What do moods, sleep-cycles, weight and emotions have in common? They rely on hormonal health for balance. As women, our hormones are in perpetual flux – over the course of a lifetime, monthly and often within a single day. All it takes is one hormone to be out of synch and our equanimity is thrown out of whack. You know those times when you’re extra moody, extra tired and it’s extra hard to lose weight – and you can’t figure out why? We got the lowdown from hormone and thyroid expert, Dr. Afrouz Demeri, about something called the estrogen dominance effect and it just may be the reason. We’re hanging on to every word about this vital piece in the hormone puzzle…
So many things in life require balance to be in sync and—equally important—keep that equilibrium. Unpleasant repercussions can result when that balance falters. Consider your hormones, the chemical messengers that tell your body what to do, when to do it and for how long to do it.
Your hormones control almost everything: Sexual function, metabolism, mood, you name it, hormones most likely play a role. As long as they stay balanced, hormones keep these functions humming well. Estrogen and progesterone, the two dominant female sex hormones, provide an excellent example of balance, and what can happen when hormones go wrong.
The Role Of Estrogen + Progesterone
Estrogen’s roles include blood sugar balance, immune health, strong bones, heart health, brain function and fertility. Your ovaries mostly produce progesterone, which plays a crucial role in the menstrual cycle. When both hormones are in balance, you have amazing energy. You’re lean and confident, you sleep well, your skin stays vibrant and you maintain a steady sex drive.
When progesterone or estrogen becomes out of balance, though, other hormones are quick to follow. The disastrous consequences can impact your energy, focus, waistline and overall health. High or low estrogen levels play a role in disease including polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), infertility, breast cancer and autoimmune disease. Progesterone imbalances can also spell disaster. When this hormone becomes too low, estrogen takes over the show, creating a condition called estrogen dominance.
Defining Estrogen Dominance
Estrogen overload—when progesterone levels drop and estrogen hogs the scene—can occur when:
+ your body overproduces estrogen
+ estrogen metabolism and excretion changes
+ your estrogen to progesterone ratio becomes out of whack
Estrogen dominance comes in two “flavors.” Frank estrogen dominance occurs with too much estrogen, period. When estrogen levels increase relative to progesterone levels, a condition called relative estrogen dominance can occur. This occurs during the second part of the cycle (the luteal phase), where estrogen remains high where it should be lower than progesterone.
How do you know this is happening? We measure estrogen and progesterone levels in this phase (days 19 to 21) of the cycle. That estrogen overload can spell back news for fertility, your mood, sex drive and so much more.
How Estrogen Levels Become Unbalanced
Multiple factors typically contribute to estrogen dominance. Rarely does one thing knock estrogen levels out of balance. In my practice, I’ve found these seven factors can drive or exacerbate estrogen dominance:
Stress | When the adrenals can’t keep up producing stress hormones, progesterone levels drop. As a result, relative estrogen dominance can occur. That’s because your body makes cortisol, the body’s stress hormone, from precursors that include progesterone. Chronic stress increases cortisol production. As a result, progesterone levels can decrease, disrupting the delicate balance of estrogen and progesterone.
Inflammation | Inflammation helps you survive when, say, you cut your finger and your white blood cells step in to help. But inflammation should do its job and chill out. Inflammation that lingers after it no longer serves your body, called chronic inflammation, contributes to nearly every disease. That type of inflammation often drives estrogen dominance.
Liver health | Among its many duties, this hardworking organ removes excess hormones. Environmental toxins, drugs, and alcohol can hinder the liver’s abilities. So can excess amounts of sugar, especially fructose. When your liver gets backed up or otherwise doesn’t work correctly, estrogen dominance can occur.
Gut issues | Overgrowth of certain bacteria in the gut prevents proper excretion and encourages reabsorption of estrogen. The gut microflora imbalances that result can contribute to estrogen dominance.
Environmental toxins | Xenoestrogens, or various chemical compounds that imitate natural estrogens, can create estrogenic effects. These estrogen mimickers are everywhere. Pharmaceutical drugs, chemicals in cleaning products, and hormonal residues in foods like conventionally raised meat and dairy are among the long list of toxins that can create or exacerbate estrogen dominance.
Being overweight or obese | The xenoestrogens you’re exposed to from your environment store in fat tissue. Carrying excess weight, then, can increase your risk of estrogen dominance. You’re also more likely to be insulin resistant, where estrogen becomes out of balance and increases chronic inflammation. When you find your ideal weight, your body can also maintain the right levels of estrogen and other hormones.
Nutrient deficiencies | Nutrients such as vitamins B6, B12 and folate play roles in estrogen metabolism. So do omega-3 fatty acids, which help manage inflammation. Deficiencies in any of these nutrients can contribute to estrogen dominance.
This is part one in a series. Watch this space for part two coming soon.