Let’s talk about estrogen dominance!
But first, it’s essential to understand what estrogen is and what estrogen does.
Basically, estrogen is a hormone that plays a role in the male and female reproductive system and contributes to cognitive health, bone health and cardiovascular function (Nichols, H. 2023).
From puberty, menstrual cycles, pregnancy and skin health to your libido, brain function, mood, cholesterol control, cardiovascular health, bone development and more, estrogen plays a significant role in many processes.
There are three types of Estrogen:
Estrone (E1) – is common after menopause and converted from androstenedione in men and women.
Estradiol (E2) – is the most common estrogen in women of childbearing age and is converted from testosterone in men and women.
Estriol (E3) – is the main estrogen during pregnancy and is converted from estradiol.
It’s worth noting most estrogen is converted from testosterone or androstenedione via the enzyme aromatase. It can be made in the ovaries, testes, liver, adrenals, fat cells and the brain. However, too much aromatase can lead to too much estrogen in both men and women.
What is Estrogen Dominance?
Estrogen dominance may be too much estrogen or too little progesterone in relation to estrogen. They are the yin and yang that keep your hormones in balance. When we are under stress, our body converts progesterone into the stress hormone cortisol, which may result in estrogen dominance. Estrogen dominance can also be too much estrogen at the wrong time of your cycle, or for men, too much conversion of testosterone into estrogen.
Top 14 Signs of Estrogen Dominance
Irritability & moodiness
If you’re feeling irritable, moody and just not your usual self, you might discover that this is a symptom of estrogen dominance. Estrogen plays a critical role in regulating your mood, so when your estrogen levels are too high, you may experience mood swings and irritability at any time of the month (Hale, S. 2023).
During your cycle or because of estrogen imbalance, fluctuating estrogen levels can lead to mood swings, which can make you more emotional or irritable than you may usually be.
Depression & anxiousness
Estrogen plays an important role in regulating serotonin, which is the hormone associated with happiness and a regular mood. Estrogen’s effect on serotonin may play a role in depression, with estrogen dominance linked to an increased likelihood of experiencing depression. As a result, research shows that depression is a common side effect of medications that contain estrogen (Hale, S. 2023).
Similarly, estrogen dominance can lead to symptoms of anxiety, with research suggesting that estrogen and its receptors play a vital role in the expression of anxiety. Estrogen dominance may increase the stimulation of specific estrogen receptors that are responsible for symptoms of anxiety (Hale, S. 2023).
Acne & rosacea
Hormonal acne continues beyond those teen years and puberty, and can impact you well into your 20s, 30s and sometimes even 40s. Typically present in the chin and jawline, acne tends to arise both before the period or midway through when estrogen levels surge (Mahannah, K. 2020).
Hormonal acne can come in different patterns, and one of those patterns is estrogen dominance acne. This type of hormonal acne generally occurs during the first half of the menstrual cycle or around ovulation when estrogen levels spike upwards (Mahannah, K. 2020).
Unexplained weight gain
Estrogen dominance can lead to weight gain, particularly around the belly, hips and thighs. While this may be caused by other lifestyle changes like dietary changes or medication, if your routine hasn’t changed, sudden unexpected weight gain may be a sign of a hormonal imbalance.
Fat cells can produce estrogen, and unfortunately, these things go hand-in-hand. As you gain weight, this can cause you risk of estrogen dominance, but high estrogen can put you at risk of weight gain (Beckley, A. 2021).
Digestive issues and bloating
Your gut health and digestive function can be affected by estrogen dominance. Research in recent years has pointed out that estrogen and its receptors can serve an essential role in the gastrointestinal tract and contribute to other diseases, including irritable bowel syndrome. Estrogen has been shown to perform functions outside of the reproductive system, including the cardiovascular system and the central nervous system (Chen, C et al. 2019).
Poor quality sleep & fatigue
Estrogen dominance can impact your sleep and energy levels because estrogen has energy-creating and stimulating effects on your body. These effects explain why you may feel more energised and in a better mood during the first half of your cycle over your second. High estrogen levels can cause you to feel overstimulated, which will make sleep more difficult (Beckley, A. 2021).
If your estrogen dominance is caused by low progesterone, you may also find your sleep and energy levels impacted. Progesterone balances out the energy-inciting effects by inducing calmness and relaxation. Without enough progesterone, you may not experience those calming sensations that make falling asleep much easier (Beckley, A. 2021).
If you’re experiencing low libido, that may be a sign that you’re symptomatic of estrogen dominance. This isn’t directly because of estrogen, but research suggests that imbalances between estrogen and progesterone can affect your libido. Other symptoms of estrogen dominance can also affect libido because if you’re not feeling your best, it’s unlikely that you’re going to be in the mood (Beckley, A. 2021).
High estrogen levels and low progesterone levels can contribute to fluid retention, which in turn can contribute to bloating. Estrogen usually acts as a fluid-retaining hormone, while progesterone acts as a natural diuretic. When you’re experiencing estrogen dominance and your hormones are off balance, you may find your body retaining fluids and causing bloating (HerKare).
Estrogen and progesterone levels have been found to impact women during their periods. Studies showed that some women had intense cravings for chocolate and other sugary foods, while others craved carb-dense foods like chips. The hormone leptin, which is responsible for telling your body to stop, was not affected by estrogen and progesterone in this study. During the menstrual cycle, these two hormones can affect the types of food that you crave (Forsyth, J).
Heavy and sometimes painful periods
Estrogen is highly relevant when it comes to your cycle and is one of the main hormones that help regulate it. Estrogen is responsible for several things, including thickening your uterine lining during the first half of your cycle, which makes it a comfortable place for an embryo implant if conception occurs. Estrogen dominance symptoms will reveal themselves because your uterine lining will become thicker than usual, and your period will be heavier when it comes later during your cycle. This is because there is more lining that needs to be shed (Beckley, A. 2021).
Cramping & headaches
Headaches and migraines have been linked to estrogen and are sometimes among the reported potential side effects of oral contraceptives. Hormone headaches or ‘menstrual migraines’ may occur in the days leading up to the period and are commonly related to a sudden decline in estrogen or progesterone. These symptoms may be worse in people with high estrogen or estrogen dominance, like women experiencing perimenopause (Mahannah, K. 2020).
Hair loss or hair thinning
High estrogen levels can lead to hair loss, and when it comes to symptoms of estrogen dominance, reaching too high an amount of estrogen can incite hair loss. When your estrogen levels rise too high, and your progesterone levels are too low in comparison, hair growth disruptions and hair loss can be caused by this hormonal imbalance. If you’re experiencing estrogen dominance, you may find that your hair feels thinner, weaker and unhealthy, with more shedding noticeable when brushing or washing your hair (Hale, S. 2023)
Estrogen dominance can increase the likelihood of blood clots and are a well-known side effect of contraceptive pills, which can increase your estrogen levels. While estrogen dominance isn’t specifically responsible for blood clots, it can greatly increase the risk. For the average person taking birth control pills, the risk of a blood clot is still only small. Still, estrogen can increase the levels of clotting factors and is assumed to be responsible for the increased risk of blood clots during pregnancy (James, A).
Hormones play a pivotal role in fertility, so unfortunately, if your estrogen levels are too high because of estrogen dominance, conceiving can be difficult for some. Elevated estrogen levels may prevent the body from ovulating, which is necessary during your cycle if you are trying to get pregnant (Hale, S. 2023).
It’s usually difficult to tell if you’re actually infertile unless you’re actively trying to get pregnant, but if you notice your menstrual cycle lasting too long (more than 35 days) or too short (less than 21 days), this might be a sign that you’re not ovulating. If your period is inconsistent, irregular or nonexistent at all, this might also be a sign of potential infertility because it suggests that ovulation is not occurring (Hale, S. 2023).
What can cause Estrogen Dominance?
While there are many factors that can contribute to estrogen dominance, here are the top 10 reasons:
Birth control pills, hormone replacement therapy & antibiotics
Stress, anxiety & poor-quality sleep
Exposure to BPA & other xenoestrogens (in plastic bottles, cans, takeaway coffee cups, personal care products, perfume, cosmetics, shampoo, lotions, and chemical cleaners)
Excess sugar & alcohol consumption
Poor liver function
Excess body fat
A diet low in quality fats, micronutrients, antioxidants, and fibre
Bacterial imbalance in the gut (foods like sugar that feed bad bacteria, use of antibiotics etc.)
Environmental air & water pollutants & mould
Excess estrogen increases fat storage, and body fat increases the production of estrogen, so the cycle keeps repeating. For this reason, it can be hard to lose weight, especially in areas such as the lower abdomen, hips, butt, thighs, chest, and the back of your arms. To minimise symptoms of estrogen dominance, we may have to take a multi-prong approach.
4 Tips For Breaking The Cycle
1. Eat more cruciferous vegetables
Cruciferous vegetables are some of the best foods to lower estrogen because they contain indole-3-carbinol, a chemical with anti-estrogen effects. Consuming cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage can reduce estrogen production in men (Zayed, A. 2022).
2. Include magnesium in your diet
As an essential mineral for oestrogen detoxification, adding magnesium-rich foods (or supplements) to your diet can help you reduce symptoms associated with oestrogen excess by reducing inflammation and muscle spasms. Sources of magnesium include nuts, seeds, green leafy vegetables and dark chocolate (Remede).
3. Eat more phytoestrogen-rich foods
Eating foods rich in phytoestrogen or following a diet that is high in phytoestrogens can promote healthy estrogen levels. Examples include the Mediterranean diet, which is high in fibre and rich in plant proteins and plant fats, as well as whole grains, fruits legumes (Kubala, J. 2020).
4. Reduce stress, and increase sleep
Making a few lifestyle changes can help you combat estrogen dominance. By working to lower your stress (we know; easier said than done), you can decrease the number of stress hormones that your body produces can help you keep your estrogen levels balanced (Cleveland Clinic. 2022). It is also important to ensure you are getting an adequate night’s sleep, as various hormones, including estrogen, are impacted by sleep (Vinall, M. 2021).
So, what does this all mean?
Well, if you’re experiencing these symptoms, it might be a sign that you’re suffering from an imbalance in the body. While implementing these lifestyle and dietary tips may be beneficial for overall health, for medical advice and treatment options for suspected hormonal imbalances we recommend you consult your trusted medical professional to find a solution.
Disclaimer: The above article is merely a guide and is in no way a recommendation or a treatment protocol for any health conditions or diseases. You should always consult with a qualified health care provider before changing your supplement, training or nutritional strategy. Supplementation should not be attempted by pregnant or breastfeeding women, anyone on prescription medication or children under the age of 15 unless advised by your qualified health care provider.
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