9 Causes of Estrogen Dominance and What to Do About It
February 5th, 2018
Are you struggling with infertility, PMS, mood swings, weight gain, or low libido? If so, you could be dealing with a hormone imbalance. Having too much estrogen–known as estrogen dominance–is not only linked to a set of frustrating and uncomfortable symptoms; it also puts you at risk for a whole host of chronic issues. From fatigue and irritability to autoimmune conditions, thyroid dysfunction, and cancer, estrogen can wreak havoc on your body if it’s not in proper balance with your other reproductive hormones, such as progesterone.
And here’s the hard truth – estrogen dominance is at an all-time high. We’re seeing the rates spike across the board, in both women and men, across age ranges. And the rates of cancers and chronic illnesses linked with estrogen dominance are on the rise right along with it.
That’s because we are being constantly bombarded by xenoestrogens (industrial chemicals that mimic the behavior of estrogens) in our modern environment. They’re everywhere–in our food, personal care products, furniture and clothes. From the water we drink to the food we eat, you encounter a shocking number of these endocrine-disrupting xenoestrogens in the course of a day, without even knowing it.
It scares me when I think about how toxic our world has become, especially since I am a mother to a little girl. That’s why I’m even more passionate about arming you with the knowledge you need to make smart choices for yourself and your family.
In this article, I’ll walk you through what estrogen dominance is, how you’re being exposed to xenoestrogens, and simple, diet and lifestyle changes you can make to minimize your risk, naturally clear estrogen from your system, and maintain an optimal hormonal balance.
When Estrogen Becomes a Problem
Everyone naturally produces the hormone estrogen in your adrenal glands and stored fat tissue, as well as the ovaries in women and the testes in men. Estrogen is necessary for many important functions such as childbearing, keeping cholesterol in check, and protecting bone health.1 It’s when your estrogen levels get out of balance with your other hormones that it can lead to a number of issues in both men and women.
Symptoms of Estrogen Dominance
- Weight gain, mainly in hips, waist, and thighs
- Menstrual problems such as light or heavy bleeding
- Fibrocystic breasts
- Uterine fibroids
- Loss of sex drive
- Depression or anxiety
- Enlarged breasts
- Sexual dysfunction
Conventional medicine tells us that it’s your lifelong exposure and total amount of estrogens that poses a problem and causes cancer. For instance, if you started your period at a young age, or had children late in life or not at all, you would be at a higher risk. However, that’s not entirely true. It’s really your lifelong exposure to bad metabolites of estrogen that increases your cancer risk. Let me explain.
Estrogen is metabolized by the liver through three different pathways. Depending on the pathway, estrogen will be converted into good or bad metabolites. The 2-hydroxy metabolic pathway is considered good as it has the lowest risk for cancer and other problems. Meanwhile, the 16-hydroxy and 4-hydroxy pathways are considered bad and associated with higher risks of breast cancer.2 Using the 2-hydroxy pathway, your body produces good estrogen metabolites, which support healthy mood, libido, breast tissue, and reproductive health. When your body is converting too many of your hormones using the 16-hydroxy and 4-hydroxy pathways, that’s when you experience estrogen dominant symptoms such as irritability, vaginal dryness, and PMS, and are at a higher risk of developing cancer.
So it’s not about your total estrogens. It’s about your total estrogen metabolites. Nutritional status, liver health, stress, diet, and sleep all determine which metabolic pathways are used. Gene mutations such as COMT and MTHFR also impair your ability to methylate and detoxify your hormones, as do a number of environmental and lifestyle factors that I’ll get into more in depth later.
Health Risks Associated with Estrogen Dominance
By far the biggest risk associated with estrogen dominance is hormone-dependent cancer including breast cancer in both women and men, uterine and ovarian cancers in women, and prostate cancer in men.3 Breast cancer specifically is more rampant than ever. One in eight women will get breast cancer in her lifetime.4
Hormonal cancers are associated with stored fat, which produces the most potent form of estrogen, estradiol. This type of harmful estrogen is more difficult for your body to detoxify, leading to more circulating estrogen and “bad” estrogen metabolites.
In some autoimmune conditions, high levels of estrogen can enhance the inflammatory response of the immune system, increasing the antibodies that attack your body’s own tissues. Although it’s entirely a clear cut issue. Estrogen is actually protective for some autoimmune conditions, such as multiple sclerosis (MS). It seems to be the sharp fluctuations in estrogen levels (such as those that happen around childbirth and menopause) that contribute to autoimmunity. It also has to do with the types of estrogens in your system, and whether they are your natural hormones or the synthetic xenoestrogens that exist in our environment.
Hashimoto’s and Thyroid Dysfunction
Excess estrogen increases levels of thyroid binding globulin (TBG) which is the protein that allows your thyroid hormones to travel through your bloodstream. When thyroid hormones are attached to TBG they remain inactive, so your thyroid hormones can’t be stored in your tissues or converted to their active form in order to fuel your body and metabolic processes. I explain this more in depth in my book, The Thyroid Connection.
Estrogen dominance also plays a factor in Candida overgrowth. Research shows that exposing Candida albicans to estrogen increases its virulence, which is why women taking birth control or traditional hormone replacement therapy tend to be more susceptible to yeast infections.6
Causes of Estrogen Dominance
Every day we are under constant attack by environmental toxins that lead to the creation of bad estrogen metabolites. Hormone-mimicking xenoestrogens combined with your own diet and lifestyle habits can all contribute to estrogen dominance.
By far one of the biggest sources of excess estrogen is our modern diet. Commercially raised animals are injected with growth hormones to make them grow bigger and faster or increase milk production. These hormones make their way into your food where they can disrupt your own natural hormone balance.
Plus, any of the pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides found on conventional produce are known endocrine disruptors that interfere with your natural hormone activity and metabolism.7 While they may only exist in small quantities on individual fruits and vegetables, the cumulative effect quickly adds up and hasn’t been studied enough to say what the long-term effects might be.
Unfortunately, our water has become heavily polluted with hormone-disrupting compounds including pesticides and fertilizers, synthetic and natural estrogens from livestock and prescription medications, and an unknown number of industrial chemicals from chemical plant runoff or the disposal of plastics and chemicals in landfills.8
Coal-burning plants emit over 70,000 pounds of mercury in the into the air each year, which then settles into our water and impacts our hormonal levels (more on that below).
3. Personal Care Products
Cosmetics, lotions, shampoos, soaps, toothpastes, and the numerous other body products we use often contain parabens, phenoxyethanol, phthalates and other compounds that all have estrogenic activity.9 And since the average person uses 10-15 body products a day, with a total of 126 different ingredients, this exposure can quickly add up!
You’d think that beauty products would be regulated for safety. However, you’d be surprised to learn that they are regulated by an internal review board, so they’re really just regulating themselves, leading to the inclusion of all sorts of hidden endocrine disruptors in these products you use every day.
Xenoestrogens in skin care products are especially harmful because they are absorbed directly into your tissues, and so never have the chance to be detoxified through your liver.10 Be wary of deodorants or other personal care products that contain an unspecified “fragrance,” as this can be virtually anything and it tends to be a catch-all term for hidden phthalates or other hormone-disrupting chemicals.
4. Gut Dysbiosis
Your gut microbiome regulates circulating estrogen using an enzyme known as beta-glucuronidase. When your microbiome is out of balance, as in the case of Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), these enzymes can’t properly metabolize estrogens, which leaves you more susceptible to breast cancer and other conditions caused by estrogen dominance.11
5. BPA and Other Plastics
Plastic in all its forms, including in water bottles, food wrap, and storage containers, contain hormone mimicking xenoestrogens that can leach into what you’re eating or drinking and cause major problems for your health. Even products marked “BPA-free” are not safe, and in fact contain chemicals whose effects aren’t as well-known.12
And, microwaving, dishwashing, and exposing plastic to sunlight increases the estrogenic activity of plastic even more.
You may not be aware that every time you take a receipt from the store, you are dealing a blow to your hormones. Receipts printed on thermal paper are a major source of endocrine-disrupting bisphenol-A (BPA). People who handle receipts frequently have significantly elevated levels of BPA in their urine.13 And because these xenoestrogens are getting absorbed through your skin, it’s a more direct hit to your system.
6. Heavy Metals
Similar to plastics, heavy metals such as cadmium, lead, and mercury, have estrogen-mimicking properties. It’s even been suggested that the presence of these endocrine-disrupting elements in our environment may be behind the earlier-onset puberty that has become the norm in our modern societies.14
7. Body Fat
Excess body fat (especially stored in the hips, waist, and thighs) is one of the leading causes of estrogen dominance.15 Not only does fat tissue absorb and store estrogen circulating in your bloodstream, it also synthesizes estrogen from your other hormones.16 Having high levels of estrogen cues your body to make more fat cells, which then produce even more estrogen, creating a vicious cycle.
8. Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) and Birth Control
Hormone replacement therapy medications and most oral contraceptives contain estrogen without the necessary progesterone to maintain proper hormone balance. The hormones used in both HRT and birth control also tend to be toxic, synthetic hormones that are not easily metabolized by the liver, leading to DNA damage and an increased risk for breast and endometrial cancer.17
9. Chronic Stress
When you’re chronically stressed (as so many of us are), your body begins to use the sex hormone progesterone to make cortisol.18 Low levels of progesterone lead to estrogen dominant.
How to Clear Your Body of Excess Estrogens
Now that you know what estrogen dominance is and where it comes from, what steps can you take to prevent it? Or if you suspect you may already be estrogen dominant, how can you clear your body of those excess estrogens and restore hormone balance?
Taming the toxins is a key component of The Myers Way®, and as I explain in my books and programs, I use a two-step approach to help you minimize your exposure and then clear the toxins safely from your body.
Step 1: Prevention
- Eat Clean Food: Eliminate all toxic foods from your diet that contain hidden estrogens, including conventional meat, dairy products, and produce. Opt for grass-fed, pasture-raised, and organic whenever possible to avoid added hormones, pesticides, and fertilizers used in conventional farming methods. Be sure to check out the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list for the worst offenders if buying all organic produce isn’t feasible.
- Filter Your Water: Thanks to pollution and runoff, hormone-disruptors are rampant in our water supply. To protect your water, I recommend installing water filters on all of your taps and showerheads.
- Use Non-Toxic Body Products: Switch out chemical-laden personal care products for safer versions that are free and clear of any synthetic compounds. I get all of my non-toxic beauty products from Beautycounter.
- Ditch the Plastic: Replace all the plastic storage containers and water bottles with glass or stainless steel.
- Minimize Your Mercury Exposure: Check out this article to learn more about avoiding mercury and how to test your levels.
- Consider Hormone Alternatives: If taking HRT, consider speaking to your doctor about alternative methods that address the root causes of your menopausal symptoms. Bioidentical hormone therapy is a more natural option for those who depend on HRT for symptom relief, using hormones extracted from plants that act just like the hormones we produce in our body. The same goes for women using oral contraceptives to treat symptoms such as acne or heavy periods. Though it may help to relieve your symptoms now, it may just be throwing fuel on the fire, leading to estrogen dominance and all its associated health risks in the long run. For both HRT and birth control users, you can try my Hormone Balance Support Kit for relieving menopausal symptoms and supporting a healthy menstrual cycle.
- Relieve Your Stress: Take measures to relieve your stress, such as yoga or meditation, and make sure you’re getting adequate sleep at night to let your body detox and recover from the stresses of the day.
Step 2: Detoxification
One of the best ways to clear your body of excess estrogens and achieve proper hormone balance for both men and women is EstroProtect. EstroProtect contains a blend of natural ingredients that support optimal estrogen metabolism and detoxification.
It features Calcium-D-Glucarate, which binds estrogen that would otherwise be recycled and reabsorbed by your body and flushes it out of your system. It also includes Diindolymethane (DIM) to help you metabolize estrogen into more of its good metabolites instead of the bad. And N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine (NAC), Milk Thistle, and Alpha-Lipoic acid all support your liver as it works to safely detoxify and clear the estrogens.
Because of our constant exposure to xenoestrogens and estrogens, I recommend this supplement to all of the women I see in my clinic, especially those who are dealing with estrogen dominance, are exposed to xenoestrogens, have a family history of hormonal cancers, or who themselves have had a hormonal cancer and are in remission.
Once you’ve familiarized yourself with the main sources of estrogen and begin taking the proper lifestyle measures to avoid them in the future, you can start feeling your best again. And you can feel even better knowing you’re reducing your risk for a number of chronic illnesses!