All about Estrogen Dominance
We talk a lot about hormones in our practice, and since we work with so many women, estrogen is a common one we discuss. Hormonal imbalances can cause a lot of health issues in the body, and estrogen dominance is becoming a more common one that many women are dealing with (though often without knowing). In an effort to help you identify whether estrogen dominance may be affecting you, we’ll dive into what exactly it is, how to know if you might have it, and steps you can take to help treat it.
What is estrogen dominance?
Estrogen is one of the main female sex hormones, though it is present in males as well. It is produced by the ovaries and adrenal glands and is stored in fat cells. It’s essential for normal menstruation and fertility, but it also plays many other important roles in the body including:
- helps to metabolize cholesterol
- contributes to bone density
- promotes puberty and normal development of a female’s body
- plays a role in insulin sensitivity
Since estrogen is so important, problems can occur when it becomes imbalanced; when this happens we often refer to it as estrogen dominance in certain scenarios. Estrogen dominance is essentially too much estrogen in the body, though there is no specific amount of estrogen that defines it. Rather, it is the amount that is present in relation to other hormones in the body including progesterone and testosterone that identify it.
Estrogen dominance is most often associated with women, but it can occur in men as well. If left untreated, it can lead to complications such as thyroid disorders, heart attack or stroke, blood clots, and breast or ovarian cancers.
Symptoms of estrogen dominance include:
- Weight gain (most common in hips, waist and thighs)
- Fibroid growth in uterus and/or breasts
- Breast tenderness
- Missed or irregular periods
- Low sex drive
- Anxiety and/or depression
- Significant PMS symptoms such as bloating and mood swings
- Brain fog
- Enlarged breasts (aka “man boobs”)
- Sexual dysfunction
What causes estrogen dominance?
Estrogen dominance is unfortunately on the rise, which is due to a number of factors that have to do with diet, lifestyle and the changing environment.
Some of the top culprits include:
- Hormonal birth control– Oral contraceptives and many other forms of birth control (as well as hormone replacement therapy medications which are often used in menopause) contain estrogen, yet often without the necessary progesterone to maintain balance. The synthetic estrogen can also be harmful to the body and lead to problems.
- Toxic load- Many cosmetics, hygiene items, and household cleaners contain toxins that have estrogenic effects and are known as xenoestrogens. In addition, exposure to things like heavy metals and pollution in the environment can contribute to a high toxic load in the body and disrupt normal hormone functioning. As the body tries to eliminate and detox itself of these toxins, it interferes with its ability to detox from estrogen, leading to buildup. You can read more about other sources of toxicity and how to minimize your exposure here.
- Gut imbalances-the digestive system is a major way that the body rids itself of toxins via bowel movements. If your body is not producing regular, daily stools, it is possible for estrogen to build up in the body. In addition, if your gut bacteria is out of balance, estrogen can’t be properly metabolized.
- Food and water supply– The combination of pesticides and other chemicals used in the food supply along with the hormones and antibiotics given to many commercially raised animals disrupt normal hormone functioning in the body. While some exposure is unlikely to be harmful, the cumulative effect of frequent ingestion can contribute to estrogen imbalance.
- Excess body fat– Estrogen is stored in the fat tissues of the body in both men and women. Therefore, high amounts of body fat is another possible cause of estrogen dominance. Keep in mind that high body fat doesn’t always mean being overweight, since body fat is distributed differently in each individual and it is very possible to be at a normal weight but have a higher than normal body fat percentage.
- Chronic stress– Stress has a big impact on all hormones, including estrogen. Chronic stress causes progesterone to produce more cortisol, the main stress hormone. This increased progesterone eventually gets used up and the imbalance can lead to estrogen dominance.
Testing for estrogen dominance
While traditional doctors may be willing to order blood levels of estrogen and progesterone for you, these aren’t usually the most accurate for identifying estrogen dominance. Instead using a functional lab test that uses other methods for detecting estrogen levels and ratios within the body is much more reliable. We are big fans of the DUTCH hormone test, and recommend that anyone considering functional labs work alongside a trained practitioner (such as us!) for help with ordering and interpreting the results.
Tips for correcting estrogen dominance
Since estrogen dominance can have so many negative impacts on health, it’s important to know what you can do to help keep it balanced and reduce exposure to things that mimic or interfere with estrogen in your diet and lifestyle.
Here are some guidelines:
- Consider birth control alternatives– talk to your doctor about non-hormonal forms of birth control, or at least forms that contain less estrogen. If you’re on birth control for reasons other than prevention of pregnancy, it’s also important to look into other options. If you’re taking hormone replacement therapy, consider asking your doctor about bioidentical hormone therapy, which uses hormones extracted from plants that act just like the hormones we produce in our bodies and is a safer, more natural option.
- Minimize toxin exposure– As mentioned, toxins can be found in everyday items such as household cleaners, makeup, lotions, soaps and detergents as well as in plastics. Focus on choosing cleaner alternatives that are made from plant-derived ingredients, and be sure to specifically avoid products made with the chemicals parabens, phthalates, artificial fragrance, and other harmful substances outlined by the Environmental Working Group. In addition, try to avoid storing or heating things in plastic, and specifically avoid those made with the chemical BPA.
- Clean up your diet and water supply– Buying organic produce and animal products and using high quality water filters is a great way to reduce exposure to harmful toxins and xenoestrogens in the food and water supply. If buying organic isn’t practical for you, consider prioritizing the dirty dozen list of produce, which is found to have the most pesticide exposure and can be found here. In addition, try to limit or avoid foods that can mimic estrogen in the body, which are known as phytoestrogens. These include:
- Soy products
- Dried fruits and other fruits such as berries, peaches, pear and plums
- Flax and sesame seeds
- Wheat bran
- Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts
- Support natural detoxification– many diet and lifestyle modifications can help support the body in its ability to naturally detoxify from excess estrogen. We talk all about things to support natural detox in our post about toxicity here!
- Work on achieving a healthy body fat percentage- since changing your body composition is so individualized, its best to work with a Registered Dietitian like us so we can help guide you on the right eating and exercise plan specific to you! Feel free to contact us for support.
- Manage stress– this can be easier said than done, but it’s definitely something to prioritize. Things like regularly engaging in self-care activities, focusing on getting good sleep, asking for help, and setting appropriate boundaries in life can all help reduce stress levels.
Estrogen dominance is on the rise. While it can be harmful if not properly diagnosed and treated, there are many ways to help identify it and steps you can take to help manage it. Feel free to reach out to us for more information and support.