Hormones play a huge role in our lives. No matter how much we know about hormones or work to control our hormonal health, fluctuations may have a significant impact on our overall well-being in our day to day lives.
When you are experiencing hormonal imbalances, you may start to notice that you're tired all of the time, but dismiss it as increased demands from your work and home life. You may notice your period is irregular and think “it’s just stress”.
What you may not realize is that you could be experiencing a condition called "Estrogen Dominance". While it may sound scary, symptoms of high estrogen levels (estrogen dominance) are extremely common in women over the age of 35 and may be the root of your bothersome symptoms.
In this article, LetsGetChecked discuss what estrogen dominance is, the signs and symptoms of estrogen dominance and how to treat estrogen dominance for better hormonal health.
- What Is Estrogen Dominance?
- What Are The Causes Of Estrogen Dominance?
- What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of Estrogen Dominance?
- How Does Estrogen Dominance Affect Pregnancy?
- How is Estrogen Dominance Diagnosed?
- Are There Natural Methods To Decrease Estrogen Dominance?
What Is Estrogen Dominance?
Estrogen dominance occurs when your delicate estrogen and progesterone balance is out of sync. If your levels of estrogen dominate the amount of progesterone you have in your body, it creates all kinds of problems for your body.
Dr. John R. Lee pioneered the term "estrogen dominance" to mean having deficient, normal or excessive estrogen without enough progesterone to balance its effect. For some women, this is a condition they have from the time they begin their menstrual cycle for others, it is a condition that begins with perimenopause.
The Estrogen and Progesterone Balancing Act
Two hormones dominate a woman’s body, these include:
Estrogen: Estrogen is known as the “female” sex hormone. Estrogen helps regulate the menstrual cycle, controlling the growth of the uterine lining during the first part of the cycle. It is primarily produced in the ovaries, however, it is also produced by fat cells and the adrenal glands.
Watch this video with Dr. Dominic Rowley to learn more about estrogen:
Progesterone: Progesterone is another “female” sex hormone. It is released by the corpus luteum (the shell that contains the egg) in the ovary when the egg breaks free and starts its journey from the fallopian tube to the womb. Progesterone prepares the body for pregnancy in the event that the released egg is fertilised. If the egg is not fertilised, the corpus luteum eventually fully breaks down, with the the production of progesterone decreasing and a new menstrual cycle beginning.
Watch this video with Dr. Dominic Rowley to learn more about progesterone:
Your levels of estrogen and progesterone fluctuate with the beginning of your menstrual cycle. When you start your period, your body is producing some estrogen and almost no progesterone. Just before ovulation, your estrogen levels increase dramatically stimulating the release of the egg from the ovaries. This graph illustrates the rise and fall of hormones during your cycle, indicating when you should take a female hormone test.
After the egg is released, your body begins to produce progesterone to preparing the lining of your uterus for implantation of a fertilized egg, or pregnancy. If you do not become pregnant, progesterone levels drop dramatically signaling the body to shed the uterine lining, which marks the start your period and the whole cycle all over again.
What Are The Causes Of Estrogen Dominance?
There are three main causes of high estrogen levels in women including the environment, nutrition, and age.
Xenoestrogens , or synthetic estrogen compounds are found in everything from styrofoam containers to detergents and lotions. Pesticide, plastic, and car exhaust fumes all contribute to high levels of xenoestrogens in our everyday environment. While it is not possible to avoid all synthetic estrogen, there are ways to counter-balance estrogen levels by being proactive in other areas of your life.
For instance, the hormone cortisol is directly linked to the fight or flight hormone we all experience when we are stressed. Your body will actually use progesterone to produce cortisol, stressing your adrenal glands to produce more progesterone for normal hormonal balance. In many women, this balance cannot be maintained, progesterone levels will drop, and estrogen dominance will emerge.
We all know a well-balanced diet is important to looking and feeling great, but diet can actually affect the levels of estrogen in your body. While soy products are the root of many vegetarian diets, the consumption of soy has been linked to estrogen dominance. Soy contains phytoestrogens that mimic the role estrogen plays in your body. When you eat a diet rich in soy products, your body’s estrogen receptors are activated. If your body continues to produce the amount of estrogen it normally needs, you may experience estrogen dominance.
It is not enough to simply stop drinking soy milk. Most women are deficient in the twin minerals magnesium and calcium. While calcium is linked to bone, hair, and tooth health, it cannot be absorbed without sufficient magnesium in the body. However, your body also uses magnesium to metabolize extra estrogen and get rid of it through the liver. If you are already deficient in magnesium (which most women are), your body will burn through your magnesium stores trying to bring back your hormonal balance and you can end up with kidney stones, blood clots, or gallstones.
Finally, let’s talk about your weight. It’s uncomfortable, but it needs to be addressed. Body fat and estrogen dominance often go hand in hand. Think of the fat on your body like an organ. Like any organ, it produces hormones and provides an important function. Fat cells produce estrogen. This is why women have a naturally higher body fat percentage than men, as a backup hormone source for a developing baby.
Remember those xenoestrogens? Turns out they’re fat soluble, accumulate over time, and are typically stored in your fat cells. This means the fat cells that were producing estrogen are now overloaded with synthetic estrogens as well resulting in a never-ending estrogen assault on your body. Reducing your body fat percentage to below 28% can have a profound effect on any signs and symptoms of estrogen dominance.
After the age of 35, many women enter the phase of reproduction called “perimenopause”. From the age of 35 to 50, there is a 35% decrease in the amount of estrogen you produce, but a much bigger drop in progesterone of 75% as your cycles becomes increasingly anovulatory (you don’t ovulate). In this instance, estrogen levels remain high but your body can no longer combat them with appropriate amounts of progesterone. As a result your estrogen levels are much higher than your progesterone levels, causing estrogen dominance. Not only does this condition cause irregular periods, it can also contribute to a whole host of other symptoms.
What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of Estrogen Dominance?
Symptoms of estrogen dominance vary from person to person and depend largely on your level of hormonal imbalance. Common symptoms of estrogen dominance include:
- Decreased sex drive
- Increased PMS
- Irregular periods
- Mood swings
- Hot flashes
- Tenderness in the breasts
- Weight gain
- Difficulty concentrating
Remember, while these are all symptoms of estrogen dominance, they can also signal other health problems. The best (and only) way to know if too much estrogen is to blame for your symptoms is to have your hormone levels checked by your physician. This is done with a simple blood or saliva test designed to check all hormone levels and the ratios of estrogen and progesterone in your body.
Women who have experienced normal menstrual cycles their entire lives are at risk for estrogen dominance when their ovaries stop ovulating regularly. In fact, it was once believed that these symptoms were indicative of ovaries that were not functioning well and the solution was to prescribe estrogen medication in an attempt to stimulate ovary function.
However, Endocrinologist Dr. Jerilynn Prior found that women (between the ages of 35 and 50) experiencing perimenopausal symptoms like hot flashes and heavy periods were actually suffering from high estrogen levels, not low ones. Estrogen levels in perimenopausal women are generally higher than those in younger women meaning the ovaries are working overtime during ahead of the end of menstruation and the beginning of the menstrual cycle.
How Does Estrogen Dominance Affect Pregnancy?
Hormonal imbalances including estrogen dominance are often responsible for fertility issues couples may face when trying to get pregnant.
Whether you between the ages of 30 and 50, or are experiencing a secondary syndrome that affects ovulation (such as polycystic ovarian syndrome or endometriosis) chances are you are not experiencing ovulation despite having a normal menstrual cycle. These anovulatory cycles can cause estrogen dominance.
Usually, an egg is released from the ovary and travels to the uterus to await fusion with a sperm. After the egg is released, its empty follicle becomes a factory for progesterone production until the egg is either fertilized and implants in your uterus or your period begins. If you do not ovulate, there is no empty follicle for progesterone production. No progesterone production causes estrogen dominance.
Having adequate levels of progesterone are essential to becoming pregnant and staying pregnant until the placenta takes over progesterone production. If you are not estrogen dominant your progesterone levels will remain high after implantation, and your body will not send the signal to begin your period. If you are experiencing estrogen dominance, progesterone levels will not be high enough to maintain a pregnancy, even if implantation has occurred and you will start your period. Likewise, if progesterone levels are high enough to become pregnant then become unbalanced within the first weeks, there is an increased risk of miscarriage.
What Are The Serious Negative Side Effects of Estrogen Dominance?
A hormone imbalance doesn’t just affect how you feel, it can affect how your body operates. While the initial symptoms listed above of too much estrogen can be annoying, allowing estrogen levels to build up to unhealthy levels can cause some real health problems including:
- A complete lack of ovulation (and periods)
- Heavy bleeding
- Uterine cancer
- Low-grade dementia
- Breast cancer
- Heart disease
These conditions are serious, however, the good news is that their development is slow so if you are vigilant and take action when you notice the early signs of estrogen dominance then you can reduce the chances of these conditions developing.
How is Estrogen Dominance Diagnosed?
If you suspect your symptoms are linked to estrogen dominance, the first step is to record your symptoms, at what point in your menstrual cycle they appear, and how long they last. Do NOT change your diet, begin an exercise routine, or begin taking progesterone cream before an appointment with a medical professional.
Next you have one of two options:
Discuss your symptoms with your doctor. At your appointment, give your doctor all of your information including any medications you are taking and ask your healthcare provider to check your hormone levels.
Order an at home hormonal imbalance blood test to measure your progesterone and estrogen levels. At LetsGetChecked we offer easy to use female fertility test kits. When you send your kit back to the lab, one of our trained nurses will call you to discuss your results with you to make sure you fully understand what the results mean.
Testing for estrogen dominance is a bit tricky however. Because your hormone levels vary throughout your menstrual cycle, it is very important that the blood test is taken at the right time in your cycle to give the most accurate picture of your hormone levels.
Progesterone tests need to be taken on day 21 of your menstrual cycle to measure the amount of progesterone in your system after ovulation, and estrogen blood tests need to be taken on day 3 of your menstrual cycle (the third day of blood flow during your period) to get the most accurate results.
Are There Natural Methods To Decrease Estrogen Dominance?
While taking a progesterone supplement may be called for in order to correct estrogen dominance, it is not always necessary. Instead, there are a few natural ways to decrease estrogen dominance without a prescription.
Eat lots of organic fruit and vegetables with adequate amounts of protein that is not soy based or grown with artificial growth hormones. Dark leafy green vegetables are high in magnesium and B vitamins that are essential for the metabolism of estrogen in the body.
Eat More Fiber
This is so important, it warrants special mention. Estrogen is excreted through bowel movements. If stool takes a long time to wind its way through your bowel, estrogen will actually be reabsorbed by your body in the process. The best way to avoid this is to eat a diet high in insoluble fiber.
Lose Excess Body Fat
Do everything you can to reduce your body fat percentage below 28%. By losing excess weight through a proper diet and exercise, you will also lose the body’s ability to store and produce excessive amounts of estrogen.
Decrease Stress in Your Life
Remember, your body uses progesterone to create cortisol. The more of your life you spend in “fight or flight” mode, the more progesterone your body will use. Learn to say, “NO”. Invest time in your hobbies, interests, and experiences that will allow you to reduce stressors and increase your sense of well-being.
Ditch the Caffeine
Studies have shown that women who consume at least 500 milligrams of caffeine (5 cups of coffee) a day have nearly 70% more estrogen than those who consume less than 100 milligrams of caffeine a day. Caffeine intake is linked with these higher levels of estrogen regardless of how old you are, what you weigh, and whether you smoke or drink alcohol.
Whether you know you are experiencing estrogen dominance or merely suspect you are, remember that this is a condition that largely be mitigated by a few simple changes in lifestyle. Estrogen dominance is not a life-sentence, but merely a bump in the road on your way to a long, healthy reproductive life.
Written by Ian Kerins | Approved by Medical Director Dr. Dominic Rowley