What is estrogen?
Estrogen is a hormone that is primarily thought of as a “female” hormone. However, it plays a role in both female and male health. In men, estrogen supports sexual function. In women, estrogen essentially prepares the uterine lining for pregnancy.
There are various types of estrogen.
The most common found in the body are estradiol, estrone, and estriol. Estradiol is the most potent version of estrogen; whereas, estrone and estriol have lower potency. We are also exposed to other forms of estrogen through the environment. These include phytoestrogens, which are found in plants. And xenoestrogens, which are a chemical form of estrogen found in pesticides or other environmental toxins.
While estrogen plays an important role in reproductive health, it can also create many problems in excess. If you are dealing with hormonal health issues, especially related to women’s health, you have probably heard the words estrogen dominance at least once. Estrogen dominance occurs when there is too much estrogen in the body, compared to its balancing companion, progesterone.
Symptoms of Estrogen Dominance
- Menstrual irregularities
- PCOS/Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
- Painful periods
- Severe PMS, especially mood swings
- Male pattern facial hair growth for women
- Excess weight
- Salt and fluid retention
- Swelling/breast tenderness
- Decreased sex drive
- Cold hands and feet
- Trouble sleeping
- Memory loss
- Poor thyroid function (hypothyroidism)
- Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis
- Hair loss
Causes of estrogen dominance
Hormonal Birth Control
Hormonal birth control is the biggest cause of estrogen dominance. Many women are using hormonal birth control to regulate periods, control heavy bleeding, and prevent pregnancy. The irony is that, these symptoms (other than preventing pregnancy) are often the result of estrogen dominance to begin with.
Birth control pills contain synthetic versions of estrogen and progesterone. The synthetic version of progesterone is called progestin. Synthetic hormones make estrogen dominance worse because they shut down the body’s natural progesterone production. Progestin is not the same as natural progesterone and can have its own side-effects, including weight gain, fatigue, and depression. It can also mimic testosterone and cause high testosterone symptoms, like acne and facial hair in women.
Many women I speak with tell me the same story: I gained a lot of weight with the pill and it just won’t come off, even after being off the pill for years. Getting rid of excess estrogen from the body is difficult and it can take years to correct the hormonal imbalances due to birth control.
A Poor Diet
Our diet directly impacts how much progesterone and thyroid hormone we make. Progesterone and thyroid hormone naturally keep estrogen in check. Nutrients like Vitamin A, zinc, selenium, iodine, B vitamins all impact progesterone production in the ovaries and thyroid hormone in the thyroid gland.
A poor diet also slows down the process of breaking down extra estrogen and getting rid of it. This is because the liver is responsible for neutralizing estrogen and sending it to the gut or kidneys to pee or poop out. But the liver needs nutrients! Many nutrients most Americans are not getting enough of. These include vitamin A, D, E, K, B vitamins, choline, protein, etc.
Too Much Body Fat
While I don’t believe “skinny” always correlates with healthy, I know that extra fat on the body can cause estrogen dominance. This is because fat cells have enzymes called aromatases, which convert testosterone to estrogen. In other words, the more body fat we have, the more estrogen we make in our fat tissues. This increases our risk for estrogen dominance. This is also why women with PCOS, fibroids, and endometriosis tend to be overweight.
The solution too much body fat IS NOT conventional methods of weight loss. I’m looking at you, dieting. Dieting often asks us to drastically change our habits. It depends on an immense amount of willpower and focus. It also means eating less overall, or cutting out specific types of foods, like carbs, or fat, or protein. Sometimes, people eat no more than 1200 calories to force quick weight loss. And combine that with a lot of exercise. Eating so little, while doing a lot of exercise causes our stress hormones to go up. In the long run, this damages our metabolism and makes it harder for our body to maintain our pre-diet weight. So, it finds a new “set point” – a weight where it feels safe.
I do not have the solution for weight loss without negative consequences, like losing hair, being constantly hungry, being cold all the time, constipation, etc. This is primarily why I don’t work with individuals who want to lose weight. I cannot ethically provide a weight loss plan that doesn’t also compromise their metabolism or overall health.
Synthetic Estrogens in our Environment
This could be from eating too many foods that contain phytoestrogens (like soy) or environmental (xenoestrogens).
We are exposed to xenoestrogens in our environment from multiple sources:
1. Pesticides on our food.
Did you know that kale was found to be among the most contaminated US fruits and vegetables in 2019? Use the Dirty Dozen List from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) to avoid foods that have the highest pesticide levels. These are foods that you should try to purchase organic versions of. The EWG also has a Clean Fifteen List, which lists foods that have low levels of pesticides and don’t necessarily need to be organic.
BPA found in plastics, mimics estrogen in the body and can increase estrogen levels. BPA is linked to many health problems, like breast cancer, reproductive issues, weight problems, early puberty, and heart disease.
Avoid using plastic containers to store warm or hot foods and switch to glass containers to carry your lunch and water. Great for the environment and for you. While many manufacturers have stopped using BPA, it’s alternative, BPS, is not much better and has similar effects on reproductive health.
Also, many can liners contain BPA/BPS. Try frozen or glass jars. Most canned goods are lined with BPA, BPS, or other toxic chemicals that should not be mixing with our food.
3. Personal Care Products.
Lotions, creams, shampoos, and other self-care products contain an endocrine-disruptor called phthalates. According to the EWG, phthalates can cause premature cell death in the testicles; “hormone changes; lower sperm count; less mobile sperm; birth defects in the male reproductive system; obesity; diabetes; and thyroid irregularities.” Check out their database on safe self-care products.
To learn more about environmental endocrine-disruptors, here’s a short guide from the EWG.
How to Reverse Estrogen Dominance, Naturally
Reduce exposure to environmental estrogens:
- Purchase organic produce found on the Dirty Dozens List.
- Reduce the amount of plastic you use. Use glass containers to store or warm up food.
- Reduce use of personal care products that contain phthalates.
- Opt for fresh, frozen, or packaged in glass foods over canned.
Support estrogen excretion from the body.
- Eat enough protein. The liver is the main organ that converts estrogen into a form that can be excreted from the body. The liver needs protein to function properly! A minimum of 25% of your daily intake should come from protein.
- Address your constipation. If you are not having at least one bowel movement a day, your body is re-absorbing estrogen that it is trying to get rid of through your gut.
- Get your thyroid checked. If you have symptoms of estrogen dominance or PCOS, the likelihood of you having Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, or hypothyroidism is greater than the average person. Thyroid keeps estrogen in check and making sure your thyroid is functioning properly is an important piece of the puzzle.
If you’re struggling with estrogen dominance-related issues, PCOS, hypothyroidism, or Hashimoto’s, let’s talk about how nutrition can help! Schedule a free information call here: https://p.bttr.to/2rAbYbs.