Estrogen has many roles in the body. It modulates libido, prepares the female body for pregnancy, contributes to cognitive, bone and cardiovascular health. Furthermore it helps with immune function and the aging process. Estrogen is naturally produced in your ovaries, adrenal glands and stored fat tissue.
Estrogen is necessary for many important functions such as child bearing, keeping cholesterol in check, protecting bone health, heart health and so much more. But when estrogen levels get out of hand or balance with our other hormones than it usually results in symptoms.
In young females estrogen has surged in their body around day twelve of your cycle. It’s this surge that signals your ovaries to release an egg ready for implantation. Without the proper amount of estrogen, a woman can’t get pregnant. Estrogen beautifies women to make them as attractive as possible. This means thickening hair, giving you smooth skin, even adding some extra fat to the hips so look ready for childbearing. Estrogen also plays a part in ensuring the vaginal membranes are well lubricated – again, all for procreation.
Now having said all of that, there is a dark side to estrogen that you should be aware of. There are three types (metabolites) of estrogens: one protective and two destructive. If you allow the destructive ones to build and don’t nourish the protective ones, you put yourself in jeopardy of developing hormonal cancers like breast and ovarian.
- Estrone (E1): the only estrogen the body makes after menopause (when menstrual periods stop)
- Estradiol (E2): the most common type in women of childbearing age.
- Estriol (E3): the main estrogen during pregnancy.
Estrogen dominance is not an official diagnosis. But before going into detail on what it is, it’s really important to understand what hormones do. Hormones are messengers that send signals to organs telling them how to perform. If we have either too little or too much of a hormone, then our organs don’t receive the right signals needed for our bodies to function optimally! Estrogen dominance can occur even though hormone levels may be within the normal range. When the level of estrogen is relatively high compared to the level of progesterone and/or testosterone we can see estrogen dominance. This estrogen-to-progesterone ratio that is shifted too far to the estrogen side of the ratio can negatively impact a woman’s health in numerous ways. Estrogen dominance can occur at any time. Due to declining levels of progesterone with aging, symptoms of estrogen dominance becomes more noticeable during middle adulthood!
Conditions that are associated with estrogen dominance include PMS, uterine fibroids, endometriosis, fibrocystic breasts, ovarian cysts etc. There are many symptoms of estrogen dominance and can include mood swings, anxiety, weight gain, hair loss, sleep issues, acne, brain fog, loss of libido, low energy, irregular menses, infertility, uterine and breast cancers and more.
The body accumulates excess estrogen in 2 ways:
- Endogenously: we make too much of our own estrogen and we’re not eliminating it properly.
- Exogenously: excess estrogen enters our body from outside sources such as foods, the environment, chemicals, toxins & they’re not being eliminated properly.
Here are some of the common causes
- Chronic stress: Prolonged stress decreases progesterone production to make more cortisol (stress hormone) and this results in higher estrogen levels in relation to progesterone.
- Dysbiosis: gut health is paramount when it comes to the metabolism of hormones. A higher presence of bad bacteria vs. good bacteria will inhibit the conversion of estrogen into water soluble molecules. This causes estrogen to recirculate back into the bloodstream where it re-exerts its effects.
- Poor liver detox: our liver is responsible to eliminate metabolized or “used up” estrogens. If our liver is is not functioning properly this leads to estrogen dominance.
- Obesity: Fat tissue absorbs and stores estrogen. The more fat cells you have, the more estrogen you will make.
- Constipation: Estrogen that should have been eliminated in your stool is reabsorbed in the gut and re-circulates in the body.
- Inflammation: inflammatory signals increase aromatase activity in the fat tissues, which in turn increases estrogen production.
- Low progesterone: Estrogen can be at a normal level, but if progesterone is too low then you can end up estrogen dominant.
- Birth Control Pill: Raise estrogen levels and often cause further hormonal imbalances and complications.
- Xenoestrogens: These are synthetic substances that mimic our estrogen. Xenoestrogens are stored in our fat cells where they proceed to disrupt the proper functioning of the reproductive system.
More on Xenoestrogens
- Foods : Choose organic, locally grown and in season foods. Use EWG’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce which outlines the foods with the most and least pesticide residues. Buy hormone free meats & dairy products to avoid hormones and pesticides.⠀
- No Plastics: Do not microwave food in plastic containers, avoid the use of plastic wraps to cover food, don’t drink out of plastic water bottles and do not refill them. Avoid freezing water in plastic bottles. Use glass or ceramic whenever possible to store food.⠀
- Cleaning Products: Use chemical free, biodegradable laundry and household cleaning products. Also choose chlorine free products and unbleached paper products (tampons, menstrual pads, paper towel, coffee filters and toilet paper).
- Personal Care Products: Did you know the average woman uses 12 products with 168 chemical ingredients every day? These are the biggest contributors to xenoestrogens. Avoid creams & cosmetics that have toxic chemicals and estrogenic ingredients such as parabens, SLS, triclosan, phthalates, mineral oil etc. Minimize exposure to nail polish. Avoid fragrance & opt for essential oils. Use chemical free soaps & toothpastes. Choose natural deodorants that don’t contain aluminum.
- Water: Tap water is often treated with chemicals that are potent endocrine disruptors and is contaminated. Filter your drinking water and install a shower filter that filters chlorine. Showering in chlorinated water has been shown to be worse than drinking it.⠀
- No Receipts policy: Thermal paper receipts contain BPA which disrupt our hormones and can lead to cancer.
Estrogen and weight
Estrogen is naturally produced in your ovaries, adrenal glands and stored fat tissue. I want to emphasize that estrogen is necessary for many important functions such as child bearing, keeping cholesterol in check, protecting our bone health and heart health and so much more. But when estrogen levels get out of hand or balance with our other hormones than it usually results in symptoms.
One of the leading causes of estrogen dominance is excess body fat. This is normally stored around the hips, waist and thighs. Fat tissue itself is an endocrine (hormone producing) organ. Not only does our fat tissue absorb and store estrogen circulating in our bloodstream, it also synthesizes estrogen from your other hormones. Having high levels of estrogen cues your body to make more fat cells, and those fat cells then produce even more estrogen. So you can see how this creates a vicious cycle.
So if we want to reduce estrogen dominance then we have to maintain a healthy weight.
Estrogen clearing foods
Diet plays a big role when it comes to estrogen dominance and here are some of the things you want to be including:
- Water: Although not a food, water is needed for all bodily functions including healthy bowel movements. Remember we must poop to get rid of estrogen! Aim for 2-3 litres of filtered water daily.
- Whole foods: A diet high in processed foods, refined carbs & sugar disrupts our hormones which in turn can lead to other imbalances in the body, namely estrogen. Focus on dark leafy greens, root vegetables, kale, avocado, berries, nuts & seeds. Go Keto.
- Cruciferous vegetables: Amazing at supporting liver detoxification processes & helping with estrogen metabolism. Make sure to include broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, collard greens, kale, cauliflower in your diet.
- Healthy fats: are needed to support healthy hormones. The body is not able to produce certain sex hormones like progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone without cholesterol. One of the ways the body makes cholesterol is by consuming enough healthy fats. Include avocados, fatty fish and meat, olive oil, nuts, seeds.
- Flaxseeds: contain lignans that help balance hormone metabolism and block the negative effects of excess estrogens. 2 Tbsp. of ground flaxseeds per day is great!
- Fiber: Although there is a lot of debate on this topic we have included it as it is also very individual. Many consider fiber as critical for healthy bowel movement. Fiber is a natural source that binds to estrogen that is excreted by the liver & brings it into the intestinal tract for elimination. Aim for 20-30g of fiber per day. Fiber rich foods include flax seeds, all sorts of veggies, apples, pears etc.
- Probiotics: essential for metabolism of hormones. They also reduce the risk of bad bacteria converting estrogen back into the bloodstream. Probiotics also promote regular bowel movements. Include sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, tempeh, kimchi or cultured veggies.
Estrogen and the liver
The liver is an incredible detoxifier and helps to remove harmful chemicals and toxins found in food and our environment.
One of the most important functions of the liver is to break down and remove excess hormones from your body. One hormone in particular is estrogen. We have a complete article on how to support your liver. Read it here
- Eat cruciferous veggies: contain liver supporting phytochemicals.
- Avoid plastics: contain xenoestrogens and they mimic estrogen in the body and can interfere with your estrogen balance.
- Choose clean personal care products: chemicals and toxins in these products causes your liver to become overloaded.
- Support the liver with nutrients: Vitamin B complex, omega 3 fatty acids, glutathione, amino acids, magnesium
- Liver supplements: Milk thistle is a great herbs to help improve the function and efficiency of the liver.
- Eat organic: reduce your pesticide and herbicide exposure as these are highly estrogenic.
- Fiber: The liver sends broken down estrogen to your colon for removal. If your bowels aren’t moving its getting reabsorbed back into the bloodstream.
Estrogen and your gut
Everything seems to point back to the gut, right?
Our gut health is intrinsically linked to our overall health & hormone balance. If we have anything from constipation, gas, bloating, diarrhea, acid reflux, stomach aches or frequent burping this will prompt your adrenals to release cortisol. Cortisol will block other hormones (e.g progesterone) at the cell level. You see any sort of stress, whether it be emotional, physical, digestive etc. can lead to imbalanced hormones.
Gut health has been discussed extensivily but in this section you should learn about estrobolome and estrogen connection.
Estrobolome is a collection of bacteria in our gut that is capable of metabolizing and modulating the body’s circulating estrogen. So it’s the gut bacteria and the estrobolome that affects estrogen levels. Estrogens are made mostly in the ovaries and adrenal glands. This hormone helps to regulate female reproductive health, heart health, bone health, body fat & brain function.
When our gut microbiome is healthy, the estrobolome produces optimal levels of an enzyme called betaglucuronidase. Too much of this enzyme & estrogen levels become imbalanced. A diverse gut terrain with a rich collection of different bacteria is super critical for hormone balance.
When the liver metabolizes estrogen, this conjugated estrogen is then delivered to our bile for excretion into the gut. With a healthy estrobolome, this minimizes reabsorption of estrogen from the gut and allows for the safe removal as waste in stool or urine. Gut dysbiosis means we have an imbalance of gut bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. If we have an excess of bacteria that produce betaglucuronidase, this puts estrogen back into its unconjugated active form and is then absorbed back into the bloodstream, resulting in estrogen dominance. This delicate balance of our microbiome and estrobolome can be affected by things like genetics, age, weight, diet, alcohol, toxins, antibiotics, environmental pollutants and more.