Signs of Estrogen Dominance
By Sarah Axtell, ND • June 7, 2015
Hormonal imbalance among women is far too common. The most common hormonal imbalance I see is estrogen dominance. In a world where xenoestrogens (endocrine disrupting compounds that mimic estrogen) are ubiquitous, it is no wonder so many women are struggling with the effects of too much estrogen.
Signs of Estrogen Dominance
- Irregular/abnormal periods
- Bloating (water retention)
- Breast swelling/tenderness
- Fibrocystic breasts
- Premenstrual headaches
- Mood swings (irritability, depression)
- Weight gain, especially around the abdomen and hips
- Cold hands and feet
- Hair loss
- Thyroid dysfunction
- Sluggish metabolism
- Foggy thinking/memory loss
- Insomnia/sleep disturbance
- Uterine fibroids
Causes of Estrogen Dominance
A diet low in fiber will predispose women to estrogen dominance. Excess estrogen is excreted in the bowel. When a woman experiences constipation, estrogen is reabsorbed. Studies have shown that women on a high-fiber diet have lower levels of circulating estrogen.
In addition to a low fiber diet, a diet rich in animal protein can predispose a woman to estrogen dominance. Animals are given hormones to promote growth. This is thus the importance of buying organic dairy products and organic meat from animals who are not given hormones.
The liver metabolizes and clears hormones. For example, in PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Disease), it is the liver’s inability to clear testosterone and inability to regulate blood sugar. The solution with PCOS is not birth control pills. The solution is support the liver’s ability to detoxify excess hormones, such as testosterone, and to regulate blood sugar. The liver also plays a role in regulating levels of estrogen. Excess estrogen in the body results in PMS, bloating, fibroids, fibrocystic breasts, mood swings, cramps and irregular menses. This can be addressed by supporting the liver (see below).
We live in a world that is full of feminizing compounds that raise estrogen, or xenoestrogens. BPA is a compound found in plastics and the inner lining of canned goods that can contribute to excess estrogen. Other xenoestrogens include PCBs, parabens, pthalates, pesticides and DDT. Buy organic when possible and avoid drinking from plastic water bottles. Also, avoid cosmetics that include pthalates and parabens.
Oral contraceptives and hormone replacement
Birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy can also cause estrogen dominance. Interestingly, the symptoms many women experience with estrogen dominance are masked by these medications. These medications keep estrogen levels consistently high so that there aren’t any hormone fluctuations, which temporarily puts a band-aid on the underlying imbalance. The cause of the symptoms—high estrogen—has not been addressed only masked. It is common then that once you discontinue the pill, your symptoms worsen because you are left in an even more significant state of estrogen dominance.
According to research published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, “the increase in breast cancer risk with increasing BMI among postmenopausal women is largely the result of the associated increase in estrogens.”
To achieve hormone imbalance, an optimal weight is key. Excess body fat results in conservation of estrogen. Body fat is now being referred to an endocrine organ as fat cells can actually produce estrogen. In fact, overweight women are at a higher risk of breast and uterine cancer, and this is likely due to excess estrogen.
The Role of Progesterone
Progesterone is the counter hormone to estrogen. An overall decline in progesterone allows estrogen to go unopposed. There must be a balance when it comes to these two hormones. The symptoms associated with low progesterone are similar to symptoms associated with high estrogen:
- Mood swings
- Excess gas/flatus
- Heavy, frequent menses
- Spotting a few days before periods
- Breast tenderness/swelling
- Water retention
- Weight Gain
- Trouble sleeping
- Brain fog
Risks Associated with Elevated Estrogen
Cancer is one of the most disconcerting possible outcomes of estrogen dominance. Estrogen dependent cancers include ovarian cancer, endometrial cancer, breast cancer, colorectal cancer. Among the risks the American Cancer Society lists for breast cancer are long menstrual history (early onset of menses and late menopause) and use of oral contraceptives as well as postmenopausal estrogens and progestin. These risk factors increase the lifetime exposure to estrogen.
In my practice, I use salivary testing to identify hormonal imbalances. Saliva testing looks at the “unbound hormone levels” also known as “free fraction hormone levels” which are the hormone levels that are available to be used by the body’s tissues. In other words, it tests the most active hormones as compared to serum testing which tests “bound” or inactive hormones.
1. Liver support, such as:
- UNDAs- This is a European form of homeopathy, also known as biotherapeutic drainage. It is a means to detoxify or eliminate wastes intracellularly (inside the cell). I have found this to be an invaluable part of my practice to encourage optimal liver function.
- Milk thistle– This herb has the ability to repair damaged liver cells and restore function to a dysfunctional liver.
- Dandelion- This is a very bitter herb that can be taken as a capsule, consumed in the form of a tea, or the greens can be eaten as part of a salad. Herbs with a bitter quality promote good digestion and detoxification.
- Artichokes, Beets, Cilantro- These are foods that love the liver. When you eat beets, be sure to keep the greens, which are a potent detoxifier. Beet greens can be chopped and sauteed with some onions and garlic. Cilantro has the ability to chelate (or bind) heavy metals and eliminate them.
- Green Tea- Review of clinical trials shows that green tea consumption consistently leads to a significant increase in the antioxidant capacity of the blood. Antioxidants repair oxidative damage to the liver. Aim for 2-3 cups of green tea daily.
2. Diet– Eat a diet full of organic whole foods and fiber and get at least five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables each day.
3. Decrease exposure to xenoestrogens by wearing and using safe products free of hormone disruptors such as parabens and pthalates.
4. Manage stress. Chronic stress strains the adrenals and thyroid. When one part of the endocrine is out of balance, as in the case of adrenal fatigue, this affects the female hormones as well as thyroid. It is all connected.
5. If indicated, Progesterone supplementation or herbs to increase progesetrone, such as vitex.
Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health practitioners with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.