We need estrogen in order to maintain bone density, positive mood, and healthy cholesterol levels. Too much, however, becomes problematic. More women and men than ever are being diagnosed with too much estrogen in the body. Without proper balance from the other sex hormones, this can lead to an array of unpleasant symptoms. This is referred to as “estrogen dominance”. It can affect both men and women, but it is diagnosed much more commonly in women. Restoring and maintaining hormonal balance is vitally important, since elevated estrogen levels are a risk factor for breast, ovarian, and endometrial cancer in women, and prostate and breast cancer in men. Between hormones from animal products, synthetic estrogens (aka “xenoestrogens”) found in personal care and cleaning products, and even pesticides, there are many reasons why our delicate hormonal balance can be disrupted.
Some of the most common symptoms of estrogen dominance include:
– Stubborn belly fat
– Uneven weight distribution, with excess weight typically found in the midsection
– Unexplained weight gain
– Fatigue, or chronic fatigue in more extreme cases
– Thinning hair
– Hormonal acne on the face, and especially around the chin
– Irritability, mood swings or mood disorders
– Candida overgrowth
– Depression or low mood
– Body acne
– Low or nonexistent libido
– Difficulty managing stress
– Difficulty losing weight, even with exercise
In women, estrogen dominance can lead to Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), uterine fibroids, irregular menstrual cycles, and thyroid dysfunction. Men may also suffer from enlarged breasts and sexual dysfunction. All of these symptoms, in addition to being unpleasant and affecting quality of life, leave diagnosed individuals at risk of developing more serious conditions later on. If left untreated, hormone-dependent cancers may develop. The good news is that there are many things that can be done to lower our estrogen levels naturally. In order to prevent or reverse estrogen dominance, we first have to understand what causes it.
For this imbalance to occur, either estrogen is too high, or the hormones which balance it are too low. In women this means progesterone is too low; in men, testosterone. This can happen to women if they have taken hormonal birth control. Harmful “endocrine disruptors” (man-made compounds that interfere with the function of estrogen and other hormones) are found in plastic products such as plastic water bottles, in many personal care products, on receipts, in heavy metals, and in pesticides and herbicides. These compounds negatively affect hormonal balance even in small doses. Try to purchase natural cleaning and personal care products. It is the estrogen found in the food we eat, however, that has the largest impact on estrogen levels.
Animal products, especially dairy, chicken and fish, contain high amounts of estrogen. People who eat meat regularly are exposed to high levels of these natural sex steroids. It’s important to note that estrogen hormones can be thousands of times more estrogenic than man-made endocrine disruptors. That’s right- thousands of times more than synthetic chemicals that are found to be harmful even at low doses. Yikes!
Dairy products such as milk, cheese, yogurt, butter, and ghee are innately high in hormones even if synthetic hormones aren’t added. It’s important to consider the compounded effects of both synthetic added hormones and natural estrogens in livestock feed and medications. Chickens tend to excrete the most estrogen in their urine, indicating the highest levels of any animal raised for meat. Fish, beef, eggs, and pork are all high-estrogen foods as well. If you are wondering if this could affect you, it’s important to note that chicken estrogen is the same molecule as human estrogen. Heavy meat eaters have high levels of estrogen in their urine as a result. If you have been diagnosed with estrogen dominance, reducing or eliminating your intake of animal products is a great way to help bring your hormones back into balance.
Another important strategy for balancing estrogen levels is simply maintaining a healthy body weight. Our fat tissues absorb and store estrogens that circulate in the bloodstream. Weight loss will cause the fat cells to shrink and empty out, sending estrogen and toxins to the liver to be processed and removed. High estrogen levels can unfortunately cause the body to create more fat cells, thereby producing more estrogen- a vicious cycle! For sustainable weight loss, focus your diet around fresh fruit, vegetables, and nutritious grains like quinoa. Eat healthy fats from plant foods such as avocados, tahini, chia seeds, walnuts, almonds, Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, or coconut. These fats contain fibre, unlike fats from animal products, which makes it easier to control hunger and support weight loss. Eat plenty of leafy greens vegetables to help protect liver health. A well-functioning liver is important for breaking down estrogens. Broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, collard greens, and bok choy all contain a compound called “sulforaphane” which supports your estrogen receptors.
Finally, lowering stress levels can also help with hormonal balance. If you cannot remove certain stresses from your life, utilize strategies to assist the body in dealing with stress more effectively. Consider activities such as meditation, breathing exercises, yoga, or taking a walk in nature. Be patient during the healing process, reduce your intake of animal products whenever possible (especially factory farmed animals where hormones are used), try to avoid pesticides, and seek out natural products for personal care and cleaning.
Sarah Brandow, MSc