A few weeks ago, one of my patients sent me a “thank you” note for having uncovered her estrogen dominance and then for helping her restore her hormonal balance. In her note, she mentioned that she hadn’t believed estrogen dominance could have been the problem at first! After all, she was going through perimenopause, and she had been up half the night with hot flashes for months. She was exhausted, snapping at everyone in her life, and struggling with her weight. And weren’t these all caused by the lower production of estrogen in this stage of her life?
The thing is, estrogen dominance can affect women in any stage of life, and I actually see a lot of perimenopausal women who are going through this imbalance. In fact, I’m seeing more and more estrogen dominance all the time.
The female body relies on a complex symphony of hormones in order to function optimally, and one of the most important and well-known of these hormones is estrogen. But, thanks to our modern environment filled with pesticides, chemicals, processed foods, and constant stress (to name a few!), we’re facing an estrogen dominance problem like never before.
It’s not surprising that I’m seeing more estrogen dominance than ever before, because this problem has actually reached an all-time global high. It’s causing problems for women and men of all ages and in all stages of life, and even for children, who are reaching puberty earlier and earlier.
I often talk about how important balance is when we’re looking at hormones. A lot of the time, it’s less about our levels of an individual hormone, and more about the ratios between different hormones that are meant to work together and balance each other out.
This is the case with estrogen dominance. Often, estrogen levels are high. But estrogen dominance can be a problem even if estrogen levels are low or moderate, if they’re not being properly balanced by other hormones (for women, we’re talking about progesterone here).
Estrogen dominance can cause a host of frustrating symptoms from fatigue to weight gain to low sex drive, and if left unresolved, it can also lead to the development of autoimmune disease, endometriosis, depression, and some kinds of cancer.
It’s usually a combination of different factors that lead to estrogen dominance, rather than one specific thing.
When you realize just how many things in our water, air, food supply, and everyday products have the power to disrupt your hormonal balance, it can feel a little scary! But the good news is that we can make choices every day that will help to limit our exposure.
And, when we also understand the internal factors and imbalances that can lead to estrogen dominance, we can develop an even more powerful set of tools for restoring balance and healing.
Symptoms of estrogen dominance can include any combination of the following:
- Irregular periods; very heavy or very light periods
- PMS or PMDD
- Decreased sex drive
- Weight gain or difficulty losing weight
- Accumulation of fat around the hips, belly, and thighs
- Low thyroid function
- Tender or swollen breasts
- Blood sugar imbalances
- Mood swings; irritability
- Depression; low mood; anxiety
- Fibrocystic breasts
- Dry skin
- Trouble concentrating; brain fog
- Diagnosis of endometriosis
- Diagnosis of an autoimmune condition
There are a number of steps that we can all take to decrease the risk of estrogen dominance and achieve hormonal balance and optimal health, naturally.
My 4 Keys For Natural Treatment of Estrogen Dominance
For most women with estrogen dominance, the problem is coming from multiple sources. I’ve come to learn just how important it is to really look at all angles when tackling this (or any!) hormonal imbalance, in order to achieve the best results.
A lot of the factors that contribute to estrogen dominance are xenoestrogens: external substances mimicking estrogen that we’re exposed to in our environment, from the air we breathe to the water we drink and the food that we eat.
Learning about the common sources of xenoestrogens and what to avoid makes a huge difference. But we also have to consider what’s going on internally. If we’re producing too much estrogen, or (as is often the case) not enough progesterone, then the problem will persist no matter how many external estrogen sources we address.
A lot of women I work with who have estrogen dominance have adrenal fatigue due to chronic stress. When the adrenal glands are working overtime to produce cortisol as is the case with adrenal fatigue, they end up producing less progesterone, which creates the perfect environment for estrogen dominance.
Finally, we have to look at how well our bodies are dealing with any excess estrogen. Are our detox and elimination pathways allowing us to clear it out effectively? This is a huge piece of the puzzle too!
I know this can all sound really complicated, but I’ve broken it down into four key areas to address in order to heal from estrogen dominance and restore balance naturally.
- Reduce exposure to external sources of estrogens/xenoestrogens
- Balance hormone production
- Support detoxification pathways
- Support healthy elimination
The best diet for estrogen dominance
The right diet can do wonders when it comes to balancing hormones and healing from estrogen dominance. In fact, the right diet can actually hit on all of the four keys for healing that we just talked about.
The best diet for estrogen dominance and for overall health incorporates a variety of fresh, whole foods. But there are a few kinds of whole foods in particular that can be especially helpful. Here are some tips for putting together your ideal estrogen dominance healing diet.
What to include:
- Vegetables from the brassicae family. Vegetables from this family are natural sources of the compound indole-3-carbinol (i3c), or DIM which helps to regulate estrogen production. Great choices include broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, bok choy, and turnips. Cruciferous vegetables from this family also help to support detoxification.
- Healthy fats. Omega 3-rich foods like wild caught fish, nuts, seeds, avocado, and olive oil help to balance and support hormonal health.
- High fiber foods. We’re not eating nearly enough fiber in this country! We need fiber for healthy elimination of estrogen, and overall well-being. Some great sources include oatmeal, oat bran, pears, broccoli, lentils, and flax seeds.
- Probiotic-rich foods. Fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, and kombucha are naturally rich in probiotics (healthy bacteria for the gut), which can help to sort out any microbiome imbalances that may be contributing to estrogen dominance.
- Lots of filtered water. Drinking lots of water every day will help to detoxify from excess estrogen. Make sure to choose pure, filtered water in order to avoid introducing new xenoestrogens into the mix!
What to avoid:
- Conventionally raised meat and dairy products. Non-organic sources of meat and animal products generally contain pesticides and growth hormones, both of which can disrupt hormonal balance and contribute to estrogen dominance. Choose grass-fed, free-range, organic sources when eating animal products.
- Processed foods, refined carbohydrates & sugars. These non-foods can play a big role in hormonal imbalance and estrogen dominance. Choose real, whole foods instead.
- Excess alcohol. When the liver is busy detoxifying from alcohol, it has less time and energy to detox from excess estrogen and other toxins that are contributing to hormonal imbalances.
- Excess caffeine. You don’t necessarily need to give up coffee entirely, but excess caffeine plays a big role in adrenal fatigue, a common cause of estrogen dominance.
Other Natural Treatments for Estrogen Dominance
Beyond diet, there are all kinds of things you can do to naturally rebalance your hormones. Here are some of the most effective strategies:
- Sweat. Sweating is so important for detoxification! There are all kinds of fun and healing ways to get sweaty, from hot yoga classes to regular sessions in a sauna. Find a way to work sweating into your regular routine.
- Manage stress and address adrenal function. Without getting to the root of any chronic stress or adrenal dysfunction, estrogen dominance is likely to persist because of the overall imbalance that is caused by excessive cortisol production and therefore limited progesterone production. Look at ways that you can reduce sources of excessive stress, and speak with your functional medicine practitioner about investigating any underlying adrenal fatigue. It’s also important to find ways to practice mindfulness, relaxation, and self-care! Try yoga, meditation, walks in nature, bubble baths, reading… anything that makes you feel at peace.
- Replace xenoestrogen-filled personal care and cleaning products with healthier options. Women are often shocked when they learn how many of the products we use every day are filled with toxins that are known to disrupt hormonal balance. That’s because it is shocking how little these products and their ingredients are regulated! Look for cleaning and personal care products that focus on transparency, sustainability, and natural ingredients whenever possible.
- Consider the use of supplements. There are many supplements that help to support and regulate estrogen metabolism, including diindolylmethane (DIM), alpha lipoic acid, vitamin D3, magnesium, and indole 3 carbinol (i3c). Vitamin B6 may also be helpful, as it can help to boost progesterone in order to balance out excess estrogen, in addition to supporting liver function for detoxification. Probiotic supplements may also be a good idea. Speak with your doctor about whether supplements are right for you.
- Look into possible causes of weight loss resistance. Excess fat and estrogen dominance are very closely linked, and they can feed into each other in a vicious cycle. Getting to a healthy weight is extremely helpful for overcoming estrogen dominance, but estrogen dominance contributes to weight gain and weight loss resistance, so this can be a frustrating situation for many women! That said, there might be other causes of weight loss resistance that can be tackled, including adrenal fatigue or gut imbalances. Getting to the bottom of this can help to put an end to the cycle once and for all.
- Exercise regularly. Exercising helps to balance hormones and clear out estrogen by supporting liver function and detoxification, helping to regulate healthy elimination, and balancing blood sugar.
- Stimulate the lymphatic system. For optimal detoxification and functioning, work on stimulating the lymphatic system regularly. Deep breathing, stretching, and drinking lots of water are a few of the simplest ways to boost lymphatic system function.
- Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep every night. The body needs a full night of sleep in order to help us regulate hormones, repair imbalances, and manage stress.
- Look into the use of herbs. Herbal treatments can be extremely helpful in healing from estrogen dominance. Some examples include milk thistle, dandelion root, and burdock root, which help with elimination and detoxification, and chaste tree berry, which can help with progesterone production and overall hormonal balance. Speak with your practitioner about whether herbs might be right for you.
- Avoid plastic water bottles and food containers. Plastic that touches food in any way– whether it’s a water bottle, a reusable food container, or plastic wrap– is likely introducing toxins and xenoestrogens like BPA into the body. The problem gets worse when plastic containers or bottles are frozen, microwaved, or even just exposed to sunlight, so be cautious in these situations. Switching to reusable glass or ceramic containers is much healthier for you and for the environment, and it’s really a no-brainer at this point!
- Consider alternatives to hormonal birth control. Oral contraceptives and other hormonal birth control methods are notorious for wreaking havoc on hormonal balance. Not only do they lead to excess estrogen, but many of them also introduce a synthetic form of progesterone into the body, which reduces the natural production of progesterone. Many women have been using hormonal birth control for years, especially since it’s often casually prescribed to young girls and women to regulate things like heavy or painful periods– which are usually symptoms of estrogen dominance! If you’re currently taking hormonal birth control, consider speaking with your doctor about other options.
Hormone therapies are often jumped to way too early in the case of hormonal imbalances like estrogen dominance, when really, there is so much that we can do to restore balance naturally. An approach that involves uncovering sources of excess estrogen production or reduced progesterone production as well as external sources of xenoestrogens, and supporting elimination and detoxification, is how I’ve helped countless women reverse estrogen dominance. Keep the four keys in mind, and you’ll be in control of your hormones in no time!
Reviewed by Dr. Mark Menolascino, MD