Estrogen dominance occurs when you have too much estrogen in the body or an imbalance between estrogen and other hormones. Estrogen dominance is a much greater problem than most people realize: It negatively affects men, women, and children, and it could be that one thing that is keeping you from losing weight or getting all that you could out or your workouts!
Beyond our vanity, estrogen dominance significantly increases cancer risk, alters brain transmitters, causes infertility, and can affect mood, making you depressed or irritable. That’s not to say that some estrogen isn’t necessary for both genders—it is!
The right amount of estrogen at the right time is of course responsible for proper female reproduction and is necessary for a healthy pregnancy. In women, it also regulates mood and arterial function, is necessary for bone building, and is even thought to enable women to recover faster from intense exercise.
In men, some estrogen is necessary for optimal sperm health, however, too much compromises male fertility, which is the main point. Also, optimal memory in males is dependent to some basic level of estrogens.
Too much estrogen—Very Bad! Optimal estrogen in balance with the entire hormonal cascade—Perfect!
There are two simple ways to think about estrogen dominance:
1) Chemical estrogens, called xenoestrogens, are EVERYWHERE and contribute to estrogen dominance. They mimic estrogen, binding to hormone receptors when they enter the body. It is nearly impossible to avoid them, and they are a principal cause of estrogen dominance in men, women, and children.
The most ever-present xenoestrogens include BPA, phthalates, and parabens. Phthalates are found in chemical fragrances such as perfume, air sprays, and candles, whereas parabens are in personal care products like lotion. BPA is found in everything from aluminum cans to new furniture. All three of these chemicals act like estrogen in the body and have caused cancer in animals. In humans, ill health effects of high chemical estrogen levels include heart problems, behavioral issues, and obesity.
For example, a series of studies have linked urinary BPA levels to body fat in all ages—the more BPA people had in their bodies, the fatter they were. People with the most BPA in their urine had a 34 percent chance of being obese compared to only a 23 percent chance in people who had the least urinary BPA. And it’s easy to ingest BPA—simply eating canned soup for dinner for five days was shown to increase BPA levels by 1,223 percent!
2) Endogenous estrogen is the kind produced within the body. Hormonal balance is a complicated process, but you may have too much internally produced estrogen for a number of reasons including the following:
• You are overweight. Regardless of gender, fat tissue increases levels of an enzyme called aromatase that turns testosterone to estrogen.
• You are deficient in certain nutrients (magnesium, vitamin D, selenium, zinc). Nutrient deficiencies elevate aromatase significantly. For example, men with vitamin D deficiency have low testosterone and elevated estrogen due to increased aromatization.
• You drink alcohol regularly. Alcohol, especially beer, increases aromatase and it’s been repeatedly linked to low testosterone and high estrogen in men.
• You take birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy. Both can elevate estrogen or cause an imbalance between estrogen and other hormones.
• Your body isn’t metabolizing estrogen effectively due to poor gastrointestinal health, lack of certain nutrients, or low fiber intake. Inability to eliminate estrogen quickly will dramatically increase breast and prostate cancer risk.
To treat estrogen dominance you need to focus on two key areas:
1) Avoid exposure to chemical estrogens.
Even though chemical estrogens are everywhere, you do have some control over your exposure. Now is the time to use that control. Start by only using natural products in the following areas: personal care products like lotion, sunscreen, hair products, soap, cosmetics, perfume; cleaning products (all); air fragrances, including candles, sprays, plug-ins, incense; house paint (stains, solvents, carpet cleaner). Go to the Environmental Working Group web site for information on safe products.
Opt for glass or stainless steel to carry food or water—don’t use plastic unless it’s BPA free. Never heat plastic even if it is BPA free because there are additional hormone-disrupting compounds in plastic other than BPA, that leach out under high temperatures.
Stop buying aluminum cans unless you know they are BPA free. It’s true that eliminating canned goods makes food preparation take longer but it’s worth it to avoid getting fat or having cancer. Cook dried beans, make your own soup (Campbell’s uses BPA-free cans), use frozen (or fresh!) for veggies and fruits, and stew your own tomato sauce (or buy in glass). Some more forward thinking countries like Canada and Norway are presently developing federal laws to ban BPA completely from their canning industries.
Use cloth bags when shopping. Avoid taking receipts and be aware the most recycled paper contains BPA.
Eat organic produce, meats, and dairy to avoid ingesting estrogenic pesticides and growth hormones.
Be aware that most new products (cars, furniture, exercise equipment, yoga mats) contain BPA and other estrogen mimickers. This is harder to avoid, but consider buying antique wood furniture, and air out new cars as much as possible. Here your best bet is to focus on estrogen elimination…
2) Support the elimination of estrogen (both endogenous and chemical) with diet and supplementation.
Estrogen elimination is a complicated process but a highly simplified version is as follows: Estrogen is first metabolized by the liver. Then it’s sent down one of three pathways, one of which is favorable, one is unfavorable, and one is highly toxic and can cause cancer. Then, if you have a healthy gut and adequate fiber, it will be eliminated. The best way to support the elimination process is with the right diet and supplementation:
Eat a low-carb, high-protein diet because excess insulin in the blood stream results in the elevation of free estrogen levels. Managing insulin with a low-carb, high-protein diet will also support body composition. Protein also provides amino acids that support liver function and detoxification.
Eat lots of healthy omega-3 fats. The omega-3 fats EPA and DHA that are found in wild or organic meat, dairy, and fish promote estrogen metabolism down the most favorable of the three pathways (called the 2-hydroxyestrone pathway). Flaxseeds, which are high in the omega-3 fat ALA, block aromatase and provide fiber that helps keep estrogen bound and unreactive on its way out of the body.
Eat certain nutrients that promote the favorable elimination, including kudzu, alfalfa, leafy greens, clover, licorice, legumes, sesame seeds, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli and cauliflower).
Supplement with selenium, melatonin, zinc, green tea, citrus flavonones (called limonene and found in citrus rinds), folic acid, and B6 and B12.
Perhaps the most beneficial supplement is DIM, which is a compound found in cruciferous vegetables (hence the suggestion that you eat lots of these) and VERY effective at improving estrogen metabolism and decreasing aromatase. DIM can be taken alone or in estrogen detox products that commonly contain the super antioxidant curcumin, which is also highly beneficial for health and decreasing inflammation.
Avoid soy, which can mimic estrogen in the body as well. Eating large amounts of processed or non-organic, genetically modified soy has been linked to increased cancer risk.
Get AT LEAST 25 grams of fiber a day. Get MORE if you eat a high-protein diet. Consider taking a high-quality fiber blend and rotating the form of fiber you take because the body will quickly adapt to fiber, making it less effective.
Take magnesium and vitamin D. These are mentioned separately from the other suggested supplements because they are SO IMPORTANT and deficiency in them is so widespread. Consider taking 5,000 IUs of vitamin D daily and 500 mg of magnesium.
For a much more in depth look at how to treat estrogen dominance, read Ten Ways To Lower Estrogen Toxic Load