The female hormone estrogen plays many important roles in a woman’s body. Estrogen helps regulate the menstrual cycle and is essential for conception and a healthy pregnancy. Estrogen also has many other functions, including sexual drive and enjoyment, keeping cholesterol under control, and protecting bone health.
But, with almost anything in life, you can have “too much of a good thing”. And estrogen is no exception! While many women suffer from insufficient estrogen levels as they get older and approach menopause, having too much estrogen is also a problem.
The state where there is too much estrogen in a woman’s system is called “estrogen dominance”. And doctors and researchers now believe that estrogen dominance can play a role in many conditions such as PCOS, infertility, autoimmune disorders, thyroid disease, and even certain breast cancers.
What is Estrogen Dominance?
Estrogen dominance is a type of hormonal imbalance in which a woman’s body produces too much estrogen. But even if a woman’s estrogen levels are not “off the charts” she can still be suffering from estrogen dominance, if her estrogen levels are abnormally high relative to her progesterone levels.
Progesterone is another sex hormone that is essential for the female body. It also helps regulate menstrual cycles, supports conception and pregnancy, and much more. Estrogen and progesterone work in tandem to regulate one another, to keep the body in balance and menstrual cycles regular, and to help support other organs such as the thyroid.
If estrogen levels are too high, or progesterone levels are too low, estrogen becomes the more dominant sex hormone in the body. And this imbalance is called “estrogen dominance.”
Symptoms of Estrogen Dominance
Because estrogen affects so many of the female body’s functions, many of the symptoms of estrogen dominance are similar to, or the same as, symptoms of hormone fluctuation due to the menstrual cycle or perimenopause or menopause. So, symptoms alone are not enough to diagnose estrogen dominance.
Any or all of these symptoms may be (but are not necessarily) signs of estrogen dominance:
- Weight gain (in the belly, hips, thighs)
- Slow Metabolism | Water Retention
- Headaches | Fatigue | Insomnia
- Brain Fog | Mood Swings
- Uterine Fibroids | PCOS
- Irregular Periods | Infertility
- Low Sex Drive (Libido)
Estrogen Dominance & Thyroid Disease
Estrogen also suppresses thyroid hormone and increases the body’s need for thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) – while progesterone has the opposite effect and stimulates thyroid hormone production. So, if estrogen levels are dominant, it may cause a woman to enter a state of hypothyroidism (low thyroid hormones). And this also affects the immune system, as well.
Prolonged exposure to excess levels of estrogen can place a woman at greater risk for autoimmune thyroiditis (Hashimoto’s disease), other autoimmune disorders, and even certain cancers.
Causes of Estrogen Dominance
Estrogen dominance is usually caused by a variety or combination of factors, rather than just one thing.
Before menopause, chronic stress, poor gut and liver health, and certain environmental toxins are all believed to contribute to estrogen dominance. Additionally, failure to ovulate (anovulation) can result in low progesterone levels in the last half of the menstrual cycle, making estrogen more dominant.
Hormonal birth control, improperly administered hormone replacement therapy, and obesity can also contribute to estrogen dominance. And there is also believed to be a genetic component to excess estrogen production.
Estrogen dominance also often turns up during perimenopause – the 5 to 10 years before menopause when hormones fluctuate erratically, as a woman’s reproductive functions begins to decline. So, while both estrogen and progesterone decline during perimenopause, if progesterone declines more than estrogen declines, estrogen dominance can still occur.
Treating Estrogen Dominance
Treating estrogen dominance is best done with a multifaceted approach that addresses the whole body, not just the hormone levels.
Some women may need to switch to an alternative method of birth control that does not use synthetics estrogens. For other women biodentical hormone replacement therapy can help restore the balance between estrogen and progesterone.
If the estrogen dominance has caused or contributed to an underactive thyroid, they will typically need to take thyroid hormone replacement medication to meet the body’s metabolic needs and help rid the body of Hashimoto’s symptoms and other health problems.
Most women will also benefit from specific dietary and lifestyle modifications that help bring their body and their hormones back into balance.
Lifestyle Changes for Estrogen Dominance
Digestive issues can be resolved or improved with simple lifestyle changes that can help treat estrogen dominance. Increasing dietary fiber and restoring microbial balance in the gut can eliminate an unhealthy accumulation of “bad” bacteria that contributes to estrogen imbalance.
Removing dietary triggers like alcohol, reducing exposure to toxins, and exercising regularly can support the liver – which is responsible for breaking down excess estrogen. And getting more sleep enables the body to repair tissue and detoxify itself – which includes getting rid of old cells and excess hormones.
Finally, high stress levels lead to chronically high cortisol, which stresses the adrenal glands that play an essential role in estrogen production. Chronic stress also worsens autoimmune conditions and inflammation. So, meditation, relaxing and other stress control techniques are beneficial for balancing estrogen and progesterone levels.
Estrogen Therapy | Austin, TX
If you are suffering from any of the above symptoms, schedule an appointment with Doctor Ruthie Harper in Austin, TX to see if your hormone levels are out of balance. Dr. Harper has helped women restore hormone balance and get their quality of life back, for over 20 years. She will conduct a thorough and personalized blood testing and hormone analysis and customize a treatment plan that is safe and effective for your unique needs.
And if you are outside of the Austin, TX area, or prefer to use telemedicine, Dr. Harper can schedule a tele-consultation, and have remote blood work done in your area, so you can start living your best life again!