Estrogen balance is essential for the body to function as it should. When hormones are balanced, everything usually works like it should, but when they’re unbalanced, it can cause a number of issues.
Estrogen is known as the “female” hormone, while testosterone is considered the “male” hormone.
Although they are both identified with specific genders, both are found in males and females, but women do have more estrogen, and men have more testosterone.
In women, estrogen is produced mainly in the ovaries, although it is also produced by fat cells and the adrenal gland.
At the onset of puberty, it plays a role in the development of what’s known as secondary sex characteristics: breasts, pubic hair and armpit hair.
Estrogen aids in menstrual cycle regulation by controlling the growth of the uterine lining during the first part of the cycle.
If the woman’s egg isn’t fertilized, estrogen levels decrease sharply and menstruation begins. If the egg is fertilized, estrogen works with progesterone, another hormone, to stop ovulation during pregnancy.
Estrogen also has a role in other body processes, including bone formation.
It works with calcium, vitamin D and other hormones to break down and rebuild bones, which is why a estrogen levels begin to decline in middle age, the process of rebuilding bones also slows.
Once a woman goes through menopause, more bone is broken down than produced.
The hormone also plays a part in maintaining the thickness and strength of the vaginal wall and urethral lining, vaginal lubrication, as well as blood clotting and many other bodily functions, with effects on the pelvic muscles, mucous membranes, the hair and the skin.
There are many times throughout a woman’s life when estrogen levels can change, from puberty and pregnancy to menopause.
The reduction in estrogen production that occurs with menopause can lead to symptoms like hot flashes, vaginal dryness and loss of sex drive.
Most of us are well aware of this, even if we haven’t reached menopause yet, but what happens when too much estrogen is produced, and what causes it?
Possible causes of excess estrogen production:
Levels of estrogen rise with both puberty and pregnancy, but it can happen outside of those times too. There are only two ways that estrogen can be accumulated in the body either the body produces too much of it on its own, or it’s acquired from the environment or our diets.
If your estrogen levels are high compared to your other hormones, it’s often referred to as estrogen dominance, because that one particular hormone is dominating the other hormones.
In particular, it’s high relative to progesterone, the other hormone that aids in orchestrating the menstrual cycle.
Surprisingly, accumulating excess estrogen isn’t all that difficult, as we’re constantly exposed to estrogen-like compounds in foods that contain toxic pesticides, herbicides, and growth hormones.
Many of the everyday household products we use, including plastics like BPA, detergents, cosmetics, furniture and carpeting, contain endocrine disruptors, which are chemicals that mimic estrogen.
Many of these toxins are known to lead to weight gain – and, that serves to trigger the production of more estrogen from our very own fat cells.
Pharmaceutical hormones, like those used in HRT, or hormone replacement therapy, can also raise estrogen levels, whether we take them ourselves, or we absorb them through our drinking water.
There are other causes of excess estrogen too, including:
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- High Blood Pressure
- Heart Disease
- Foods high in some types of phytoestrogens like soy
Given all of that, it’s really no surprise that there are alarming rates of estrogen dominance – in fact, recent statistics show that over 50% of women age 35 and over affected by this issue.
So, how do you know if you should ask your healthcare provider about monitoring your estrogen levels? Here are some of the signs that say you may have too much estrogen.
1. You’re gaining weight and haven’t made any lifestyle changes
Assuming you haven’t been overeating and/or lying around on the couch all day if you’re gaining weight for no reason you can pinpoint, particularly in the hip area, this is one of the main symptoms of excess estrogen.
You might also suffer from bloating frequently and struggle to lose weight, even if you’re cutting calories significantly, eating healthy foods and exercising regularly.
That’s because the body needs to be balanced in order for you to lose those pounds, and maintain an ideal weight.
2. Your periods are irregular or abnormal
While there are many reasons your period can arrive early or show up late, high estrogen is one of them.
If your period is always on schedule and suddenly becomes erratic, assuming you aren’t pregnant, it could be due to elevated levels of estrogen.
Your menstrual period is orchestrated carefully by multiple hormones, and if there is more of one than the others, the entire process can get thrown out of whack.
3. Your breasts are tender or swollen
Many women experience changes in their breasts during their monthly cycle, as well as during pregnancy because the breasts are very sensitive to hormone changes.
If you experience sore breasts, especially around your nipples and the front of your breasts, or if you noticed that they’re swollen more than usual, that can because your estrogen levels are too high.
4. Breast lumps
If you have high estrogen levels and low progesterone levels, otherwise known as estrogen dominance, your breasts may become lumpy, in a condition referred to as fibrocystic.
They may also be tender or even painful, typically on the top or side of your breast. Always consult a doctor immediately if you find a lump or change in your breasts.
5. Your emotions are all over the place
Estrogen impacts so many systems in your body, and it’s even very important for your mental state and emotions. You’ve probably already experienced its impact at some point, something often referred to as PMS.
That can bring on a major mood roller coaster, and it’s all because of your hormone levels.
When your estrogen levels are high, you might experience depression, panic attacks, anxiety, unexplained anger and other mood issues.
Some doctors even have a name for people who experience signs of depression and anxiety with elevated estrogen: “agitated depression.”
6. You suffer from frequent headaches
Females, in general, are more prone to headaches and migraines simply because of their reproductive systems, thanks to fluctuations in estrogen levels.
And, when there is more estrogen than progesterone in your system, it’s very common for headaches to develop.
Headaches can be caused by many factors, including genetics and dietary triggers, but in women, excess estrogen is a major contributing factor in chronic headaches and menstrual migraines.
According to Susan Hutchinson, M.D. director of Irvine, California’s Orange County Migraine & Headache Center, about 13 percent of American adults, or 35 million, suffer from migraines – and 27 million of those are female.
Before puberty, migraines are about equal in boys and girls, but after, the occurrence is 3:1.
7. You’re starting to lose your hair
Most people equate hair loss to men, but while it may seem unfair, women can too, especially when they have too much estrogen and too little progesterone.
When you’re estrogen dominant, you may start shedding hair more than you normally would, which can result in noticeable hair loss.
How much hair loss you experience and how long the loss lasts depends on a number of factors, including whether or not you take steps to address it, genetic propensity, lifestyle, diet, and overall health.
8. Your memory seems to be fading
If you’ve noticed that your memory has been failing a lot more than it used to, such as frequently losing your car keys or phone, or missing deadlines at work, it could be because of your estrogen levels.
While low levels of estrogen have been linked to Alzheimer’s and other memory-loss conditions, experts have also found that high estrogen can also lead to difficulty remember things, although they don’t yet know the reason behind that.
9. You’re suffering from insomnia or other sleep problems
Estrogen is a stimulant to the brain, in fact, the hormone could be considered an excitotoxin because it is so stimulating.
That’s why women who take too much estrogen can have horrible withdrawal and depression when they suddenly stop taking it.
And, forget about sleeping.
One of the hallmarks of excess estrogen is women who start talking and just can’t seem to stop, making it easy to imagine how hard is to sleep if you can’t stop taking 100 miles an hour.
Even fairly mild estrogen dominance can cause sleeping problems. Estrogen dominance also interferes with melatonin production, which is the brain hormone that makes you sleepy when it’s dark.
So if you have a lot of estrogen and not enough progesterone, the hormone that helps you “chill out” insomnia is likely.
10. You feel exhausted all the time
A lack of sleep can easily lead to feeling exhausted all the time. Of course, in this busy world, with so many of us facing a long list of responsibilities each day, many of us are tired, so it doesn’t always mean estrogen dominance.
But if you’ve noticed that you’re tired a lot more often than you usually are, and you’re experiencing some of the other symptoms we’ve mentioned, that may be a clue that you have too much estrogen.
If you’re experiencing some, or many, of these symptoms, you’re probably not enjoying life like you could be.
And, even worse, estrogen dominance also brings a higher risk for some serious medical issues, including high blood pressure, depression, uterine, breast and endometrial cancers, and endometriosis.
This is another major reason, if you think your estrogen levels are too high, you really need to ask your healthcare provider to test you for this. Most likely, they’ll need to monitor your estrogen levels over time, as the amount in your body is continuously fluctuating.
What you can do to fix it:
Fortunately, it’s not all bad news – there are many things you can do to get your estrogen levels back under control.
Limit or avoid alcohol consumption.
As the liver is responsible for metabolizing estrogen, it’s important to take care of this organ. Alcohol impairs liver functioning, and when it’s not working like it should excess estrogen can accumulate.
Drinking more than one alcoholic beverage a day, in women, is also associated with a higher risk of breast cancer. Here’s 14 surprising things that happen to your body when you give up alcohol.
As non-organic foods can contain a host of pesticides and chemicals, including those that act like estrogen in the body, or endocrine disrupters as mentioned earlier, it’s important to choose organic foods as often as possible to ensure that your body doesn’t absorb hormones, antibiotics, or chemicals.
Increase fiber intake.
Insoluble fiber binds to excess estrogen in the digestive tract, which is then excreted by the body.
A fiber supplement can also affect the composition of intestinal bacteria and reduce the buildup and re-absorption of free-floating estrogen. Good sources include fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, and dried beans.
Eat more probiotics.
An imbalance healthy bacteria known as probiotics, vs “bad” or unhealthy bacteria, can not only compromise digestion but can interfere with the proper elimination of estrogen from the body through the digestive tract.
Consume weaker phytoestrogenic foods.
These foods counteract the effects of excess estrogen, They include flaxseed, oats, barley, pears, berries and apples.
Follow a balanced diet.
Getting the necessary vitamins and minerals you need is also helpful for keeping hormone levels balanced.
The body needs a sufficient intake of vitamin B6, magnesium, zinc and other essential nutrients to support the breakdown and elimination of estrogen as well as to aid the functioning of enzymes that are tasked with converting testosterone to estrogen.
Use rosemary essential oil.
Rosemary essential oil is said to aid in managing estrogen levels by stimulating blood flow to the brain, encouraging proper thyroid functioning and strengthening the immune system.
This powerful antioxidant can also stimulate hair growth as well as improve memory and ease muscle pain, which means it may also combat some of the symptoms of estrogen dominance you’re experiencing too.
Research has found that 100% pure rosemary essential oil can even inactive estrogen hormones.
Rutgers University experts evaluated the effects of a rosemary extract on lab mice and discovered that a 2% rosemary diet “increased liver microsomal oxidation and glucuronidation,” a process involved in Xenobiotic metabolism.
It especially affected estradiol and estrone in the uterus. Estradiol is considered an aggressive form of estrogen that is mimicked by cancer-causing xenoestrogens in the body.
Avoid exposure to xenoestrogens.
Xenoestrogens, which mimic the effects of estrogen, as mentioned, are found in cosmetics, plastics, birth control pills and other products. Limit your exposure to these as much as possible to decrease estrogen in your body.
Manage stress levels.
Excessive stress can also lead to a higher production of estrogen in the body. The body actually responds to high-stress levels by “stealing” progesterone to make the stress hormone cortisol, which often leaves an excess of estrogen.
While that can be easier said than done, getting regular exercise and incorporating practices like deep breathing or meditation, can make a big difference.