Do you suffer from Estrogen Dominance?
Belly fat, depression, low sex drive, does this sound like you? These are all signs your hormones are out of whack. Estrogen, specifically, may be the problem. And men, you aren’t immune from this problem so you may want to keep reading if you check some of these boxes.
Estrogen is a Good Thing
Let’s be clear, estrogen is inherently a good thing. It is essential for growth, health and reproduction (I think we can all agree these are important).
Estrogen is a sex hormone both men and women have although “sex hormone” is a misnomer, it does more than just boost libido. Women have it in much larger amounts, and coupled with progesterone it is responsible for the unique physical features of the female body as well as reproduction.
But that’s not all estrogen is responsible for. Other key roles of estrogen for both men and women include:
- Maintenance of healthy cholesterol levels
- Building strong bones
- Brain health, including mood and cognition
- Healthy distribution of body fat
Like most other facets of human health, there can be too much of a good thing and estrogen is no exception. When estrogen is too high, it can lead to all sorts of health consequences including:
- Irregular periods & heavy bleeding in women
- Weight gain
- Excess body fat on hips, thighs and mid-section (aka belly fat)
- Endometriosis and fibroids
- Fibrocystic breasts
- Breast development in men (gynecomastia)
- Poor sleep and insomnia
- Low sex drive
- Breast cancer
- Hair loss
- Cold hands and feet
- Erectile dysfunction in men
Some of these problems result from the excess estrogen itself and others result from the estrogen interfering with other essential physiologic functions.
Cold hands and feet, fatigue and hair loss for example, have a lot to do with low thyroid hormone. Estrogen binds up thyroid hormones and interferes with the normal production and utilization of thyroid hormones. This turns into a cycle because the disruption of thyroid hormones leads to higher production of estrogen. Que more fatigue and weight gain (insert party emoji).
Just like blood sugar, thyroid hormone, iron, calcium and a whole host of other essential hormones and nutrients, there is homeostatic range for estrogen. This is the range in which homeostasis (normal, good health) is maintained. Too much or too little can cause problems, kinda like family time…
But, what causes this hormone imbalance and can anything be done to fix it?
Modern Causes of Estrogen Dominance
Estrogen dominance and associated co-morbidities like hormone sensitive cancers and thyroid problems and with good reason – lifestyle and environment play an important role is estrogen metabolism.
Contributing factors to estrogen dominance include:
- Excess body fat. This is listed as number one because it is one of the most important and most modifiable contributors to estrogen dominance. Fat absorbs and then stores estrogen from your bloodstream. And your fat tissue is also considered an endocrine organ that makes estrogen from your other hormones. You read that correctly, excess body fat is essentially an estrogen producing machine. And to make matters worse, high levels of estrogen stimulate the production of fat cells, creating a cycle of fat gain and estrogen dominance (*).
- Diet. Pesticides, herbicides and hormones influence our own endocrines system and can disrupt our hormones (*). Eating highly processed foods that are addictive and don’t set off satiety signals lead to gut dysbiosis (see number 5 below) as well as obesity (#7 below).
Excess insulin caused by large portions, high carb diets, high glycemic foods and stress disrupt the menstrual cycle and contribute to the imbalance of estrogen and progesterone.
As shown on the graph below, when a woman’s menstrual cycle is normal, estrogen is the dominant hormone for the first two weeks leading up to ovulation. In the last two weeks of the cycle, estrogen is balanced by progesterone.
It’s not just about food, either, our water is increasingly more contaminated with hormone disrupting compounds (*).
- Personal care and household clean products. We are being constantly exposed to endocrine (hormone) disrupting compounds known as xenoestrogens. Xenoestrogens are chemicals that mimic estrogen and they are found everywhere – personal care products, lawn chemicals, cleaning products, even in our furniture and clothes.
- Alcohol. Alcohol reduces the activity of estrogen metabolism by the liver and also increases conversion of androgens to estrogens – making it a double whammy so to speak (*).
- Gut dysbiosis. In layman’s terms – your gut bacteria is out of balance. This could mean excess amounts of bad bacteria as in the case of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. Or excess fungus (candida).
Why is this important? Your gut microbiome (the collective name for the organisms in your gut) regulates circulating estrogen using an enzyme known as beta-glucuronidase. When the microbiome is out of balance, these enzymes don’t work properly and can’t metabolize estrogens as fast or as well (*).
- BPA and other plastics. BPA and other compounds in plastics can act as endocrine disrupters as well, especially heated plastics (think tupperware in the microwave) and reusing single use plastic items like water bottles and plastic straws. These items are not meant to be re-used. So while you think you are saving the environment, you are actually harming your body because the plastics start to break down and you ingest them.
- Medications. This is an obvious one, hormone replacement therapy and birth control can disrupt the balance of estrogen and progesterone. If additional factors have not been addressed like supporting healthy estrogen metabolism, this could make the hormone imbalance process worse.
- Chronic stress. Stress hormones are made from precursors that include progesterone. In the setting of chronic stress the body pumps out more and more cortisol, decreasing progesterone levels and disrupting the balance of estrogen and progesterone in the body (*).
Great, right? So now that we are sufficiently depressed let’s turn our attention to fixing this mess.
Fixing Estrogen Dominance
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I can spew science at you all day but it really comes down to a few simple steps:
- Reduce inputs (foods, beverages, behaviors, environmental exposures) that increase estrogen and decrease progesterone.
- Support the body’s ability to metabolize estrogen
- Heal the gut
- Be awesome
Reduce Inputs that Increase Estrogen & Decrease Progesterone
You can literally review the list from above and to the opposite…but let’s make it really clear for you.
Stop eating crap
Eating industrialized processed foods only makes this problem worse. And by industrialized processed foods I mean literally 99% of what is in the grocery store. All the foods you thought were healthy – cereal, bread, pasta, protein bars and shakes, milk etc. All crap, stop eating it.
The sooner you rip this bandaid off the better you will be. Processed food is addictive and your brain may work against you on this one, you can thank evolution for that one. As you remove these foods from your diet, food cravings initially grow stronger but then they stop completely.
A high protein diet that gets you into ketosis is going to be your fastest ticket away from food addiction, cravings, obesity and blood sugar imbalance. Thirty days and you’ll be a new person, guaranteed.
Be choosy about your foods – think about what is on conventionally grown produce and raised animals…pesticides, herbicides, hormones, antibiotics. Think about how you would grow food and raise animals in your backyard and choose that kind of food to limit hormone disrupting chemicals.
Drink less alcohol or not at all. Yes, you could argue some alcohol is good for the heart but that has a lot do with the blood thinning properties. Guess what else thins your blood? Omega 3 fatty acids from wild fatty fish, ghee and grass fed butter.
Drink clean water.
This one’s pretty basic. Check out what’s in your water here and what sort of filter you need to make your water clean and then do it. This is worth it.
While you’re at it, do an audit of your personal care and home cleaning products. Use non toxic product on your body and in your home. This subject is too big to tackle here but use the guides, ditch the endocrine disrupting chemicals.
Lose body fat
Turn off the out of control estrogen factory by getting the fat off and gaining more lean muscle. All of these factors are twisted together so as you start taking care of the lifestyle factors like what you are putting in, on and around your body, the weight usually follows.
Just take a look at this diagram from the Endocrine Society on how endocrine disrupting compounds impact fat cells, obesity, insulin and blood sugar (*). It’s a %$#ing mess!
The fastest way to weight loss, when your health is a disaster and you need results yesterday is a controlled fast that preserves your muscle like the carnivore diet.
Reduce and manage stress
This is the elephant in the room. All roads lead to stress. But it’s the hardest and most often overlooked piece of the puzzle. What are some evidenced based ways to manage stress:
- Being in nature
- Deep breathing
- Tasks that require concentration but not a lot of brain power: puzzles, knitting, drawing, crafting, painting, etc.
Consistency is better than the overall time commitment here. So just start somewhere and make it a habit.
Get rid of all the plastic
This one is also surprisingly simple – use glass, porcelain or stainless steel. As you clean up your diet you’ll find plastics are pretty easy to avoid.
Get your meds in order
If you are taking birth control or hormone replacement therapy, talk to your doctor about your options like bioidentical hormones.
Next, support estrogen metabolism
Up until this point we haven’t talked about your body’s ability to get rid of excess estrogen. Needless to say this is essential and it primarily happens in the liver.
Your liver metabolizes estrogen through three different pathways:
- 2-hydroxy metabolic pathway. Good, this pathway produces good estrogen metabolites and creates the lowest risk of negative health outcomes.
- 16-hydroxy metabolic pathway. Bad, this pathway results in more estrogen dominance and negative health outcomes.
- 4-hydroxy metabolic pathway. Bad, this pathway results in more estrogen dominance and negative health outcomes.
For these reasons, a healthy estrogen balance favoring production of 2-hydroxyestrone is important for health. The following have been shown to shift estrogen metabolism toward the 2-hydroxyestrone pathway (*).
- Exercise and weight loss
- Isoflavones such as soy and flaxseed
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- Green tea polyphenol
- Cruciferous vegetables and broccoli derivatives, including indole-3-carbinol (I3C) and diindolylmethane (DIM)
Heal the gut (and be awesome)
The health of the gut refers to the gut lining and the bacterial balance within the gut. All that has been mentioned thus far in this article will help to start repairing the gut and restoring good microflora. Getting rid of crap food, drinking clean water, managing stress etc.
One of the simplest and fastest ways to do this is on the carnivore diet. Why? The carnivore diet removes inflammatory foods like sugar, white flour, ultra processed foods, industrial plant oils, etc. and foods less commonly connected with inflammation like gluten, dairy, corn, soy, beans, and nightshades. Even vegetables can disrupt your gut health.
Whereas other gut health diets and protocols can be confusing and stressful, the carnivore diet actually reduces stress surrounding food. It is the most insanely simple way of eating. No more counting or measuring, tracking and guessing – it’s easy, just eat meat and get on with your symptom free life.
The carnivore diet is also high in nutrients that have been shown to be vital in gut health are abundant in the carnivore diet including:
- Glutamine, an amino acid
- Collagen, a type of protein
- Zinc, a mineral
It’s not difficult, once you make the commitment to your health and decide your livelihood is worth more than the sugar high and crash you get from a twinkie. And what’s the alternative? What is the risk of doing nothing?
Risks of Estrogen Dominance
Excess estrogen is like a runaway train. If you decide to do nothing, there are some pretty nasty health consequences waiting down the road.
By far the biggest risk associated with estrogen dominance is hormone-dependent cancer. These cancers include breast, uterine, prostate and ovarian cancers. Breast and prostate cancer are two of the most common cancers, breast is the 2nd most common cancer and prostate is the 4th (*).
Hormonal cancers are associated with stored fat, which produces the most potent form of estrogen, estradiol. This type of harmful estrogen is more difficult for your body to detoxify, leading to more circulating estrogen and “bad” estrogen metabolites.
In some autoimmune conditions, high levels of estrogen can enhance the inflammatory response of the immune system. This response increases the antibodies that attack your body’s own tissues.
However, it’s not entirely a clear-cut issue. Estrogen actually helps protect against some autoimmune conditions, such as multiple sclerosis (MS). It seems that the sharp fluctuations in estrogen levels (such as those that happen around childbirth and menopause) contribute to autoimmunity. So it’s not surprising that women are at much higher risk for developing autoimmune disease than men.
The types of estrogens in your system, and whether they are natural hormones or the synthetic xenoestrogens that exist in our environment also factor into the equation. Men, seem to have a bit of protection from androgens including testosterone and androstenedione. There is also evidence that men’s higher levels of androgens provide some protection from autoimmunity (*).
Hashimoto’s and Thyroid Dysfunction
Excess estrogen interferes with healthy thyroid hormone function. Estrogen increases levels of thyroid binding globulin (TBG). When thyroid hormones are attached to TBG they remain inactive. So, they can’t be stored in tissues or converted to their active form to do their job. Thyroid hormones regulate metabolism so they are required for turning our food energy into chemical energy for our cells. Without thyroid hormones, we become essentially bald, tired and fat.
Excess estrogen contributes to fungal overgrowth. You may be thinking of traditional yeast infections but excess yeast in the digestive tract and in other areas of the body is also problematic and can contribute to fatigue, itching, food cravings, heartburn and other problems.
Research shows that exposing Candida albicans (yeast) to estrogen increases its ability to cause damage.
Estrogen dominance is a serious health problem that is becoming more prevalent with the reliance on the Standard American Diet (SAD), high stress that has become the norm and our polluted food supply and environment. Excess estrogen causes a whole host of symptoms and increases risk for hormones sensitive cancers, thyroid issues and more.
But, before you go crawl into a hole, there is a lot you can do to get estrogen dominance under control. It all comes down to lifestyle change – food, stress, sleep, exercise. The ball is in your court, are you ready for the challenge? Sign up for my 14 day carnivore diet meal plan below