Estrogen dominance is a term that describes a condition where a woman can have deficient, normal or excessive estrogen, but has little or no progesterone to balance its effects in the body. Even a woman with low estrogen levels can have estrogen dominance symptoms if she doesn’t have enough progesterone.
Estrogen dominance has also been linked to allergies, autoimmune disorders, breast cancer, uterine cancer, infertility, ovarian cysts, and increased blood clotting, and is also associated with acceleration of the aging process.
When there is an excess of any hormone in relation to our body’s intricate endocrine system, an overall imbalance develops and health problems can arise. This is particularly true when the body has too much estrogen and not enough progesterone to counteract it. This situation is called estrogen dominance.
Estrogen dominance is a complex situation, the causes of which include:
- excess exposure to environmental xenoestrogens (an industrial compound found in consumer products such as detergents and lotions);
- use of synthetic estrogens such as the birth control pill and hormone replacement therapy (HRT);
- anovulation (lack of ovulation during menstrual cycle, which is not uncommon among women older than 35);
- digestion issues (which tax the estrogen-detoxification process in the liver);
- unrelenting stress (which strains the adrenals and the thyroid);
- unresolved emotional issues;
- poor diet; and
- negative lifestyle factors such as smoking and alcohol use.
How does estrogen dominance specifically alter women’s health? It has been linked to a wide range of conditions, including an increase in PMS symptoms, uterine fibroids, and endometriosis, as well as symptoms including allergies, decreased libido, fatigue, fibrocystic breasts, headaches, infertility, irritability, and fat gain around the abdomen and on the top of the thighs. In addition, numerous studies demonstrate excess estrogen can cause breast, uterine, and ovarian cancers (all of which are considered estrogen dependent cancers), cervical dysplasia (a precancerous condition characterized by abnormal changes to cervical tissues), and even contribute to menopausal symptoms.
Cancer is one of the most disconcerting possible outcomes of estrogen dominance. Because cancer rates are increasing every decade, it is likely that cancer has touched your life in some profound way. I know I am seeing more women with estrogen-dependent cancers in my clinical practice than ever before. The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates one in three women will develop some type of cancer in her lifetime. Breast cancer rates have increased from one in 20 in 1960 to one in eight today, though the rates have slowed since the 1990s. But the ACS says breast cancer incidence rates have increased lately in women older than 50. Among the risks the ACS lists for breast cancer are long menstrual history (early onset of menses and late menopause) and use of oral contraceptives as well as postmenopausal estrogens and progestin. These risk factors increase the lifetime exposure to estrogen.
The connection between excess estrogen and certain cancers is clear. Harmful estrogens are difficult to detoxify and are stored in fat. In a recent study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, researchers linked obesity to breast cancer. Women with a higher body mass index (BMI), which equated to higher levels of body fat, also had elevated hormone levels, particularly estradiol, the more potent of the estrogens produced in the body. The researchers concluded, “The increase in breast cancer risk with increasing BMI among postmenopausal women is largely the result of the associated increase in estrogens.”
According to a study featured in Cancer Causes and Control, women can reduce their breast cancer risk by maintaining a normal weight, the purpose of which is to reduce the amount of hormones stored in fat. To protect your tissues from an excess of estrogen and to begin restoring function in your hormonal system, here are some other extremely important things that you should remember:
- Eat a diet full of organic whole foods and fiber and get at least five to nine servings of vegetables each day, and 1 serving of fruit.
- Identify and decrease any unrelenting chronic stress and support your adrenal and thyroid glands with proper rest and supplementation.
- Restore any digestive imbalances by taking a probiotic supplement to make certain that you have plenty of good bacteria on board to crowd out any overgrowth of yeast or bad bacteria.
- Decrease exposure to xenoestrogens by wearing and using safe products free of hormone disruptors such as parabens and phalates. I recommend Theo Colburn’s book Our Stolen Future and www.ewg.org for further reading.
- Decrease your use of alcohol and if you smoke, please stop.
- Remember to get enough fiber. Estrogen is excreted by the bowel; if stool remains in the bowel, estrogen is reabsorbed.
Estrogen Dominance Symptoms
The symptoms listed below, as well as many others, often arise when estrogen overstimulates both the brain and body. All of these symptoms are exacerbated by stress of all kinds. Many women in their thirties and early forties find that they experience moderate to severe symptoms of estrogen dominance as they approach perimenopause.
- Decreased sex drive
- Irregular or otherwise abnormal menstrual periods
- Bloating (water retention)
- Breast swelling and tenderness
- Fibrocystic breasts
- Headaches (especially premenstrually)
- Mood swings (most often irritability and depression)
- Weight and/or fat gain (particularly around the abdomen and hips)
- Cold hands and feet (a symptom of thyroid dysfunction)
- Hair loss
- Thyroid dysfunction
- Sluggish metabolism
- Foggy thinking, memory loss
- Trouble sleeping/insomnia
If you are interested in knowing more about your hormone levels and an estrogen detox contact us today!