When estrogen is high in relation to progesterone, you can experience symptoms of estrogen dominance including heavy periods, PMS, and mood swings. Here’s why it’s happening and what to do about it.
Hormones are chemical messengers that regulate your body’s physiological processes. While hormone levels are tightly regulated by the body, many things can negatively impact that delicate balance and cause hormone imbalances.
One of the most common hormone balances I’ve seen among clients is estrogen dominance. This occurs when estrogen is too high in relation to progesterone. As a result, the calming effects of progesterone are suppressed, which negatively impacts your cycle, mood, and sleep.
While the symptoms of estrogen dominance can be incredibly aggravating, treating it doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, there are a number of simple lifestyle shifts that can help you lower your estrogen levels naturally.
What Is Estrogen Dominance?
Estrogen is a sex hormone in women and men that plays a role in reproductive, bone, and cardiovascular health. Women have three major sex hormones: estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. While all three are important, estrogen and progesterone are especially important as they control the reproductive cycle.
During the menstrual cycle, estrogen slowly rises and peaks at ovulation. Ovulation causes progesterone to increase. If the egg released during ovulation isn’t fertilized, progesterone and estrogen levels decline again and the cycle repeats.
Progesterone and estrogen levels should be in sync during your cycle. Because they influence each other, they both can play a part in estrogen dominance symptoms.
The most common ways estrogen dominance occurs is:
- Estrogen is high, progesterone levels are normal: In this case, estrogen levels get too high in the body. This happens because your body is either overproducing estrogen or your body isn’t detoxifying estrogen properly. It could also be a combination of both.
- Estrogen is normal, progesterone levels are low: This type of estrogen dominance is slightly more complex. Estrogen levels stay normal, but progesterone levels are low, leading to a situation where you have the symptoms of estrogen dominance but are really dealing with low progesterone.
Symptoms of Estrogen Dominance
Estrogen dominance can cause a number of different unwanted symptoms:
- Heavy periods
- Sore throat before your period
- Breast tenderness
- PMS (especially irritability)
- Headaches and migraines
- Thyroid issues
- Weight gain
- Water retention
- Trouble sleeping/insomnia
Why does estrogen dominance occur? For many women, it has to do with our environment. The modern world is like a perfect storm for estrogen dominance:
- Hormonal contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy: Both add extra estrogen (either bioidentical or synthetic). Hormonal contraceptives also block ovulation, which impacts progesterone. Even if you bleed and have a period on your hormonal birth control, you’re not ovulating.
- Chronic stress: When you’re chronically stressed, the body produces cortisol in high amounts. Studies show prolonged stress and cortisol production can inhibit hormone production and cause hormone imbalances.
- Heavy metal exposure: Research suggests heavy metals like cadmium and lead can mimic estrogen in the body and even bind to estrogen receptor sites. This is possibly the pathway by which they become carcinogenic.
- Xenoestrogen exposure: Xenoestrogens are endocrine disruptors that act like estrogen in the body. They can bind to estrogen receptor sites in the body and influence symptoms. Xenoestrogens are all around us, but most are found in skin care and cosmetics, cleaning supplies, and plastics.
- Pesticide exposure: Our water and food are contaminated with pesticides, herbicides, and even drug residue, much of which are known endocrine disruptors. Cumulative, daily exposure ads up and can wreck havoc on hormones.
- Alcohol consumption: Excess alcohol consumption puts an extra burden on the liver, which can impact how estrogen is detoxified from the body.
The only way to know for sure exactly what imbalances are at the root of your estrogen dominance is to do hormone testing with a trusted functional medicine practitioner.
While a blood test is one of the most common ways to test hormone levels, if you are really struggling and want answers, I recommend using a dried urine test such as the DUTCH test. This will help you look at a variety of hormones, including cortisol, to help you understand how stress might be impacting other hormones. Your doctor might also want to run a liver panel, methylation panel, and micronutrient panel to assess detoxification pathways.
Rest assured, if hormone testing is outside your budget, there are many things you can do right now to balance your hormones and treat estrogen dominance naturally. Many women may not even need testing because supporting healthy estrogen levels is beneficial to overall health and unlikely to cause harm.
If you want to reduce the symptoms of estrogen dominance and support hormone balance, there are some simple lifestyle shifts that can make a big difference.
- Reduce stress: Chronic stress not only causes HPA axis dysfunction, it also directly impacts your hormones. If you don’t mitigate stress and/or remove what is causing you chronic stress, you won’t be able to balance your hormones naturally.
- Reduce exposure to endocrine disruptors: Known endocrine disruptors, such as parabens and phthalates, are in most cosmetic and cleaning products. Many pesticides and plastics such as BPA are also endocrine disruptors. Choose safer skincare and cosmetic products and swap out kitchen equipment to safe silicone utensils and ceramic pots and pans.
- Eat a high fiber diet: Research shows dietary fiber helps increase the elimination of estrogen through fecal excretion, thereby aiding in the regulation of estrogen levels within the body. Fiber-rich foods include all the fruits and vegetables, especially leafy greens.
- Eat organic foods when possible: Pesticides are known endocrine disruptors. Use the the EWG’s Dirty Dozen for guidance on what to prioritize when shopping for produce. Pesticides also contaminate drinking water, so use a water purifier in the home.
- Exercise: Research indicates engaging in regular exercise can have several beneficial effects on estrogen levels, estrogen regulation, and overall health by reducing circulating estrogen levels.
- Support liver detoxification: Your liver is responsible for metabolizing hormones. If your liver is sluggish or overburdened, it will struggle to detoxify. You can support your liver by eating cruciferous veggies daily such as broccoli and cabbage, eating foods rich in heme-iron and b-vitamins such as grass-fed meats and organ meats, eating sulphur-rich foods such as onions and pasture-raised eggs, and cutting back on alcohol.
What About Hormonal Birth Control?
While it’s commonly prescribed, if you’re using hormonal birth control to control symptoms like PCOS, heavy periods, or hormonal acne, it’s not actually resolving the root cause of your symptoms. The birth control pill shuts down ovulation, which suppresses the production of estrogen and progesterone through a negative feedback loop. Estrogen dominance will still be there when you come off the pill because it is simply replacing your body’s own hormone production with synthetic hormones.
If you’re using the pill solely for contraception, don’t be afraid to explore other options while you work on rebalancing your hormones and healing estrogen dominance. I personally love using a combination of the Fertility Awareness Method and barrier methods.
Herbs and Supplements for Estrogen Dominance
Supplements that can help reduce estrogen dominance symptoms by supporting liver health and estrogen detoxification. Of course, make sure to check with a trusted medical practitioner before trying any new supplements and herbs.
- N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine (NAC): Helps your body produce glutathione, the master antioxidant, and supports your liver. Research shows NAC supplementation can help keep estrogen metabolism balanced, and help rebalance it if it becomes out of balance.
- Milk Thistle: One of the most well-known liver-supporting nutrients. Milk thistle is an herb that has active ingredients that may stimulate liver detoxification pathways and the regeneration of liver tissue.
- Functional mushrooms: Reishi and cordyceps are well known for supporting liver function. Research suggests they may protect liver cells against oxidative damage. When it comes to supporting the liver with herbs and supplements, I recommend using a high-quality supplement that contains a blend of liver supporting nutrients, such as Designs for Health Hepatatone Plus.
- DIM: An antioxidant naturally produced by your body when you eat cruciferous veggies, but you can also take it supplementally to promote healthy estrogen metabolism. It helps your body produce more of the good estrogen and less of the inflammatory estrogen that is linked to cancer.
- Calcium D-Glucarate: This is the a calcium salt of the molecule known as D-Glucaric acid. It is naturally found in the body and many fruits and vegetables. Research suggests it can help liver detoxification by enhancing the metabolism of hormones.
Vitex for Hormone Balance
Vitex (also known as chaste tree) is one of the most common herbs used for hormone issues, particularly estrogen imbalance. It works by increasing luteinizing hormone (LH), hence bringing on ovulation and a rise in progesterone levels. In my experience, it can be very helpful, but I consider it a more advanced supplement that should only be used under the guidance of a skilled practitioner.
Getting Back In Balance
Whether you know or suspect a hormone imbalance, these steps are the place to start for treating estrogen dominance naturally and reducing symptoms. While the advice is simple, it can make a huge difference in how your body is able to process and eliminate hormones. Instead of getting overwhelmed with how much you need to do, choose one thing you can do today.
More Hormone Articles
- Root Cause of Hormonal Acne & Treating it Naturally
- 8 Natural Remedies For Allergies
- Natural Remedies For PMS
- Cycle Syncing Workouts: How to Exercise in Each Phase of Your Menstrual Cycle