The hormones in your body work together in a delicate balance to control and maintain the optimal functioning of every system. The metabolism, heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar, menstrual cycles, and many more functions all rely on the endocrine system for instructions.
That’s why when one hormone is out of whack, it can throw off the whole body and present with many different symptoms.
What is Estrogen?
Estrogens are a group of hormones that promote and maintain female characteristics in the body. Otherwise known as the female sex hormone, estrogen plays a role in breast development, pubic and armpit hair growth, and the regulation of the menstrual cycle and reproductive system.
Even though estrogen is a female sex hormone, females are not the only ones who have it. Just as women have small amounts of the male sex hormone—testosterone—running through their bloodstreams, men have estrogen in their systems as well.
The rise and fall of estrogen levels in a woman’s body is a normal and natural thing. In fact, the cyclical highs and lows of estrogen dictate your menstrual cycle. On the first day of your cycle—or day one of your period—your estrogen level is low. It then begins to rise and reaches its peak right before ovulation. If the egg isn’t fertilized (i.e., if you are not pregnant), estrogen levels will begin to fall, rise again about a week after ovulation, and then fall again, at which point your cycle will conclude.
High or Low Estrogen
Hormonal imbalances such as estrogen dominance or estrogen deficiency can cause major problems in both men and women.
When a person’s estrogen levels are high compared with the other hormones in his or her body, that person has estrogen dominance. In women, estrogen dominance is when estrogen levels are high compared with progesterone levels. That means that low progesterone actually expresses itself as estrogen dominance.
Symptoms of estrogen dominance in women may include:
- Increased symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
- Fibrocystic breasts
- Swelling and tenderness in the breasts
- Abnormal menstruation—heavy bleeding and irregular cycles
- Reduced sex drive
- Mood swings
- Weight gain
- Nervousness and anxiety
- Sleep problems or insomnia
Estrogen dominance in men usually shows in the form of enlarged breasts, sexual dysfunction, and infertility.
Although less common, estrogen deficiency can also cause major problems. Women with estrogen deficiency may experience mental fogginess, memory problems, hot flashes, sagging breasts, dry eyes and skin, weight gain, headaches, joint pain, depression, mood swings, reduced sex drive, irregular menstrual cycles, and more.
RELATED: 5 Natural Remedies to Beat PMS
Causes of Estrogen Dominance
Estrogen dominance is more common today than ever before. Our environment is full of things that we ingest that contain either estrogen or chemicals that mimic estrogen in the body. As a result, the estrogen levels in our bodies continue to rise. The following things can cause estrogen dominance.
Estrogen is present in plastic water bottles and other plastic containers that we eat and drink from. The hormones that are distributed through plastic are known as xenohormones. Studies show that the substances leaching from plastic packaging act as functional estrogen in the body. (1)
Medications and drugs such as oral contraceptives contain estrogen. Even people who don’t take these drugs can still be affected by them, because they get thrown away or flushed down the toilet and end up in our landfills and water supply.
Animals raised for food are given hormones to make them grow bigger more quickly. The dairy products and meat products that come from these animals are full of hormones, which we then consume.
Certain plant foods contain natural compounds called phytoestrogens that act like estrogens in the body, mimicking their effects. These foods include soybeans and any soybean products (i.e., soymilk, tofu, soy sauce, miso, tempeh), flax, sesame, wheat berry, and fenugreek.
There are other factors that contribute directly to estrogen dominance, including estrogen replacement therapy, a treatment for symptoms of menopause.
Another cause of estrogen dominance is excess body fat. Fat cells store an enzyme that converts testosterone into estrogen—the more fat cells you have, the more estrogen your body will make. (2)
6 Ways to Decrease Symptoms
If you have estrogen dominance, start by treating it with these lifestyle changes that can naturally reverse symptoms and bring your hormones back into balance.
1. Choose Organic
The biggest source of estrogen in your diet is from farm-raised animal products and inorganic produce.
When buying poultry, beef, fish, eggs, and dairy, go for organic, grass-fed products when possible. Wild-caught fish is preferable over farm-raised fish. This change will eliminate a lot of extra estrogens that you have been consuming.
Inorganic produce is full of all kinds of toxins that can mimic estrogen—not to mention all other kinds of harm that it can cause in the body. Choose organic fruits and vegetables for a cleaner lifestyle.
2. Ditch the Plastic
Replace plastic water bottles with glass or stainless steel. Look for labels that say “BPA-Free,” and always opt for non-toxic products when possible. By doing this, you’ll be skipping out on xenoestrogens that leach from plastic food and water containers.
3. Drink Filtered Water
Research shows that estrogen can make its way into our water supply due to flushed hormonal contraceptives. Get yourself a water filter to absorb the extra estrogen—and any other hormones or chemicals—that may be floating around in your drinking water.
Water also helps with detoxification in the body, so the more clean water you drink, the more toxins you’ll be able to get rid of.
4. Rethink Your Birth Control
Thankfully, there are many birth control options available to us today that are non-hormonal. Talk to your doctor about which option may be best for you. Not only will you save yourself from estrogen dominance now, but from many bigger issues—such as cancer—in the long run. (3)
5. Lose Weight
If you are overweight, shedding a few pounds may help to reduce symptoms of estrogen dominance. The more fat cells you have, the more estrogen your body will produce. Start by exercising regularly and eating a diet rich in leafy green, fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains.
6. Manage Stress Levels
Chronically high levels of stress can also lead to estrogen dominance. The body begins to use progesterone to make the stress hormone cortisol, and low levels of progesterone lead to estrogen dominance.
Adopt a daily stress-reducing practice such as dance, yoga, or meditation. Dedicate time to yourself each day and you’ll find that not only will your stress levels decrease, but your creativity and energy levels will increase.
Estrogen dominance is a hormonal imbalance that can affect both men and women. With the lifestyle changes mentioned above, you may be able to prevent or treat estrogen dominance by keeping your hormone levels balanced naturally.
If you think you may have estrogen dominance, don’t delay. Talk to your doctor about doing testing so that you can get back on track as soon as possible.