Everything You Need To Know About Estrogen Dominance: Signs, Symptoms, and More
Hormones play a major role in everyone’s lives. When it comes to our day-to-day bodily functions, hormones dictate sleep, appetite, stress, and libido just to name a few. However, understanding the hormones and how to properly balance them isn’t so clean cut or black and white, which makes it hard to know how they impact the body and overall health. In many cases, this can lead to a condition known as estrogen dominance.
Despite the fact that estrogen dominance isn't an official diagnosis, it’s still a super common health concern for people everywhere to describe hormone imbalances in people around the globe. So, what exactly is estrogen dominance and how can you catch the signs?
- Estrogen is a sex hormone produced by the endocrine system that plays an important role in menstrual and general health.
- This hormone imbalance can be caused by stress, poor gut health, and low progesterone.
- If you think you might have an imbalance, look into your diet and talk to your doctor about supplements.
What is estrogen?
To better understand estrogen dominance, it’s important to first understand how estrogen and progesterone function in the body. Estrogen is a sex hormone produced by the endocrine system and progesterone is produced by the ovaries, placenta and adrenal glands and is secreted by the female reproductive system to regulate the inner lining of the uterus. It plays an important role in regulating the menstrual cycle and in maintaining the early stages of pregnancy.
Estrogen and progesterone are also the two main sex hormones that are responsible for female physical features and reproduction (1). Estrogen in particular is a collective term for various types of the hormone including estrone, estradiol, and estriol, and it has many roles and functions. Primarily made in the ovaries, these estrogens are also produced in the adrenal glands and in fatty tissues. Some functions of estrogen include:
- Keeps cholesterol in control
- Protects bone health
- Affects the brain, mood, bones, heart, skin, and other issues
- Modulates libido
- Prepares the body for pregnancy
- Effects cardiovascular health
- Supports immune function
- Supports the aging process
What is estrogen dominance?
Although hormone levels might be within the normal range, estrogen dominance occurs when the level of estrogen is relatively high compared to the level of progesterone and/or testosterone. This phenomenon is also described as excess of estrogen when progesterone levels are inadequate. Estrogen dominance can occur during reproductive months, but tends to be particularly prominent during perimenopause and in menopause. The condition is worsened by not ovulating, being exposed to synthetic estrogens and/or not metabolizing estrogens correctly.
What causes estrogen dominance?
Typically, estrogen dominance occurs due to one or more of these issues:
- Chronic stress: Too much stress causes our adrenal glands to produce an excess of cortisol to keep us going, which can end up leading to adrenal fatigue. This is when our body uses up our Cortisol and begins to steal progesterone to produce it, leading to estrogen dominance.
- Poor gut/liver health: Your liver is responsible for metabolizing estrogen and it needs certain vitamins, minerals, and enzymes to do it properly. If you have insufficiencies in these liver supports, or an imbalance of gut flora, it can lead to estrogen dominance.
- Environmental toxins known as xeno-estrogens: Xeno-estrogens are man-made chemicals found in many sources, including tap water, fragrances, birth control pills, toys, receipts, sunscreen, artificial food dyes, and plastic (2). They mimic estrogen, but can be a lot more powerful and be stored in our fat cells, which can lead to estrogen dominance. They have been linked to infertility, obesity, diabetes, thyroid dysfunction, breast and prostate cancers.
- Lack of ovulation or low progesterone: Adequate levels of progesterone are needed for ovulation, but stress can contribute to “stealing” from our progesterone, which ultimately leads to an excess of estrogen (2).
What are the symptoms of estrogen dominance?
High levels of estrogen can lead to weight gain, particularly around the hips and waist. Excess estrogen can also cause menstrual problems, such as:
- irregular periods
- light spotting
- heavy bleeding
Other symptoms those with estrogen dominance can experience include:
- cold hands and feet
- changes in skin
- difficulty sleeping
- hair loss
- low libido
- mood changes, depression, or anxiety
- problems with memory/brain fog
- swollen or tender breasts
- non-cancerous breast lumps
- erectile dysfunction
- enlarged breasts, or gynecomastia
Testing and paneling
If your doctor suspects that you might have high estrogen, they’ll likely order a blood test to check your hormone levels. The results will indicate if your estrogen levels are too low or too high (3).
To manage high estrogen or estrogen dominance, your doctor might prescribe medications, change your hormone therapy plan if you have one, recommend surgery, or encourage you to adjust your diet.
How diet and estrogen relate
The foods we eat provide nutrients that help our bodies break down and excrete hormones, which supports balanced hormone levels. Plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, and whole grains along with fiber, B vitamins, and indoles (found in cruciferous veggies) support healthy hormone metabolism (4).
To help lower your estrogen levels, your doctor might recommend changes to your eating habits. For example, they might encourage you to eat a low-fat and high-fiber diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables to support your gut health. Fiber is great to help promote the breakdown and elimination of estrogen, as it’s up to your gut to get rid of the estrogen that your liver has broken down. It is also generally recommended to find a quality source of protein and eat foods that support hormone balance and are full of vitamin B, such as:
- Broccoli and broccoli sprouts
- Brussel sprouts
- Kale, spinach, arugula, and other leafy greens
- Nutritional yeast
- Plant milks
- Flaxseeds and seed cycling
- Protein like grass-fed beef, lentils, eggs
- Shiitake mushrooms
- Dandelion root
- Dark chocolate
They may also recommend supplements to provide your liver with nutrients to process estrogen or probiotics to help with healthy gut flora. Certain types of bacteria can become overgrown in the gut, leading to an increase in an enzyme called beta-glucuronidase (4). When these enzyme levels increase, this enzyme breaks the bonds between estrogen and glucuronic acid, leading to reabsorption of the estrogens back into the body instead of getting rid of unnecessary estrogen. Fiber will keep your bowels regular and help eliminate waste, including excess estrogen.
Written by Selena Ponton