Understanding Estrogen Dominance
By Monica Hoss, MS, RD, LD
April 4, 2023
We need estrogen for our reproductive, cardiovascular and bone health. Our body is just like Goldilocks though… it wants estrogen levels to be just right and not too high or too low! Too much estrogen can lead to many unpleasant symptoms and even more serious conditions. You’ve probably heard hormone fluctuations that lead to PMS, bloating, fluid retention, and breast tenderness are a normal part of being a woman. These symptoms, however, don’t have to be the norm and may be a sign of high estrogen levels or estrogen dominance. You might be surprised to hear this isn’t just a women’s issue. Men are also impacted by estrogen dominance.
The good news is that there are many things we can do to balance your estrogen and correct high levels through nutrition and lifestyle. Let’s look at why high estrogen levels can be a problem, why estrogen might be high in the first place, and what you can do about it.
Health Concerns Associated with Excess Estrogen Levels
Today, girls as young as 9 and 10 are starting to menstruate, much earlier than the typical age of 13. This is a sign they are being exposed to too much estrogen. Other signs of excess estrogen in women include irregular menstrual cycles, endometriosis, infertility, and hormonal headaches. A body sign of high estrogen is excess weight around the hips, thighs and low abdomen while also having difficulty losing weight. For some women, estrogen dominance takes a more serious and life-threatening form, such as breast, endometrial or uterine cancer. Autoimmune disorders including lupus and thyroiditis have also been linked to estrogen dominance and other hormone imbalances.
Men may experience loss of sex drive, increased abdominal fat, enlarged prostate and prostate cancer. In fact, estrogen is a key contributor to 50% of all prostate cancer cases.
Are you experiencing any of these estrogen dominant symptoms?
- Acne along jaw line or chin, especially cystic acne
- Headaches/migraines that are triggered by period or ovulation
- Menstrual cramps
- Hot flashes
- Weight gain in hips and thighs
- Uterine fibroids
- Fibrocystic breasts
- Mood changes during menstrual cycle and during perimenopause
- Low sex drive
Sources of Estrogen
Why are so many people becoming estrogen dominant these days? There are a few different causes:
Toxic estrogens, called xenoestrogens, lead to estrogen dominance in both men and women. They can also be referred to as endocrine disruptors because they mimic estrogen in our bodies and can interfere with hormone balance. Xenoestrogens come from things you may come in contact with everyday including plastic water bottles, home-cleaning chemicals, pesticides and herbicides, as well as industrial chemicals that can be found in the air and water. Common names for these chemicals are DDT, PCB, and sulfates used as foaming agents. Although you are not likely to eat these products, simply having contact with them day after day can add up to a toxic load over time in your body.
Xenoestrogens can also be found in food sources, mainly pork, beef, and dairy cows that have been given growth hormones orally or through injections. Although it is illegal to treat chickens with growth hormones, most chickens raised in confinement are given antibiotics. The antibiotics used to prevent illness in all livestock are stored in their fat, so when you eat these products, antibiotic residues can lead to hormone imbalances and estrogen dominance.
Prescription medication with hormones
Birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy can also cause estrogen dominance because they contain estrogen. Interestingly, the symptoms many women experience with estrogen dominance are masked by these medications. These medications keep estrogen levels consistently high so that hormone fluctuations are not felt and symptoms appear to subside. However, the cause of the symptoms—high estrogen—has not been addressed, only masked.
Excess body fat
In women, estrogen is primarily made in the ovaries with small amounts being made by other tissues including adipose tissue. Having extra weight, especially in the hips, waist, and thighs, creates and stores excess estrogen in both men and women. Adipose tissue will absorb and keep estrogen in your bloodstream.
Low progesterone levels
Estrogen levels can be high when progesterone levels are low. Your progesterone production can be low if you’re not ovulating due to menopause, taking birth control, or other menstrual cycle issues. Low progesterone could also be from chronic stress!
Eliminating Excess Estrogen from Your Body
It is important to eliminate excess estrogen daily. As a dietitian, I recommend:
- Getting eight to nine hours of sleep each night.
- Drinking eight to twelve glasses (8oz. each) of water daily. Make sure it's filtered (not straight out of the tap).
- Moving your body several times each week.
- Consuming a variety of vegetables daily, especially leafy green vegetables and cruciferous veggies, like broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts.
- Being mindful of xenoestrogens and switching to safer personal care, household and cleaning products.
- Having a bowel movement every day. This is the final phase of detoxification. If you aren’t having a bowel movement daily, then you aren’t getting estrogen out.
Supplements That Can Help
When clients have symptoms of high estrogen, I often recommend specific supplements to help them eliminate the excess estrogens, in addition to the lifestyle and nutrition changes mentioned above.
- Estro I-3-C: the main ingredient in this product is indole-3-carbinol (I3C), which is a naturally occurring compound that comes from cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, bok choy). This supplement also contains DIM, a compound that I-3-C creates in the body. The combination of the two in supplement form has been found to be very beneficial for helping both the gut and the liver metabolize estrogen. For dosing, take 1 capsule twice daily. Typically, the symptoms caused by estrogen dominance will start to go away or improve after three to six months.
- Estro ReBalance: this product has isoflavones, carnosic acid, and curcumin to promote metabolism of the healthy estrogen pathway. It also contains antioxidants that are important for reducing free radicals and can act as a phytoestrogen, which helps prevent unhealthy xenoestrogens. We have found that this works especially well for women in perimenopause and menopause who are experiencing a lot of symptoms. For dosing, take 2-3 capsules daily and expect to see improvements after three to six months. Some people may need more, so work with your dietitian or nutritionist to see what is right for you.
*Note: Estro I-3-C and Estro ReBalance may reduce the effectiveness of the birth control pill if you’re using it for contraception
For clients who enjoy smoothies I like to recommend they add NutriKey Key Greens and Fruits to their protein shakes. This powder contains more than 50 superfoods, packed with vitamins and minerals that support liver health and estrogen detox.
I may also recommend supplements that help support digestive health. A healthy gut is necessary for estrogen metabolism and making sure our body moves estrogen along for excretion. If your gut isn’t healthy then your body may not be able to get rid of excess estrogen and it can actually be reactivated and reabsorbed.
Need help with digestive health? Check out our on-demand class Gut Reaction: Restore Digestive Health through Nutrition for only $25!
Start Ridding Your Body of Excess Estrogen
In the coming days and weeks, how are you going to reduce your exposure to excess estrogen?
Here are some easy ways to start:
- Pack leftovers in glass containers instead of plastic.
- Eat a variety of green vegetables every day. I like to sauté kale for a breakfast frittata, pack a large spinach salad for lunch at work, snack on cauliflower and broccoli in the afternoon, and serve braised purple cabbage at supper.
- Eat grass-fed meat and free-range poultry whenever it is available.
- Eat high fiber foods to make sure you are having a daily bowel movement.
- Drink eight to twelve glasses of filtered water daily.
- Reduce or eliminate sugar and processed carbs.
- Get eight to nine hours of sleep each night.
- Make sure you get some physical activity each week.
Balancing your reproductive hormones can feel like a daunting task when you’re experiencing uncomfortable symptoms. It is possible and we are here for you! Check out our free resources and, when you’re ready to work closely with us, schedule an appointment for that 1:1 support.
Resources for balancing hormones:
- Read: Signs of Estrogen Dominance: What That Means & How To Fix It
- Listen: PCOS
- Learn: Menopause Solutions online class
- Try: Brussels Sprout Breakfast Hash recipe