Estrogen Dominance: What It Actually Means And What You Can Do About It
Updated: May 23
You may have heard the term, “estrogen dominance." It’s a common blanket explanation for many common and even sometimes more serious hormone-related issues. But what you’ve heard about estrogen dominance may not be entirely accurate, as it's often a term used to over-simplify what it really going on in your body. Let's look at how to address estrogen-related issues to reverse common symptoms from breast tenderness to menstrual migraine, heavy periods to hot flashes, and more – as well as protecting yourself against the risks of chronic excess estrogen exposure.
Estrogen Is Our BFF
Before you go thinking estrogen is a dangerous hormone, let me explain. Estrogen is our “Queen Bee” hormone. Estrogen is best known for helping shape our monthly hormonal cycle, but its role in our life doesn’t end there – not even close. Here are just some of estrogen’s roles in our health and well-being as women:
Influences the development of the female body shape and physical female characteristics
Prepares the uterus for pregnancy
Helps maintain proper blood sugar levels
Encourages cells growth
Controls cholesterol levels
Helps produce neurotransmitters like serotonin (the happy hormone)
Aids a healthy sleep cycle
Helps regulate our cortisol levels
Helps maintain bone health
Helps maintain healthy skin and hair
Supports vaginal and urinary tract health
Supports cognitive health, memory, and executive function
Promotes cardiovascular health
Helps maintain healthy inflammation levels
High Estrogen: Symptoms and Risks
Hormone levels fluctuate normally throughout the menstrual cycle and mild signs of this – like tender breasts before your period and changes in mood and energy levels – are notably normal. But if you have higher than normal levels of estrogen, these symptoms can may start to interfere with your day-to-day life.
If your estrogen levels are too high, symptoms/conditions you might experience include:
Cyclic breast tenderness, breast cysts, breast fullness
Short menstrual cycles (less than 21 days)
Depression, anxiety, mood shifts
Hormonal migraines and headaches (as estrogen drops)
Irregular vaginal bleeding and spotting
Weight gain or weight loss resistance
Constipation and digestive issues
Unfortunately, if estrogen levels remain high for too long without being addressed, it can put you at risk for other long-term issues, including:
Hypothyroidism: There’s a link between estrogen and thyroid health; If your estrogen levels are too high, it leads to a decrease in the amount of thyroid hormone circulating in your body, which can give your symptoms of a slow thyroid even if your thyroid levels are showing normal.
Worsened endometriosis: Elevated estrogen can trigger the growth of endometrial lesions that can contribute to and worsen your endometriosis.
Endometrial hyperplasia: High estrogen can lead to an overgrowth of the uterine lining, which can lead to abnormal uterine bleeding.
Breast, ovarian, and endometrial cancers: Years of research has shown that unhealthy changes in estrogen can be linked to the progression of certain cancers, including breast cancer and ovarian and endometrial cancers.
Heart disease, stroke, and clotting problems: Changes in estrogen levels have been linked to different forms of cardiovascular disease.
As you can see, there are both immediate reasons and long-term reasons to get estrogen levels to a healthy place.
Is “Estrogen Dominance” a Real Thing?
As mentioned earlier, “estrogen dominance” is a common term that we hear all the time in the natural medicine and alternative health world as a blanket term to describe all types of hormone-related issues. Originally, estrogen dominance was a theory about a metabolic state where the level of estrogen in the body outweighs the levels of progesterone. First proposed by John R. Lee and Virginia Hopkins in their 1996 book, “What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Menopause: The Breakthrough Book on Natural Progesterone,” it was said to be caused by a decrease in progesterone without a subsequent decrease in estrogen. This book criticized estrogen replacement therapy and instead proposed the use of “natural progesterone” as a better way to alleviate symptoms for menopausal women. Unfortunately, Lee's theories have been criticized for being inadequately supported through science, being primarily based on anecdotal evidence, and having no rigorous research to support them. Yikes.
This is why “estrogen dominance” doesn’t tell us a whole lot and often leads us to overlook the real issue if we aren't careful. Hormones are fluctuating all the time and change throughout the course of the month but also throughout the years and decades of our lives as women. We naturally have more estrogen in the first half of our menstrual cycles, for example, but that does not mean we have a hormone imbalance called estrogen dominance. See what we're saying?
That said, our modern lives do create the perfect storm for estrogen problems – particularly chronically and abnormally elevated estrogen levels. Through a combination of lifestyle factors and underlying conditions, estrogen levels can get too high. And if you have too much estrogen in your body, there’s a good chance you’re not feeling great. So while estrogen dominance is not truly a legitimate condition, it is also true that estrogen-related health complications are at an all-time high, including precocious puberty, hormone-related cancers, endometriosis, infertility, and fibroids, among other conditions.
What Causes High Estrogen?
Of course, with all things hormone-related, the cause is not cut and dried. Many of the causes of high estrogen overlap, and it’s something that isn’t typically recognized in conventional medicine. Here are the common root causes of high estrogen that conventional medicine rarely recognizes or addresses:
Endocrine disrupters: This one is a big one. These chemicals are known for interfering with the body’s hormone system because they can actually mimic the hormones we produce naturally. This means they can get easily absorbed by our body to the point where they are actually found at much higher concentrations in human tissue than our own hormones, which means they can block, overstimulate, and disrupt your body’s natural hormonal processes, including the way your body metabolizes and excretes hormones. There’s even a group of these chemicals called “xenoestrogens” that specifically mimic estrogen. Endocrine disrupters are found in plastics, beauty products, cleaning products, cookware, and more. This is why it's so important to choose products wisely.
Slow gut elimination of estrogens: When your gut bacteria become imbalanced, it impairs the estrobolome and you start to reabsorb estrogen. Unfortunately, the type of estrogen you reabsorb is also a more problematic form, which means it adds a lot of stress to your body’s overall estrogen load.
Low Fiber Intake: Fiber is critical for regular bowel movements, which helps remove estrogen from the body after it has been metabolized by the liver. Unfortunately, most Americans are only getting about 15 grams of fiber a day when our bodies were designed to have nearly 100!
Unsupported Metabolic Detoxification: This is the process of eliminating hormones and toxins from your body. This is an inherent physiological process that works on a daily basis without our help, but it’s also a process that can get overloaded by the many estrogen-mimicking chemicals we face on a daily basis.
Obesity: Obesity or even carrying significantly extra weight increases your likelihood of producing more estrogen because we create estrogen in our adipose tissue. More adipose tissue means more estrogen production. Further, we store environmental toxins that act as endocrine disruptors in our adipose tissue. Research suggests that if you are significantly ‘overweight' or obese, losing some weight can help reduce your estrogen levels. And considering the knowledge we have that fat cells can produce estrogen, it makes sense that reducing body fat percentage can help lower estrogen levels in the body.
Hormonal Contraceptives: The pill interferes with our body’s natural hormone production and hormonal communication channels and acts as a daily dose of excess estrogen that the body has to contend with.
The factors above are some of the biggest contributors to elevated estrogen, but they’re not the only ones. Other factors like a sedentary lifestyle, underlying conditions like endometriosis or PCOS, lack of sleep, processed foods, stress, and deficiencies in specific nutrients can also contribute to estrogen overload and inhibit the body’s ability to metabolize estrogen and excrete it efficiently.
What Can We Do?
Now onto the part you’ve been waiting for...
Reduce Endocrine Disruptors: A life-changing first step. As mentioned above these disruptors are found everywhere. Scary, we know but we have the power to take charge.
To minimize your exposure, follow these tips:
Choose glass containers for heating and storing food.
If you’re buying something canned or in glass, make sure it’s marked “BPA-free.”
Eat organic and “hormone-free” foods, especially animal-based products like meat.
Wash hands well after handling paper receipts (these are coated with BPA - we just learned that writing this blog post! YUCK.)
Check ingredients in skin and hair care products and buy ones labeled "paraben-free” and avoid any products with fragrance.
Drink water from stainless steel or glass water bottles.
Eat for Healthy Estrogen Levels
Another important step is to focus on a diet rich in fiber and plant-based nutrients, which prevent you from having elevated estrogen levels, and can help you to eliminate excess estrogen.
Eat more leafy greens (kale, broccoli, cabbage, spinach)
Up fiber and flaxseeds
Reduce or Eliminate
If you’re overloaded with estrogens, dairy is something to reduce or eliminate at least for the time being. Why? Because it’s one of the most significant sources of human exposure to estrogen. Unlike the pasture-fed animals of the past, modern dairy cows are usually kept pregnant or lactating year-round to raise their milk yield, and they continue to lactate during the latter half of each subsequent pregnancy, when the concentration of estrogens in milk is the highest. Plus, endocrine-disrupting environmental chemicals are also known to bioaccumulate in animal fat, making dairy products a kind of repository for hormone-disrupting toxins.
We know you might not want to hear this but if you’re trying to reduce estrogen and get your hormones back in balance, alcohol is not doing you any favors. After drinking alcohol, your estradiol levels go up and lead to persistently high levels in the luteal phase, which can lead to uncomfortable symptoms like breast tenderness and heavy bleeding.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to caffeine but if you’re trying to balance estrogen, it’s something to consider hitting pause on. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition revealed that the caffeine from just a few cups of coffee can increase our risk of hormonal conditions, though the study was inconclusive and showed variations based on ethnic background. If you’re resistant to decreasing your caffeine consumption, you can at least switch to decaf or green tea. The antioxidants and phytochemicals in green tea boost liver detoxification which may support hormone health.
Support Your Gut Health
Nourishing your estrobolome is a key ingredient for healthy estrogen levels. This means eating plenty of vegetables and greens, getting beneficial fiber, and even more importantly, eating plenty of fermented foods. Naturally fermented foods like coconut yogurt, sauerkraut, pickled veggies, kimchi, and chickpea and rice miso are important for a healthy estrobolome and proper detoxification and elimination of estrogen. You can also supplement with a probiotic containing at least 10 billion billion colony-forming units (CFUs) of a variety of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species to help restore the normal balance of flora in your gut.
When you’re not pooping regularly, estrogen gets reabsorbed into the bloodstream and increases your circulating levels. To make matters more complicated, estrogen also delays gastric emptying, so high estrogen and constipation can become a vicious cycle. To make sure you’re having regular bowel movements, increase your fiber intake and move your body daily. Exercise helps keep things moving.
Be Nice to Your Liver
Your liver is also a part of your digestive system. More than 50% of all estrogen metabolism and conjugation occurs in the liver, so it’s critical to support liver detoxification pathways if you want to balance estrogen levels. The good news is that focusing on steps one through three above will help support your liver’s ability to complete metabolic detoxification quickly and efficiently, without getting overloaded with endocrine disruptors or estrogen that’s been reabsorbed.
Consider Estrogen-Clearing Herbs and Nutrients
You can reduce the estrogen burden on your body significantly by following the steps above but the truth is that unless you’re willing to live in a bubble, you're still being exposed to some endocrine-disruptors. (Some days we'd choose a bubble. Anyone else with us?!) The truth is, incorporating estrogen-clearing nutrients into your routine, even if you’re reducing your exposure as much as possible can only aid you. A couple that we recommend are:
St. John’s Wort: You may know this herb because of its mood-boosting properties, but St. John’s Wort is worth considering for reducing overall estrogen burden as well. It increases liver detoxification of estrogen very effectively. In fact, it’s a well-known fact that you should exercise caution if you take St. John’s Wort with the pill because it can increase your body’s metabolism of estrogen, lower blood estrogen levels, and interfere with its effectiveness. We have these and supplements of St. John's Wort on hand in the store.
Dandelion: Dandelion is a powerful digestive stimulators and help with detoxification. In our opinion, the simplest way to introduce Dandelion in you diet is to mix in your teas or select one of our pre-made powders like Dandy Day. This helps to avoid the bitterness that Dandelion tends to have.
We also carry other tea blends and powders made with a combination of herbs that support each other in the cleansing of the liver and kidneys. Talk with Jamie about which ones are right for you. You can now book a one-on-one with here through the site.
Imbalances in estrogen can affect virtually every aspect of your life. We hope that we have given you a path toward healthier estrogen levels. If you want more of a comprehensive plan, not just for healthy estrogen levels but healthy hormones in general, do not hesitate to reach out to us. Whether you stop into the store, schedule a one-on-one, or send us a DM, we are here and happy to help you along your path.
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