Do you feel sluggish? Anxious? Have trouble losing weight? Are your menstrual cycles unbearable? Then you could be suffering from estrogen dominance.

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Estrogen dominance is a condition that affects both men and women. Its effects can be seen as early as puberty and can extend well into menopause (for women). Yet, the condition goes largely undiagnosed and untreated. It is a condition that can build up over time, with symptoms increasing in frequency and severity as the individual gets older. Estrogen dominance has been linked to certain types of cancer as well certain autoimmune disorders. It is a condition that, if left unchecked, can wreck havoc on a person’s physical and emotional well being.

What is Estrogen?

Estrogen is a naturally occurring steroid sex hormone that is produced in the bodies of men and women.  It is largely produced in the ovaries of women, but small amounts are also produced by the liver, adrenal glands, breasts and fatty tissue.  In women, it influences the development and maintenance of secondary female sex characteristics (breast development), regulates menstruation and maintains pregnancy.  It also influences cell growth, blood clotting, bone strength, circulatory health, metabolism, muscle mass, fat storage and fluid balance.  In men, it is also involved in sperm development and libido.

Estrogen works hand in hand with other hormones, namely progesterone.  Progesterone helps to regulate a woman’s menstrual cycle and ensures the health and well-being of a developing baby in utero.  It prevents spontaneous abortion by the uterus and promotes milk production in the breasts.  It is considered the “antagonist” of estrogen, so as progesterone production increases, estrogen production decreases.  The problem is that the opposite is also true, as estrogen production increases, progesterone production decreases.  Most estrogen dominance is also identified as progesterone deficiency.

Signs of Estrogen Dominance

The combination of too much estrogen and not enough progesterone can cause a lot of problems in the body.  Young girls are experiencing menstruation as early as 9 years old, which is due to estrogen dominance.  Certain cancers are fed by estrogen, so the risk of those cancers also increases.  Certain autoimmune disorders such as lupus and thyroid disease have also been linked with estrogen dominance.

Here are a list of some other signs of estrogen dominance: *

  • Breast tenderness
  • Mood swings/PMS
  • Fluid retention
  • Weight gain
  • Irregular menstrual cycle
  • Weight gain, especially around the abdomen, hips and thighs
  • Hair loss
  • Depression with anxiety or agitation
  • Fatigue
  • Slow metabolism
  • Thyroid dysfunction
  • Adrenal exhaustion/fatigue
  • Headaches, migraines
  • Allergies, including asthma, hives, rashes, and sinus congestion
  • Severe menstrual cramping
  • Heavy, prolonged periods with clotting
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Decreased libido
  • Insomnia and restless sleep
  • Dry eyes
  • Prostate issues (men only)
  • Uterine fibroid tumours
  • Endometriosis
  • Fibrocystic breasts
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Infertility
  • Thickened uterine lining
  • Accelerated aging
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Miscarriage
  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • Oestrogen related cancers
  • Impotency

I’ve highlighted the symptoms that I’ve experienced, especially as I’ve gotten older.  I also suspect it may have caused some infertility in the past.  Other symptoms I’ve had since I was a teenager.  Chances are, my body produces excessive amounts of estrogen anyway, but we are also exposed to estrogens in our everyday lives that build up in our bodies and cause estrogen dominance.  Estrogen dominance affects about 50% of all women in western society.

Types of Estrogen

Steroidal estrogen – This is the estrogen that is naturally produced in the human body.
Synthetic hormones – Namely, these are the hormones that are fed to livestock and that we consume through meat, eggs and dairy.
Phytoestrogen – Some plants such as soybeans, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, bok choy, brussels sprouts, flax seed, alfalfa sprouts, dried prunes, and whole grains (just to name a few) contain phytoestrogens.  Phytoestrogens are weaker than steroidal or synthetic estrogens.  Because the body still recognizes it as an estrogen, it can implant itself into receptor sites and block other, stronger estrogens.
Xenoestrogen – This is a synthetic estrogen that is present in a number of toxic substances in our environment including plastic, solvents, pesticides and petrochemicals.  Xenoestrogen mimics steroidal estrogen in the body and is much more powerful than phytoestrogen.  They are fat soluble and build up in the body.

What’s the Deal with Sugar?

Many people erroneously accuse sugar of mimicking estrogen in the body.  This is not true; however, sugar is related to estrogen dominance.  Sugar causes a decrease in magnesium levels.  Magnesium and B6 are necessary to neutralize estrogen in the liver so it can be metabolized.  Moral of the story, limit your sugar intake (and supplement magnesium).

How to Correct the Balance

  • Take natural progesterone supplements.  Supplementing with progesterone has been shown to decrease estrogen levels.  Progesterone supplements are available via prescription from your doctor.  Natural progesterone sources are also available over the counter.
  • Limit your exposure to outside synthetic hormones and xenoestrogens.  Probably the most important part of maintaining healthy estrogen levels is by reducing the number of external estrogens you expose your body to.  Here are a list of ways to avoid synthetic estrogens.
    • Commit to a clean, real food diet.
    • Buy local and/or organic produce, meats, eggs, and dairy, or raise your own.
    • Avoid pesticides and fungicides.
    • Avoid plastic.
    • Do not microwave foods in plastic, especially plastic wrap.
    • Avoid cosmetics and beauty products that contain xenoestrogens and parabens.  Check the Skin Deep Database to see if your products are safe.
    • Make your own home cleaning products.
    • Limit your exposure to smog and vehicle exhaust.
  • Increase your consumption of plants containing phytoestrogens.  Because phytoestrogens are recognized as an estrogen in the body, and it is less powerful than steroidal and synthetic estrogens, it can block the more powerful (and potentially harmful) other estrogens from cell receptor sites.  This will limit their ability to do damage in the body and will improve symptoms of estrogen dominance.  However, you can get too much of a good thing and phytoestrogens can increase the symptoms of estrogen dominance if consumed in excess.  If you have a history of thyroid problems, you should limit your consumption of phytoestrogens.
  • Increase dietary fiber.  Fiber will bind to the estrogens in the gut and allow them to be removed from the body, rather than be absorbed into the bloodstream.  At least 15 grams of fiber should be consumed per day.
  • Limit caffeine consumption.  As few as two cups of coffee per day can increase estrogen levels in the body, regardless of age, weight, BMI, caloric intake, cholesterol, smoking, or alcohol consumption.  I rarely drink more than two cups of coffee per day, but I’m trying to limit myself to no more than one per day, none if possible.
  • Decrease alcohol and nicotine consumption.  Hormones are metabolized through the liver, so it makes sense that we should do everything we can to improve our liver health.  The fewer toxins we put through the liver, the better it is able to eliminate the toxins it does deal with.
  • Detoxification.  The liver detoxifies in two phases.  In the first phase, toxins are broken down through a process of oxidation, reduction and hydrolysis.  This process can release a large number of free radicals, but their damage can be reduced by having a healthy balance of antioxidants.  In the second phase, the toxic substance is conjugated, which neutralizes it and makes it safe to excrete from the body through bile or urine.  Flavonoids, antioxidants and any supplements that aide in healthy liver function will aide in the detoxification process.
  • Lose Weight.  I know, easier said than done.  This is the one I struggle with the most.  However, maintaining a healthy weight can go a long way towards maintaining a healthy estrogen/progesterone balance.  Body fat secretes a small amount of steroidal estrogen, plus many synthetic estrogens are stored in body fat, so limiting body fat will also help to limit excess estrogen in the body.
  • Exercise. Research has shown that regular exercise regulates hormone imbalance and reduces cancer risk. Studies have shown that increased physical activity increases the metabolism of hormones including estrogen and that, over time, it results in a reduced risk of many types of cancer. Exercise, especially running, is also very beneficial to breast cancer survivors especially and can increase survivability by 25%.
  • Reduce stress. (HAHAHA, yeah right) Ok, I take that back, losing weight is the second most difficult thing for me to accomplish.  Reducing stress is first.  Do the best you can, and find ways to handle the stress. Running and riding horses are big stress reducers for me.  One more reason why I should do both more often. In all seriousness, chronic stress can lead to adrenal fatigue, which is the leading cause of progesterone depletion and estrogen dominance. Pregnenolone and DHEA supplementation can help support the adrenal gland and reduce adrenal fatigue, but steps should still be taken to reduce stressors.
  • Take a good quality multivitamin made for women (unless you’re a man).  Your multivitamin should also contain the antioxidants A, E and C, although you may choose to supplement with more (like additional vitamin C).  Antioxidants eliminate the free radicals in the body and help support healthy liver function.
  • Vitamin supplementation.  Supplementation is key to maintaining healthy estrogen levels following a liver detox.  Many of these vitamins can be found in a high quality women’s multivitamin or through diet.  Others may need to be supplemented in pill form. Some supplements to consider include:
    • Diindolylmethane (DIM) is also important for maintaining healthy estrogen levels.  DIM contains the active ingredient in cruciferous vegetables, Indole-3-Carbinol (I3C), a phytoestrogen.  By blocking the estrogen receptors, DIM prevents the body from trapping bad estrogens and allows them to be removed from the body.  The benefit of taking DIM is that it offers a concentrated source of I3C that most individuals do not consume in their daily diets.
    • Methionine is an essential amino acid that is not produced in the body.  It is a powerful detoxifier that is used to treat acetaminophen poisoning and supports overall liver health.  Once in the liver, methionine produces glutathione, which is used to neutralize toxins in the liver.  Methionine is available by eating meat, eggs and dairy, however may need to be supplemented for vegetarians or individuals on a low-protein diet.  It is also recommended for anyone experiencing estrogen dominance.  If supplementing with methionine, supplementation of folic acid and B6 is also recommended.
    • S-adenosyl methionine (SAMe) is the product of methionine after it is processed in the liver. It can be used to elevate mood, treat depression and reduce inflammation and is used as the treatment for a number of chronic diseases.
    • Taurine is a conditional amino acid found in animal protein, like meat, fish and egg yolks. It works to help cells retain potassium and magnesium while blocking excess sodium. The main benefit to this process is reduced fluid retention in the body.  It is used to treat heart disease, high cholesterol, liver disease and cystic fibrosis. Women with estrogen dominance typically have low taurine levels.
    • Fish oil is shown to reduce cancer risk, improve cardiovascular health, and support the nervous system.  It is also shown to aid in estrogen metabolism.
    • Calcium D-Glucarate increases detoxification and is one of the most important nutrients for liver function.  It’s shown to prevent to formation of cancer cells and removes carcinogens, toxins, and steroid hormones from the body.
    • Milk Thistle Extract (also known as silymarin) comes from the milk thistle plant.  It protects the liver from damage and enhances detoxification.  As an antioxidant, milk thistle extract is more effective than vitamins C and E.
    • N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC) is a powerful antioxidant and detoxifier.  It also produces glutathione in the liver.  By improving liver function, more estrogen is metabolized and removed from the body.  NAC should also be taken with vitamin C to reduce the risk of kidney stones.
    • Alpha Lipoic Acid is a valuable antioxidant.  It can dissolve in water and fat, crosses the brain barrier, and can reach all parts of the liver.  It can also regenerate other essential antioxidants such as vitamins C and E, CoQ10, and glutathione.
    • Grape Seed Extract contains powerful antioxidants known as proanthocyanidins.  It is a rapidly absorbed, water soluble nutrient that remains in the body for up to 72 hours, protecting the body from free radicals.  It also improves the circulatory system and strengthens blood vessels.  It should be taken in addition to vitamins C and E.

My 30 Day Cleanse

About once every five years, I find I need to go on a 30 day estrogen cleanse.  This includes a 2-phase liver detoxification, supplement regiment, and avoiding synthetic estrogens.  Thankfully, I have a freezer full of home raised meat and a ready supply of fresh eggs.  I also buy raw, grass fed milk from a local dairy.  The biggest change for me will be avoiding plastic, especially microwaving food in plastic. I’m so bad about that, but NO MORE!

During the cleanse, I take:

Granted, not all of these supplements are related to estrogen dominance.  I take the iron because I’m deficient and the B complex helps my energy levels. I like the prenatal because of the added folic acid and DHA, plus it’s taken twice a day, which is much better for you than a 1-a-day vitamin.  The liver detox contains milk thistle, L-methionine, NAC, Alpha Lipoic Acid, selenium, Ayurvedic Herbs and dandelion, all known to detoxify the liver.  There is a morning formula and evening formula to promote the two phases of detoxification in the liver.  The DIM and Progesterone Cream will also help to regulate my estrogen levels and flush excess estrogen from my body. My primary goals when I do this cleanse are to regulate my menstrual cycles, stabilize my moods, and break through my current weight loss plateau.

Following the cleanse, I continue to take all of the above vitamins except for the liver detox. To maintain my liver health, I also take milk thistle extract. I don’t need to take it during the detox, since it’s already included.

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Estrogen dominance is an over abundance of estrogen in the body, causing a hormone imbalance with progesterone. It can be caused by the body naturally producing too much estrogen, or from synthetic estrogen in our diets and environment. Learn to recognize the symptoms and how to bring your body back into balance.

References and Additional Reading:

* This post does not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any medical condition.
**These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.