Hormonal fluctuations are tough to spot. Symptoms are often subtle — like fatigue or mood swings — and they usually change with your cycle if you’re a woman.
Still — symptoms can leave you devastated when they hit.
Estrogen dominance is one of the most common hormone imbalances in women. If you have heavy periods, mood swings, decreased sex drive, hair loss, anxiety, or fatigue — especially during a specific and consistent part of your cycle — you may have estrogen dominance.
High estrogen has several root causes, from diet to cosmetics to the way you handle stress.
Often, it’s a combination of a few. The good news is that, with the right diet and lifestyle changes, you can reverse estrogen dominance and get back to feeling your best.
Let’s take a look at what estrogen dominance is, what causes it, and what you can do to prevent or reverse high estrogen levels.
While estrogen dominance can absolutely affect men as well as women, this article will focus on female estrogen dominance.
When you’re estrogen dominant, you have a disproportionately high amount of estrogen in your system.
Estrogen is your primary female sex hormone. Some of the significant roles estrogen plays in your body include[*]:
- Breast growth (estrogen is one reason your breasts swell during certain parts of your cycle)
- Starting and regulating your menstrual cycle
- Balancing cholesterol levels
- Regulating mood and emotional control
- Maintaining bone strength
Estrogen works with progesterone, the other main female sex hormone, to control all the above processes in your body.
Estrogen and progesterone regulate one another in an intricate system of checks and balances. When they’re both at the levels they should be, things go well. But if either one becomes dominant, the other falls out of balance.
There are two types of estrogen dominance:
- Your body produces too much estrogen.
- Your progesterone level is abnormally low, which leads to an imbalance in the amount of estrogen you have relative to progesterone.
High estrogen levels can cause a variety of side effects that range from mild to serious.
Both men and women can experience estrogen dominance, but the health problems it causes look a little different between the sexes[*].
In women, high estrogen can cause:
- Weight gain (especially in the hips and waist)
- Menstrual problems, heavy periods, or irregular periods
- Fibrocystic breasts (non-cancerous breast lumps)
- Uterine fibroids (non-cancerous tumors in the uterus)
- Premenstrual syndrome and/or mood swings
- Low libido
In men, estrogen dominance can cause:
- Enlarged breasts
- Erectile dysfunction
If you experience any of these symptoms, or if they come and go at regular points during your cycle (if you’re a woman), you may have estrogen dominance.
The best way to be sure is to ask your functional medicine practitioner for a blood or urine test to measure your estrogen and progesterone levels.
Here are the most common causes of estrogen dominance:
#1: Sugar Consumption
Diet plays a major role in your hormone balance. Sugar and refined carbs are particularly disruptive to your hormones.
Sugar spikes your insulin, which decreases another hormone called sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG)[*]. SHBG binds to estrogen in your blood, keeping it in balance.
When SHBG is low, there isn’t enough of it to bind up the estrogen in your blood, and your estrogen levels rise more than they should[*].
This is a good example of how your hormones are connected. Sugar affects insulin, which affects SHBG, which increases estrogen and, over time, can contribute to estrogen dominance.
#2: Chronic Stress
Stress affects every system in your body, but it has the most significant effect on your hormones.
One of the most straightforward ways that stress can lead to estrogen dominance is through a process called the “pregnenolone steal.” This is how it works:
Pregnenolone is the precursor to many other hormones — including your sex hormones and stress hormones.
When you’re under stress, your body thinks there’s a threat you need to deal with. It shunts pregnenolone toward making lots of cortisol, your body’s main stress hormone.
The trouble is that there’s only so much pregnenolone to go around, and if you use a lot of it making cortisol, you have less available to make sex hormones like estrogen and progesterone[*].
If stress decreases both estrogen and progesterone production, how does it cause estrogen dominance?
Progesterone acts as a precursor to cortisol. So when stress is high, progesterone gets used up as a precursor and doesn’t get to perform its regular sex hormone activity in your body.
Usable progesterone drops significantly, which leaves you with relative estrogen dominance.
#3: Personal Care Products
A lot of personal care products contain xenoestrogens, chemicals that mimic the behavior of estrogen in your body. Xenoestrogens are classified as “endocrine disruptors” due to their ability to mess with your hormonal system.
The most common way that xenoestrogens exert their effects is by binding and activating estrogen receptors. They dock on your receptors just like estrogen would, but because they are not chemically identical to estrogen they can turn pathways on or off in an unpredictable manner[*].
Parabens are mildly estrogenic, and recent research suggests that you struggle to eliminate them. Instead, parabens bioaccumulate, gradually affecting your estrogen levels the longer you use products that contain them[*][*].
UV filters are also estrogenic. These are common in sunscreens and UV-protection creams and go by a variety of names, including octyl methoxycinnamate, benzophenone, camphor derivatives, and cinnamate derivatives. UV filters disrupt both estrogen and testosterone[*].
If you want to know how safe your personal care products are (and what alternatives you can use in their place), check out the Environmental Working Group’s website.
The EWG rates cosmetics and personal care products based on their ingredients. You can search for the products you use and see how they stack up.
You’ve likely noticed the growing number of “BPA free” labels on water bottles, food storage containers, and other plastic products.
BPA stands for bisphenol A. It’s an endocrine disruptor and environmental estrogen. Long-term exposure correlates with risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, infertility, and certain types of cancer[*].
BPA is used to make plastic products like food containers. It’s also added to the lining of canned goods. Your body does absorb BPA and has a tough time breaking it down. So, like parabens, BPA gradually bioaccumulates in your body[*].
Many companies have moved away from using BPA in their plastic materials. However, seeing the “BPA free” sticker may not be enough to ensure your safety from xenoestrogens.
Some BPA replacements also have xenoestrogen activity in your body. One study found that acrylic, polystyrene, polyethersulfone, and Tritan™ resins can also leach endocrine-disrupting chemicals[*].
You’re best off avoiding plastic when you can. Non-plastic like glass and stainless steel containers are better for both your health and for the environment.
#5 Excess Body Fat
Excess body fat also increases estrogen activity. Obese women have significantly higher levels of estrogen, which correlates to an increased risk of breast cancer[*].
It’s especially important to get rid of excess body fat if you’re postmenopausal. Before going through menopause, your body mainly synthesizes estrogen in your ovaries.
However, after menopause, when your ovaries are no longer an active source of estrogen, your adipose tissue (fat cells) take the place of your ovaries and start producing more estrogen.
That means the more body fat you have, the more estrogen you produce.
This becomes a problem in obese women post-menopause and can lead to excess estrogen production[*].
Hormonal imbalances can be frustrating. The good news is that there are several things you can do to correct them.
The two keys to preventing or reversing estrogen dominance are to limit your estrogen exposure while clearing excess estrogen from your system. Here are a few ways to restore hormonal balance:
#1: Cut Out Sugar
Sugar is flat-out bad for you. It’s more than just estrogenic — sugar contributes to heart disease, diabetes, obesity, inflammation, liver damage, and more.
Whatever diet you follow, aim to eat fewer than 20 grams of sugar a day. You’ll look and feel better for it, and it’ll help prevent estrogen dominance.
#2: Support Your Liver
Your liver is the primary organ that regulates estrogen excretion. Optimizing your liver function will help your body detox from excess estrogen build up. Here are a few liver-friendly tips:
- Take liver support supplements like milk thistle, NAC (n-acetylcysteine), calcium d-glucarate, and burdock root.
- Work out regularly. Exercise improves your liver function.
- Use culinary herbs like parsley, turmeric, cilantro, and oregano — all of them stimulate your liver.
#3 Be A Conscious Consumer
It’s tough to avoid plastics altogether, so when you’re buying plastics make sure they say “BPA-free” on the package.
Whenever possible, store your food in glass containers, and use a reusable BPA-free water bottle instead of buying plastic ones.
Cosmetics and personal care products contain too many hormone-disrupting chemicals to list here. Take out the guesswork and buy products that are ranked by companies like EWG.
#4 Manage Your Stress
Your stress hormones and sex hormones have an intimate and inseparable relationship. By managing your stress and keeping your stress hormones balanced, you’ll be directly affecting the balance of your sex hormones as well. Some ways to keep stress at bay are:
Following a ketogenic diet may help balance your hormones in a couple of ways.
The most straightforward effect of the keto diet on your sex hormones is a decrease in insulin. Cutting out carbs keeps your insulin stable and low, which balances your SHBG and can help keep your estrogen levels in check[*].
Another way the keto diet can support your hormone health is by decreasing inflammation.
High levels of inflammation can increase the activity of an estrogen-synthesizing hormone called aromatase. That means the more inflammation you have, the more estrogen your body produces. High aromatase due to chronic inflammation is even linked to increased risk of breast cancer due to excess estrogen production[*].
When you’re following a ketogenic diet, your body creates an abundance of the ketone beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB). BHB inhibits inflammatory pathways in your body, which in turn could prevent the overactivation of aromatase[*].
How to Manage Estrogen Dominance
Summing up, here are four ways to get rid of excess estrogen:
- Avoid sugar
- Manage stress like a pro
- Avoid hormone-disrupting personal care products
- Try a keto diet
A keto diet has a wide variety of benefits outside balancing your hormones.
It decreases inflammation, speeds up your metabolism, makes weight loss easier, and can give you stable energy all day.
You can start keto today with this complete beginner’s guide to keto. Give these tips a try and see how you feel!