Hormone Imbalance: Estrogen Dominance
What Does Estrogen Do?
Estrogen plays an important role throughout the course of our reproductive lives and beyond. It regulates our menstrual cycle, prepares the uterine lining for pregnancy, strengthens our bones, and much more. This hormone is indispensable for blood glucose regulation, a robust immune system, bone health, cardiovascular health, fertility, and brain function. Hormone imbalance related to estrogen can cause multiple problems.
How Do You Know if Your Estrogen Is Too High?
When our estrogen levels drop, we experience peri-menopausal and menopausal symptoms. But even well before this, inappropriate levels of this vital hormone can wreak havoc. That’s because estrogen requires a delicate balance with other hormones. When that balance is disturbed, resulting in hormone imbalance, we can experience a wide range of frustrating symptoms.
Hormonal imbalance most often occurs during a particularly busy time of our lives, the period from about age 20 through to menopause. As a result, in our practice, we see many women who are dealing with unexplained weight gain, mood swings, heavy periods, painful periods and libido problems. Because estrogen is involved in so many of your body’s systems, estrogen can be at the centre of many human pathologies. This includes infectious, autoimmune, metabolic and degenerative diseases like cancer and cardiovascular disease.
How Do You Know if You Have Estrogen Dominance?
Estrogen dominance can impact many areas of our lives, with symptoms that range from subtle shifts to major disruptions in well-being. Many women assume these issues are a normal part of life or a consequence of their stress levels. But even a slight imbalance in hormone levels can lead to a number of problems.
Symptoms can vary greatly from person to person, but symptoms of this hormone imbalance often include:
- Increased weight, especially in the belly and hip area
- Heavy periods
- Clotty periods
- More severe PMS
- Irregular menstrual cycles
- Fibrocystic breasts
- Painful breasts
- Uterine fibroids
- Uterine polyps
- Loss of libido
- Water retention and bloating
- Feeling very emotional or sad
- Bloating (water retention)
- Brain fog
- Memory troubles
- Insomnia and restlessness
Does that list look familiar? We see many women every single month with complaints like these. We understand how frustrating these symptoms can be, especially when you are unable to find answers or treatment for hormonal imbalance. And, of course, the complex relationship between estrogen and our emotions can only amplify the frustration.
What About Men and Estrogen?
It’s not only women who can experience this particular hormone imbalance. You may be surprised to know that men can suffer an excess of estrogen as well. In men, estrogen dominance can manifest a bit differently, with some of these symptoms being common:
- Enlarged breasts
- Sexual dysfunction
- Midsection fat
What Causes Estrogen Dominance?
To better understand estrogen dominance, we have to consider the role of another important hormone, progesterone. Progesterone and estrogen maintain an often tricky seesaw in our bodies. Prior to menopause, the balance shifts at different stages of the menstrual cycle. Estrogen dominance isn’t necessarily a surge of estrogen, but an imbalance in that seesaw. Simply put, estrogen dominance means that the seesaw tips to one side because there is not enough progesterone to balance out the estrogen. There’s actually no “set” number we can measure for this hormone imbalance that proves an estrogen dominance diagnosis. It’s the overall hormonal symptom picture that helps to make the diagnosis.
How does estrogen become dominant?
A key factor for some women is the timing. Or, to be more specific, the time of our lives. Consider a normal menstrual cycle during our earlier reproductive years: After we ovulate at mid-cycle, our bodies produce progesterone to balance out estrogen.
But as we near menopause, we increasingly have menstrual cycles when we do not ovulate. As a result, there is not enough progesterone to balance out the estrogen. Enter estrogen dominance — and its long list of possible symptoms. To a certain extent in women in their 40’s and up, hormone imbalance is a natural and expected part of our ageing process.
In younger women, estrogen-dominance can occur due to several factors. Lifestyle choices that increase insulin, increase the activity of the estrogen-producing enzyme, aromatase. Choices like carb and sugar intake, lack of exercise, sedentary lifestyles, high-stress jobs or long work hours can increase your insulin load, aggravating estrogen-dominance.
How is Your Liver Involved?
Your liver is responsible for maintaining a healthy balance of estrogen. It supplies the building block for all hormones, cholesterol. It is also responsible for fully breaking down estrogen into a form that your body recognizes as waste so that it can be eliminated through your digestive tract. If your liver is lacking in vitamins, minerals and other nutrients it can’t fully metabolize estrogen for elimination. Diets rich in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower can help. As can eating lots of leafy green vegetables.
Contributing Factors to Estrogen Dominance
Recent years have seen a rise in estrogen-dominance complaints. Our lifestyle may be a big factor. Environmental and behavioural issues can increase estrogen levels, tipping the seesaw even further. What’s to blame? Take a look at this list.
- Excess body fat can increase estrogen levels since fat cells produce estrogen. Of course, this creates a frustrating cycle for some women, as the fatigue associated with estrogen dominance makes it difficult to exercise and lose weight.
- Chronic stress will throw off your hormonal balance, often resulting in excess estrogen. In times of stress, your body produces too much cortisol. Cortisol negatively affects progesterone production, so the result is a shortage of progesterone to balance the body’s estrogen. Cortisol also has the effect of increasing your blood sugar and insulin, leading to increased aromatase activity and estrogen production.
- Hormone replacement therapy and birth control pills. Consistently adding hormones to your body may overwhelm your liver’s ability to effectively remove any extra estrogen.
- Environmental sources of estrogen in our environment, particularly with regard to chemicals found in plastics and pesticides can negatively affect hormone levels. Here is where healthy liver detoxification and elimination is also important. We’re all exposed to pollutants like dioxin. Maintaining efficient liver processing through supporting phase I and phase II detoxification keeps these toxins moving out of your body rather than accumulating.
- Lack of melatonin. When we’re not getting enough sleep, our melatonin levels decrease. And melatonin helps regulate estrogen levels. In other words, if we don’t have enough melatonin to keep estrogen in check, we can end up in a cycle of sleep trouble.
How Can You Reverse Hormone Imbalance?
We can work with you to re-balance your hormone havoc. Starting with an accurate diagnosis, we can create a lifestyle plan that works for you. As a starting point, these changes are recommended:
- Increase your intake of fibre. Insoluble fibre can bind with estrogen in our digestive tract. As a result, excess estrogen is eliminated with a high-fibre diet.
- Go organic. Many pesticides have been identified as estrogen disruptors. That means they disturb the natural balance of estrogen. Research is still being done in this area, but the connection is becoming clear. Plus, organic food is delicious!
- Get enough sleep. We know – you’re busy. But sleep will help restore your melatonin levels and, subsequently, your estrogen balance.
- Choose your health and beauty products wisely. Xenoestrogens have a similar molecular structure to estrogen. Bisphenol A (BPA), which is often used in plastics, is an example of a xenoestrogen. When these substances enter our bodies, our system reacts as if they are actual estrogen. Some simple steps, such as avoiding plastic food storage containers and products with artificial scents, can help reduce your exposure to xenoestrogens. Phthalates are another endocrine-disrupting chemical that is found in cosmetics like nail polish. One study found that increased levels of phthalate metabolites in urine were associated with symptoms such as headaches, repeated coughing, diarrhoea, and hormonal problems They have been linked with reproductive disorders and infertility in both men and women.
- Get moving. Exercise will relieve stress levels and could help reduce body fat. Strength training and yoga are great activities.
- Decrease stress. Again, we realize that this is easier said than done! But an estrogen-dominant diagnosis might be the wake-up call you need to take a step back and assess your stress levels. Are you doing too much?
Do you think you might have a hormone imbalance? Do the estrogen dominance symptoms sound a bit too familiar? There is help! A few simple steps including a disciplined lifestyle with wise dietary choices and support for healthy estrogen elimination can help you restore balanced estrogen levels and feel like yourself again. Please contact us and we’ll help you get to the bottom of what’s going on and create a plan of action to bring your body back to balance.
Call or email us at 416-481-0222 or Maria@ForcesofNature.ca
Authored by Dr. Pamela Frank, BSc(Hons), ND
Hormone Imbalance References
Patel S, Homaei A, Raju AB, Meher BR. Estrogen: The necessary evil for human health, and ways to tame it. Biomed Pharmacother. 2018 Jun;102:403-411. doi: 10.1016/j.biopha.2018.03.078. Epub 2018 Mar 22.
Wallner P, Kundi M, Hohenblum P, Scharf S, Hutter HP. Phthalate Metabolites, Consumer Habits and Health Effects. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2016 Jul 15;13(7). pii: E717. doi: 10.3390/ijerph13070717.
Gibson DA, Simitsidellis I, Collins F, Saunders PTK. Endometrial Intracrinology: Oestrogens, Androgens and Endometrial Disorders. Int J Mol Sci. 2018 Oct 22;19(10). pii: E3276. doi: 10.3390/ijms19103276.