Oestrogen dominance is one of the most common hormonal imbalances I see in clinic. Excess oestrogen or oestrogen dominance can mean a few different things… either you just have too much oestrogen, or potentially you have ‘normal’ amounts of oestrogen, coupled with low progesterone levels, therefore your oestrogen is overbearing or ‘dominating’. Either way, your oestrogen can become too overbearing and ‘bossy’, which can lead to many undesirable signs and symptoms.
The most common symptoms women with oestrogen dominance complain of are PMS and irritability, heavy and clotted periods, period pain, breast fullness and tenderness, headaches before or with their period, hormonal acne, bloating, thrush, fluid retention and hormonal weight gain.
While these symptoms may be really annoying and uncomfortable, they are most definitely treatable. My main concern is that long term untreated oestrogen dominance can also lead to the formation of fibroids, endometriosis, fibrocystic breast disease and worst case scenario, oestrogen related cancers such as breast and ovarian cancer. Not something we should be turning a blind eye to and most certainly not something we should be just masking with a quick-fix solution such as the pill or marina/IUD. While these treatments may give you some symptomatic relief, sadly they are not treating the underlying hormonal imbalance.
Now let’s not be too mean to poor oestrogen, she’s not all bad!
In fact, we really need oestrogen, it’s the hormone that gives us our beautiful curves,feminine features, and is essential in the right amounts to keep our hearts healthy, our bones strong, our skin soft and supple, our brain sharp and our mood happy – as well as giving us the ability to grow a baby!
One of oestrogen’s main job is ‘growth promotion’ – it helps cells multiply in order to thicken the uterine lining to prepare for implantation of an embryo. Hence why it is so necessary to life! But, also why excess amounts of can be problematic. Too much ‘growth promotion’ can lead to excessive build up of our endometrial lining, resulting initially in heavy bleeding, and then possibly leading to fibroid and endometriosis growth, and the potential promotion of accelerated cell growth and cancer formation.
So why are so many of us suffering from excess oestrogen?
Unfortunately,in this modern world we live in, there are many culprits!
Stress in our day-to-day lives increases the production of the stress hormone cortisol within our body. Higher levels of cortisol supress the production of progesterone, leading to oestrogen dominance. Excess cortisol also leads to weight gain and greatly impairs our liver and digestive function, which leads me to my next point!
POOR DIGESTION AND LIVER FUNCTION
After oestrogen has done its job, it needs to be detoxified and cleared by the liver and then transported to the digestive tract to be eliminated out of our body via our poo! If our liver function is a little shabby and if we’re not regularly eliminating via our bowels (at least once a day) then oestrogen can build up in our body.
EXCESS BODY FAT
Did you know our fat cells can actually make hormones!? In particular, they are very good at making oestrogen, so the more body fat we have the more oestrogen our body can make.
Excess sugar and refined processed carbs in our diet forces our body to produce high levels of insulin. These high levels of insulin are a double whammy, insulin not only tells our body to store more body fat but also directly stimulates the production of extra oestrogen!
POOR DIET / LACK OF NUTRIENTS
There are many nutrients we need to metabolise oestrogen effectively. All of our B group vitamins, Magnesium, Zinc, omega fatty acids and many amino acids from protein are essential, so if your diet is lacking in these, then oestrogen levels are bound to rise.
THE PILL AND HRT
The oral contraceptive pill (OCP) and other hormonal contraceptives are designed to stop you ovulating, this is very effective at preventing you from falling pregnant. But if we don’t ovulate, we don’t produce the progesterone we need, thus contributing to oestrogen dominance.
Many hormonal based contraceptives and HRT have high levels of synthetic oestrogen. The body tends to find it harder to get rid of synthetic oestrogen compared to natural hormones, thereby adding to our oestrogen overload.
HORMONE DISRUPTING CHEMICALS
We are constantly exposed to chemical oestrogens from our environment and especially from our beauty care products. We can either ingest or absorb these chemical oestrogens through our skin or by breathing them in. These can mimic our own oestrogen and cause our levels to rise.
The list of chemicals that have an impact on our oestrogen is huge, but the two main ones you can avoid are:
- BPA in plastics (plastic containers, plastic water bottles, linings of tin canned food and takeaway coffee cups).
- Phthalates in all synthetic perfumes, air fresheners, artificial fragrances, cosmetics, toiletries, soft plastics (like clingwrap, soft plastic toys, water resistant raincoats, shower curtains etc.)
Now, it is of course very important to keep in mind that each of us are different. Genetics and overall health will play a huge part in our ability to handle excess oestrogen. Some of us will handle higher levels of oestrogen, while others will struggle.
So, what can we do about it?
- GO BONKERS FOR BROCCOLI
Broccoli and other cruciferous veg such as cauliflower, cabbage, watercress, kale, rocket, and brussels sprouts really help your liver with detoxification. They contain high levels of phytonutrients such as sulforaphane that help clear toxins, chemicals and oestrogen out through your liver.
- SAY GOODBYE TO SUGAR
Avoid all sugar and refined processed carbs. Stay away from artificial sugars though (now known to make you gain weight!).This will help balance your blood sugar and reduce insulin levels.
- SPRINKLE THOSE SUPER SEEDS
Flaxseeds/linseeds, chia, pumpkin, sesame, hemp and sunflower seeds all contain good amounts of protein, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and fibre that can help to regulate oestrogen levels. I love to sprinkle them on smoothies, yoghurt, porridge, chia puddings, salads and steamed veggies.
- GET REGULAR
Ensuring you have proper digestive function and regular elimination will help with clearing out excess oestrogen.
Increase your fibre and pre-biotic foods (wholegrains, fruit, veg, nuts, seeds, psyllium husks etc) and pro-biotic foods (good quality live natural yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha, apple cider vinegar etc.). Avoid wheat and dairy if you suspect any intolerances (bloating, gas, cramps).
- AVOID CHEMICAL OESTROGENS
Swap your plastic food containers and drink bottles for glass, stainless steel or ceramic. Invest in a keep cup and avoid drinking coffee and/or any hot drinks from disposable cups.
Switch over to natural chemical free brands for your toiletries, cosmetics, beauty care and household cleaning products. This can be overwhelming at first, so just start by replacing one thing at a time, as you run out of something, replace it with a healthier alternative.
- OPT FOR ORGANIC
Limit your exposure to pesticides as much as possible. Especially important for fruit & veg where you are eating the skins. Check out the list of the ‘Dirty Dozen’ and ‘Clean 15’ from the @environmentalworkinggroup for more guidance.
- STRESS BUSTERS
If you want to get your oestrogen down, it is imperative that your manage your stress and reduce your cortisol. Schedule in some relaxation every single day, even if it’s just 10 minutes of deep breathing, perhaps 5 min first thing in the morning before getting out of bed and 5 min at night before going to sleep. Meditation is also great at not only helping you relax, but also helping to re-wire your brain from fight-or-flight mode back to a calm and relaxed state. Exercise is one of the very best stress busters, it helps to burn of excess cortisol and enhance those ‘feel good’ endorphins.
- CONSIDER YOUR CONTRACEPTION
If you feel as though your current method of hormonal contraception is not working for you. It may be best to look at other options. Do your research and speak to your health care practitioner about what may be the best fit for you.
- NATUROPATHIC SUPPORT
There are many very effective nutritional and herbal medicinal treatments that are extremely effective at helping to support and improve oestrogen dominance and balance your hormones. There is no ‘one size fits all’ so to get the best outcome for you and your body, it is best to talk to your naturopath about the most effective plan for you.
Hope you’ve found this helpful!