By Staff of Leigh Ann Scott, MD, A Forum Health Provider
Estrogen Dominance is a condition that occurs when the ratio between estrogen and progesterone is imbalanced. Normally, these two hormones perform a delicate dance together, with estrogen being the “builder” or “initiator” and progesterone being the “balancer” or “protector.”
For example, during the first two weeks of the menstrual cycle, estrogen levels rise in order to prepare the uterus for pregnancy by growing the uterine lining and maturing the egg before it is released. Once the egg is released, estrogen levels decline and progesterone increases. Its main job is to CONTROL the build-up of the lining and prepare the uterus for pregnancy. If there is no pregnancy, then progesterone levels fall, and the lining is shed via menstruation. If progesterone levels are too low, then the uterine lining would continue to thicken.
Every cell in the human body has an estrogen receptor and a progesterone receptor. This explains why imbalances with these hormones can adversely affect so many different biological processes and lead to serious disease. It’s important to note that estrogen dominance doesn’t only affect women; it affects men too.
Without enough progesterone to “balance” and “guard”, estrogen becomes dominant and can be viewed as aggressive towards growth of other tissues, which can increase the risk for fibroids and cancer just to name a few.
Estrogen Dominance can occur even if estrogen levels are low. That is, if progesterone levels are even lower and estrogen is still dominant.
Symptoms of estrogen dominance are many and include:
- Mood swings, irritability and/or anxiety
- Decreased sex drive
- Hair loss
- Breast swelling and/or fibrocystic breasts
- Memory loss of foggy thinking
- Weight gain around middle
- Lack of ovulation
- Heavy/painful periods
- Ovarian cysts
- Thyroid disfunction
- Autoimmune disorders
- Weakened immune system
Estrogen dominance has also been linked to uterine cancer and ovarian cancer and is the NUMBER ONE CAUSE of breast cancer and thyroid cancer.
In men, progesterone is the precursor to testosterone. As men get older, testosterone levels fall and this can cause estrogen to rise, creating an imbalance between estrogen and testosterone. Symptoms may include low libido, hair loss, weight gain, fatigue, depression, “man boobs,” erectile dysfunction, impotence, bone loss (osteoporosis), and muscle loss.
This can affect the entire endocrine system, including pituitary, thyroid, and adrenal glands. Think of the hormones as all being cars on a highway. If there is an accident in one location, traffic starts to back up everywhere.
To determine what causes estrogen dominance, it’s important to note that there are two kinds of estrogen. First, the body naturally produces its own estrogen, however, if the progesterone ratio is off, then estrogen becomes the dominant hormone. This can be caused by:
- Eating a diet high in sugar and refined foods
- Nutrient deficiencies
- Excess body fat (greater than 30%)
- Too many stressors including physical and emotional; stress causes the body to produce too much cortisol, insulin, and norepinephrine which all contribute to hormonal imbalances
- Impaired immune function
- Unhealthy gut
- Impaired liver function
- Tobacco, alcohol, and drug abuse (including prescription drugs)
The second type of estrogen is called xenoestrogens which are xenohormones. The Greek word for “foreign” is “xeno,” and these are metabolites that either mimic hormones and thus disrupt the careful balance of hormones in the body, or they just disrupt the reproductive and endocrine systems in both humans and wildlife. These metabolites are also referred to environmental hormones or EDC (endocrine disrupting compounds).
An example of something that simply mimics a hormone is soy. If someone consumes a high amount of soy products on a routine basis, soy can mimic estrogen and can result in estrogen dominance.
Pesticides are among the biggest sources or hormone disruptors. They are found in the animals and fish that we eat that have consumed pesticides either from what they are eating, or due to runoff into their environment. Additionally, estrogen metabolites are found in growth hormones and antibiotics that are given to livestock and poultry and we ingest these when we eat their meat and when drinking their milk or eat their eggs.
Other sources found in our environment include herbicides, fungicides, plastics, glues, other dangerous ingredients in sunscreen, cleaning products, skin care products and cosmetics. Skincare and cleaning products have some of the highest levels. We drink and eat foods from plastic containers which directly transfer toxins containing xenohormones.
These things not only increase estrogen levels, but can also cause inflammation, which the adrenal glands see as a big red flag so they make excess cortisol. High cortisol inhibits progesterone, and the dwindling spiral continues.
Is Estrogen Dominance treatable?
Estrogen dominance, like so many other hormone imbalances, absolutely IS treatable, but it involves a whole-body approach. It can seem overwhelming, but we can help you with this. Our providers have a wealth of knowledge and our goal is to be supportive in restoring you back to optimal health.
In order to stop the cycle of estrogen dominance, we will do an extensive panel of lab work and pinpoint exactly what the root causes are and help you address those issues.
Because hormone balance is always a moving target, dependent upon age, diet, stress levels, and exercise, a multi-faceted approach is needed.
One of the most important aspects of hormone balance is diet. It is the foundation of health and is key to having a strong immune system. Not only does an unhealthy gut cause weight gain, it also prevents nutrients from being absorbed, and makes us prone to infections, both viral and bacterial. Long term, it can lead to serious, life threatening issues such as cardiovascular diseases and cancer.
To restore gut health takes a little bit of time, but making changes in what we eat is not all that complicated:
- Eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, preferably organic. If you find that the grocery store is too pricey for organic foods, you can always check out farmers’ markets and co-ops as well.
- Make sure you are getting adequate amounts of protein.
- Eat moderate amounts of healthy fats.
- Consume foods containing prebiotics.
- Consume foods or beverages containing probiotics; you can also purchase high quality probiotic supplements.
- Take a high potency multi-vitamin and mineral combination.
- Supplement what your body is lacking (such as Vitamin D3, B Vitamins, etc.)
- Cut out highly processed and sugary foods.
In addition to addressing the hormone barriers that have you feeling bad, our providers can also provide nutritional and dietary counseling, along with education about how you can go about reducing stressors on both your mind and body.