Estrogen Dominance: Everything You Need to Know!
Too much of a good thing
Estrogen dominance is a clinical phenomenon that may affect a women (or man) at any point during their life. Although estrogen is generally considered the main female sex hormone, there is such a thing as too much in women. Likewise, men do in fact require small amountsof estrogen – butthey too can suffer from estrogen dominance. Estrogen dominance is more often an issue in women, so the focus of this article will be estrogen dominance in women. The term ‘estrogen dominance’ refers to when estrogen is in higher quantities than needed, and it’s usually higher in relation to the other sex hormones. A woman’s menstrual cycle is heavily dependent on four hormones: luteinizing hormone (LH), follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), estrogen and progesterone; a regular menstrual cycle depends on their balance and timely surges throughout the month. Having too much or too little of any of these can disrupt the normal cycles or lead to a number of signs and symptoms. This article focuses on estrogen dominance, but it should be noted that deficiencies or excess of any of the four hormones listed above can cause issues.
Signs and symptoms of estrogen dominance include: decreased sex drive, irregular menstrual periods, bloating (water retention), breast swelling/tenderness, fibrocystic breasts, headaches, mood swings, weight gain, hair loss, thyroid dysfunction, Premenstrual syndrome, trouble sleeping and fatigue. As you can see, this list is long and somewhat non-specific; and people can present with any combination of these signs and symptoms. It may take a trained healthcare provider to properly assess and diagnose estrogen dominance. Naturopathic doctors can use clinical presentations to guide their assessment but ultimately, certain blood tests can be performed which look at the sex hormones and their metabolites to figure out the extent of the hormone dysregulation and subsequent treatment.
A little Biochemistry…
In order to fully understand the concept of estrogen dominance, it is important to understand that the term ‘estrogen’ is actually describing a family of hormones. Estrogen itself exists in one of three forms: estrone, estradiol and estriol. These forms differ in significant ways. Their metabolic activity differs (for example estrone is a weaker estrogen than estradiol) and they exist in higher proportions depending on the stage of life a woman is in (estradiol is prevalent in non-pregnant women, estriol is prevalent in pregnant women and estrone is produced during menopause). Once again, estrogens circulate in men, only at a lower level than in women.
Perhaps the most important thing to understand is estrogen is metabolized by the liver, and when it’s metabolized it can be changed into different forms (or metabolites). This is where the discussion of ‘good estrogen’ versus ‘bad estrogen’ enters the forum. A lot of confusion about estrogen metabolism is centered on this concept. When we say something is ‘estrogenic’ it’s important to know if it promotes a ‘good estrogen’ or a ‘bad estrogen’. For example, flax seed and alcohol are both considered estrogenic. The difference is flax promotes the good estrogen metabolites while alcohol promotes the bad estrogen metabolites; this is evident in research showing the protective effects of flax versus the damaging effects alcohol has in certain estrogen dependant disease processes. More on the estrogen modifying agents later.
The take home message is there are good estrogens versus bad estrogens and the goal of a woman with estrogen dominance is not to shut down estrogen production all together – rather, it’s to shunt the metabolism away from the bad estrogen and promote making the good estrogen.
How to Treat Estrogen Dominance
We can influence the metabolism of estrogen through various natural ingredients and product as well as easy dietary changes. Nature’s Source and Nature’s Signature stores have many products which have clinically sound formulations. Since Estrogen Dominance can present during reproductive years as well as menopause, Nature’s Source/Signature has pre-formulated products which address estrogen dominance in PMS, Menopause as well as special formulas for men. Individual Ingredients you may see are: DIM, I-3-C, calcium-D-gluconate, hops and green tea. The following are just a few products to look for: AOR Estro Adapt and Estro Detox™, Douglas Laboratories Estro-Mend™, Lorna Vanderhaeghe ESTROsmart, Metagenics EstroFactors® and Natural Factors EstroSense®. These formulas will typically have additional ingredients which help the liver and digestive tract operate smoothly. As mentioned above, the liver is where a lot of the hormone metabolism happens, so a sluggish liver will impair estrogen metabolism. Digestion is important too, as the proper elimination of hormones is through the stool (and urine); if there is a backup in the system, hormones that were meant to be excreted will re-enter circulation and impart their actions again. This goes to show how addressing liver and digestive health can benefit hormone metabolism. Lastly, lifestyle factors play a huge part too. Exercise and avoiding harmful compounds called xeno-estrogens (certain cosmetics, plastic, liner on canned goods, pesticides) will also help in ensuring proper estrogen metabolism.
Estrogen Dominance is a common phenomenon and there are many natural health products and lifestyle modifications one can make to help mitigate the effects. Come in to a Nature’s Source or Nature’s Signature store to discuss which products suit you best.