Estrogen is one of the primary female sex hormones. In women, estrogen helps initiate sexual development, regulates menstruation, and effects the entire reproductive system. Normally, estrogen is in delicate balance with another primary sex hormone, progesterone. This balance is necessary for both to function efficiently, and can be susceptible to disruption if levels in either shift.
There are two ways that estrogen dominance can present itself in the body. When the body has either too much estrogen from overproduction, or a lack of progesterone, it enters a state referred to as “estrogen dominance.” That is, too much estrogen relative to progesterone.
The body produces three main types of estrogen: estrone, estradiol, and estriol. Many women’s ailments, including breast cancer, uterine fibroids and cancer, ovarian cysts and cancer, endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome, and hypothyroidism are caused or promoted by excesses of estradiol, estrone, environmental estrogens, and synthetic estrogens.
Estrogen in our bodies comes from five possible sources:
- FROM INSIDE THE BODY: estrogen is made in the ovaries, placenta, adrenal glands, and fat cells.
- FROM OUTSIDE THE BODY:
- Estrogen-like foods and herbs (e.g. soy, legumes, pumpkin seeds, licorice root, etc.)
- Animal products that has been raised using hormones (e.g. meat, poultry, fish, dairy.)
- Environmental chemicals or xenoestrogens (e.g. pesticides, plastics, parabens, cleaning products, personal care products, etc.)
- Synthetic estrogens (e.g. birth control, fertility drugs, hormone replacement therapy.)
What Causes Estrogen Dominance?
During the course of a normal menstrual cycle, estrogen is the dominant hormone for the first two weeks leading up to ovulation. Estrogen is balanced by progesterone during the last two weeks. However, as a woman approaches perimenopause and begins to experience anovulatory cycles (i.e. cycles where no ovulation occurs), estrogen can often go unopposed, thus causing symptoms. Skipping ovulation, however, is only one potential factor in estrogen dominance. Other causes may include:
- Being overweight (i.e. body fat greater than 28%) since fat cells produce estrogen
- Having a burdened liver, which leads to estrogen not being broken down and eliminated from the body efficiently. The result is estrogen recirculating and accumulating.
- Being overstressed. This results in excess amounts of cortisol, insulin, and norepinephrine, which can lead to adrenal exhaustion and adversely affect your overall hormonal balance.
- A low-fibre diet containing too many refined carbohydrates, and not enough nutrients and high quality fats. Fibre helps eliminate estrogen through bowel movements.
- Environmental exposure to estrogen-like compounds such as phthalates and BPA.
Estrogen dominance has also been linked to allergies, autoimmune disorders, breast cancer, uterine cancer, infertility, ovarian cysts, endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome, and increased blood clotting, and is also associated with acceleration of the aging process.
Signs and Symptoms of Estrogen Dominance:
Estrogen dominance can result in serious long-term complications, as well as other signs and symptoms, such as:
- Weight gain (especially in the hips and thighs)
- Irregular/abnormal menstruation (heavy bleeding, large clots)
- Insomnia (especially waking up in the middle of the night)
- Thyroid dysfunction
- Fibrocystic breasts, breast swelling and tenderness
- Low libido
- Sluggish metabolism
- Foggy thinking, memory loss
- Mood swings
- Menstrual cramps
Ways to Decrease Estrogen Dominance:
- Follow a hormone-balancing diet (i.e. eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, enough protein, and healthy fats.)
- Increase your fibre intake to help the excretion of estrogen, which can also prevent its reabsorption through the bowel
- Consume cruciferous veggies (such as cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, kale, Brussel sprouts) daily to help with estrogen metabolism and clearance
- Choose organic meat and dairy to reduce your exposure to environmental hormones used in farming
- Reduce excess body fat and exercise regularly to promote detoxification and circulation
- Manage daily stress
- Reduce your exposure to hormones, pesticides, and antibiotics in your environment and diet
- Avoid synthetic estrogens (e.g. birth control pills, synthetic hormone replacement therapy)
- Switch your personal care products to those that are free of phthalates, fragrances, parabens and other hormone disrupting chemicals
- Get rid of plastic water bottles and food storage containers. Replace them with ceraminc, glass or stainless steel.
- Kaur, S.D., et al. 2005. “The Complete Natural Medicine Guide to Women’s Health.” Pgs: 86-88.
- Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/perimenopause/home/ovc-20253772
- Dr. Christiane Northrup, MD: http://www.drnorthrup.com/estrogen-dominance/
- Christina Najjar, R.H.N.: http://christinanajjar.com/?s=estrogen+dominance
- Live Strong: http://www.livestrong.com/article/15845-effects-estrogen-dominance/