If you experience infertility, PMS, mood swings, weight gain instead of losing weight, or low libido, you could be struggling with estrogen dominance and not know it.
Estrogen imbalances often happen in a woman’s life, especially around her perimenopausal and menopausal years. Your risk of chronic illness or other women’s health issues increases if the symptoms of estrogen dominance are left unaddressed. The good news is the power is in your hands!
While estrogen dominance can wreak havoc on your body, it doesn’t have to. Understanding the symptoms and causes of estrogen dominance can take back your health, and I will tell you about all of this and a doctor’s solution. First, let’s talk about what conventional medicine won’t tell you about estrogen dominance.
The Truth About Estrogen Dominance
Chronic health conditions affect about 50% of all American adults. Conventional medicine seeks treatment for symptoms and doesn’t get to what’s actually causing them. They aim to treat a disease or particular organ instead of getting to the root cause. In functional medicine, we look at the body as a whole unit of different systems functioning together.
And here’s the hard truth: Estrogen dominance is at an all-time high, and conventional medicine will often overlook your symptoms as estrogen dominance. This includes both women and men across all age ranges. Additionally, the rates of cancers and chronic illnesses linked with estrogen dominance are on the rise right along with it. I don’t tell you this to frighten you. There is a solution.
There are simple diet and lifestyle changes you can make to minimize your risk of estrogen dominance. You can also naturally clear excess estrogen and maintain an optimal hormone balance. There may even be factors you don’t consider, such as eating high-estrogen foods, being overexposed through everyday skincare products, using BPA plastics, and chronic stress.
What is Estrogen?
Estrogen is best known as the female sex hormone. It is created in the ovaries, although your adrenal glands and fat cells also make estrogen. In females, estrogen is responsible for reproduction, menstruation, and menopause. Estrogen comes from DHEA, which produces progesterone, another female hormone essential in menses and pregnancy. Estrogen is vital for your bone and blood health and your sex drive.
This hormone is responsible for promoting the physical changes that women experience during puberty. However, estrogen affects bodily functions for all genders, including promoting good cholesterol levels, promoting bone formation, and improving the collagen content in your skin.
Men also produce estrogen in their testicles, although a particular form known as estradiol is significant for male sexuality.1 Estradiol is essential for men to modulate libido, have a healthy erectile function, and develop sperm. For women, estradiol reduces symptoms of menopause in the vagina, such as dryness, burning, and itching.
Estradiol is essential for men to modulate libido, have a healthy erectile function, and develop sperm. For women, estradiol reduces symptoms of menopause in the vagina, such as dryness, burning, and itching.
Normal estradiol levels range from 15 to 350 pg/mL for menstruating women. For postmenopausal women, normal levels should be below 10 pg/mL.2 Optimal levels of estradiol in an adult male should be 10-40 pg/ml and 10-60 pg/ml for estrogen.
So, what causes estrogen dominance? In functional medicine, we believe the rise in estrogen dominance is primarily due to our exposure to xenoestrogens.
What is a Xenoestrogen?
Xenoestrogens are individual chemicals that mimic the behavior of estrogens. They’re everywhere in our modern environment; they’re in our food, personal care products, furniture, and your clothing. From the water we drink to the food we eat, we encounter a shocking number of these endocrine-disrupting xenoestrogens in the course of a day.
When Estrogen Becomes a Problem
We all naturally produce estrogen in our adrenal glands, which gets stored in fat tissue. Additionally, women make it in their ovaries, and men produce it in their testes. Estrogen is necessary for many essential functions, such as childbearing, keeping cholesterol in check, and supporting bone health.
However, when your estrogen levels get out of balance with your other hormones, it leads to estrogen dominance. This can cause health issues in both men and women. Let’s talk about them.
Symptoms of Estrogen Dominance
In addition to environmental xenoestrogens, there are many factors that contribute to high estrogen levels and dominance, which I’ll discuss in a bit. First, it’s essential to recognize what high estrogen levels look like in both men and women.
High estrogen In women:
- Weight gain, mainly in hips, waist, and thighs
- Menstrual problems such as light or heavy bleeding
- Hot flashes
- Fibrocystic breasts
- Uterine fibroids
- Loss of sex drive
- Depression or anxiety
High estrogen In men:
- Enlarged breasts
- Sexual dysfunction
Health Risks Associated with Estrogen Dominance
As I mentioned, if you don’t address your symptoms by getting to the root cause, it puts you at a higher risk of developing chronic illness or other health issues. Here are a few:
In some autoimmune conditions, estrogen dominance can enhance the immune system’s inflammatory response, and this response increases the antibodies that attack your body’s own tissues. However, it’s not entirely a clear-cut issue.
Estrogen helps protect against some autoimmune conditions, such as multiple sclerosis (MS). The sharp fluctuations in estrogen levels (such as those around childbirth and menopause) contribute to autoimmunity.
Types of estrogens in your system, and whether they are your natural hormones or the synthetic xenoestrogens in your environment, also factor into the equation. There is also evidence that men’s higher levels of testosterone provide some protection from autoimmunity that can accompany symptoms of estrogen dominance. Because women tend to be more susceptible to estrogen dominance, this helps explain why autoimmune conditions are so much more common among women.
Hashimoto’s and Thyroid Dysfunction
Estrogen dominance increases levels of thyroid-binding globulin (TBG). This protein allows your thyroid hormones to travel through your bloodstream. When thyroid hormones are attached to TBG, they remain inactive. In this case, your thyroid hormones can’t be stored in your tissues or converted to their active form to fuel your body and metabolic processes. I explain this more in-depth in my book, “The Thyroid Connection.”
Estrogen and Candida Overgrowth
Estrogen dominance also plays a factor in Candida overgrowth. Research shows that exposing Candida albicans to estrogen increases its virulence. This is why women taking birth control or traditional hormone replacement therapy tend to show high estrogen levels and be more susceptible to yeast infections.3
Conventional medicine tells us that your lifelong exposure and the total amount of estrogens pose a problem. For instance, if you started your period at a young age, had children late in life, or not at all, you would be at a higher risk. However, that’s not entirely true. Your lifelong exposure to harmful estrogen metabolites increases your risk of chronic illness or cancer. Let me explain.
How Your Body Metabolises Estrogen
Your liver metabolizes estrogen through three 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 chronic illness. Using the 2-hydroxy pathway, your body produces good estrogen metabolites. These support healthy mood, libido, breast tissue, and reproductive health.
Meanwhile, the 16-hydroxy and 4-hydroxy pathways are considered bad. These are associated with higher risks of breast cancer.4 When your body is converting too many of your hormones using the 16-hydroxy and 4-hydroxy pathways, you may experience symptoms of estrogen dominance such as irritability, vaginal dryness, and PMS. You are also 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. A number of environmental and lifestyle factors that I’ll describe in more detail also contribute to symptoms of estrogen dominance.
Causes of Estrogen Dominance
Every day we are under constant attack by environmental toxins that lead to the creation of harmful estrogen metabolites. Hormone-mimicking xenoestrogens, combined with your diet and lifestyle habits, can all be causes of higher levels of estrogen. Let’s look at nine causes of estrogen dominance.
1. High Estrogen Foods
One of the most significant sources of estrogen dominance is high-estrogen food. Commercially-raised animals are injected with growth hormones to make them grow bigger and faster or to increase milk production. These hormones make their way into your food, where they can disrupt your natural hormone balance.
Plus, conventional produce’s pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides are known endocrine disruptors. These disruptors interfere with your natural hormone activity, blood sugar levels, and metabolism.5
While they may only exist in small quantities on specific fruits and vegetables, they can quickly add up. The long-term effect of eating high-estrogen food needs to be studied more to determine precisely how this could cause symptoms of estrogen dominance.
It’s not just high-estrogen foods that are a cause of concern. Unfortunately, our water has become a cause of symptoms of estrogen dominance thanks to heavy pollution with hormone-disrupting compounds, including pesticides and fertilizers.
Synthetic and natural estrogens from livestock and prescription medications are also found in our water. An unknown number of industrial chemicals from chemical plant runoff or the disposal of plastics and chemicals in landfills also appear.
Additionally, coal-burning plants emit more than 70,000 pounds of mercury into the air each year. The mercury settles into our water and impacts our hormonal levels— more on that in just a second.
3. Personal Care Products
Cosmetics, lotions, shampoos, soaps, toothpaste, and numerous other body products often contain parabens, phenoxyethanol, phthalates, and other chemical compounds. Many of these have estrogenic activity.
And since the average person uses 10-15 body products a day, with a total of 126 different ingredients, this exposure can quickly contribute to high estrogen levels in the body!
You’d think that beauty products get regulated for safety. However, you may be surprised to learn that an internal review board regulates them. This means the products get regulated by the companies that produce them. It’s no wonder all sorts of hidden endocrine disruptors are found in these products you use daily.
Xenoestrogens in skincare products are especially harmful because they are absorbed directly into your tissues, and they never have the chance to get detoxified through your liver.
Be wary of deodorants or other personal care products that contain an unspecified “fragrance.” This can be virtually anything! Unfortunately, it tends to be a catch-all term for hidden phthalates or other hormone-disrupting chemicals that can cause estrogen dominance.
I believe you shouldn’t have to compromise your standards when it comes to selecting beauty products that work. That’s why I created Amy Myers MD® Beauty.
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. Thus, you are more susceptible to issues related to estrogen dominance.
5. BPA and Other Plastics
Plastic in all its forms, including in water bottles, food wraps, and storage containers, contains the hormone-mimicking xenoestrogens responsible for symptoms of estrogen dominance. These can leach into what you’re eating or drinking and cause significant problems for your health. Even products marked “BPA-free” are not safe and may contain chemicals whose effects on high estrogen levels aren’t as well-known.
Microwaving, dishwashing, and exposing plastic to sunlight increase the estrogenic activity of plastic even more.
Perhaps even more surprising is that every time you take a receipt from the store, you may be dealing a blow to your hormones. Receipts printed on thermal paper are a significant source of endocrine-disrupting bisphenol-A (BPA). People who handle receipts have significantly elevated levels of BPA in their urine and a greater risk of developing estrogen dominance.
And because these xenoestrogens get absorbed through your skin, it’s a more direct hit to your system and a significant factor in causing estrogen dominance.
6. Heavy Metals
Similar to plastics, heavy metals such as cadmium, lead, and mercury have estrogen-mimicking properties. These endocrine-disrupting elements in our environment may even be behind the earlier-onset puberty that has become the norm in our modern societies.
7. Body Fat
Excess body fat (especially stored in the hips, waist, and thighs) is one of the leading causes of estrogen dominance. Not only does fat tissue absorb and keep estrogen circulating in your bloodstream, yet it also synthesizes estrogen from your other hormones. Having high estrogen levels cues your body to make more fat cells, producing even more estrogen, creating a vicious cycle that can lead to estrogen dominance.
8. Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) and Birth Control
Hormone replacement therapy medications and most oral contraceptives contain estrogen without the necessary estrogen and progesterone levels to maintain proper hormone balance, making them causes of estrogen dominance. The hormones used in HRT and birth control also tend to be toxic. The liver does not efficiently metabolize synthetic hormones, and this can lead to DNA damage and an increased risk for breast and endometrial cancer.
9. Chronic Stress
Your body begins to use the sex hormone progesterone to make cortisol when you’re chronically stressed. So many of us face this! Low levels of progesterone can be a cause of estrogen dominance.
If you want to test your hormone levels at home, I recommend using the female hormone test from LetsGetChecked. It tests for follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), luteinizing hormone (LH), prolactin, and estradiol through a simple finger prick blood test. You can do the test in the privacy of your own home and then take your results to your functional medicine doctor.
Now that you know the causes and symptoms of estrogen dominance, I will tell you how to remove excess estrogens from your body.
A Doctor’s Solution to Estrogen Dominance
Whenever I saw someone in my clinic that I suspected was dealing with estrogen dominance, I used a two-step approach to combat it. The first step is to minimize your exposure, and the second step is clearing the toxins from your body to reduce estrogen dominance. Here’s how I did it.
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 foods whenever possible. This will help you avoid added hormones, pesticides, and fertilizers used in conventional farming methods. 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. I recommend installing water filters on your taps and shower heads to protect your water. I have an entire filtering system from Aquasauna in my Santa Fe, New Mexico home.
Use Non-Toxic Body Products
Switch out chemical-laden personal care products for safer free and clear versions of synthetic compounds. I developed my line of beauty products.My high-performance, doctor-designed formulas are nontoxic and rich in the purest forms of bioactive botanical ingredients so you can experience healthy skin without sacrificing results.
Ditch the Plastic
Replace all plastic storage containers and water bottles with glass or stainless steel varieties. Also take your own bags with you to the grocery store to eliminate the use of single-use plastic bags.
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 natural option for those dependent on HRT for symptom relief. It uses hormones extracted from plants that act just as the hormones we produce in our bodies.
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. In the long run, the hormones in oral contraceptives may lead to estrogen dominance and all its associated health risks.
For HRT and birth control users, you can try my Adrenal Support for relieving menopausal symptoms and supporting a healthy menstrual cycle without causing high estrogen levels. However, note that this supplement cannot be used as birth control.
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.
EstroProtect also includes Diindolylmethane (DIM) to help you metabolize estrogen into more of its good metabolites instead of the bad. Milk Thistle and Alpha-Lipoic acid all support your liver as it works to detoxify and clear the estrogens safely.
Because of our constant exposure to xenoestrogens and estrogens, I recommended EstroProtect to all women. It’s crucial for those who are dealing with estrogen dominance or who have been exposed to xenoestrogens.
The Final Word on Estrogen Dominance
Estrogen imbalances happen when you reach perimenopause and menopause, yet our constant exposure to toxins, heavy metals, and pesticides can create a whole host of issues to your health. The empowering part is there is a solution. By reducing your exposure to estrogens and supporting optimal estrogen metabolism, you can reduce your risk of chronic illness caused by estrogen dominance.
- The role of estradiol in male reproductive function. Michael Schulster, Aaron M Bernie, and Ranjith Ramasamy. Asian Journal of Andrology. 2016.
- Progesterone, Serum. Mayo Clinic Laboratories. 2020.
- Connection Between Chronic Yeast Infections And Hormonal Imbalance. Erik Bakker, ND. Yeast Infection Organization. 2021.
- Estrogen Metabolism. Revolution Health & Wellness. 2022.
- A review of the endocrine activity of parabens and implications for potential risks to human health. Robert Golden, Jay Gandy, and Guenter Vollmer. Critical Reviews in Toxicology. 2005.