Do you find yourself struggling with PMS symptoms, a painful period, heavy bleeds or other symptoms like water retention, fatigue, and bloating right before your period? It’s possible what you’re experiencing could be due to a hormone imbalance. Estrogen Dominance is a common hormone imbalance that can contribute to many uncomfortable symptoms like PMS, period pain, irregular or heavy periods, weight gain, acne, fatigue, hair loss and in more serious cases; fibroids, cysts, PCOS, endometriosis and/or infertility.
In general, I think that the word ‘hormone’ puts a bad taste in many people’s mouths. So to begin, I’d like to shed some light on the subject because hormones are more than just components that make us emotional or irrational, they are in fact biologically necessary for a healthy functioning menstrual cycle experience (which I’ll get to here in a bit) as well as for every other organ system in your body to function, regardless of your sex. Hormones are not limited to the female reproductive system alone. They have an influence on all body parts, from the how the digestive system works, to regulating bone density, all the way to influencing a healthy libido in both men & women, as well as a healthy menstrual cycle & optimized fertility.
To put it simply, hormones are chemical messengers that the body uses to facilitate communication between the brain and other parts of the body. The primary hormones that run & facilitate female reproductive & sexual health are Estrogen, Progesterone & Testosterone. In a healthy female, these hormones delicately dance around each other influencing various important actions throughout the course of a monthly cycle. During the first half of the menstrual cycle, estrogen rises along with a few other hormones that work to thicken the uterine lining & trigger ovulation. Around ovulation, estrogen dips and testosterone peaks to increase sexual desire. After ovulation, progesterone rises and estrogen decreases until all hormones are at their lowest point just before menstruation, and then the hormonal cycle begins again. Click here to read more about the menstrual cycle and accompanying hormones.
Most cycle symptoms that women experience are derived from an imbalance in her monthly hormonal fluctuations. For example, these hormone imbalances can manifest in estrogen dominance, low/high testosterone or progesterone deficiency. It’s important to know that all of these hormones have huge influence on each other, so if one hormone happens to misbehave and get itself out of balance, the others are surely close to follow behind.
What is Estrogen?
‘Estrogen’ is actually a group of sex hormones called estrogens that are produced primarily by the ovaries, but also by the adrenals & fat cells. The three main estrogen hormones are Estrone (E1), Estradiol (E2) & Estriol (E3). Each of these estrogens play different roles within the body throughout the course of a women’s reproductive life. E2 is the ‘most potent’ estrogen, and is the primary estrogen in charge during a woman’s fertile years. E1 is also quite abundant & a potent estrogen as well. E3 is the weakest of estrogens and is typically is highest only during pregnancy. Although when not pregnant, E3 is still a valuable player contributing anti-inflammatory & anti-oxidative properties that support bone health, heart health & more. When not pregnant, E3 can be made via the liver from conversion of E1 & E2.
Estrogen’s main role within the female reproductive system is to promote growth. One of its jobs is to stimulate the cells of the uterine lining to deposit a thick layer of nutritious blood in preparation for an embryo (it is this uterine lining that sheds resulting in your monthly period). Estrogen also stimulates the growth of follicles in the ovaries, which leads to a mature egg that will eventually ovulate. When it comes to our reproductive health, estrogen plays a critical role in our fertility & the outcome of our monthly period.
So what is Estrogen Dominance?
Estrogen dominance occurs when there is too much estrogen in the system that the body cannot keep up with AND/OR excess estrogen in relation to the hormone progesterone.
Too much estrogen in the system can be triggered by either endogenous (internal) or exogenous (external) sources, or a mixture of both.
Excess endogenous estrogen - occurs when the body is producing too much estrogen or not eliminating excess estrogens properly. (See next section)
Excess exogenous estrogen - occurs when the body is subjected to various estrogen-mimicking substances such as xenoestrogens which can be found in hormone disrupting chemicals.
Progesterone deficiency can lead to estrogen dominant symptoms as well. This is because estrogen & progesterone are on a teeter totter with each other. When progesterone goes up, estrogen goes down, and vise versa. As I mentioned above, estrogen stimulates growth and so progesterone’s role is to stop that growth process, hold the uterine lining intact, inhibit ovulation & promote a relaxing, chill demeanor after ovulation has occurred. If there is a problem with producing sufficient progesterone, this pushes estrogen up and can lead to estrogen dominant symptoms such as the continual of growth of the uterine lining which can result in very heavy, painful bleeds, or the growth of fibroids, cysts & endometriosis flairs.
Regardless, estrogen dominance is not a condition to take lightly as it can lead to more serious complications if not controlled once diagnosed. Although estrogen dominance may be fairly common, it is not by any means normal. It is often at the heart of many women’s hormonal-based issues and can set a woman up for a lot of frustration & pain throughout her life.
Although estrogen has many important roles within our body, it needs to be the right kinds and in the right amount in order for it to contribute healthful outcomes. It’s kind of like the goldilocks situation… When there is too much estrogen in the system, it can wreak havoc and lead to a host of uncomfortable (and potentially dangerous) situations. If there is too little, it can lead to other issues like weight gain, loss of menses, and a low libido. So in the end, we need our estrogen levels to be juuuust right for things to run smoothly.
In order to keep this state of estrogen balance, the body has to be able to eliminate excess estrogen properly. The estrogen elimination process can be a lengthy one, and is often where many women experience issues leading to their estrogen dominant symptoms.
Estrogen, once shuttled to the liver for elimination, gets broken down into 1 of 3 different estrogen metabolite pathways: 2-hydroxyestrone (C2), 4-hydroxyestrone (C4), or 16-hydroxyestrone (C16). C2 is the pathway you want it to take, as it can lead to many beneficial aspects such as heart protection, bone health, breast health and a healthy functioning reproductive system. Whereas the C4 & C16 pathways tend to be quite mischievous, leading to free radical production, oxidative stress & issues like PMS symptoms, fibroids, cysts, autoimmunity, obesity, and in some cases, endometriosis, PCOS & cancer.
Ultimately, it is when we experience too many of the unhealthy metabolites & too much of the ‘potent’ forms of estrogen (E1 & E2) in our system, that we experience the dreadful symptoms of estrogen dominance.
After the estrogen has been metabolized and gone through one of the 3 pathways listed above, it then gets ‘methylated’ by the liver, which means it gets transformed from a fat-soluble compound to a water-soluble compound. Those with methylation problems or the MTHFR gene may have issues methylating estrogen metabolites properly. After methylated, the metabolites get sent to the kidneys or the intestines to be eliminated via urine/feces.
What you can do to support healthy estrogen metabolism & elimination?
If you suspect that your symptoms are related to estrogen dominance, It's best you work with a qualified practitioner to help you get to the bottom of your hormone imbalance ~ contact me for more info! However, as a starting point, here are a few things you can do to help support the healthy detoxification of excess estrogens:
For even more support & streamlined guidance on how to support your hormone balance naturally, download your free copy of The Hormone Balance Protocol.
Ashe Milkovic, NTP is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner and Functional Hormone Specialist focusing in the field of women's reproductive health.