Estrogen Dominance Causes and Solutions
Are you struggling with infertility, PMS, mood swings, weight gain instead of losing weight, or low libido? If so, you could be dealing with a hormone imbalance such as estrogen dominance. Having high estrogen levels — known as estrogen dominance — is not only linked to a set of frustrating and uncomfortable symptoms, it also puts you at risk for a whole host of chronic women’s health issues.
From fatigue and irritability to autoimmune conditions, thyroid dysfunction, and cancer, estrogen can wreak havoc on your body if it’s not in proper balance with your other reproductive hormones, such as progesterone.
Truth About Estrogen Dominance
And here’s the hard truth: Estrogen dominance is at an all-time high. We’re seeing high estrogen rates increase dramatically across the board, in both women and men, across age ranges. And the rates of cancers and chronic illnesses linked with estrogen dominance are on the rise right along with it.
In this article, I’ll walk you through what estrogen dominance is and how you’re exposed to xenoestrogens. Then I’ll share simple diet and lifestyle changes you can make to minimize your risk of estrogen dominance. I’ll also cover how you can naturally clear estrogen from your system and maintain an optimal hormonal balance.
What is Estrogen?
Most people think estrogen is a female sex hormone and, in part, that’s true. Estrogen is responsible for promoting the physical changes that women experience during puberty, breast growth, maturation of the uterine lining, and regulation of the menstrual cycle. However, estrogen affects bodily functions for all genders; it increases good cholesterol, promotes bone formation, and improves the collagen content in your skin. In men, estrogen helps develop sperm and maintain a healthy libido. When you experience estrogen dominance or have high estrogen levels, whether that be due to lifestyle habits or exposure to xenoestrogens, all these processes and more are affected.
What is a Xenoestrogen?
Functional medicine believes that the rise in estrogen dominance is due largely to our exposure to xenoestrogens. Xenoestrogens are individual chemicals that mimic the behavior of estrogens. They’re everywhere in our modern environment; they’re in our food, personal care products, furniture, and clothes. From the water we drink to the food we eat, we encounter a shocking number of these endocrine disrupting xenoestrogens in the course of a day.
When Estrogen Becomes a Problem
We all naturally produce the hormone estrogen in our adrenal glands and stored fat tissue. Additionally, women produce it in their ovaries and men produce it in their testes. Estrogen is necessary for many important functions such as childbearing, keeping cholesterol in check, and protecting bone health.
However, when your estrogen levels get out of balance with your other hormones — leading to estrogen dominance — you can experience a number of issues. Both men and women may be affected.
Symptoms of Estrogen Dominance
There are a number of factors, in addition to environmental xenoestrogens, that contribute to high estrogen levels and estrogen dominance, which I’ll discuss in a bit. First, it’s important to recognize what high estrogen levels look like in both men and women.
High Estrogen In Women:
- Weight gain, mainly in hips, waist, and thighs
- Menstrual problems such as light or heavy bleeding
- Hot flashes
- Fibrocystic breasts
- Uterine fibroids
- Loss of sex drive
- Depression or anxiety
High Estrogen In Men:
- Enlarged breasts
- Sexual dysfunction
Health Risks Associated with Estrogen Dominance
When symptoms of estrogen dominance are not addressed, and your estrogen dominance goes unregulated, you become increasingly more at risk for a host of serious conditions.
By far the biggest risk associated with estrogen dominance is hormone-dependent cancer. These cancers include breast cancer in both women and men, uterine and ovarian cancers in women, and prostate cancer in men. Breast cancer specifically is more rampant than ever. One in eight women will get breast cancer in her lifetime.1
Hormonal cancers are associated with stored fat, which produces the most potent form of estrogen, estradiol. This type of harmful estrogen is more difficult for your body to detoxify, leading to more circulating estrogen and “bad” estrogen metabolites.
Autoimmune Disease and Estrogen Dominance
In some autoimmune conditions, estrogen dominance can enhance the inflammatory response of the immune system. This response increases the antibodies that attack your body’s own tissues.
However, it’s not entirely a clear-cut issue. Estrogen actually helps protect against some autoimmune conditions, such as multiple sclerosis (MS). It seems that the sharp fluctuations in estrogen levels (such as those that happen around childbirth and menopause) contribute to autoimmunity. Types of estrogens in your system, and whether they are your natural hormones or the synthetic xenoestrogens that exist in our environment also factor into the equation. There is also evidence that men’s higher levels of testosterone provide some protection from autoimmunity that can accompany symptoms of estrogen dominance.Because women tend to be more susceptible to estrogen dominance, this helps explain why autoimmune conditions are so much more common among women.
Hashimoto’s and Thyroid Dysfunction
EstrogEstrogen dominance increases levels of thyroid-binding globulin (TBG). This is the protein that allows your thyroid hormones to travel through your bloodstream. When thyroid hormones are attached to TBG, they remain inactive. In this case, your thyroid hormones can’t be stored in your tissues or converted to their active form in order to fuel your body and metabolic processes.
Estrogen and Candida Overgrowth
Estrogen dominance also plays a factor in Candida overgrowth. Research shows that exposing Candida albicans to estrogen increases its virulence. This is why women taking birth control or traditional hormone replacement therapy tend to show high estrogen levels and be more susceptible to yeast infections.2
Estrogen Dominance and Cancer
Conventional medicine tells us that it’s your lifelong exposure and the total amount of estrogens that pose a problem and cause cancer. For instance, if you started your period at a young age, or had children late in life or not at all, you would be at a higher risk. However, that’s not entirely true. It’s really your lifelong exposure to bad metabolites of estrogen that increases your cancer risk. Let me explain.
Estrogen Metabolism Pathways
Your liver metabolizes estrogen through three different pathways. Depending on the pathway, estrogen will be converted into good or bad metabolites. The 2-hydroxy metabolic pathway is considered good as it has the lowest risk for cancer and other problems. Meanwhile, the 16-hydroxy and 4-hydroxy pathways are considered bad. These are associated with higher risks of breast cancer.3
Using the 2-hydroxy pathway, your body produces good estrogen metabolites. These support healthy mood, libido, breast tissue, and reproductive health. When your body is converting too many of your hormones using the 16-hydroxy and 4-hydroxy pathways, you may experience symptoms of estrogen dominance such as irritability, vaginal dryness, and PMS. You are also at a higher risk of developing cancer.
So it’s not about your total estrogens. It’s about your total estrogen metabolites. Nutritional status, liver health, stress, diet, and sleep all determine which metabolic pathways are used. Gene mutations such as COMT and MTHFR also impair your ability to methylate and detoxify your hormones. A number of environmental and lifestyle factors that I’ll describe in more detail also contribute to symptoms of estrogen dominance.
Causes of Estrogen Dominance
Every day we are under constant attack by environmental toxins that lead to the creation of bad estrogen metabolites. Hormone-mimicking xenoestrogens, combined with your own diet and lifestyle habits can all be causes of higher levels of estrogen.
By far one of the biggest sources of estrogen dominance is high estrogen food. Commercially raised animals are injected with growth hormones to make them grow bigger and faster or to increase milk production. These hormones make their way into your food where they can disrupt your natural hormone balance.
Plus, the pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides found on conventional produce are known endocrine disruptors that interfere with your natural hormone activity, blood sugar levels, and metabolism.4
While they may only exist in small quantities on individual fruits and cruciferous vegetables, the cumulative effect quickly adds up to high estrogen food. The long-term effect of eating high estrogen food hasn’t been studied enough to determine exactly how this could cause symptoms of estrogen dominance.
It’s not just high estrogen foods you need to look out for. Unfortunately, our water has become a cause of symptoms of estrogen dominance thanks to heavy pollution with hormone-disrupting compounds including pesticides and fertilizers. Synthetic and natural estrogens from livestock and prescription medications are also found in our water. An unknown number of industrial chemicals from chemical plant runoff or the disposal of plastics and chemicals in landfills also appear.5
Additionally, coal-burning plants emit more than 70,000 pounds of mercury into the air each year. This then settles into our water and impacts our hormonal levels (more on that below).
3. Personal Care Products
Cosmetics, lotions, shampoos, soaps, toothpastes, and the numerous other body products we use often contain parabens, phenoxyethanol, phthalates, and other chemical compounds. Many of these have estrogenic activity.6
And since the average person uses 10-15 body products a day, with a total of 126 different ingredients, this exposure can quickly contribute to high estrogen levels in the body!
You’d think that beauty products would be regulated for safety. However, you may be surprised to learn that they are regulated by an internal review board. This means the products are regulated by the companies that produce them! It’s no wonder all sorts of hidden endocrine disruptors are found in these products you use every day.
Xenoestrogens in skincare products are especially harmful because they are absorbed directly into your tissues. They never have the chance to be detoxified through your liver.
Be wary of deodorants or other personal care products that contain an unspecified “fragrance.” This can be virtually anything! Unfortunately, it tends to be a catch-all term for hidden phthalates or other hormone-disrupting chemicals that can be a cause of estrogen dominance.
Your gut microbiome regulates circulating estrogen using an enzyme known as beta-glucuronidase. When your microbiome is out of balance, as in the case of Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), these enzymes can’t properly metabolize estrogens. Thus, you are more susceptible to breast cancer and other conditions caused by estrogen dominance.
5. BPA and Other Plastics
Plastic in all its forms, including in water bottles, food wrap, and storage containers, contain the hormone-mimicking xenoestrogens responsible for symptoms of estrogen dominance. These can leach into what you’re eating or drinking and cause major problems for your health. Even products marked “BPA-free” are not safe, and in fact, may contain chemicals whose effects on high estrogen levels aren’t as well-known.
Microwaving, dishwashing, and exposing plastic to sunlight increases the estrogenic activity of plastic even more.
Perhaps even more surprising is that every time you take a receipt from the store, you may be dealing a blow to your hormones. Receipts printed on thermal paper are a major source of endocrine-disrupting bisphenol-A (BPA). People who handle receipts frequently have significantly elevated levels of BPA in their urine and a greater risk of developing estrogen dominance.12
And because these xenoestrogens are absorbed through your skin, it’s a more direct hit to your system and a major factor in causing estrogen dominance.
6. Heavy Metals
Similar to plastics, heavy metals such as cadmium, lead, and mercury have estrogen-mimicking properties. The presence of these endocrine-disrupting elements in our environment may even be behind the earlier-onset puberty that has become the norm in our modern societies.
7. Body Fat
Excess body fat (especially stored in the hips, waist, and thighs) is one of the leading causes of estrogen dominance. Not only does fat tissue absorb and store estrogen circulating in your bloodstream, it also synthesizes estrogen from your other hormones. Having high estrogen levels cues your body to make more fat cells, which then produce even more estrogen, creating a vicious cycle that can lead to estrogen dominance.
8. Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) and Birth Control
Hormone replacement therapy medications and most oral contraceptives contain estrogen without the necessary estrogen and progesterone levels to maintain proper hormone balance, making them causes of estrogen dominance. The hormones used in both HRT and birth control also tend to be toxic, synthetic hormones that are not easily metabolized by the liver. This can lead to DNA damage and an increased risk for breast and endometrial cancer.
9. Chronic Stress
Your body begins to use the sex hormone progesterone to make cortisol when you’re chronically stressed. So many of us face this! Low levels of progesterone can be a cause of estrogen dominance.
If you want to test your hormone levels at home, I recommend using the female hormone test from Lets Get Checked. It tests for follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), luteinizing hormone (LH), prolactin, and estradiol through a simple finger prick blood test. You can do the test in the privacy of your own home and then take your results to your functional medicine doctor.
How to Clear Your Body of Excess Estrogens
Now that you know what estrogen dominance is and where it comes from, what steps can you take to prevent high estrogen levels? Or if you suspect you may already be experiencing estrogen dominance, what can you do? How can you clear your body of those excess estrogens and restore hormone balance?
Step 1: Prevention
Eat Clean Food
Eliminate all toxic foods from your diet that contain hidden estrogens, including conventional meat, dairy products, and produce. Opt for grass-fed, pasture-raised, and organic foods whenever possible. This will help you avoid added hormones, pesticides, and fertilizers used in conventional farming methods. Be sure to check out the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list for the worst offenders if buying all organic produce isn’t feasible.
Filter Your Water
Thanks to pollution and runoff, hormone-disruptors are rampant in our water supply. To protect your water, I recommend installing water filters on all of your taps and shower heads.
Use Non-Toxic Body Products
Switch out chemical-laden personal care products for safer versions that are free and clear of any synthetic compounds. I developed my own line of non-toxic beauty products.
Ditch the Plastic
Replace all your plastic storage containers and water bottles with glass or stainless-steel varieties.
Consider Hormone Alternatives
If taking HRT, consider speaking to your doctor about alternative methods that address the root causes of your menopausal symptoms. Bioidentical hormone therapy is a more natural option for those who depend on HRT for symptom relief. It uses hormones extracted from plants that act just like the hormones we produce in our bodies.
The same goes for women using oral contraceptives to treat symptoms such as acne or heavy periods. Though it may help to relieve your symptoms now, it may just be throwing fuel on the fire. In the long run, the hormones in oral contraceptives may lead to estrogen dominance and all its associated health risks.
For both HRT and birth control users, you can try my Adrenal Support for relieving menopausal symptoms and supporting a healthy menstrual cycle without causing high estrogen levels. However, note that this supplement cannot be used as a birth control method.
Relieve Your Stress
Take measures to relieve your stress snd keep stress hormones in check, such as yoga or meditation. Make sure you’re getting adequate sleep at night to let your body detox and recover from the stresses of the day. Participating in a stress-reducing activity lessens your risk of estrogen dominance.
Step 2: Detoxification
One of the best ways to clear your body of excess estrogens and achieve proper hormone balance for both men and women is FemGuard+Balance. FemGuard+Balance contains a blend of natural ingredients that support optimal estrogen metabolism and detoxification.
It features Calcium-D-Glucarate, which binds estrogen that would otherwise be recycled and reabsorbed by your body and flushes it out of your system. It also includes Diindolymethane (DIM) to help you metabolize estrogen into more of its good metabolites instead of the bad. And N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine (NAC), Milk Thistle, and Alpha-Lipoic acid all support your liver as it works to safely detoxify and clear the estrogens.
Because of our constant exposure to xenoestrogens and estrogens, I recommended this supplement to all of the women I saw in my clinic. It’s especially important for those who are dealing with estrogen dominance or who have been exposed to xenoestrogens. It’s also critical for those who have a family history of hormonal cancers, or who have had hormonal cancer and are in remission.
Once you’ve familiarized yourself with the main causes of estrogen dominance and begin taking the proper lifestyle measures to avoid estrogen dominance in the future, you can start feeling your best again. You’ll feel even better knowing you’re reducing your risk for a number of chronic illnesses!