Overcoming Estrogen Dominance
The female body is a complex system functioning with great precision when all hormones are performing as required in their role as messengers in the body. When this happens, we have proper functioning between the main organs in the reproductive system - the brain, the ovaries, and the adrenal glands.
One of the key hormones in regulating smooth functioning of the female reproductive system and sexual system is estrogen. Estrogen must be balanced with the hormone progesterone for these systems to function properly. Unfortunately, the balance between estrogen and progesterone can be easily disturbed by excessive exposure to environmental toxins, diet, medications, poor sleep, stress, and poor elimination of excess hormones.
A disturbance between estrogen and progesterone can result in Estrogen Dominance. Estrogen Dominance arises when the ratio between estrogen and the hormone progesterone has fallen out of balance (high estrogen in relation to progesterone). Estrogen dominance can be too much or too little estrogen, the key is in the balance with progesterone which is also crucial to the reproductive system.
Estrogen Dominance can lead to weight gain, hormonal complications, blood sugar imbalance, mood swings, and depression.
Before going into detail on Estrogen Dominance it’s important to understand what a hormone is. Hormones are messengers. These messengers send signals to organs telling them how to perform. If we have too little or too much of a hormone our organs do not receive the signals needed for our bodies to function properly.
Estrogen and progesterone are the two main female sex hormones. They have many different roles in the body and are equally important for reaching and maintaining optimal health.
Estrogen sends messages to the lining of the uterus to grow and thicken in preparation for pregnancy. It also affects sexual urges, sexual response, brain function, and bone density. Estrogen impacts the functioning of the thyroid, hypothalamus, anterior pituitary, thymus, skin, and the nervous system.
Progesterone also instructs the uterine lining to grow and thicken in preparation for pregnancy. If fertilization does not occur, progesterone levels drop signaling the beginning of the menstrual cycle. Progesterone also decreases cell growth, particularly that of breast cells, it reduces anxiety and depression, promotes sleep, influences bone growth, and increases the activity of thyroid hormone which affects metabolism.
One of the most common hormonal imbalances women experience is estrogen dominance which can be due to excess estrogens or a lack of progesterone. Either way there is an imbalance between estrogen and progesterone and this imbalance can negatively impact health.
Signs and Symptoms of Estrogen Dominance
Low sex drive
Uterine and breast cancers
Difficulty losing weight
Excessive hair growth on the body
Fat accumulation around the hips
Altered thyroid activity (mimicking hypothyroid)
Heavy and irregular menses
Early onset of menses (before age 12)
Causes of Estrogen Dominance
The body accumulates excess estrogen in two ways:
Endogenously - We make too much of our own estrogen and it’s not being properly eliminated.
Exogenously - Excess estrogens enter the body from external sources, such as foods, toxins, and chemicals, and are not being properly eliminated.
Endogenous Estrogens - Common causes/sources:
Stress - The number one cause of endogenous estrogens. Excessive and/or prolonged stress decreases progesterone production to make more cortisol, the main stress hormone. This results in high estrogen levels in relation to progesterone.
Impaired liver function – One of the many roles of the liver is to remove excess hormones from the body. If the liver is impaired the ability to perform this role is impaired leading to estrogen dominance.
Dysbiosis – A higher presence of bad bacteria vs. good bacteria in the gut inhibits conversion of estrogen into water-soluble molecules causing the estrogens to recirculate back into the blood-stream where it can re-exert its effects - gut health is important for the metabolism of all hormones.
Others causes/sources include: Overconsumption of caffeine, drugs/alcohol, nutrient deficiencies, obesity, and sleep deprivation.
Exogenous Estrogens - Common causes/sources:
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) – HRT is a form of therapy often used to treat symptoms of perimenopause and menopause. The hormones used in HRT are synthetic.
Growth hormones – Growth hormones contain estrogen. Animal products from conventionally farm raised animals usually contain growth hormones.
Xenoestrogens – Xenoestrogens are synthetic substances that mimic estrogen. Unlike estrogen, which the body eliminates after its job is done, usually, in about 12 hours, xenoestrogens are stored in fat cells where they disrupt the proper functioning of the reproductive system and increase the risk of disease in the breast and ovaries.
Sources of Xenoestrogens
Plastics – Our world is filled with plastics, many of which leach hormone-like chemicals into the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe. Even BPA free plastics leach estrogenic chemicals.
Instead of plastic chose glass or stainless steel and never heat food in plastic.
Pesticides – Pesticides contain a plethora of chemicals that wreak havoc on the reproductive system.
Eat organic fruits and vegetables whenever possible is best. A good guide to follow is the EWG's Dirty Dozen™and Clean Fifteen™.
Conventionally raised meat and dairy – Farmed animals raised by conventional methods are fed harmful synthetic hormones. These hormones bioaccumulate in the animals over time and remain in the body of the animal even after slaughter. When we consume meat or dairy we consume whatever the source animal consumed.
Always choose meat and dairy from grass-fed and/or organic sources.
Water – It’s great that the water from our kitchen taps is treated to remove harmful bacteria and other pollutants, but the truth is that the chemicals used to do this are not filtered out of the water by the time it reaches our homes. The other sad truth is that the water still contains many harmful substances that treatment plants simply cannot remove. For example, hormones in birth control pills that are excreted in urine. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) identified 45 hormone-disrupting chemicals in public drinking water.
Do your best to drink spring water from glass bottles, filtered water and avoid plastic water bottles as much as possible
A common thought is to buy bottled water, often in plastic. Unfortunately, hormone-disrupting chemicals from the plastic also leach in the water. The best alternative is to invest in water delivery & a good quality water filter for your home.
Personal care products - Many personal care products such as cosmetics, shampoos, hair creams, and body lotions, contain many harmful chemicals. For example, one of the most common chemicals found in personal care products is “Fragrance”. Fragrances are linked to liver and kidney damage, cancer and endocrine disruption which interferes with your adrenal, thyroid and reproductive glands.
The fact is when we use these personal care products we can inhale the toxins and absorb them through our skin. Opt for natural plant-based alternative with ingredient names you recognize and can pronounce.
Birth Control Pills – Birth control pills contain synthetic hormones. Your liver is taxed with having to detox these hormones which in excess gets recirculated in the body in a more harmful form.
Speak to a holistic healthcare professional about alternatives for your specific condition.
Phytoestrogens – Phytoestrogens are derived from plants. They have a similar structure to estrogen but have a weaker estrogenic effect in the body. This subdued effect can decrease estrogenic activity and is therefore beneficial for healing estrogen dominance.
Sources of phytoestrogen include oats, alfalfa, lentils, barley, apples, sweet potatoes, carrots, sesame seeds, licorice root, red clover, soy products (tofu, soybeans, tempeh, miso).
Dietary Guidelines for Healing Estrogen Dominance
The following dietary guidelines should be followed to improve and reduce estrogen dominance:
Eliminate / Reduce
Unfollow the SAD – The ‘Standard American Diet’, consisting of sugar, wheat, dairy and artificial ingredients, is a nightmare for the human body. The guidelines from the SAD are wreaking havoc with our blood sugar and hormones. Foods are processed with xenoestrogens in the form of chemicals, hormones, and antibiotics, substances which contribute to the increase in obesity by adding to fat storage in cells and burdening the liver which is trying to detoxify excess estrogens.
Limit animal products (meat, dairy) - especially conventional animal products, choosing only grass-fed and organic but also be mindful of the intake of these products.
Soy - use only organic soy, and in moderation. If you choose to consume soy, choosing organic and fermented soy, such as miso and tempeh.
Alcohol and caffeine- The liver must work extra hard to eliminate alcohol from the body and so no longer focuses on eliminating estrogen and other toxins. The estrogen marked for elimination accumulates in body fat and is recirculated in the body. Excessive intake of caffeine exhausts the adrenal glands and can further drain these glands which increases estrogen levels.
Try: Replace with smoothies, sugar-free spritzers, and herbal infusions. Replace warm drinks with herbal teas e.g. dandelion and milk thistle teas which help the liver’s detoxing process. Caffeine free lattes such as turmeric lattes, pumpkin latte, hot cocoa, etc. The key is to use natural, healthy products, and minimize dairy.
Enjoy fresh, organic raw or lightly cooked produce as much as possible. Eat organic, free range, grass fed meat, poultry, and dairy in limited quantities. Avoid commercial wheat, if you must occasionally use wheat, make it organic and reach for options like fresh sourdough bread. Replace refined sugar with dates, honey, or maple syrup, again in minimum quantities. Drink lots of clean filtered water and ensure there is fiber in every meal. Know that bowel elimination includes estrogen, the better the bowel movement the more estrogen leaves the body.
Increase / focus on
Whole-Foods, Brassica/cruciferous vegetables, Fibre, Water
A Whole food simply means a food in its natural form (the way it is right after harvesting). A diet high in processed and refined carbohydrates and sugars can increase estrogen to unhealthy levels. Try: whole foods such as broccoli, kale, cucumber, berries, mango, quinoa, organic chicken, avocado, and hemp seeds.
Brassica/cruciferous vegetables are great at supporting the liver’s detoxification processes.
Try: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, watercress, turnip, horseradish, mizuna, cilantro. * If eaten raw this family of vegetables can inhibit thyroid function.
Fibre is critical for healthy bowel movements which is the main way for excess estrogen to exit the body. Try: a diet mostly of whole-foods. The general rule is at least 35 g of fiber/day. However, it is easy to reach this if consuming a whole-foods based diet. Fibre rich whole-food examples: broccoli, pears, ground flax seeds.
Water is needed for all body functions including healthy bowel movements. Try: aim for 2.5L of pure filtered water daily to help remove toxins and excess estrogen from the body.
Probiotic-rich foods!! Such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir and kombucha.
Supplements for Healing Estrogen Dominance
DIM + Calcium D-glucarate – DIM is a strong estrogen metabolizer. Calcium D-glucarate is a natural substance that helps the detoxification process.
N-acetyl-l-cysteine – Powerful antioxidant supporting liver detoxification of excess hormones.
Vitamin E - Plays a role in regulating estrogen levels as well as supporting healthy functioning of the adrenal glands. Try: 200-400 IU/day
B Complex - The B vitamins have various roles in hormonal regulation both directly and indirectly, one of them is promoting a healthy stress response. Try: a B-complex with activated forms.
Adrenal support formulas/glandular - These may help your healing by supporting healthy adrenal function. It is best to speak to a holistic healthcare practitioner to choose the formula best suited for you.
Probiotics – Probiotics contain “good” bacteria which encourages further growth of good bacteria and discourages growth of “bad” bacteria helping to rebalance gut flora if dysbiosis is present. Try: a daily probiotic of 10-50 billion (higher dose for more severe cases. If desired, 10 billion can be taken as a preventative or maintenance). You can also consume probiotic-rich foods. These are fermented foods such a sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, natto and yogurt.
Zinc - Can decrease estrogen and boost progesterone. it’s best to speak to a holistic healthcare practitioner to determine the right dose for you.
Try Seed Cycling - This refers to the use of specific seeds at specific times in your cycle to promote normal hormonal changes during your cycle. See our post on the journal!
Healing Herbs for Estrogen Dominance
Chaste tree berry (Vitex) – This herb supports most hormonal imbalance conditions. Try: tincture or capsules as indicated on the bottle. It will take 3-4 months to see an effect.
Liver supporting herbs – Examples: Burdock (tea), dandelion root (tea), Milk thistle (tincture). These herbs all help to cleanse the liver of excess estrogen.
*It’s best to speak with a holistic or herbal practitioner prior to taking or combining herbs or supplements to suggest a plan specific to your body & needs.
Lifestyle Tips for Healing Estrogen Dominance
Exercise - Our body requires movement for optimal health. Exercising facilitates liver detoxification, helps normalize bowel movements, increases circulation, regulates blood sugar balance, and supports weight regulation. These all play critical roles in moving excess estrogen out of the body.
Add a daily excise routine can start with just 30 mins of brisk walking. But, any consistent physical movement will do – yoga, swimming, hiking, walking, running, pilates, strength training, etc.; whatever you do you simply must keep moving!
Stimulate the lymphatic system – Dry brush daily for at least 10 minutes to stimulate your lymphatic system and release toxins. Do not dry brush when your skin is wet. Dry brush your body starting from your feet with long sweeping upward strokes towards your heart. The strokes should add pressure but must be gentle enough not to damage your skin. Shower when done. Also practice deep breathing for 10 mins daily.
Reduce Stress- The adrenal glands are our stress glands, they help the body manage stress by releasing hormones such as cortisol, insulin, and adrenaline. If we are always stressed, these glands are overworked and fatigued and borrow progesterone from the body creating an imbalance in progesterone availability allowing for estrogen dominance.
Do any activity which helps you relax. Be outside in nature. Studies have show that being in nature reduces rumination, lowers cortisol levels and boost the immune system. Other suggestions are to practice meditation, singing, and listening to music. The key is consistency!
Infrared saunas – Infrared saunas can enhance detoxification through the use of heat and light. The ability to detox effectively is critical for eliminating excess estrogen. Infrared saunas also increase relaxation and reduce inflammation. Monthly sessions recommended.
Take time for self care - Self care will be different for every person. For example, a walk in nature, knitting, reading under a tree, or experimenting with new recipes. Whatever it is which helps you feel relaxed and refreshed will be welcomed by the adrenal glands and actually the entire body, so indulge!