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Do you experience:
- Heavier than usual periods?
- Irregular or long cycles?
- Menstrual headaches?
- Breast tenderness?
- Weight gain on thighs and hips?
Then you may be experiencing estrogen dominance! Let me give you the low down on this hormone imbalance.
Estrogen is produced in the ovaries where it regulates the menstrual cycle and is a pro-growth hormone. It is responsible for the endometrial lining becoming thick and stimulates the maturation of the follicle in the ovary. For the average non-pregnant, non-menopausal woman, she secretes between 100-200mcg of estrogen daily. There are 3 different types of estrogen: estrone (E1), estradiol (E2) and estriol (E3) and ideally the ratio of these different types is 15/15/70.
Progesterone protects us from the growth effects of estrogen and it is made from the base product of cholesterol. Progesterone is made primarily in the ovaries by the corpus luteum but after ovulation, the adrenal glands also produce progesterone. This supports a possible pregnancy and helps the embryo to implant into the endometrial lining. The average non-pregnant, non-menopausal woman produces around 20-25mg of progesterone each day.
Estrogen and progesterone have a balancing effect on each other for example estrogen increases body fat while progesterone helps fat to be used for energy. Another example is estrogen increases fluid retention while progesterone is a natural diuretic. For most women, hormone imbalance occurs as estrogen begins to dominate progesterone. Progesterone production declines by around 75% by the age of 50 while estrogen declines only around 35%. This means there is not enough progesterone to balance estrogen. For optimal health, the progesterone to estrogen ratio should be between 200 and 300 to 1.
For many women between the ages of 20-45, there are two main reasons she may become estrogen dominant. The most common reason is called luteul deficiency where the egg is released but the corpus luteum fails to produce enough progesterone. The second is a lack of ovulation, which results in less progesterone being produced.
For menopausal women, the main causes of estrogen dominance are HRT and obesity. Unfortunately fat cells can convert another hormone called androstenedione into estrogen. The more fat cells you have, the more estrogen that is produced.
Estrogen dominance can also be caused by our diet and lifestyle choices. Conventional farming uses growth hormones and antibiotics that have estrogen like effects. Non-organic fruit and vegetables have been sprayed with pesticides that disrupt our hormone levels. Check out the EWG’s Dirty Dozen for a list of the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables. When we are in the womb we are highly sensitive to environmental pollutants. This can affect the ovaries of the growing baby and result in an increased risk of luteul deficiency later in life.
Xenoestrogens are chemicals that resemble estrogen and can bind to estrogen receptors. These chemicals are commonly found on plastics, body care, makeup and pesticides.
One of the biggest causes of estrogen dominance that I see in clinic is the effect stress has on your progesterone levels. Tired, exhausted adrenals can’t produce as much progesterone as healthy adrenals. When we are constantly stressed our body sacrifices making progesterone in order to make more cortisol and adrenaline. This results in excess estrogen, which exacerbates anxiety and insomnia. And here lies a viscous cycle of cat and mouse!
Another cause of estrogen dominance is having sluggish bowels. In the liver, estrogen is broken down into various compounds. There is an enzyme in the colon called beta glucoronidase and if your transit time is too slow, this enzyme can put estrogen back together again and put it back into circulation. You are effectively recycling your estrogen!
My Top 6 Tips for Beating Estrogen Dominance
Dietary fibre: This reduces estrogen levels in urine and blood via the enzyme beta-glucoronidase. Sources include insoluble fibre (skins of fruits & vegetables, legumes) and soluble fibre (chia, flaxseeds, pectin, psyllium husks, lignans).
- The cabbage family: It is believed that vegetables in the cabbage family contain constituents that increase the conversion rate of estrogen to the water-soluble form by the liver. Cabbage family members include cabbages, kale, Brussel sprouts, broccoli, and radicchio.
- Cultured milk products: Probiotic enriched food such as yoghurts containing Lactobacillus acidophilus have been shown to reduce the activity of beta-glucoronidase. Also add kefir to your diet.
- Vitamin B6: This particular vitamin has an indirect effect on estrogen because a deficiency in Vitamin B6 results in tissues in the uterus and breast become susceptible to the stimulating effects of estrogen.
- Herbs: Bitters are a class of herbs that help to speed up the conversion of estrogen in the liver, possibly due to the increased rate of bile flow. Most importantly, the liver needs help to detoxify and clear estrogen.
- Exercise: The clearance of estrogen is helped with regular exercise.