When your hormones are balanced, you feel good. Your period is easy to manage, your skin is clear, your energy levels are normal, and your mood is stable.
But when any one part of your “hormone equation” gets out of balance, feeling good goes out the window. Symptoms can range from annoying to life-altering.
And for a couple reasons, hormone imbalances are becoming more common now than ever before. Especially one type of imbalance: estrogen dominance.
Estrogen dominance doesn’t just cause long and heavy periods, mood swings, and painful breasts, it can actually increase your risk of cancer if left unaddressed.
Yes, estrogen dominance can be serious, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Today, I’m going to explain exactly what estrogen dominance is, what causes estrogen dominance (and why it’s on the rise), and how you can change your lifestyle to reduce and rebalance estrogen levels naturally.
What Is Estrogen Dominance?
Women have three major sex hormones: estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. It’s normal to have a range of each—and of course, these hormones change with your cycle—but all three should be in balance. Too much or too little of any of these hormones can cause major hormonal imbalances.
All three are important, but estrogen and progesterone are especially important for women, as they control the reproductive cycle.
During your cycle, estrogen and progesterone levels rise and fall. The week before and during your period, estrogen and progesterone levels are low. Then during the follicular phase, estrogen levels rise, peaking with 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, but they commonly get out of whack in one of two ways (both of which lead to estrogen dominance):
1. 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.
I like to refer to this type as “simple” estrogen dominance.
2. 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.
Many practitioners call this “relative estrogen dominance” because estrogen is high relative to progesterone.
Signs and Symptoms of Estrogen Dominance
Both simple and relative estrogen dominance can cause the same symptoms:
- Heavy periods
- Breast tenderness
- PMS (especially irritability)
- Thyroid issues
- Trouble sleeping/insomnia
But what’s most concerning is that estrogen dominance is a risk factor for breast, ovarian, and endometrial cancer as well as autoimmune and thyroid disease. In short, it’s not a situation you want to ignore.
What Causes Estrogen Dominance?
Why does estrogen dominance occur? And why it is seemingly on the rise? 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 (when progesterone levels rise). Even if you bleed and have a period on your hormonal birth control, you’re not ovulating.
- Chronic stress: This is a biggie! When you’re stressed, the body produces extra cortisol, and to do so, “steals” the raw materials needed to make progesterone. This results in low progesterone.
- Heavy metal exposure: Some research has suggested that heavy metals like cadmium and lead can mimic estrogen in the body and even bind to estrogen receptor sites (and that this is possibly the pathway by which they become carcinogenic).
- Xenoestrogen exposure: Xenoestrogens act as estrogen in the body. They can bind to estrogen receptor sites in the body (just like heavy metals as noted above). Xenoestrogens are all around us, but most are found in skin care and cosmetics and cleaning supplies.
- Pesticide exposure: Our water and food are contaminated with pesticides, herbicides, and even drug residue that can all contain endocrine disruptors. It may seem like a small amount, but extended daily exposure ads up.
Testing For Estrogen Dominance
Because simple and relative estrogen dominance can cause the same symptoms, the only way to know for sure exactly what type of estrogen dominance you’re dealing with is with proper testing.
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.
Note: I have no personal affiliation with this test. Both my husband and I have used the DUTCH test to test for hormonal imbalances and adrenal fatigue when looking for root causes of autoimmune disease and thyroid issues.
A dried urine test can give you a much more comprehensive view than a simple blood test will. In addition to showing you hormones levels, it will also show you how you metabolize estrogen, which is especially important for understanding what has caused your estrogen dominance.
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.
The good news is: Simple and safe doesn’t mean ineffective. In fact, I wouldn’t recommend any more serious solutions until you’ve got all the steps in place for balancing hormones naturally.
How To Heal Estrogen Naturally (And Rebalance Hormones)
You should never start any sort of protocol for hormones without first consulting with a practitioner, but if you’re generally considered about estrogen dominance, there are steps you can take to reduce estrogen and rebalance your hormones naturally that are safe.
1. Ditch the pill
If you’re using birth control pills to control symptoms like PCOS, heavy periods, or acne, unfortunately, it’s not actually resolving the root cause of your symptoms. In the long-run, you’ll be much better off addressing underlying causes of hormonal imbalances without the pill.
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 (there are lots of natural and sophisticated brands out there). Here’s more about how to stop taking birth control without side effects.
2. Get a handle on stress
Is this not the least exciting advice ever? The truth is, chronic stress will tank your health, period. (I speak from experience.) Chronic cortisol output directly impacts your entire endocrine system and all of your hormones.
Meditation and restorative exercise are great, but reducing stress will likely mean taking a more comprehensive approach, such as wearing blue blockers at night and going to bed early, ordering your groceries online, hiring help, or stepping back a bit at work. You can’t do everything all the time. And 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.
3. Clean up your beauty routine
Think ingredients with proven harmful effects are regulated in personal care products? Think again. There is almost zero federal regulation of the cosmetics industry in the United States.
Known endocrine disruptors, such as parabens and phthalates, are in most cosmetic products. Endocrine disruptors have links to estrogen dominance, thyroid disorders, and even breast cancer.
I wholeheartedly believe reducing our exposure to endocrine disruptors and carcinogens in personal care and household products is vital to overall health.
On a day to day basis, we are exposed to potentially dangerous chemicals from all kinds of sources—pesticides, plastics, car exhaust, and more we can’t control. Choosing safer skincare and cosmetic products is something we can control, and it’s a big part of our daily lives, which means removing harmful ingredients can have a big impact.
4. Swap out household products and food
Are you using conventional cleaning products, pesticides, even paint? These can all contain endocrine-disruptors and other harmful ingredients. I know this feels overwhelming, but start slow. The next time you need to purchase a new cleaning product or lawn treatment, choose a safer one. There are so many safer cleaning products out there that work incredibly well. I love Branch Basics, Better Life, and Puracy.
Food and water can also be a chronic source of endocrine disruptors. Drink filtered water, and choose organic, minimally processed foods when you can. Use the Dirty Dozen to figure out what to prioritize when purchasing organic to reduce pesticide exposure.
Exposure to pesticides goes beyond fruit and vegetables. Conventional animal products are often the most contaminated with pesticides, growth hormones, and antibiotics.
When possible, prioritize grass fed and organic animal products. One way to make this more affordable is to look for a CSA in your area or shop at local farmer’s markets. I personally have started using Grass Roots Farmers’ Cooperative to purchase 100% pasture-raised meats from local farmers in the US. It’s been an incredible resource for my family.
5. Support liver detoxification
Your liver is responsible for metabolizing hormones. If your liver is “sluggish” it can intensify estrogen dominance. You can support proper liver function with these simple steps:
- Eat cruciferous veggies daily (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, bok choy, etc.)
- Eat foods rich in heme-iron (easily absorbed in the body) and B vitamins. Grass-fed meat and organ meats are the perfect source of these nutrients!
- Eat sulfur-rich foods like pasture-raised eggs and onions.
- Take a magnesium supplement (This is the one I use daily).
- Cut back on alcohol or avoid it completely.
6. Support your gut
If there are problems in your gut, you are going to have issues properly detoxifying (excreting) hormones. While to topic of gut health is a big one, there are a few basic things you can start doing today that can support your gut.
First, remove potentially problematic foods. The big four—processed grains, dairy, sugar, and vegetable oils—can increase inflammation in the gut. Check out my book, Coconuts and Kettlebells, for instructions on a simple elimination diet that will help you discover if a specific food is causing your gut issues.
Second, introduce foods that support gut health. Probiotic foods, including raw sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha contain probiotics that will help to populate your gut with good bacteria and support proper elimination. Collagen is also an incredible gut-healing food. I recommend drinking bone broth and/or consuming bone broth soups on a regular basis, which is rich in both collagen and other gut-healing compounds.
Lastly, introduce a solid probiotic. After a lot of research, my two recommendations are 1.) Gut Pro. This is great for people with chronic health and gut issues/autoimmune issues. 2.) BiOptimizers P3OM. It’s a proteolytic probiotic and is formulated to make it into the gut.
What about weight loss?
Weight loss is often cited as a way to reduce estrogen dominance, but I think this advice is shortsighted. We all know that if simply telling someone to “lose weight” was effective, there wouldn’t be a multi-billion-dollar weight loss and diet industry.
The relationship between weight and estrogen dominance is much more nuanced than just “extra weight causes estrogen dominance.” In fact, I believe that for the majority of people, weight gain is a symptom of estrogen dominance, not the root cause.
Instead of starting a diet, I’d rather see anyone struggling with hormone imbalance (regardless of pant size) start implementing the other steps I’ve outlined. There’s a chance your weight may chance, but even if it doesn’t, these health-promoting behaviors will lead to hormonal balance.
Herbs and Supplements for Estrogen Dominance
If you’re doing everything mentioned above and you’re still struggling with symptoms of hormonal imbalance, you may find additional support with herbs and supplements for estrogen dominance.
When it comes to herbs and supplements for estrogen dominance, there are two ways you can support your body: 1.) herbs and supplements that support liver health, and 2.) herbs and supplements that rebalance or support estrogen detoxification.
Herbs and Supplements for Liver Support
N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine (NAC) helps your body produce glutathione, the “master antioxidant,” and supports your liver. But even more importantly, research has shown that NAC supplementation “can help keep estrogen metabolism balanced and help rebalance it if it becomes out of balance.” The researchers even state that this can help prevent the formation of estrogenic cancers.
Milk Thistle is perhaps 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, such as reishi and cordyceps, are well known for supporting the liver. 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, or Dr. Becky Campbell’s Liver Love.
Herbs and Supplements for Estrogen Detox
DIM is 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 helps your body detox excess estrogen by preventing the production of beta glucosidase by gut bacteria (which is what allows estrogen to be recirculated) and by binding to and deactivating estrogen in the liver.
What about vitex?
Vitex (also known as chaste tree or chaste berry) 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 healing estrogen dominance naturally.
While the advice is simple—stress less, eat real food, get the harmful ingredients and endocrine disruptors out of your beauty routine—executing it can be tricky.
Instead of getting overwhelmed with how much you need to do, choose one thing you can do today.
Want more support? Join my Safer Beauty Tribe newsletter where I talk about hormone-friendly cosmetics, skin care, and cleaning products.
Also, check out my Well-Fed Women Podcast episodes specifically about hormonal balance:
#175: Estrogen Dominance, Weight Gain for Fertility, & Breaking the Habit of Calorie Counting
#213: The Pill, Irregular Periods, & Post-Birth Control Syndrome with Dr. Jolene Brighten
#221: Healing Hormonal Issues with Dr. Brooke Kalanick, ND, MS
P.S. My #1 tip for balancing estrogen is get off hormonal birth control! Learn more about getting off the pill here.
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