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.
What causes estrogen dominance?
#1 – Hormonal Birth Control
Probably the largest contributor to estrogen dominance for many women is hormonal birth control. Many women are using this form of hormonal regulation to regulate periods, control heavy bleeding, and prevent pregnancy. 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, called progestin. This exacerbates estrogen dominance issues and stunts the body’s natural ability to make progesterone. Synthetic progesterone, progestin, is not the same as natural progesterone and can have its own side-effects, including weight gain, fatigue, depression, and others.
Many women I speak with tell me the same story: I gained a significant amount of weight with the pill and it just won’t budge, 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 that result from being on birth control.
#2 – A Poor Diet
Our diet directly impacts how much progesterone and thyroid hormone we make. These two hormones naturally oppose estrogen in the body and keep it in check. A poor diet, which doesn’t regularly hit daily nutrient needs can also negatively impact how well the body breaks down estrogen and gets rid of it.
#3 – Excess Body Fat
While I definitely don’t believe that “skinny” correlates with healthy, excess fat on the body can promote estrogen dominance. This is because fat cells contain enzymes called aromatases, which convert testosterone to estrogen. In other words, the higher body fat percentage we have, the more estrogen we produce, and the higher our risk for estrogen dominance. This is also why women with PCOS, fibroids, and endometriosis tend to fall in the overweight or obese BMI categories.
The solution to this cause of estrogen dominance IS NOT conventional methods of weight loss. In other words, methods that depend on high adrenaline/cortisol (stress hormones) to cause your body to shed weight. These methods include low calorie, low carb/high fat, low protein, combined with excessive exercise.
I do not have the solution for weight loss without metabolic consequences, like losing your hair, being preoccupied with food/constantly hungry, cold intolerance, 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 metabolic health.
Weight loss is a big question mark in my personal and professional life. I am currently working on finding a sustainable solution.
#4 – Excess Exposure to Environmental Forms of Estrogen.
This could be from eating too many foods that contain phytoestrogens (like soy) or environmental.
We are exposed to xenoestrogens in our environment from multiple sources:
A) 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. According to the EWG, “BPA has been linked to everything from breast to other cancers to reproductive problems, obesity, early puberty and heart disease. According to government tests, 93 percent of Americans have BPA in their bodies.” To reduce your exposure to BPA:
Avoid using plastic containers to store warm/hot foods and definitely switch to glass containers to carry your lunch and water. Great for the environment and for you. While many manufacturers have discontinued the use of BPA, it’s alternative BPS is not much better and has similar effects on reproductive health.
Opt for fresh produce over canned. Many can liners contain BPA/BPS.
C) Personal Care Products.
Lotions, creams, shampoos, and other self-care products often 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.
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
How to Address Estrogen Dominance
Reduce exposure to environmental estrogens:
- Purchase organic produce found on the Dirty Dozens List
- Reduce the amount of plastic you use
- Reduce use of personal care products that contain phthalates
- Opt for fresh produce over canned and packaged/processed
Support estrogen excretion from the body:
- Eat enough protein. The liver is the primary 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 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 or poor thyroid health, let’s talk about how nutrition can help! Schedule a free 30-minute information call today.