Estrogen Dominance – Breaking it Down
What is estrogen dominance and how does it happen?
Estrogen dominance simply means that your body has too much circulating estrogen in relation to your other sex hormones (most notably progesterone). When estrogen and progesterone are not in balance with each other, symptoms begin to arise. They can either be an indication of too much estrogen, not enough progesterone, or both!
What symptoms and conditions are associated with estrogen dominance?
Symptoms of estrogen dominance can include heavy periods, painful periods, PMS, mood swings/irritability, insomnia/difficulty sleeping, weight gain, acne, bloating, breast tenderness, increased risk of breast and endometrial cancers, and more.
Some common conditions you may have already been diagnosed with that are also linked to estrogen dominance include endometriosis, fibroids, PCOS, ovarian cysts, fibrocystic breasts, and more.
How do I know if my symptoms are due to estrogen dominance?
Working with a skilled practitioner is essential. They will use your symptoms and health history as well as relevant lab testing to help you determine if your symptoms are due to estrogen dominance. The symptoms mentioned above can also be due to other health conditions, so it is important to get a full work up and assessment done to identify and treat YOUR root cause.
When testing hormone levels your practitioner should be giving you clear instructions on what day of your cycle (and sometime what time of day) you need to be tested on. Estrogen and progesterone should be tested on Day 21 of your cycle (if you have a regular 28-day cycle). If your cycles are irregular, your practitioner can help you determine the best day to get tested.
*Also important to note – if you are using hormonal birth control (pill, IUD, injection, patch, etc.), hormone testing is probably not the best option for you as these forms of birth control suppress your body’s natural hormone production. That being said, if you are still experiencing the symptoms mentioned above, or are using birth control to manage symptoms of a condition mentioned above, there are MANY options still available to ease your symptoms and address the root cause of your concerns.
What can I do to help treat my estrogen dominance?
- Include cruciferous vegetables in your diet
Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, broccoli sprouts, cauliflower, Brussel spouts, kale, cabbage, etc. are rich in a compound called indole-3-carbinole (I3C) which is converted in the body to another compound called diindolylmethane (DIM). DIM and I3C are crucial for helping the liver breakdown and neutralize estrogens so they can be excreted from the body.
Cruciferous vegetables are easiest to digest when cooked or lightly steamed. Try to include at least 1 serving daily.
- Increase your fiber intake
So what happens to estrogen after it is broken down and neutralized by your liver? In a perfect world, it is secreted into the intestines to be eliminated through stool. If your digestion is not functioning optimally, these estrogen metabolites can get tagged, re-activated and put back into circulation, leading to symptoms of estrogen dominance.
This is where fiber comes in! Dietary fibers help to bind estrogen in the intestines and ensure it is excreted through the stool, preventing it from entering back into circulation.
Aim for 35 grams of dietary fiber daily. Some great sources include ground flax seeds (which also help breakdown estrogens into less toxic forms), fruits and vegetables, lentils and legumes, and steel cut oats. Make sure to increase hydration as well to avoid constipation!
- Reduce or eliminate red meat and dairy
It is known that women with endometriosis have a higher amount of circulating environmental pollutants called dioxins in their blood. Dioxins accumulate in fat tissue, and enter the body through consumption of animal products including red meat and dairy.
Dairy also contains a protein called A1-casein which when broken down can trigger inflammation in the body, leading to pain (hello unwanted menstrual cramps!).
When consuming animal products, avoid conventional and opt for high quality (organic/grass-fed/free-range/wild). Find a local butcher and ask where they source their products, or visit a local farm yourself!
*If making significant dietary changes, it is a good idea to work with a naturopathic doctor or holistic nutritionist to ensure you are getting all of the nutrients your body requires through other food sources or supplements!
- Reduce environmental exposure to hormone disrupting chemicals
Many products we use in our everyday lives from shampoo to household cleaning products to food storage containers contain chemical compounds that can interfere with our health when exposed in high enough amounts. One of ways some of these chemicals can effect human health is through the endocrine, or hormone system. These chemicals, known as “endocrine disruptors” can bind to the hormone receptors throughout the body and modify the way they function.
Simple ways to reduce your exposure at home include avoid the use of plastics (even ones labelled BPA free). Stick to glass or stainless steel for things like food packaging and storage. Avoid the use of non-stick cookware and opt for cast iron or stainless steel instead. Avoid products containing parabens, phthalates and SLS.
To see a full list of hormone disrupting chemicals and how to avoid them, visit The Environmental Working Group
- Naturopathic treatment options
If you’ve done your best to follow the above steps and still need some extra support, there are a variety treatment options that your naturopathic doctor can recommend for you. Keep in mind these are always prescribed on an individual basis, and should not be taken without proper assessment and consultation.
I3C and/or DIM – These two compounds mentioned above (found in cruciferous veggies) can also be found in high doses via supplementation. They can be a great addition to maximize estrogen metabolism if support beyond dietary changes is needed.
B Vitamins – In particular, B6, B12 and folate play a role in healthy hormone metabolism. Not all supplements are created equal, so it is important to use a high quality product from a professional company that uses 3rd party testing. Your naturopathic doctor can help you with this!
Fish oil – A high quality, high dose fish oil helps to manage inflammation and reduce pain associated with conditions such as endometriosis and fibroids. It is also protective for heart health and promotes healthy cholesterol levels.
Acupuncture – One of my favourite treatment additions to help balance hormones is acupuncture. Your naturopathic doctor will select specific acupuncture points based on your individual symptoms to support your hormones.
If you think estrogen dominance might be at the root of your symptoms and are ready to take control of your hormone health, let’s chat!