Are You Making Too Much Estrogen?
As women, we naturally synthesize our necessary female sex hormones on a monthly basis. Estrogen and progesterone (along with some other supportive players) regulate the ebb and flow of our monthly cycles. But what is enough versus too much? Let’s explore!
Estrogen: your friend
Estrogen often gets a bad rep, so let’s make sure we acknowledge the awesome things that estrogen does for us. Estrogen is all about growth. It’s responsible for the thickening of our endometrial lining, and preparing our bodies for pregnancy. It has receptors in multiple areas of the body including the heart, brain, bone, gut, and of course our uterus and ovaries. It also causes our bodies to ovulate. We need estrogen! In comparison to progesterone, the more “calming” hormone, estrogen also makes us feel motivated, boosts our energy, brain function and mood.
Here is where things can get problematic. Ideally, like with most things in our body, there needs to be a a balance. In estrogen’s case, there is a time and place for it to be at higher levels. This is meant to happen for a few days of the entire monthly cycle. Once ovulation has taken place, we then start to see the rise in progesterone. Progesterone will balance out the levels of estrogen, so that we move through the rest of our cycle relatively smoothly. For many women, smoothly is, unfortunately, not the word they would use to describe those last two weeks of their cycle. So what’s happening?
Estrogen Dominance: not your friend
There are three possible clinical scenarios that can all result in similar symptoms and presentation:
- Estrogen is abnormally high and your progesterone is normal
- Estrogen is normal, but progesterone is low, thus creating a relative abundance of estrogen
- Both of the above
How would you know if you were possibly dealing with too much estrogen? Some of the most common symptoms include:
- Breast swelling and tenderness
- Migraines / headaches
- Fibrocystic breasts
- Abnormal (and sometimes debilitating) cramping
- Weight gain (centre/ abdominal)
- Decreased libido
- Mood swings (anxiety/depression)
- Trouble sleeping / insomnia
- Heavy bleeding
- Thyroid issues
- Brain fog
These are common symptoms I see in my practice, but let’s be clear: common does not mean normal. That list is not normal, and I do not want any woman to accept “it’s just how I am”. You deserve better than that! Please hear this.
So why are these symptoms so common?
There can be a few reasons as to why we may find ourselves in a state of estrogen dominance. The reasons will, of course, be dependent if we have a true estrogen dominance versus a relative excess due to low progesterone. This is why a thorough clinical history and functional lab testing is so important. You want to get to the root of this issue, so that you re-balance your body and feel amazing moving forward. Common practice is to give a woman, no matter what the symptom picture is, some form of hormonal therapy (most commonly, the birth control pill) to “regulate” her cycle. In theory this may make sense, however, it is not addressing WHY this happened in the first place. When we address the why, we create the opportunity to heal.
Estrogen dominance can start to manifest for a variety of reasons. Here are some to consider.
- Environmental exposures to toxins and xenoestrogens creating an increased load on the body
- Reduced ability to detoxify estrogens in the body
- Excess / persistent stress
- Excess body fat
- Low fibre, high carbohydrate and refined sugar diet
- Impaired immune function
- Gastrointestinal dysbiosis
In my experience, it is often a combination of the above list, that has lead women to find themselves in an estrogen dominant state. Figuring out the exact mechanisms that led you to this state is crucial for long-term change.
What’s a gal to do?
There are many different approaches to treating estrogen dominance, depending on the WHY. So first off, it is important to get a thorough health history and lab testing with a Naturopathic Doctor or other functional medical practitioner to truly get to the root of the issue.
Aside from working with a practitioner, simple lifestyle practices that help us to increase our estrogen clearance are a great place to start. These include:
- Regular exercise helps you break a sweat, release toxins, and maintain a healthy weight
- Maintain a high fibre, low carb diet to encourage healthy bowel movements for efficient clearance
- Consume healthy fats like avocados and olive oil to help regulate blood sugar and hormone production
- De-stress! Meditation, yoga, deep breathing, gratitude practices, and journaling are all amazing options
- Increase the cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli, cauliflower, kale) in your diet, as these contain compounds that specifically help to detoxify estrogens from the body
- Detoxify the liver to ensure it’s able to clear the hormones efficiently
Still seems a bit overwhelming? Take a deep breath. You do not have to figure this out on your own. That is where women like me are here to serve you, offering to sift through all of the details and provide strategy for your health needs. Don’t wait until symptoms become so bad you are dreading the end of your cycles. You deserve the smooth sailing that your body intended. So reach for it!
Dr. Jenn is a Naturopathic Doctor in Ottawa with a focus on balance: balanced hormones, balanced energy, balanced mood, and balanced immune system. As a new(ish) mom, she works hard every day to find the balance between the health of her body, mind, and spirit, and is passionate about helping women do the same. Learn more her and her practice at drjennkeller.com