Estrogen dominance, two words that represent a normal situation for any female. Yet dominance of any hormone can create havoc with the functions of other hormones that are being overshadowed. Estrogen, a steroid hormone formed from cholesterol, is responsible for many of the feminizing characteristics of a female. Estrogen comes in three forms, estrone (E1), estradiol (E2), estriol (E3). Estrone declines much slower than estradiol and can convert to 4-hydroxy and 16-hydroxyestrone which may promote cancer. It is therefore the least desirable of the estrogens to be elevated. Estriol, the weakest of estrogens, can block the cell proliferative (accelerated cell growth) properties of the other estrogens, especially estrone. So estriol has the benefits of estrogen without the risks.
Functions of estrogen include: • Female characteristics • Monthly cell formation in the uterus and breast tissue • Hormone signaling for follicles in the ovaries • Slowing bone loss • Stimulation of brain function with roles in mood, stamina, memory, and sleep • Increase in body fat in hips, abdomen, and thighs
These are just a few of the major functions estrogen plays in women and to some degree in males as well.
So how does this all go wrong? Balance is the key here, and the yang to the yin is progesterone. If estrogen is too high or progesterone is too low, estrogen dominance occurs.
Causes of estrogen dominance include: • Stress (no one has that!) • Poor progesterone production (common in peri-menopause starting around age thirty-five) • Use of oral or injected contraceptions • Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) medications • Adrenal fatigue (stress again) • Low thyroid function • Diet especially high in carbohydrates • Xenohormone exposure like pesticides, animal hormones, and plastics • Obesity (fat cells make more estrogen) • Nutritional deficiencies (magnesium, zinc, copper, and B Complex vitamins)
Once estrogen balance is disrupted, the wheels start to come off the menstrual cycle cart. Heavy bleeding, cramping, bloating, and water retention are some of the wonderful symptoms that start to occur. Other premenstrual symptoms include headaches, weight gain, breast tenderness, mood swings, and depression. On the other spectrum heading into menopause, ovaries don’t always release eggs. When this occurs, progesterone production in the latter half of the cycle does not happen, and estrogen dominance again occurs. Symptoms like memory loss, hot flashes, irritability, uterine fibroids, decreased sex drive, adult acne, and insomnia are common. More important is the high, uncontested estrogen, which in itself is a cell proliferator. Of concern is the fact that mostly all female cancers are estrogen receptor rich. The last hormone one would want to be elevated is estrogen.
The ideal way to truly know of estrogen dominance is to test hormone levels. The best way to evaluate active sex hormones in the body is via saliva testing. Saliva testing has many benefits compared to other testing. Saliva tests the free fraction of hormone (the active portion), it is convenient to do at home, and it is less expensive than blood testing. Once estrogen (all three fractions) and other sex hormone levels are known, like progesterone, true hormone balance can be determined.
So now that hormone levels have been determined, where does one go from here? Removing excess hormones and balancing the rest is the way to better health. Certain nutritional supplements and herbals are excellent for decreasing excess estrogen. A detoxifying diet initially is usually best especially if the cause of excess is due to the use of birth control and HRT. Vegetables in the cruciferous family are excellent additions to helping the process of detoxification and should be a mainstay for most females to promote good hormone balance. Cruciferous vegetables and garlic have been ranked in the top two foods for cancer prevention and for good reason, they promote hormone balance.
Managing hormones can be a tricky process and sometimes requires patience over a period of time. With the proper testing and nutritional/dietary intervention, the results can be excellent. Balanced hormones allow the body to perform the normal processes it needs and can lead to a long, healthy, and happy life.
Dr. Dan Czelatdko is a board-certified clinical nutritionist from The American Clinical Board of Nutrition. He has been practicing nutrition and chiropractic for the last twenty-three years with an emphasis on hormone health at Tenold Chiropractic in Eau Claire.