Last week, we learned about xenoestrogens and how to avoid them. In this final article in our series on women’s hormones from Krista Goncalves, BSc, CHN, RNC, Krista tells us about estrogen dominance– and just how common it is. -Jaclyn
Catch up on the other articles in our series here:
#1: Hormones 101– what are they and what do they do?
#2: When Hormones Don’t Play Nice– hormonal balances in women.
#3: What Are Xenoestrogens Doing in My Mascara?! How to spot and avoid endocrine disruptors.
And now to Krista to tell us about estrogen dominance:
In the ever-increasing “busy-ness” of our lives, women are particularly prone to being chronically overwhelmed, and this, along with other factors, leads to hormonal disharmony.
So when a nutrition client comes to see me with the following complaints: feeling stressed out and unable to cope, depleted of energy and lacking in quality sleep, moody and irritable, and plagued by weight loss resistance– we investigate whether it’s an issue with the all-important sex hormones: estrogen and progesterone.
When estrogen is out of sync, you’re out of sync.
When a woman has excessive estrogen levels (or even normal to low estrogen levels), and they’re high relative to progesterone, this is called estrogen dominance, a term first coined by health care pioneer Dr. John Lee, MD.
Dr. Lee, author of the What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About series, even proposes that it’s this estrogen/progesterone imbalance that causes many of the symptoms of peri-menopause and menopause, and not just a drop in estrogen levels, as most conventional doctors are likely to suggest.
To sum up: estrogen dominance is having too little progesterone to balance the effects of estrogen, and is often seen in women in their mid to late thirties to early forties.
Why is a balance of estrogen and progesterone so important anyway?
You may recall from Hormones 101, the article that kicked off our series, that estrogen is the hormone that lends to a woman’s curvy shape, revs up her sex drive, and pumps up the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin.
On the other hand, progesterone is what balances out all that “zoom-zoom” by being calming and somewhat of a relaxant, and regulates the metabolism through facilitation of better thyroid function.
However, the hormonal balance between the two is like a marriage; when one partner is having a bad day and feeling off their game, the other partner often finds it hard to stay in sync.
Hormonal disharmony: symptoms of estrogen dominance
- hair loss and thinning of hair & eyebrows
- depression & anxiety
- mood swings & irritability
- trouble falling sleeping and frequent waking
- increased PMS
- breast tenderness &/or fibrocystic breasts
- PCOS- polycystic ovarian syndrome & ovarian cysts
- endometriosis & fibroids
- infertility & decreased fertility
- low libido- no sex drive!
- water retention & bloating
- fat gain, especially around hips & thighs
- accelerated aging– premature wrinkling, graying of hair, etc.
Even various types of cancer are linked to estrogen dominance.
Sound familiar? Learn the causes:
Unfortunately, accumulating estrogen is not hard.
There are basically 2 ways to build up an excess of estrogen in the body: we either produce too much of it on our own, or acquire it from our environment.
Dr. Christiane Northup, MD & author of The Wisdom of Menopause, offers her insight into why the body may produce too much estrogen, leading to the symptoms listed above:
- As a woman enters peri-menopause and begins to have cycles where no ovulation occurs, estrogen can often go unopposed.
- Because estrogen is produced in fat cells, the more fat cells we have, the more estrogen we produce- excess body fat (greater than 28%) can be a factor.
- Chronic stress results in dysregulated cortisol and excess insulin, which can negatively affect overall hormone balance, leading to conditions like adrenal fatigue.
Nutritional causes of estrogen dominance
Diet also plays a big factor in hormonal balance and one that is low in fiber, high in sugar & refined carbs, and deficient in high quality “good fats” will almost certainly throw a wrench in your hormonal harmony. Add in excess alcohol and caffeine, and you’re really heading for the perfect storm.
We’re inundated on a regular basis with toxins in our environment as well as in our own routines, and you would basically have to live in a bubble to avoid all the possible sources of external estrogens or xenoestrogens.
These are man-made chemicals in the environment that mimic estrogen in our bodies and act as hormone disruptors, even in small amounts.
Natural treatment for hormonal imbalance & estrogen dominance
✔ Ditch the toxins, plastics, conventional house cleaning & beauty products and other sources of xenoestrogens.
✔ Exercise regularly, especially strength training. Move your body and break a sweat daily.
✔ Daily self-care: go to bed earlier; try meditation, stress management tools like exercise, aromatherapy, music, connecting with nature, or an Epsom salt bath.
✔ Greatly limit processed & packaged foods, refined sugary carbs, as well as coffee and alcohol.
✔ Follow a hormone-balancing, anti-inflammatory, high-fiber diet= rich in fresh, whole foods, adequate protein, and moderate amounts of good fats, like coconut oil, avocados and hemp seeds.
✔ Eat fiber-rich fruits & vegetables daily, including the unique estrogen-absorbing fiber found in the skin of unpeeled, organic carrots (seriously- read about how carrots can help balance your hormones in this insightful article from Empowered Sustenance).
✔ Estrogen is excreted through the bowel, so if the bowel isn’t regularly evacuated, toxins, including “bad estrogens,” can be recirculated in the body. Make sure you’re bowels are regular. (Jaclyn’s tip: make sure you’re getting plenty of magnesium or do enemas if you have to- move those toxins out!)
✔ It is also recommended to include foods that are naturally high in calcium d-glucarate and indole-3-carbinol (I-3-C). Cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, collards & Brussel sprouts are high in both of these estrogen-detoxing components.
✔ Support your liver so the “bad estrogens” can be detoxified more efficiently. There are many effective supplements used for estrogen detoxification purposes like DIM and those mentioned above: calcium d-glucarate & I-3-C.
✔ There are also supplements indicated for naturally increasing progesterone levels like Vitamin C and Chasteberry (Vitex). Please ask a health professional to guide you in adding therapeutic supplements to your routine.
If you or someone you know is struggling with estrogen dominance, or other unhappy hormones- please share!