One of the best parts of having a blog is connecting with other readers who are researching similar topics. I’ve gained many valuable insights from the comment section 🙂
I received one such comment on a post I wrote on breakdowns within my methylation cycle in relation to estrogen metablism and endometriosis.
She shared an insightful tidbit that helped fill another piece in my genetic puzzle. It had to do with the interplay of phenols.
What Are Phenols?
Phenols are a class of chemical compounds.
They are found in industrial products like plastics, detergents, disinfectants and personal care products, especially hair products.
Phenols are also found in many foods.
Most foods have some levels of phenols that are beneficial, such as antioxidants in fruit; however high levels of phenols in certain foods can cause issues in those who have digestive and/or immune system issues.
Phenol Sensitivity Signs
High phenol levels can lead to pain, anxiety, insomnia, fatigue, low thyroid, fibroids, endometriosis, and weight gain.
Other reactions to phenols can include:
- dark circles under your eyes
- red face/ears
- difficulty falling asleep
- waking up during the night
- feeling exhausted
Digestive Health, Phenols & Methylation
In a healthy system, with correct levels of sulfates and liver enzymes, phenols are easily metabolized. The body uses what it needs and disposes of the rest through the bowels.
These levels shift, however, in the case of leaky gut (common, I think, with endometriosis). With leaky gut, intolerance develops to components in the phenol family.
If you have an imbalanced gut microbiome or struggle with leaky gut then more phenols leak into your body, resulting in a slow down of estrogen detoxification and stress hormones.
This is because phenols slow down parts of your methylation cycle.
There are four methylation genes which are very sensitive to gut problems and excess phenols. These include:
- COMT (Catechol-o-methyltransferase)
- MAO (Monoamine Oxidase)
- MTR (Methionine Synthase)
- SULT (Phenol Sulfotransferase)
I have genetic breakdowns in three of the four: COMT, MAO and SULT.
Phenols & Estrogen Metabolism
So how does this all come together with endometriosis? COMT and SULT are both involved in the metabolism of estrogen.
Because of their similar shape, phenol compounds compete for the same space in the COMT enzyme as does estrogen (and adrenaline/dopamine) for metabolism through the COMT pathway (view a chart of the methylation cycle here).
All phenols are then processed through your sulfation pathway.
Your liver is your primary site for sulfation, where synthesis of these estrogens take place. This process involves your SULT1A1 and SULT1A2 genes.
I have breakdowns with COMT and SULT1A2, which means that I already have a harder time breaking down the growth promoting estrogen that stimulates endometriosis.
Adding in phenol compounds puts more pressure on my system and slows down this detoxification process even more.
In a nutshell, phenols can block the release of bad estrogens from your body, especially if you have genetic breakdowns with COMT or SULT.
Negative Reactions to What Should be “Good”
This new enlightening information about phenols and its impact on estrogen metabolism helped me put together further connections as to why my body reacts poorly to additions that are touted as being “good” for endometriosis.
One is pycnogenol or pine bark. This antioxidant is touted as being a great pain reliever for women with endometriosis, so I picked some up. Unfortunately, I experienced the opposite effect.
I gave the supplement a good 45 day test. Every time I took it, I started to have pain or I got a headache. I didn’t think it could be the supplement? I thought it was supposed to help, why were things getting worse?
Another example is green tea. Green tea is praised for its antioxidant abilities, but every time I drink it I get super tired. Like I want to crawl under my desk and take a nap tired. It took me awhile to put the connection to the tea.
Again, I thought that I was doing “good”, but both of these components are high in phenols.
How great to find these connections and understand why 🙂 This is yet another lesson that every body is different and it takes some experimentation to figure out what works and what doesn’t for you.
And it’s great to know your genetic make-up 🙂
As I mentioned, phenols are found in many foods so it’s impossible to avoid them all, and we wouldn’t want to as many of these foods have other antioxidant benefits.
But it is good to be aware of foods and drinks that are higher in phenols. You may be negatively reacting to these, without knowing better, and like me, think you are doing “good”.
Salicylates are one type of phenol that can cause sensitivity. Salicylates are produced by plants as protection from diseases, insects, and harmful bacteria.
If you have a sensitivity to salicylates then your central nervous system will be stimulated. This means you experience an extreme emotional high followed by a crash.
You can see a list of foods high in salicylates here.
Dr. Feingold was one of the first to study these connections with salicylates, and he developed what is now referred to as the Feingold Diet. You can find out more about it here.
We can make moves to avoid phenols in our household products.
Pay attention to the ingredient list on detergents and other personal care products. Watch out for alkylphenols which have been shown to negatively influence sulfation. These compounds also mimic estrogen, so while they slow things down, they also add more fuel to the fire.
The lovely reader that commented and initiated this whole post on phenols recommended a supplement called No-Fenol.
No-Fenol is an enzyme blend, including xylanase, an enzyme that helps break down phenols in your body. This is not something I’ve tried yet.
On the Positive Side?
I find all these connections to be so interesting and am grateful for the lovely readers that contribute to this space of continued exploration into my genetic puzzle.
It makes sense now why I am sensitive to some things. I’m going to pay attention more now when I eat foods that are high in salicylates and may pick up the No-Fenol to see if that helps.
I think the phenol connection may be an underlying reason why some of us continue to feel like crap even though we are eating “healthy”. Maybe our bodies aren’t metabolizing all of it correctly?
Have you tried No-Fenol or made moves to follow a diet low in salicylates?
I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
When you say “phenols can block the release of bad oestrogens from your body” do you mean the clearance of oestrogens ie. so they build up? Or the creation of bad oestrogens (which would surely be a positive thing)?
I don’t have endo, but am learning about this stuff at college at the moment and find it fascinating.
Hi Skye –
Bad estrogens as in xenoestrogens from the environment. These are chemical mimickers of estrogen that feed endo.
COMT is involved in the inactivation of estrogens, including estradiol, which is the growth promoting estrogen that feeds endo. This process involves SULT as well in the liver.
Since Phenols are competing for the same spots on COMT, and I have genetic breakdowns here, it becomes even harder for my body to release these growth promoting estrogens.
Hi, I was diagnosed with stage 4 endometriosis a year ago. What tests did you have done to discover this information? I am trying to reduce the amount of xenoestrogens by using more natural products. I found immediate relief from pain taking DIM supplement. However now my pain is back with a vengence.
Hi Megan –
I tested my genetics via 23andme.com. Switching to natural products should help you too. Good to hear the DIM is helping. I struggle with back pain too – yoga helps.
What is DIM?
Melanie – DIM stands for Diindolylmethane. It’s a compound derived from of indole-3-carbinol, found in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and kale. This component helps break down bad estrogens in your body.
Regarding pine bark pycnogenol, I can’t take it because I have an allergy/sensitivity to pine ANYTHING. However, the grapeseed extract version of pycnogenol is not a problem for me, so you may want to try the other type, if you only tried one of them.
Phew, I really don’t like the taste of green tea; I don’t know why, since I’m a daily black tea drinker. I don’t know if that would be down to phenols… I do have problems with several COMT snps.
Any skincare product with salicylic acid, my skin rebels against instantly.
I have had a hysterectomy due to endometriosis…my Dr. Believes it was there as a fetus! Wondering if that may have anything to do with now being HYPO THYROID??
Hi, Kathleen. The doctor thought there was a fetus in your uterus? I’ve had success following the protocol in Medical Medium: Thyroid Healing. Check it out here: https://amzn.to/2AmZwj4