Millions of women suffer from estrogen dominance. But most of the time, they don’t even know it.
In this post: The Estrogen Dominance Post: Where its Coming from and What to do About it – I discuss various potential origins of and solutions to estrogen dominance.
Today I want to round out that discussion by talking about indicators that you may suffer from estrogen dominance.
What is Estrogen Dominance?
Estrogen dominance is the condition of having estrogen as the dominant female sex hormone in the body. This means that there is too much estrogen relative to progesterone.
This can occur as a result of high estrogen – or can occur as a result of low progesterone.
Other hormones that are metabolic or are male sex hormones such as testosterone don’t normally have much of an effect on estrogen dominance. You can have high testosterone (or DHEA-S or cortisol or thyroid hormone) and high estrogen at the same time.
Causes of Estrogen Dominance
In this post I talk at great length about the causes of estrogen dominance. As a quick summary here are the most common causes:
Estrogen-containing birth control pills
Eating processed foods
Sedentariness (see this post on walking)
Signs you may be estrogen dominant
Are you one of the millions of women who suffer from estrogen dominance and simply don’t know it?
It’s possible. I don’t intend to be anything close to scary with this post – I am not here to scare you into thinking you have a problem. But if you do have recurring symptoms and cannot figure out why, maybe this list will help.
Here are the most common signs of estrogen dominance:
– PMS (more on which here)
Do you suffer from irritability, depression, or mood swings before your period? This often indicates that estrogen and progesterone are not in the best possible balance. Now, even with good balance some women will experience PMS, but being off balance certainly does not help.
The brain is full of hormone receptors. Estrogen dominance can be a big problem for keeping neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine in balance.
Low estrogen is often associated with irritability or anxiety, whereas high estrogen is often associated with feelings of depression. I personally experience a significant darkening of my mood whenever I consume a lot of phytoestrogenic foods.
– Breast tenderness
Estrogen plays an important role in the modulation of blood vessels (more on which in this post explaining hot flashes). It can increase blood flow to the breasts and cause them to feel heavy and tender.
– Thyroid issues
High estrogen levels can interfere with thyroid hormone activity. (See this post for 19 indicators you may be hypothyroid.) This can lead to thyroid issues such as cold hands and feet, brittle hair and nails, constipation, difficulty losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight, and fatigue.
– Menstrual cramps
If you suffer from menstrual cramping, estrogen dominance may be playing a role (more on cramps here). Estrogen plays a role in stimulating uterine tissue growth throughout the course of a menstrual period, so the higher your estrogen levels are the more tissue your body will have to shed when the time comes.
A more severe version of menstrual cramping occurs when women have endometriosis, which you can learn more about here.
– Heavy menstrual bleeding
As a result of the enhanced tissue development discussed above, the body has more tissue to shed, and therefore more blood, every month. If you have a very heavy flow, elevated estrogen levels may play a role.
– Cysts in the breasts or ovaries or uterine fibroids
If you suffer from fibroids or cysts then estrogen dominance is probably an area you want to look into addressing. Estrogen stimulates cyst, fibroid, and tumor growth. There is a lot of debate in the medical community as to what should be done about this – specifically with respect to soy consumption – but as it stands it’s probably best to really keep an eye on estrogen levels and do what you can if you suffer from any of these issues.
– Low sex drive
Sex drive is complicated. I won’t say that high estrogen necessarily is anyone’s problem. For many women, low estrogen is a problem for sex drive. (See this post on the 10 most common causes of low libido for women)
The key to a robust libido is balance. So if your estrogen levels are too high, then that is a kind of imbalance that could be problematic for your sex drive.
– “Excess” weight or weight gain, especially in the hips and thighs
The hips and thighs are “female” fat areas for a reason: estrogen encourages fat to be deposited specifically in these areas.
If you notice your lower body gaining weight relative to the rest of your body, this may be a sign that your estrogen levels are increasing. If, however, this area has always been where you stored your body fat, then it may simply be a genetic issue for you. There is no real way to tell unless there is a marked change in your body’s fat deposition habits.
To learn more about hormones and how the affect weight gain and even weight loss (yes, hormones can help with fat loss), I wrote a program detailing how women can maximize their hormone health and weight status in a healthy and sustainable way. You can read more about it if you like at this link.
Estrogen dominance: what to do about it?
All that being said – if you suspect you have estrogen dominance – what should you do?
First and foremost – consider getting your hormone levels tested.
Estradiol, estrone, and estriol. Estradiol is the most prominent estrogen in the reproductive years as it is the one synthesized by the reproductive system. It is 80 times more potent than the other estrogens. It will often be elevated if you are estrogen dominant.
Estrone is produced by fat cells. If you struggle with significant body fat percentage this could be overly elevated for you.
Estriol is primarily elevated during pregnancy.
You will also want to test progesterone. If your progesterone levels are low, then this needs to be remedied as much as if not more so than estrogen. Read more about progesterone (and why reducing stress is the best way to enhance it) here.
Thyroid hormones may be a concern for you. T3, T4, TSH, and TPO are all crucial for understanding what’s really going on with your thyroid hormones. For the best resource on all kinds of thyroid issues, check out Izabella Wentz’s Root Cause.
Vitamin D is important for healthy estrogen levels so you may want to get that tested too. If low, consider supplementing with a great emulsified D like this one.
If you get your hormones tested and find out that your estrogen levels are low, or progesterone is low, or especially that your testosterone or DHEA-S levels are high, then you may want to look into Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome as a potential underlying problem. Read more about PCOS here: What Is PCOS? And check out my program for overcoming it here.
Secondly, reconsider hormonal birth control.
Third, optimize your diet.
Foods that support thyroid health such as seafood and seaweed should be quite helpful for managing your symptoms. (If you do not consume seaweed regularly consider a small dose kelp supplement).
Foods to emphasize for estrogen clearing are those that boost B vitamin levels, omega 3 levels (fermented cod liver oil is an excellent way to meet the body’s need for omega 3 while also getting the rare but crucial vitamins A, D, and K), choline (in supplement form here), zinc (here), magnesium (here), calcium, and vitamin D.
For that reason, eggs (choline), fish (omega 3 fats, iodine, selenium, and vitamin D), liver and other organ meats (vitamin A, vitamin K, B vitamins, and iron, zinc, manganese, etc), and high quality animal protein are all musts.
Leafy greens are incredibly important for supporting the liver clearing estrogen out of the body. Aim for at least one serving a day, at minimum!
Foods to be avoided are all processed sugars, grains, omega 6 seed oils, phytoestrogens which include soy, flax, legumes, seeds, and some herbs, which I list in great detail here, and alcohol.
Fourth, consider supplementing.
I listed FCLO, choline, zinc, magnesium, calcium, and vitamin D above all as good nutrients to eat plentifully or consider supplementing for estrogen dominance.
Some herbs have also been rumored to be helpful. Personally, I don’t love to recommend herbs, especially ones that affect hormone balance, such as chasteberry. However, chasteberry has been rumored to be quite effective for estrogen dominance. Herbs that support liver health (and therefore estrogen detox) are milk thistle (here) and a good dandelion root (here).
Additionally, L-taurine promotes bile circulation, which enhances estrogen’s excretion out of the body.
Exercise is incredibly important, as it can speed up the liver’s detox processes, sharpen insulin sensitivity, boost weight loss, help mitigate mood swing problems associated with estrogen dominance, and reduce levels of stress hormones in the body. You can read all about my exercise recommendations in this book.
Sixth, reduce stress.
I cannot emphasize enough how important this is. Stress makes progesterone levels plummet which is terrible for healthy hormone balance.
More estrogen dominance tools and resources
Here are most of the links I have written about above and a few more, all of which can help if you like. Of course, the best way to beat estrogen dominance is with a healthy, paleo-type diet and lifestyle with exercise and stress reduction. But supplements can often help quite a bit.
Desiccated liver (in case you don’t like eating it!)
My favorite fermented foods for gut healing, healing constipation
cod liver oil for reducing inflammation and getting the important but rare A, D, and K vitamins
Milk thistle for liver support
Dandelion root for liver support
A great probiotic supplement like this
My favorite magnesium here
A list of my favorite fermented foods here
Hope that helps — and please keep me posted in the comments on your experiences! Would love to hear about them!