Women who are estrogen dominant often feel...
Have difficulty losing weight
Experience heavy or long periods
See clots in their menstrual blood
Have fibrocystic breasts
Develop fibroids, polyps and growths in their uterus
Have difficulty conceiving
Suffer from PMS and hormonal migraines after ovulation and/or before menses
And too much estrogen stimulating your cells can cause cysts, fibroids and cancer!
I know, that is some shitty stuff!
Most women with estrogen dominance and breast cancer are in perimenopause and menopause. If they have this cancer, they are estrogen dominant; estrogen, or rather "dirty" estrogens specifically fuel the growth of the cancer cell. So, just because your estrogen levels drop in perimenopause and menopause, it doesn’t mean you cannot have estrogen dominance: estrogen dominance doesn't always mean "too much estrogen".
As a reminder, estrogen dominance means that your body either breaks down (metabolizes) your estrogens into “dirty” estrogens, or your estradiol-to-progesterone ratio is off (typically you have too little progesterone to balance off your estradiol).
In fact, this is the time when most women DO experience estrogen dominance, because your progesterone levels are declining first.
Yep, couple that with low progesterone and you feel like you’re losing your mind the week before your period (no kidding), struggling with sore breasts, insomnia, migraines and feeling like anything will make you cry. Most women experience these symptoms 1-2 weeks before their period. Go back to my article on tips to boost your progesterone levels here.
I just had a hormone panel done with a client who presents with low estrogen AND progesterone throughout her cycle, but due to the overall imbalance she still is experiencing symptoms of (slight) estrogen dominance. (not the one in the picture below, that's another one from a client who has overall lower hormone levels).
We’re talking about breast cancer or cancer in general and estrogen dominance all the time now and I see that most doctors won’t even consider prescribing even bioidentical estrogen even to women who desperately need it.
What I was referring to as “dirty estrogens” is actually a simplified way of saying that your body is not metabolizing estrogen the way it should: there are 3 pathways that your body can metabolize estrogen and one of them, the 4-OH E1 (see in red on the image) pathway is the most toxic that can lead to DNA damage and cancer.
How you are metabolizing your estrogen, depends on genetics, lifestyle and diet:
Women who have a “slow” COMT enzyme (this is something “genetic” that you can find out with the 3x4 epigenetic test I am offering or other epigenetic tests, but you'll also see it linked to your estrogen detox on the DUTCH test here in the picture):
Will have a tendency to accumulate estrogens in phase 2 detoxification in the liver (yes your liver is playing a key role here)
Will struggle to break down epinephrine (adrenaline), norepinephrine & dopamine = more anxiety!
Here are some examples that will slow down your COMT enzyme (and therefore your estrogen detox):
Slow COMT variant (see genetic testing)
Being estrogen dominant
Imbalance microbiome with pathogen overgrowth
Quercetin and green tea (dose dependent on you as an individual)
Chemicals like bisphenol and PCBs
COMT inhibitor medications (used in Parkinson’s)
Nutrient or enzyme deficiencies: Magnesium, zinc, choline, methylated B9, B12 & other B-Vitamins, methionine, tri-methyl-glycine, Sam-e
As I said, your liver has a big job of sorting out the toxins and excess hormones. If your liver is not in good shape or just has "too much work", it will have trouble performing all these tasks... (imagine files piling up on your desk!)
Let’s have a closer look at these lifestyle and dietary habits that can cause estrogen dominance:
Increased toxic load: Exposure to pesticides in food and water, chemicals, and any other environmental toxins you encounter in your daily life will accumulate over time and tax your body, leading to estrogen dominance.
Xenoestrogen exposure: xenoestrogens are chemical compounds that have the same molecular structure as estrogen and when you consume them, put them on your skin, or are exposed to them, your body will recognize them as estrogen. Things like plastics, conventional skin products, nail polish, industrial waste, car exhaust, supermarket receipts and more contain these compounds.
Synthetic hormones (like the pill and conventional hormone replacement therapy) suppress ovulation, which means you don’t produce progesterone to balance out the estrogen.
Liver congestion: When you’re stressed or your toxic load is heavy, it can slow down on its efficiency, causing the bad estrogens to stay in your body for too long.
Nutrient deficiencies: Your liver relies on certain vitamins and minerals to detoxify your body. Stress, synthetic hormones and a poor diet deplete your body of these key nutrients.
Chronic stress strains your liver, thyroid, adrenals, and more. It keeps your HPA axis on overdrive, releasing more cortisol into your body and blocking the release of progesterone, which will lead to a situation of too much estrogen vs progesterone.
Lifestyle and diet choices like inflammatory and blood sugar compromising foods (grains, dairy, and sugar in particular), prescription or over-the-counter drugs, smoking, and alcohol increase your estrogen concentration
These are all things you can optimize at home and by choosing natural products for personal care and cleaning.
Another thing that helps is eating plenty of cruciferous vegetables as the I3I they contain will be converted to DIM and help your body detoxify estrogens. Further down, I have recommended some supplements as well that will help optimize your detoxification pathways, like the Femguard Balance.
If you are interested in testing and a targeted approach, book a free clarity call with me here to discuss your objectives.
But estrogen is not all bad! It's a very important hormone for vibrant health and energy. And, it makes us beautiful and attractive. You definitely want to have enough estrogen: you just need to make sure it is working for you and not against you.
In fact, low estrogen is linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease (go back to last week's article for more details) and cardiovascular risk, osteoporosis and depression.
Low estrogen has a number of negative side effects like:
Cognitive decline (memory, concentration)
Increasing LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and declining HDL (“good”) cholesterol
Night sweats or hot flashes
Leaky or overactive bladder
Mood changes (anxiety, depression, lethargy)
Trouble falling asleep and staying asleep
Fatigue/muscle weakness/no interest in exercise
A diagnosis of osteoporosis or osteopenia
Vaginal dryness, irritation, or loss of feeling, (painful sex)
Dry, sagging skin or thinning skin
Shrinking, sagging breasts
Irregular periods (or no periods)
Low sex drive
Abdominal weight gain
So you see that you don’t want to live with low estrogen either! Correcting low estrogen levels will greatly improve your experience of both perimenopause and menopause.
Here are some foods that are rich in phytoestrogens, which can help to increase estrogen in your body.
You can easily include them in smoothies, soups, and chia pudding or grain-free breakfast cereal (check out my new cookbook for recipes):
Flaxseeds are rich in lignans that can help boost estrogen levels, but will also support proper detoxification of estrogens. Research shows that flaxseeds can improve fertility and reduce hot flashes and vaginal dryness. Incorporate 2 TBSP of freshly ground flax every day (make a flax pudding, add them to a porridge or smoothie)
Soybeans are rich in soy isoflavones that can also be helpful if your levels are low. They have a bad reputation these days with a wealth of processed soy products flooding supermarket shelves. Be sure to buy organic (non-GMO) and ideally grown in Europe. Also make sure to choose clean soy products such as tempeh, edamame and tofu vs textured soy, soymilk or other soy products which are usually hard on the digestive tract and loaded with preservatives and other artificial things. Soy is high in lectins and phytates that make them hard to digest for many. That’s why a fermented soy like tempeh, natto, miso or gluten-free soy sauce are a better choice.
Most legumes actually contain one or more isoflavones (genistein, daidzein, and glycitein) but none of them can compare to soybeans. Besides soybeans, other legumes that are highest in these isoflavones include mung beans and green beans.
Sesame seeds are similar to flax seeds in being a rich source of lignans. In a study of postmenopausal women, consuming 50 grams of sesame seed powder a day over 5 weeks increased estrogen levels, plus improved cholesterol levels.
Kudzu root is a starchy root used in east Asia. It’s rich in a number of phytoestrogens, including puerarin, the main isoflavonoid, which has a positive effect on estrogen receptors. You should aim for 25-50mg per day. You’ll find this in organic shops in the Asian food section or also online. Kudzu is usually used like arrow root, as a sort of thickener in dishes, porridges or puddings.
Now you understand why Asian women are much less impacted by menopausal symptoms than we are in the Western world: their cuisine already implements these foods in so many dishes!
While consuming phytoestrogenic foods can be beneficial, it might not be enough to ease your symptoms. And in the end, just before the transition into menopause, bio-identical hormone therapy is likely the best choice until your levels have stabilized. That really depends on each woman individually how much support she needs and for how long.
There are also specific herbal solutions that can support increasing estrogen. You may want to try these first before opting for bio-identical hormone therapy. Keep in mind though, that these herbal solutions often take a minimum of 3 months before you see the benefits.
Black Cohosh is an old remedy against menopause symtoms. However, it’s not completely understood how it works. It seems to influence how estrogen behaves in the body independent of estrogen receptors. It does have anti-inflammatory properties and a positive effect on your nervous and immune system too. This is my favorite supplement for peri and menopausal women: FemGuard Balance: it contains black cohosh, but also has vitex for progesterone support and DIM and chrysin to support your beneficial estrogen detox pathway (so this is a great prevention for avoiding the toxic estrogen build up which can lead to breast cancer).
Hops are well known as a main ingredient in beer. Now you start to understand why too much beer leads to a beer belly and breasts in men? Yes, hops actually contain the most potent estrogen-raising flavonoid, which is called 8-prenylnaringenin (8-PN). There’s a product from Metagenics called Menohop which is a blend of hops and soy. It has helped me in the past bringing my hormone levels back up.
Wild yam Some traditional medicine practitioners suggest using wild yam as an alternative to estrogen replacement therapy for treating symptoms of menopause. The theory is that wild yam may increase or stabilize estrogen levels in the body to help relieve menopause symptoms.
Ginkgo biloba is known for its positive effects on circulation and memory. And, it’s also a source of phytoestrogens, so it may improve your estrogen levels or at least smooth out your estrogenic decline.
Red clover is another herb that is high in isoflavones and that you can use to increase estrogen levels. Red clover is often used in tea form.
Maca doesn’t actually contain phytoestrogens. It works as an adaptogen instead, adjusting the body’s estrogen levels as needed. Clinical studies have shown that maca alleviates symptoms of low estrogen levels like hot flashes, memory issues, fatigue, vaginal dryness, and mood swings. It’s also known to increase your libido. 1g per day is the minimum dose needed to see benefits. I use it as a powder in chia pudding, smoothies or baking. Check out my cookbook for recipes. Otherwise, this is a great supplement.
Give some of these foods and herbs a try before going down the road of bioidentical hormones. Maybe you will still need bioidentical HRT, but adding in some antioxidant-rich foods and herbs in the meantime certainly won’t hurt!