Fluctuating hormone levels are very common in women. In fact, our bodies go through significant fluctuations in our hormone levels each month during our reproductive years. Sometimes, the natural balance between hormones can be thrown off. When a hormonal imbalance occurs, your overall health and wellbeing can be affected. Here’s an in-depth look at the most common hormonal imbalance affecting women: estrogen dominance.
What is Estrogen Dominance?
Estrogen is the main female sex hormone in women. Although men have this hormone circulating in their bodies as well, estrogen is one of the main hormones that makes us female. It gives rise to secondary sex characteristics including breasts and wider hips; regulates menstrual cycles; plays an important role in pregnancy, and supports nearly every organ system in the female body. Estrogen is held in check by a number of factors, but progesterone is largely responsible for keeping estrogen levels steady. When estrogen levels are unbalanced, it can lead to estrogen dominance.
Simply put, estrogen dominance occurs when estrogen levels are too high in the body. The biochemical cause behind high levels of estrogen is most commonly due to low progesterone levels. Indeed, estrogen and progesterone work together to regulate the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and other functions. When the harmonious relationship between estrogen and progesterone is disrupted, you can develop a number of unpleasant estrogen dominance symptoms.
What causes estrogen dominance?
Estrogen dysfunction typically stems from three causes:
An over-production of estrogen
Estrogen cannot be properly broken down in the body
The body is exposed to excess estrogen in the environment.
Each of the above causes of estrogen dominance is a result of your genetics, your environment, or your diet. There are certain genetic conditions that can cause an overproduction of estrogen. Indeed, your genes not only dictate how much estrogen you produce but how well you break estrogen down. Our environment is laden with compounds that act like estrogen in our bodies. From plastics to water sources to dietary animal products: what we ingest has the ability to increase estrogen. In fact, our digestive health plays an important role in keeping our hormones in balance, as the gut and liver are primary sites for estrogen break-down. Therefore, if your digestive health is compromised, it can further enhance estrogen dominance. Furthermore, high levels of stress can increase estrogen levels in the body because cortisol, the stress hormone, slows the breakdown of estrogen.
Estrogen Dominance Symptoms List
The following is a compilation of some of the symptoms of estrogen dominance:
Irregular periods (can be heavy)
Breast tenderness or swelling
Fibrocystic breast lumps
Worsening PMS symptoms (premenstrual syndrome)
Cold extremities (particularly the hands and feet)
High estrogen symptoms perimenopause: How do I know if my symptoms are because of estrogen dominance or perimenopause?
There is a lot of crossover between the symptoms of estrogen dominance and the 34 symptoms of perimenopause. If you are concerned about any of the above symptoms, your doctor may recommend a blood test to check your hormone levels. Normal levels vary depending on your age, the phase of your cycle you are in, and if you are pregnant.
If your estrogen levels are too high, your doctor may treat you with medication to lower your estrogen. In fact, many women in perimenopause and menopause use hormone replacement therapy to effectively treat their symptoms. However, hormone therapy can sometimes create a situation of estrogen dominance. If you develop estrogen dominance perimenopause and you are on hormone therapy, your doctor may change your treatment regimen. Other forms of estrogen dominance treatment include:
Aromatase inhibitors (this class of medication inhibits estrogen production)
Medication that stops your ovaries from producing estrogen
Surgical removal of the ovaries (oophorectomy)
If you are interested in controlling estrogen dominance with diet and lifestyle, head over to our Perry community for great tips and recipes!
Why Is It Important To Treat Estrogen Dominance?
Aside from treating the annoying symptoms that can accompany estrogen dominance, too much estrogen in your body can be harmful. There are certain types of cancer that feed off of estrogen, including breast and ovarian cancer. If you have a positive family history for estrogen-sensitive cancers, your doctor may recommend surgery to remove your ovaries. Studies have shown that the removal of both ovaries leads to a 50% decrease in breast cancer rates in high-risk women. Estrogen dominance also increases your risk for blood clots, stroke, and thyroid dysfunction.
If you think you may have estrogen dominance, meet with your doctor to discuss your symptoms and the best treatment options for you. And, if you are struggling with hormonal imbalance or are in perimenopause, join our Perry community to connect with a large network of fabulous women for support and insightful tips from experts. We can’t wait to meet you there!
Disclaimer: This is not medical advice, does not take the place of medical advice from your physician, and is not intended to treat or cure any disease. Patients should see a qualified medical provider for assessment and treatment.
Meet the Author
Perry Babe Julia ( RN, BSN, BA) is a registered nurse based in Colorado. Julia's nursing background in women’s health has ranged from neonatal and postpartum care, to labor and delivery, to outpatient gynecological medicine for both adolescent and adult populations.
Much of her education and clinical experience is related to educating women on women’s health topics ranging from lifestyle improvements, disease management, and general health education.
Find Julia's Perry community profile right here.
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