When it comes to hormones, it is all about balance. More isn’t always better, and you can definitely have too much of a good thing. When one hormone is dominating, it throws off the delicate balance, and that is where things start to fall apart. Understanding what happens in our bodies when one hormone takes over can be the key to solving many symptoms and health issues.
One of the most common imbalances that we see in our practice is Estrogen Dominance. It sounds a bit odd when you think about the fact that our average practice member is over 40 and in the perimenopause or even menopause years. It would seem that these women would be more worried about low estrogen rather than having too much, right?
The truth is, you can actually have low estrogen AND estrogen dominance if your other hormones (progesterone for women, testosterone for men) are also low. This is called “relative estrogen dominance”. Remember, it is all about balance. With estrogen, and many of our other hormones, we have a “goldilocks” situation where too much and too little can both cause problems, but when you have that “just right” level, the world is good!
What is Estrogen Dominance and What Causes It?
Estrogen gives your body those feminine curves – hips, breasts, and thighs. It builds up endometrial tissue in your uterus to have a baby (important even if you don’t want to get pregnant). Adequate estrogen levels also protect your mood, brain, heart and bones, and contribute to regulating hunger and satiety, insulin resistance and normal menstrual cycles…
When estrogen drops too low, you end up with vaginal changes that lead to painful sex and urination, hot flashes, moodiness, irregular periods, brain fog, and weak bones… You want estrogen sticking around, but you also want it to stay in check. When it starts running the show and knocks other hormones like progesterone out of whack, estrogen imbalance occurs.
Some of the top causes of estrogen dominance are:
- Being overweight or obese (fat cells produce excess estrogen)
- Being overly stressed (adrenal hormones are overly stimulated)
- Poor diet choices
- Autoimmune conditions
- Bowel issues like constipation
- Imbalances in your gut microbiome
- Environmental toxins
- Use of hormonal birth control pills (ironically, birth control pills are often prescribed as a treatment for many of the symptoms of estrogen dominance, more on this below!)
Some of the symptoms you might notice with estrogen dominance include:
- Weight gain (particularly in hips, midsection, thighs)
- Fibrocystic breasts
- Abnormal menstruation
- Reduced sex drive
- Breast tenderness
- Mood swings
- Brain fog
The three reasons why estrogen dominance is so prevalent:
- The Pill: Many people call this “hormonal birth control”, but that is actually a misnomer. If you go to the toxicology section of the US National Institute of Health (NIH) you will find the ingredients in oral contraception listed as Endocrine Disrupting Compounds, not as hormones. While the pill is commonly prescribed to women to regulate their periods and control heavy bleeding (signs of estrogen dominance), the pill itself is actually providing more estrogen-like compounds and synthetic progesterone which suppresses your own progesterone further, thus creating a bigger estrogen dominance problem.
- Toxins: From personal care products, household goods, furniture, glyphosate in conventionally farmed foods, and BPA’ from plastics like water bottles, they all contribute to estrogen dominance. Thousands of man-made products contain Xenoestrogens which basically are fake estrogen or estrogen-like compounds that mimic estrogen in our body and mess with our hormonal balance. More on this and other Endocrine disrupting compounds here.
- Stress: Stress is everywhere and some stress is actually healthy. Chronic stress, on the other hand, can create a hormonal cascade that ends in estrogen dominance. This is because our hormones are smart and adaptive. In times of stress, your body is designed to prepare itself for danger (fight or flight). Hormones like cortisol and adrenaline are produced to help you be alert and ready to battle or run away. When the stressful event is over, the body goes back to favoring progesterone production over cortisol. The problem is, when we are stressed all the time, we don’t get enough progesterone production to balance out the estrogen – leading to estrogen dominance.
Top Tips for Naturally Decreasing Estrogen Dominance:
- Get lab work done. While there are some reference ranges to stay within, hormone levels are more about finding the right balance in your body. Getting lab work done to have a clear picture of your hormone levels, while also working with a functional practitioner to figure out the right hormone levels for your body is important. I always recommend the DUTCH test for my clients.
- Eat the highest quality food you can afford. Eating organic fruits and veggies, grass-fed meats and organic sources of healthy fats as often as possible is an easy way to eliminate toxins in your diet. Avoiding reactive foods such as gluten, dairy, corn and soy is important. Additionally, it’s important to eliminate sugar and processed foods to keep your blood sugar balanced. Remember that all your hormones are tied together and blood sugar imbalances affect your hormones.
- Remove endocrine disruptors. I’ve talked about this before, but endocrine disruptors are chemicals that may interfere with the body’s endocrine system and produce adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects in humans. Many substances, both natural and man-made, are thought to cause endocrine disruption. These are found in skin care products, personal care products, household cleaners, plastic water bottles and containers – they are everywhere. Eliminating or reducing exposure to these chemicals will help to bring estrogen levels down.
- Love your liver. Studies show environmental estrogens can mimic, block, or cancel estrogen levels. Your liver helps eliminate excess estrogen, but an overburdened liver means you’re not efficiently moving that excess estrogen out. Liver-healing strategies include eating quality protein, garlic and onions, taking a B vitamin, and really filling up on those cruciferous vegetables. Giving your liver some regular detox is very helpful.
- Eat lots of veggies. Vegetables, especially leafy greens and cruciferous veggies (like broccoli, cauliflower and brussels sprouts) will give your body major doses of vitamins and minerals, phytonutrients and antioxidants. All of these will help to detoxify the liver and balance hormones. Aim to eat 6-9 cups of veggies and leafy greens per day.
- Heal your gut. Once the liver processes estrogen for elimination, your gut moves it out. Gut issues mean estrogen probably isn’t making its way out efficiently and instead could be recirculating in your body. As you can see, identifying and treating underlying causes of your digestive issues becomes crucial to balancing hormones.
- Manage stress. Chronic stress can lower progesterone, ramp up your stress hormone cortisol, and—you guessed it—create estrogen dominance. Lowering stress can help rebalance estrogen and other hormones. If yoga or meditation aren’t your thing, even five minutes of deep breathing or laughing with your best friend can help lower cortisol and reset estrogen levels. Also, don’t underestimate the power of playing with your kiddos or pets, dance parties and epsom salt baths!
- Practice good sleep hygiene. Sleep becomes mandatory to balance estrogen and many other hormones. If you have trouble drifting into eight hours of solid sleep nightly, try a relaxing tea, a warm bath, or maybe a melatonin supplement. Studies show melatonin possesses anti-estrogenic effects on estrogen receptor-expressing breast cancer cells. Going to bed and waking up around the same time each day, sleeping in a cool, dark room, and having a regular nighttime routine can all help your body get in sync with a better sleep schedule. Don’t forget to avoid those screens for an hour or two before bed as well!
- Cut the caffeine. The liver uses an enzyme called CYP1A2 to metabolize caffeine, how much of this enzyme you are able to produce is determined by your genes. The problem is that the liver uses this same enzyme (CYP1A2) to metabolize estrogen. So, if all of your CYP1A2 is tied up metabolizing caffeine, then you may not have enough left over to metabolize the estrogens and get them out of you body. If estrogen dominance is an issue for you, you don’t want to waste this estrogen metabolizing enzyme on caffeine processing.
While bringing hormone levels into balance can take some time, it can be done with diet and lifestyle changes. Symptoms of estrogen dominance can be lowered, or even reversed completely. For extra support with balancing your hormones, I invite you to let me lead you through the hormone and metabolism balancing program that everyone is talking about: 21 Day Metabolic Rehab program. Start today and in less than one month you can be feeling and seeing the results.
Tell us: Do you have symptoms of estrogen dominance? What changes will you make this week to start balancing your hormones?