As far as symptom clusters goes, Oestrogen Dominance is a bit of a chameleon. It can look like many things with adrenal exhaustion, anxiety, depression, gut problems, and the obvious menstrual and fertility problems as common candidates for confusion. As chiropractors, our eyes can be firmly on the state of the spine (i.e. subluxation) and not on symptoms. But Dr Wayne Todd (author of the SD Protocol: a book and training course addressing sympathetic dominance) argues that Oestrogen Dominance is actually a clue that can take us to the heart of what our profession is all about: correcting the subluxation and addressing that which causes the same subluxation patterns to reoccur.
Oestrogen dominance occurs when the ratio of progesterone to oestrogen falls out of its ideal balance. When there isn’t enough progesterone to balance out oestrogen, we start to see a cluster of problems raise their head. Among them are some common issues facing a remarkably large number of women.
Whilst one can argue that, as we are a care not a treatment profession, we aren’t overly focused on symptoms, Dr Wayne has a gentle challenge for us.
“If you look at Oestrogen Dominance, then some would consider that’s a symptom, and as chiropractors we shouldn’t be considering symptoms. But Oestrogen Dominance is something that affects a huge percentage of the population – and a huge percentage of our population that isn’t currently under chiropractic care. Similarly, if you were to look at say Rheumatoid Arthritis, how many people with Rheumatoid Arthritis access chiropractic care knowing that may help their situation? Or Multiple Sclerosis? What percentage of the market of people with health conditions like that would even think in their wildest dreams that chiropractic could help them.
It’s all well and good to work above down, inside out and say subluxations fix everything, but to someone who has irregular cycles, heavy flooding periods, significant pain, they’ll say, ‘Yes but how does that help me?’ If you can talk about their problem in an understandable way and link it in to their nervous system as their underlying primary driver, then you are going to have far greater reach. It’s not about compromising what chiropractic is about, its about communicating on their level.”
But how does something like Oestrogen Dominance link with the nervous system, and are the subluxation patterns occurring alongside this cluster of symptoms always that straight forward?
Oestrogen Dominance is a cluster of symptoms that show us something about the persons state of stress and sympathetic drive. Despite the many and varied ways in which oestrogen dominance can present, it’s a common and predictable pattern. We all know that a locked-on Fight or Flight state has the potential to impact the endocrine system and the physiology of the individual. This is one example of how it can play out:
“It’s about looking at a common set of symptoms and asking ‘what’s the common thread here?’ Take look at the classic symptoms of Oestrogen Dominance, for example painful and heavy periods and ask ‘why is that?’
The endometrial lining is stimulated to thicken by Oestrogen. So if we have high Oestrogen levels, that lining becomes thicker and periods become heavier. We start to see more pain, more mid cycle spotting, clotting and so on. High oestrogen can also stimulate uterine fibroids to grow and develop.
Why would Oestrogen levels be high? Oestrogen generated in three different places in the body: the ovaries, the adrenal glands and in subcutaneous fatty tissue. If we are running from a lion and we are under stress, we don’t need to be falling pregnant. That’s a given. So the stimulus from the hypothalamus to the pituitary gland to tell it to release luteinising hormone and follicle stimulating hormone – its not there. The egg is not released every cycle. We have annovulatory cycles.
When the egg is not released, the ovary forms a cyst. The wall of the cyst generates high levels of oestrogen and testosterone. That is one of the reasons that oestrogen levels will climb with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). PCOS is essentially a list of symptoms that happen to combine together and result in someone getting diagnosed with PCOS. But that is driven largely by annovulatory cycles, and that is occurring because you are running from a lion. You are under physical, chemical or emotional stress. So you don’t produce enough progesterone, and then effectively the balance of oestrogen and progesterone is thrown out. Oestrogen levels climb and those cysts further exacerbate that. So high oestrogen levels can be linked back to locked-on fight or flight response.”
If we are truly vitalistic, then we need to correct the subluxation and look at what is causing it. It always comes back to physical, chemical or emotional stress. If we are adjusting the subluxation and then sending the person back into the same stress or turmoil as before, then we can only expect the same pattern of subluxation to occur over and over again.”
By Dr Wayne’s explanation, we can clearly see how stress could so easily be related to oestrogen dominance. Adjusting those individuals may result in some improvement because of stimulation to the higher cortex, but how long is it going to take to actually calm down the sympathetic nervous system down if we are only looking at the physical?
It’s logic that speaks to the heart of chiropractic: whether you call it ‘trauma, toxins and stress,’ or whether you prefer to point to physical, chemical and emotional stressors, these are the widely accepted causes of subluxation. We can have so much impact by addressing the physical, but there is a world of activity tied up with the human stress response.
“Their stress response is kicking off because of something,” says Dr Wayne. “If we are seeing recurrent patterns of subluxation, it’s because of physical, chemical or emotional stressors that they keep going back to even after we take care of the subluxation. We should be looking at everyone, and instead of just adjusting the subluxation, asking, ‘What is causing this?’ Is it postural? Or is it postural because the fight or flight response is driving their shoulders and head forward and kicking off a pattern in the body? If we aren’t aware, we can adjust for posture, but leave the cause unaddressed.”
Of course a chiropractor can’t take the place of a counsellor, a nutritionist or other supports that people may need to fully address the causes of subluxation. But we can empower people to look beyond the physical, to see how things are linked and take action where they need to. It’s like Dr Michael Hall said,” “When a chiropractor puts his hand on you, he adds hope to your life. He gives you motivation to want to be active to want to reinforce what he has put in place .”
Clearly, the Oestrogen Dominance challenge isn’t purely a symptomatic one. It is inherently linked to the human stress response, and as such is an opportunity to use symptoms to communicate the power of the nervous system – to meet people where they are at. Dr Wayne suggests this approach can marry two challenges: maintaining the purity of chiropractic as a subluxation focused profession, while giving us tools to communicate beyond the 9 or 10% of people that are under chiropractic care.
“If you can address someone’s primary concern that is dominating their every thought every day, and draw the connection back to the underlying primary cause in a simplistic way, you can have a bigger impact on the community. If we can address the ‘what’s important for me’ question, we can get to their level and then bring them to a different level of awareness on what is the primary cause.
Whilst the focus of his book, SD Protocol, lies in communicating just how linked to our nervous system many so called ‘random’ symptoms are, he also has some wisdom on the subluxation patterns that show up in Oestrogen Dominance.
“If we are going to be responsible practitioners, and we are seeing people with recurrent subluxation patterns, we need to be asking why, and then adjusting that individual appropriately.
A lot of times what we find are subluxations that may be secondary compensations and not the primary driving subluxation. So someone may have recurrent upper neck issues, and we think if we adjust that upper neck we will be stimulating that parasympathetic nervous system, the vagus nerve and the brain stem. A lot of people would think that’s the area we need to adjust to stimulate the parasympathetics.
In actual fact, the primary driving part of our autonomic nervous system that takes precedence is the sympathetic nervous system. When that fires, it just shuts down the parasympathetics. We can stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system until the cows come home but what we need to do is calm down that sympathetic wind-up which will then allow the parasympathetics to work better. That whole forward shoulder and head posture is our classic giveaway for someone who is in a wound-up state.”
He cautions that this is why we can’t just look for subluxation patterns that have strong nerve supply to the ovaries as the problem isn’t purely driven from there. When asked what he looks for with oestrogen dominance, the answer is very much to do with sympathetic drive.
“What do I check and adjust that could have the biggest impact on sympathetic drive? Ribs – absolutely hands down. I adjust the upper thoracic rib cage – so T1-T5 ribs – purely because of the rounded shoulder, forward head posture pattern that people go into with the fight or flight mechanism. This creates a constant wind up in the brain stem, a constant driving of the sympathetic nervous system, and a constant firing up to the mesencephalon. But also that upper thoracic cord is where our second order neurons for sympathetic drive sit. So when those shoulders are pulled forward, it’s really winding up that upper thoracic area and firing off sympathetics dramatically.”
So while we might not be thinking that by adjusting ribs we could impact the ovaries all that much. But this is about reducing sympathetic drive.
“It’s about looking up above the atlas, looking into the brain stem, looking at those higher control centres for our organ systems in our body, and removing the aberrant feedback loops in our nervous system. When we have that rounded shoulder and forward head posture we have that constant barrage of input that whole sympathetic windup. It’s all about a pattern interrupt. It’s a reset. Like turning the computer on and off again. If we only did that, and we didn’t give them postural advice or some exercises to help them change and adapt their posture, we would find that pattern would be ongoing as well. We need to look at that, along with the emotional and chemical drivers.”
While our lifestyles stay demanding and stressful, and our environments create physical stressors, Oestrogen Dominance will remain a significant problem for many women. Enhancing our ability to identify this symptom cluster for what it is and communicate the link to the nervous system could be a truly empowering thing for women under chiropractic care, and those who need to be.
 Staff Writer Spinal Research (2017), “Interview Wayne Todd,”