This common hormonal imbalance affects your weight, cancer risk, and more.

By Lauren Del Turco
September 12, 2019
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A recent survey suggests nearly half of women in the U.S. have dealt with hormonal imbalances, and women's health experts suggest that one specific imbalance—estrogen dominance—may be to blame for a number of the health and well-being woes many women are facing today. (Related: How Too Much Estrogen Can Mess with Your Weight and Health)

What Is Estrogen Dominance, Anyway?

Put simply, estrogen dominance is a state in which the body contains too much estrogen compared to progesterone. Both female sex hormones play crucial roles in a woman's menstrual cycle and overall health and work in harmony—as long as they maintain proper balance.

According to board-certified ob-gyn and integrative medicine practitioner Tara Scott, M.D., founder of functional medicine group Revitalize, producing a lot of estrogen isn't necessarily an issue, as long as you break enough down and produce enough progesterone to counter-balance it. Carry around extra estrogen, though, and it can wreak havoc on your health and well-being in a number of ways.

How Do Women Become Estrogen Dominant?

Estrogen dominance occurs as a result of one (or more) of three issues: the body over-produces estrogen, it's exposed to excess estrogen in our environment, or it can't properly break down estrogen, according to Taz Bhatia, M.D., author of Super Woman Rx.

Typically, these estrogen dysfunctions stem from one (or more) of three factors: your genetics, your environment, and your diet. (See also: 5 Ways Your Food Could Be Messing with Your Hormones)

"Genetics can influence how much estrogen you make and how your body gets rid of estrogen," says Dr. Scott. "The bigger problem these days, though, is that our environment and diet contain so much estrogen and estrogen-like compounds." Everything from plastic water bottles to non-organic meats can contain compounds that act like estrogen in our cells.

And then, there's another huge lifestyle factor: stress. Stress increases our production of the hormone cortisol, which then slows down our ability to get rid of estrogen, Dr. Scott says.

Since our gut and liver both break down estrogen, having poor gut or liver health—which are often the results of a crummy diet—can also contribute to estrogen dominance, adds Dr. Bhatia.

Common Estrogen Dominance Symptoms

According to the American Academy of Naturopathic Physicians, common estrogen dominance symptoms can include:

  • Worse PMS symptoms
  • Worse menopause symptoms
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Weight gain
  • Low libido
  • Dense breasts
  • Endometriosis
  • Uterine fibroids
  • Fertility issues

Another common symptom of estrogen dominance: heavy periods, says Dr. Scott.

Potential Health Implications of Estrogen Dominance

Because estrogen dominance is an inflammatory state for the body, it can contribute to a number of chronic health issues, including obesity, cardiometabolic diseases, and autoimmune conditions long-term, says Dr. Bhatia.

Another frightening potential health effect: increased cancer risk. In fact, excess estrogen can increase women's risk of developing endometrial (a.k.a. uterine) cancerovarian cancer, and breast cancer.

Testing for Estrogen Dominance

Since different women experience estrogen dominance for different reasons, there's no single cut-and-dry estrogen dominance test that works for everyone. Still, healthcare practitioners can use one (or multiple) of three different tests to identify the hormonal imbalance.

First, there's a traditional estrogen blood test, which doctors often use in regularly menstruating women, whose eggs produce a form of estrogen called estradiol.

Then, there's a saliva test, which doctors often use to evaluate the type of estrogen women produce after menopause, which can still fall out of balance with progesterone, says Dr. Scott.

Finally, there's a dried urine test, which measures estrogen metabolites in the urine, Dr. Scott explains. This one helps doctors identify if someone has estrogen dominance because their body can't properly get rid of estrogen.

Estrogen Dominance Treatment

So you've got estrogen dominance—now what? For many women, diet and lifestyle changes go a long way in helping those hormones find balance...

Switch Up Your Diet

Dr. Scott recommends choosing organic foods—particularly animal products and the "Dirty Dozen" (a list of the most chemical-laden produce in the U.S., put out yearly by the Environmental Working Group).

Dr. Bhatia says to up your intake of fiber, healthy fats like those in olive oil, and cruciferous veggies like broccoli, kale, and cauliflower, all of which contain compounds that support estrogen detoxification. (Fun fact: The omega-9 fats in olive oil help your body metabolize estrogen, Dr. Bhatia says.)

Create a More Hormone-Friendly Environment

From there, a few lifestyle changes can also go a long way in balancing out your estrogen.

"Some of my patients see a major difference after simply eliminating some of the plastic in their lives," says Dr. Scott. Swap cases of bottled water for a reusable stainless steel bottle, switch to glass food containers, and skip the single-use plastic straws.

Then, it's time to work on the elephant in the room: stress. Dr. Scott recommends starting with prioritizing sleep. (The National Sleep Foundation recommends seven to nine hours of quality zzz's a night.) Beyond that, self-care practices like mindfulness meditation and yoga can also help you find your chill—and tone down cortisol levels.

Consider Taking Supplements

If lifestyle changes alone don't do the trick, Dr. Scott says to incorporate certain supplements to help treat estrogen dominance:

  • DIM (or diindolylmethane), a compound found in cruciferous vegetables that supports our body's ability to break down estrogen.
  • B vitamins and magnesium, which both support the processing of estrogen.
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