re happy for millions of women to take these hormones every day, sometimes right through from puberty to menopause”.

Belinda A Plezer & Hubery H Kerschbaum – “50 years of hormonal contraception – time to find out, what it does to our brain“, 2014.

For years, I have taken care of my own hormone balance using natural means suggested by a well-reknowned Harley Street expert in this area (now retired) because of early-onset osteopenia triggered by fibromyalgia, but it occurred to me lately that I had become oestrogen dominant again (a common modern phenomenon so its easy to do). For exactly a decade, I have used a natural bioavailable progesterone cream (not progestins; they are not the same – the former is synethetic, the bioavailable version derives from a type of yam) to modulate the effects of oestrogen dominance and bone loss but two things had happened lately, one being menopause which has, no doubt, thrown my hormones even more off kilter than before. Another was that I became susceptible to a belief broadly “out there” on the internet that progesterone is “no good” and should be avoided for Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, making connective tissues too soft and worsening the condition. So, without actually stopping my daily dose, I certainly became more haphazard and hesitant about using it, just when I probably needed it the most. 

So, I played around with a higher dose for a few days, for the first time in a few years (and the very first time since menopause) and have actually found the increased softness has mitigated some of the most intense kinds of pain I was previously experiencing (an effect suggested by a pain therapist on one of the EDS forums to a bunch of worried people afraid to try progesterone cream) in a way that makes it potentially worth the, yes noticeable, increased laxity of joints. Other people with chronic pain are also writing about this. In my own case, I can recall it helping hugely in the days of my most excruciating jaw and facial pain, which was tension-worsened (thankfully, flare-ups of those are rarities for me now) and it always helps with migraines. I’m now finding increased evidence from studies that progesterone shows promise for more general pain management in preference to opioids, even to improve therapy outcomes for covid recovery in men who are, otherwise, the hardest hit by the virus, which is intersting given the similarities of long-haul covid with my bundle of health conditions. Conversely, higher oestrogen levels have been linked to covid survival rates in women (oestrogen stimulates the immune response) but I still wouldn’t rush out and get HRT, personally. However, this see-saw suggests to me that oestrogen protects beforehand (therefore, maybe, prevents you from getting it) and progesterone soothes afterwards (if you do) or, you could just say, we all stand a far better chance if any hormone imbalances we happen to have are corrected.

Certainly, the way my intense, very hard to mitigate or ignore, pain of last week and most of the month before has “softened” over the few days of much increased progesterone dose (x2) has been an affirative for me. It came as a welcome relief to suddenly have all this fluidity back where rigidity and pain had been for weeks on end; though it now meant I had to make sure not to over-extend myself or overdo it in all my enthusiasm, which increased elasticity can encourage (for further insight as to how much progesterone helps me, see below how quickly pain returned, worse than it had been for a very long time, when I subsequently stopped the progesterone altogether for a few days). There is certainly a pain-control and mobility benefit for me to be found in using natural progesterone regularly as long as I don’t make myself too elastic to the point of triggering other kinds of pain and immobility.

Because, of course, too much laxity with my hypermobility and I am in a different kind of trouble, the kind where limbs don’t work appropriately, to the threshold of subluxation (very grateful that I’ve never had an actual dislocation), or my bladder loses its grip (not good), I can even find that I become too dreamy and abstract to do very much, so I have to be careful as my executive functioning can take a further nose-dive. Oh and it seems to worsen PoTs, resulting in low blood pressure moments and dizzy spells. It can even make me borderline depressed or certainly more teary and pint-glass-tipped-over than usual if anything “goes wrong”, so that’s also something to watch out for, although the plus side is that I can go deeper into my spiritual abstraction and mediation gets easier (as long as I’m not too distracted by all the heightened emotions that have now been unleashed to settle my mind down…).

By the way, progestins, which are a man-made “chemical” mimicker of natural progesterone, are now known to be far more prone to such negative effects than natural progesterone; from experience, birth control pills messed horribly with my emotions and, I would say, personality when I was in my 20s and I now realise that this highly-sensitive person should never have gone anywhere near them; they feel like the subplot of my worst-ever decade for poor judgement and copious regrets. Worth knowing that those original reports of positive effects from progesterone supplementation done back in the 60s used natural progesterone for the studies but then, as they couldn’t patent that, the version that was rolled out for the next few decades, ongoing, is a synthetic concoction with very different qualities; its actually a close relative of testosterone. Those that don’t have this effect, taken by a much smaller portion of the population (around 17%), are known to have an anti-adrogenic effect as-in to make those who take them more feminine than they would otherwise be but none of this chemical cocktail could be said to support, or even allow, natural balance.

So what I am interested in here is the balance of my natural hormones yet, as soon as we start trying to tip the balance one way or the other, even of these more biocompatable versions, what results might not be anything like “natural” balance because of our interference. Truth is, the whole of modern life with its exposures is one giant form of interference so its very hard to refind that balance outside of a campfire existence. What I am reminded of once again, after further experimentation with my classically exagerated body (experimentation being something you have to dare to keep doing if you want to take responsibility for your own health), is that neither natural oestrogen nor progesterone is a “saviour” nor “wrong” (at least, not in their natural biological, human-compatible, forms (when I mention oestrogen, I mean that I use food sources of phytoestrogens, such as legumes and herbs, to keep the other half of my see-saw in shape). 

Rather, there is a particular hormone balance, somewhat like the holy grail, that is in deep support of the endocrine and all the other subtle, sensory, emotional, chemical-balancing systems of the body to be found; one which is quite particular to each person and no doctor or scientist has the exact or person-specific answer, nor the full grasp of how many minute aspects of being a healthy human this balancing act influences during the average human lifetime (far more than “just” reproductive matters or now, no doubt, surviving covid will get touted by the backers of HRT), nor will they ever, in all likelihood. There really is no “one-size fits all” dose to be doled out so ham-fistedly…thus I am still busily finding mine, which will, no doubt, continue to alter the exact location of its pivot-point over and over again as I continue to age, so I can never take that balance state for granted. Life, as ever, is a continual balancing act, not something we can set and declare “done”.

What I shared above is a reminder that there’s certainly no place for complacency when it comes to achieving good health and the modern trend for handing all responsibility for your own body over to some so-called medical professional who gets to decide how to dose you with this or that, without having an informed viewpoint or say-so of your own, does not feel like balance…at all. We should all be involved, as a primary player, in our own health evaluation and maintenance.

So, as I said, I experimented…both with increasing the progesterone dose for a few days and then removing the dose altogether (for the first time in a long time as I have taken it consistenly for years, finding the transitions between recommended days on and days off, which mostly applies to pre-menopause anyway, too hard to cope with) in order to really isolate the effects in my body. What I found is as follows, and I only include traits that I have been noticing for years about my health in relation to hormones, now made somewhat clearer by having made the study of them in an observational situaion (so that I can be fairly confident they are related to the hormone see-saw).

Increased progesterone dose –

  • bladder frequency, urgency and subtle incontinence issues
  • more emotional
  • much more likely to take things personally
  • prone to anxiety and rumination
  • a tendency towards depression or at least negative thinking
  • softer thoat, prone to miss-swallowing and choking
  • lumpiness and odema in body tissues such as scalp and around lymph glands
  • dull pelvic pain
  • sore and unreliable pelvic floor and hip ligaments, lower torso feels heavy when standing (prolapse feelings)
  • very lax joints and ligaments (though significantly less pain as long as not over-extended or over-used)
  • fluid movements, much easier to dance and move with ease, but have to be VERY careful not to over do it
  • blurred vision
  • PoTs type symtoms such as low blood pressure, spinning head, miscordination
  • waves of unexplained nausea (like car sickness)
  • optic nerve feeling achy like eye strain, hard to keep eyes open when even slightly tired
  • significant hunger, carb, sugar and chocolate craving, wanting to snack all the time
  • loose teeth that click when pushed with tongue
  • softer skin and lank hair if not washed daily
  • noticeable menopause bloat and broadened lower torso, like a pregnant shape
  • very active bowels even in the night
  • burning sensations in folds of skin
  • cold sore tingle
  • acne
  • feeling like a cold is coming on (one that never quite developed)
  • dreamy quality, hard to focus
  • improved meditation (if not ruminating about anxieties)
  • much deeper sleep and more colourful dreaming
  • extremely tired in the day, getting less done
  • brain fog
  • forgetfulness
  • expansive ideas but much harder to execute
  • executive function struggles due to feeling too soft and abstract, indecisive and even lack of confidence
  • able to keep doing things I enjoy…without thinking about pain…as long as I allow plenty of time for rests

Ceased progesterone

  • very intense “car crash” level torso and limb pain, the worst for a long time
  • very hard to sit up for long, head too painful on neck without support
  • severe burning back pain
  • sore and stiff joints (knees, elbows, wrists, shoulders)
  • extreme morning stiffness
  • sluggish bowels, verging towards constipated, or very variable
  • bruised cocyx
  • a “brittle” kind of pain all over, highly-triggered and sensitive
  • stiff neck, frozen shoulder
  • sparkly vision (precursor to migraine auras)
  • lessened sugar craving, wanting to snack on savoury things
  • bright, sharper than normal intellect and multitasking
  • impatient
  • tending towards OCD
  • driven and more confident
  • ignoring body to get on with things, inattentive to physical needs (unless pain makes itself impossible to ignore
  • grimace and hold breath a lot (as I tend to do when in pain)
  • more prone to be irritable
  • longing for some kind of pain relief…as in, a distracting amount of fixation on pain and symptoms
  • a great deal of clicking, crunching, grinding when I move
  • sticky fascia when when twisting the body
  • feel more like my old self intellectually and emotionally (younger version)
  • increased sensitivity to light, noise and other trigger
  • reynauds phenomenon – noticeable blotchy blood circulation in hands and feet, subtle numbness
  • trapped nerves, throbbing nerve pain, pulsing nerve in neck
  • occassional chilblains feelings in feet and hands (burning/tingly)
  • skin inflammed and burning, sensitive to clothes, can’t bear tightness
  • inflammed bursa in shoulder joint
  • inflammation in general, unable to move freely, wooden gait and stiff movements, prone to injure
  • increased seasonal allergy symptoms, sneezing a lot
  • nasal stuffiness
  • tingling, burning soles of feet, very aware of hard skin and sore patches
  • hands require moisturising every few minutes
  • “getting things done” more, however…
  • executive function struggles if overwhelmed by sensations (which I am, a lot of the time)
  • need to play music and create a sensory bubble to stop myself fixating on irritating sensory input
  • I just dont feel so creative – my art urge to paint has completely dried up suddenly, feel more left-brained
  • I’ve also had to stop most of my activities as I’m in too much pain (which is too severe to ignore)

These are just a few traits I’ve noticed, incase you find them useful to isolate similar effects in your own hormone balance. I have to say, in my case, the “no progesterone” phase became unbearable after 3 days and I am now back to a modest dose in an attempt to feel my way back to my own personal homeostasis. There seems to be no place for me in just ceasing all hormone dosage and going “natural” because the results look like list two and this only makes me realise how instrumental natural progesterone has been in my own pain management these last ten years. Without it, I wonder how much I would have managed to continue on with a fulfilling life and, in fact, I find myself wondering if that has been the very difference between what I’ve had or being bedbound, as so many people with my conditions are at some point.

However, there are other pain mitigators that relate to this topic, such as CBD and GABA supplements, working in similar ways to calm the brain and nervous system, working to modulate signals sent via the vagus nerve, that can take the pressure off progesterone, allowing it to be used in moderation instead of overdoing it. In the meantime, I have another post coming (now published – read it here) about how all of the above relates to autism (and then feeds back into pain).

One final point and its this. There’s no doubt in my mind, progesterone makes us (certainly, me) more receptive.

In March 2011, I had a breakthrough…perhaps the biggest breakthrough of my life, and it happened on the back of some NLP therapy I had which, as it were, moved some old furniture out of the way so I could see myself and my situation more clearly.

It occurs to me that NLP isn’t the only thing that happened to me in March 2011.

The other is that I took my first dose of progesterone cream, that same week.

After that, it was as though my mindsets and attitudes, everything about me, softened its rigidity and entrainment patterns and suddenly I was open to the entire universe. My spiritual expansion began with a “bam” that year and nothing was the same again as I was no longer trapped in a subjective perspective of “victimhood” but realised I was the active participant in a design for life that might deliver challenges…but was never “against” me.

Disclaimer: This blog, it’s content and any material linked to it are presented for autobiographical, anecdotal purposes only. They are not meant as advice. They are not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or prescribing. The material and opinions shared are anecdotal and should not be considered to be medical advice or diagnosis. This article does not constitute a recommendation for the treatment or choices described and the effects related are my own anecdotes, not a prediction of how anyone else might respond. I do not advocate taking any of the supplements referred to or following any of the choices or steps outlined and suggest that you conduct your own enquiries with medical advisors. Please consult with a licensed healthcare professional if you have or suspect you might have a health condition that requires medical attention or before embarking on a new treatment plan.

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