Healing Estrogen Dominance:
Symptoms and Treatment Options
Estrogen and progesterone are an iconic duo, much like Bonnie and Clyde or peanut butter and jelly. As with all duos, it’s the balance between the two that creates magic. But what happens when yin is no longer in harmony with yang?
Perhaps you have noticed more bloating or breast tenderness over the years? How about worsening PMS? It could be due to something called estrogen dominance.
What Does Estrogen Dominance Mean?
Estrogen dominance refers to when there’s an increase of estrogen levels in the body that outweighs the progesterone levels, making estrogen the more dominant hormone. Estrogen and progesterone balance each other out, so when one hormone gets the upper hand, symptoms arise.
What Are The Symptoms Of Estrogen Dominance?
For some women, estrogen dominance can be as mild as breast tenderness. Unfortunately, for other women, it can be as severe as endometriosis, infertility, or breast cancer. Here is a comprehensive list of symptoms that women can experience when they’re in an estrogen dominant state:
- Brain Fog
- Breast Tenderness
- Fibrocystic Breasts
- Gestational Diabetes
- Headaches (Especially Premenstrual Women)
- Irregular or Lack of Menstruation
- Ovarian Cysts
- Mood Disorders (Anxiety, Depression, or Mood Swings)
- Reduced Sex Drive
- Sleep Disturbances or Insomnia
- Slowed Metabolism
- Thyroid Dysfunction (Especially Cold Hands & Feet)
- Weight Gain (Particularly Abdomen and Hips)
What Causes Estrogen Dominance?
Never before in history have we been exposed to so many exogenous chemicals than we are today. Many of the chemicals found in our food, water, the air we breathe, personal care products, and environment are now actually found to be endocrine disruptors. This is also known as xenoestrogens.
One of the greatest sources of excess estrogen is our diet. Conventionally raised meat is injected with growth hormones that will ultimately disrupt our own hormonal balance. Herbicides and pesticides used in conventional produce can also have a major impact on our hormone health.
Unfortunately, chemical residue as a result of farming, pharmaceutical production, use of personal care products, and plastic disposal have all been found in our water supply.
Personal Care Products
Chemicals found in topical personal care products can be especially detrimental as they absorb directly through the skin and into our tissues. More on this here.
Nonstick cookware is coated with perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). This chemical is used to make products grease and waterproof. It’s now a known endocrine disruptor. Each time the cookware is heated, PFOA can seep into our food.
BPA & Plastics
The chemical bisphenol A has gained notoriety over the last decade. BPA is a known endocrine disruptor found in the lining of cans and thermal receipts. Due to this notoriety, it’s common to now see BPA-free canned goods in the supermarket. Unfortunately, most brands that indicate BPA-free use another substitute such as BPS and BPF. Research has found that these substitutes are just as hormonally active as BPA, and have the same endocrine-disrupting effects. BPA plastics are also much more potent (increasing the estrogenic properties) if put in the microwave or dishwasher. Even acidic contents such as acidic water (i.e. most bottled water) or acidic foods in plastic bottles (i.e. ketchup) can leach plastic into the contents itself.
Heavy metal exposure from arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury has also been associated with endocrine disruption. These are found in our water and food supply.
Simply living near areas where pesticides are used, manufactured, or disposed of can significantly increase exposure through contact and inhalation. This article points out that aerosols and other particulates in the air are a significant source of exposure.
Our modern lives are increasingly stressful. When a woman is under stress, her progesterone levels decrease at a rate faster than her estrogen levels. While there are several mechanisms at play here, and some that are still being fully elucidated, what is clear is that cortisol can inhibit estrogen detoxification in the liver. This means that elevated cortisol can increase circulating estrogen in the body. It seems nature designed this system quite brilliantly. Many women today are dealing with infertility as a consequence of chronic stress. It’s this excess cortisol through a series of different mechanisms that causes circulating progesterone levels to decline while simultaneously causing estrogen levels to rise.
Fascinating research about the gut microbiome and hormone health is reaching center stage. An imbalanced microbiome (also known as gut dysbiosis) is strongly connected to estrogen dominance. In fact, specific bacteria in our gut can actually release an enzyme called beta-glucuronidase that allows estrogen to recirculate in the body, instead of clearing out via elimination. Other issues with intestinal permeability (also known as leaky gut), gut motility, inflammation, and lack of diversity can all impact hormone health. Dysbiosis can also cause further adrenal stress or HPA axis dysfunction. This is described as physiological stress, but our bodies view and act on it the same way as emotional stress.
Our liver is one of the hardest working organs in the body. It’s often referred to as the “master detoxifier”. Its role in the body is to detoxify nearly all chemicals (both endogenous and exogenous) and to help prepare these chemicals for elimination. The estrogen hormone is no exception. In order to eliminate estrogen from the body, it must first go through the liver for processing. Once processed, estrogen can then leave the body through urine and bowel. It is thought that if liver function is compromised then estrogen detoxification is also diminished. Ultimately, this causes excess estrogen to circulate back into the bloodstream.
Oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy can also lead to estrogen dominance. Newer formulations of oral contraceptives appear to have greater overall estrogenicity. That is, there is less progestin in the formulation to counterbalance the estrogen content.
4 Ways To Reduce Estrogen Dominance
1. Diet and Nutrition
Diet and nutrition are important when it comes to hormone regulation. Research from NCBI shows that following a specific diet pattern can help reduce estrogen levels. Additionally, this NCBI study found that certain diet patterns, like the Western diet, can lead to higher estrogen levels. It’s important to eat a diet that promotes hormonal health. Here are a few that are proven to be beneficial:
- Fiber-Rich Diets
- The Mediterranean Diet
- Plant-Based Diets
For more in-depth information read our blog post, Estrogen Dominance Diet To Balance Hormones.
2. Natural Supplements For Estrogen Dominance
Diet is critical to overcoming estrogen dominance. Once you’ve implemented those changes, nutritional supplementation can then only serve to amplify the positive effects of these changes. So which supplements dampen estrogen dominance? Here’s the short list:
- Probiotics-support gut health
- Adaptogens (such as Ashwagandha and Rhodiola)-modulate our stress response
- Vitamin B6-enhances progesterone production, which in turn, counteracts excess estrogen
- Chaste Tree Berry (also known as Vitex)-also supports the production of progesterone.
- Diindolylmethane (DIM) (a metabolic byproduct of I3C)-boosts estrogen detoxification processes in the liver
- Broccoli Seed Extract (a powerful supplement)-also boosts estrogen detoxification processes in the liver
- Calcium D-Glucarate-inhibits beta-glucuronidase activity in the gut, which in turn, allows for more estrogen to be excreted through the stool. Refresher: beta-glucuronidase is an enzyme in the gut that prevents the clearance of estrogen
- Magnesium-influences the pituitary gland, which in turn, supports the production of estrogen and progesterone
3. Lifestyle Changes To Reduce Estrogen Dominance
In addition to dietary changes and supplements, lifestyle modifications can also help to reduce your exposure to xenoestrogens, estrogen-like chemical compounds found in the environment. Here are the lifestyle changes that can make the most profound impact:
Take time each day to pause, reflect, and deep breathe. Try a meditation from Insight Timer or a deep breathing exercise such as Dr. Andrew Weil’s 4-7-8 breathing technique. Even simple habits like going to bed earlier, drinking plenty of water throughout the day, and spending time with friends can help. In fact, these exercises are intended to bring us back to center and lessen the production of cortisol, our stress hormone. Remember cortisol has an intimate relationship with estrogen. When our stress levels increase, the amount of estrogen circulating in the bloodstream can also increase. Reducing your cortisol levels through specific stress reducing techniques can, in turn, reduce estrogen dominance symptoms.
Filter your water
Ditch the plastic water bottle, but be wary of tap water. Known endocrine disruptors are often found in tap water supplies. It’s important to invest in a high quality water filter that can remove these contaminants. Remember, what is legally acceptable in terms of the upper limit is not necessarily safe. Find out how your tap water ranks at EWG's Tap Water Database. Learn more about what you can do to get the safest drinking water by visiting the EWG’s water filter guide.
Filter your air
As modern humans, we spend the majority of our time indoors. So it stands the reason that we pay attention to the quality of air around us. One way to check for air quality is by visiting AirNow, inputting your zip code, and checking out the air quality forecast near you. Changing the air filter on your HVAC system often would be a great first step to improve the air quality around you. Investing in a quality portable air filter is another option to consider. To learn more about air filters, refer to the EWG’s homeguide on air filters.
Skip the non-stick pots and pans. While it’s an attractive offer--easy to cook and easy to clean, the toxins are not worth the convenience. My personal favorites include cast iron, stainless steel, ceramic, and porcelain enamel. Read more about the best options read this Safe Non-Toxic Cookware Guide.
As I elaborated in Part 1 of this series, plastics and BPA are everywhere in our modern world. These are potent endocrine disruptors. The best solution here is to reduce the use of plastics. Changing out plastic tupperware for glass is a great first step. Similarly, replacing plastic water bottles with reusable stainless steel bottles as well as bringing a reusable tumbler for your morning cup of Joe (or turmeric latte) are easy swaps that would benefit your hormones and the environment.
Replace your personal care products
As much as our food is littered with pesticides and herbicides, our personal care products are not much better. Thousands of personal care products contain questionable and outright unsafe ingredients. Unfortunately, the government does not review the safety profile of chemicals before they are added to a product and sold to consumers. This is where consumers have to become their own best advocates and research products before investing in them. Luckily, the EWG’s Skin Deep cosmetic database lists easy-to-navigate hazard ratings for 70,000 products and 9,000 ingredients. If you want to ensure a product is safe, look for the EWG VERIFIED™ mark on a product.
Curious about where household products stand? Refer to the EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning for more information.
4. Medicine For Estrogen Dominance
Speak to a qualified health professional about your options about hormone replacement and contraception. While HRT and oral contraceptives are one option, it’s important to note that other hormone-free alternatives also exist. Working with a qualified professional will empower you to make the best decision for yourself on contraception and hormone replacement.
Start Healing Estrogen Dominance Today
I know this list appears to be daunting, but rest assured that many women have been able to successfully regain balance of their hormones through these changes changes.