Bloating. Acne. Painful breasts. Heavy bleeding.
Sound familiar? It’s possible you could be struggling with estrogen dominance.
While these symptoms are no fun on their own, if left unchecked, sustained excess estrogen can turn into more serious health issues down the line.
Chronically elevated estrogen levels may increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancers.
So, managing your hormonal highs (and lows) now can ensure more vibrant health later.
What does estrogen do in the body?
Estrogen requires a specific balance at the right time in your cycle. Too much or too little can wreak havoc on the body. The right balance of estrogen and progesterone at the right times will help you build stronger bones and muscles, sleep better, improve your mood, and boost insulin sensitivity.
Estrogen is your happy hormone! It enhances your mood and libido by increasing serotonin and dopamine. In addition to bolstering feelings of well-being, peak levels of estrogen create fertile mucus just before ovulation, and estrogen is responsible for thickening the uterine lining in preparation for a fertilized egg.
At a most basic level, estrogen promotes growth and development.
But, we all know, too much of one thing is usually not good, so the body uses progesterone to counterbalance the effects of estrogen. Once ovulation occurs, progesterone is on the rise. Progesterone’s primary purpose is to nourish a growing fetus throughout pregnancy. It is the “pro-gestation” hormone.
However, progesterone also promotes sleep, builds muscles, reduces inflammation, and thins your uterine lining lightening up your periods. Progesterone is your calming hormone, helping you cope with stress more easily by soothing your nervous system.
Estrogen and progesterone work together to create hormonal harmony by keeping each other in check.
Sounds great! What could go wrong?
When too much estrogen relative to progesterone floats around in your bloodstream you end up with excessive estrogen also known as estrogen dominance.
Common symptoms of excess estrogen can include:
- Heavy bleeding
- Breast swelling and tenderness
- Decreased libido
- Weight gain, especially around the middle
Is it estrogen excess, progesterone deficiency, or both?
Estrogen dominance can be the result of purely excessive estrogen, or low progesterone relative to normal estrogen levels, or a combination of both. Progesterone is only produced when ovulation occurs. If you have a short luteal phase or low basal body temperatures during your luteal phase you may have a progesterone deficiency.
Symptoms of low progesterone (poor sleep, heavy periods, PMS) are similar to symptoms of excessive estrogen. Why? Because they both put you in a state of estrogen dominance.
Note: If you’re on hormonal birth control like the Pill, you are not creating progesterone.
Progestin in hormonal birth control is not real progesterone. There are other effective forms of non-hormonal birth control available that are worth exploring to give you a better chance at achieving that optimal hormonal rhythm.
What causes excessive estrogen?
Excessive estrogen is greatly impacted by our diet and lifestyle. The liver is the main organ involved in detoxification.
A diet high in refined sugars and alcohol consumption, and low in nutrient-dense foods impairs your liver’s ability to detoxify the body (that includes detoxifying hormones like estrogen).
Women who consume more than one drink per day have measurably higher levels of estrogen in their blood.
The liver also requires adequate amounts of folate, vitamins B6 and B12, selenium, zinc, and protein in order to conjugate, or deactivate, estrogen for removal. If the liver is stressed, its ability to metabolize and remove estrogen is reduced. Backlogged estrogen will keep circulating until the liver is able to catch up and clear it from your body.
A healthy gut aids in the removal of estrogen.
Imbalances in your gut microbiome due to poor diet, not enough pro and prebiotic foods, and antibiotic or birth control pull use can reduce estrogen clearance. Inactivated estrogen from the liver is removed through excretion.
Unhealthy gut bacteria produce an enzyme, beta-glucuronidase, that actually reactivates estrogen, which the body will then reabsorb and recirculate! No bueno.
Xenoestrogens are man-made, environmental chemicals that mimic our own natural estrogen and contribute to estrogen excess.
These endocrine disrupting compounds (EDCs) are found in plastics in the form of bisphenol-A (BPA), aluminum, conventional dairy and meat fed antibiotics and growth hormones, conventional vegetables sprayed with pesticides, beauty products that contain parabens and phthalates, as well as cleaning products, detergents, dryer sheets, air fresheners, and even our tap water!
This means we are breathing in, consuming, and absorbing through our skin, chemical estrogens every day!
Xenoestrogens also tax the liver contributing to the toxic load that must be processed. Additionally, over 9 million women in the US are on some form of hormonal contraceptives. Chances are at some point you may have taken the Pill too. (I did, for over a decade!)
It’s important to note that hormonal birth control will likely worsen estrogen dominance.
Hormonal contraceptives contain synthetic estrogenic steroids and deplete your body of the important nutrients that aid in detoxification. They also damage your gut microbiome inhibiting your body’s ability to safely escort out waste materials, including estrogens.
As mentioned earlier, if you are taking hormonal birth control, your body is not producing progesterone either!
Low or no progesterone relative to even normal levels of estrogen in the body will tip the scales in favor of estrogen and make you estrogen dominant.
Achieving Hormonal Harmony
Great news though! You can find your hormonal rhythm again. Here’s how:
1. Support detoxification in the liver with nutrient-dense foods. Eating more leafy greens and vegetables in the Brassica family (broccoli, kale, collard greens) provides you with folate, diindolylmethane (DIM), a phytonutrient that promotes estrogen metabolism in the liver for excretion. Please, keep in mind to thoroughly cook cruciferous vegetables, especially if you have thyroid issues.
Consume nutrient-dense foods like egg yolks (choline), liver (vitamins A, B6, B12, zinc), high quality seafood (iodine, selenium, vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids), and high quality animal protein (amino acids like glycine and taurine) to nourish the liver.
Citrus fruits and broccoli contain glucarate, which enhances estrogen clearance by binding to estrogens in the liver. Glucarate also inhibits the production of the earlier mentioned enzyme unhealthy gut bacteria create and use to reactivate inactive estrogens.
If you find it difficult to consume many cruciferous vegetables and citrus from your foods, the supplements DIM and d-calcium glucarate are available.
Limit consumption of alcohol and refined sugar, which stress the liver and reduce its capacity for detoxifying estrogens.
2. Strengthen and feed gut flora with prebiotic and probiotic foods. Avoid drugs and antibiotics that damage the gut microbiome unless absolutely necessary.
Soluble forms of fiber, like citrus fruits, apples, asparagus, broccoli, winter squash, and sweet potatoes are prebiotic and also bind with estrogens in the gut aiding in removal.
Fermented foods and beverages like sauerkraut, lacto-fermented pickles, kombucha, and water kefir support beneficial bacteria in the gut which help escort conjugated estrogens out of the body.
3. Maintain a healthy body weight and engage in appropriate exercise. Not only will maintaining a healthy body weight limit the number of fat cells in your body that produce enzymes converting testosterone to estrogens, but exercise will help you sweat. Some toxins that your liver cannot remove may be expelled through sweat. Exercise can also help you regulate stress.
4. Reduce stress! Estrogen is an endocrine hormone. When we are under repeated, chronic stress our endocrine system produces more stress hormones creating hormonal imbalances. Stress can also decrease progesterone tipping the scales toward estrogen dominance.
Managing stress through meditation, prayer, mindfulness, exercise, fun pleasurable activities, creative pursuits, laughing, and spending time with our loved ones goes a long way in helping us find our optimal hormonal rhythm again.
Reducing stress and getting enough sleep also keep our gut health in check ensuring a good balance of healthy flora. Eating in a state of relaxation instead of distress also allows us to better absorb the nutrients in our food that can then help us detoxify better!
5. Reduce exposure to xenoestrogens. Synthetic estrogenic chemicals are found in many man-made products:
- Swap out plastic food containers for glass or stainless steel.
- Choose organic vegetables, meat, and dairy over conventional.
- Change out your beauty and personal care products for natural, non-toxic brands.
- Use non-toxic, eco-friendly cleaners and detergents instead of petrochemical-based products.
- Eliminate dryer sheets, air fresheners, and any products containing artificial fragrances (yes, candles too).
- Filter your tap water and only drink from glass or stainless steel.
This sounds like a lot, because it is. We’ll never be able to completely avoid all xenoestrogens.
Identify what the low hanging fruit here is for you, and start there. Every step you take, no matter the size, toward avoiding xenoestrogens makes a difference.
A state of estrogen dominance could be due to excessive estrogen, low levels of progesterone, or both!
The relationship between these two hormones keeps us happy and calm. Even when just one is out of sync, we end up with hormonal disharmony, painful heavy periods, rollercoastering emotions, and potentially long term consequences.
You can achieve hormonal balance and find the right rhythm.
Eliminate toxic liver stressors and enhance the body’s ability to metabolize estrogen.
Eat the right kinds of foods to support estrogen conjugation and removal, maintain a healthy gut microbiome, reduce exposure to xenoestrogens, exercise adequately, and manage stress.
Now I’d love to hear from you!
How have you used diet and lifestyle to get off the hormonal roller coaster and into a happy hormonal rhythm?
Tell me about it in the comments below!