Heavy periods, PMS, migraines, weight gain, and mood swings are just a few symptoms of “estrogen dominance,” a result of high estrogen or low progesterone. It can happen at any age, but is especially common in woman in their late 30’s and 40’s. Learn the other symptoms and 15+ root causes of estrogen dominance so you can overcome it naturally!
Note from Dena: This post was written by Meredith Sorensen, Dietetic Intern, as part of a research partnership between Back To The Book Nutrition and post-graduate nutrition students from the University of Houston.
What is Estrogen Dominance?
Estrogen is a hormone responsible for many important functions in the body, including bone health, brain function, balancing blood sugar and lipids, and of course, periods (1). However, as is the way of life, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.
In estrogen dominance, estrogen levels are high in relation to other hormones, primarily progesterone. This means you can be estrogen dominant if your estrogen is too high, or if your progesterone is too low.
Though estrogen dominance is not a medical condition formally diagnosed by doctors and other healthcare providers, it is a very real dynamic that can be caused by other conditions related to high estrogen or low progesterone.
Estrogen Dominance Symptoms
- Strong PMS or PMS symptoms that last longer than 1 week
- Breast tenderness or swelling
- More frequent or heavy periods (clots, flooding, bleeding for >7 days)
- Migraines and headaches
- Irritability and mood swings
- Brain Fog
- Weight gain or difficulty losing weight
- Low sex drive
- Hair loss
- Increased allergy symptoms (sneezing, watery eyes, skin rashes, etc.)
- Frequent yeast infections
Conditions Linked to Estrogen Dominance
- Breast, endometrial, and uterine cancers
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS):Women with PCOS often experience a hormone imbalance that prevents ovulation from occurring (a.k.a. anovulation). When this happens, there isn’t an empty follicle to produce progesterone. This leads to excessive estrogen in comparison to little or no progesterone.
- Insulin resistance and diabetes
- Cyclic vulvovaginitis: Getting a yeast infection around the same time of your cycle each month due to increased estrogen levels
- Prostate cancer in men
What Causes Estrogen Dominance?
Keep in mind, estrogen dominance can arise either from high estrogen levels or low progesterone levels, so estrogen dominance in women is all about the ratio between these two hormones. Here are common causes, some from within the body and some from outside of it.
Causes Within the Body
- Overproduction of estrogen by the ovaries (3).
- Inadequate detoxification and removal of estrogen from the body (3).
- Endometriosis can cause estrogen resistance, reducing the effects of progesterone in the body (6).
- Chronic stress: Stress of all kinds (sleep deprivation, business, mental/emotional stressors, blood sugar imbalance, etc.) can decrease progesterone levels, leading to estrogen dominance.
- Inflammation: Being overweight, chronic stress, poor blood sugar control, poor gut health, autoimmunity, and various other underlying health conditions increase inflammation which can lower progesterone and/or raise testosterone, which can then increase estrogen levels.
- Hypothyroidism: Sluggish thyroid function (even when thyroid markers are still within normal ranges) can cause a buildup of estrogen.
- High Testosterone: Often this is caused by inflammation or conditions like PCOS. Excess testosterone can be converted to estrogen by an enzyme called aromatase.
- Excess body fat: Fat cells produce and store estrogen (2).
- Poor gut health: The estrobolome in the microbiome acts on estrogens. Four main categories of gut bacteria (Bacteroidetes, Firmicutes, Verrucomicrobia, and Proteobacteria) make the enzyme beta-glucuronidase, which causes estrogen to be reabsorbed from the intestines. Overgrowth of these bacteria is related to estrogen dominance (7).
- Genetic influence: SNPs (“snips”) in the DNA of certain genes (e.g. MAO, COMT, MTHFR, CYP) can slow down detoxification processes, keeping estrogen in the body longer so it has a stronger effect (8).
- Low progesterone production from the ovaries usually due to chronic stress
- Perimenopause: progesterone levels begin falling in the late 30’s and through the 40’s, but estrogen often remains higher.
- Menopause: both estrogen and progesterone levels drop during menopause, but progesterone drops at a quicker rate than estrogen, creating an estrogen dominance.
- Endocrine disrupting chemicals: parabens (commonly found in cleaning products, hair products, and cosmetics), phthalates, nitro musks, benzophenones, bisphenoal A (BPA), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), plastics found in food storage containers and plastic bottles, pesticides, and fire retardants (1, 3). Also known as xenoestrogens, these compounds mimic estrogen and build up in the body, disrupting hormone balance and detoxification.
- Synthetic hormones: Synthetic hormones, like estradiol and progestin, place more stress on the liver, cause a higher estrogen effect, and lack many benefits that natural estradiol and progesterone provide.
- Birth control pills and other forms of hormonal contraception
- Hormone replacement therapy
- Metalloestrogens: A class of metals that mimic estrogen in the body and disrupt the endocrine system. They can cause a predisposition for breast cancer (9).
- Known: Aluminum, Antimony, Arsenite, Barium, Cadmium, Chromium (II), Cobalt, Copper, Lead, Mercury, Nickel, Selenite, Tin, Vanadate
- Potential: Silver, Zinc, Titanium
- Copper IUD: Copper, estrogen, and zinc are intimately related. Higher estrogen causes copper retention, which results in zinc deficiency. Too much copper in the body can have psychological and behavioral side effects such as brain fog, fatigue, racing mind, and increased depression and irritability (10).
- Alcohol: Chronic or heavy drinking can deplete progesterone and lower the body’s ability to detoxify estradiol to the less potent estrone. It also increases aromatase, an enzyme that converts testosterone to estrogen during stress and inflammation.
There are many reasons why estrogen dominance can occur. Luckily, most of the underlying issues are within our control if we can identify them. Stay tuned for future posts on identifying and correcting estrogen dominance, or schedule a free call to learn more about working one one one with Dena to balance your hormones!
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About the Author:
Meredith Sorensen is originally from northern Michigan, but moved to Houston to be a D1 cross-country and track runner for the University of Houston. She completed her B.S. and is currently pursuing her M.S. and completing the dietetic internship at the University of Houston. She is passionate about learning and working with female athletes to optimize health, performance, and longevity in sport.
Disclaimer: Information on this site is intended only for informational purposes and is not a substitute for medical advice. Always consult with a trusted healthcare provider before implementing significant dietary change. Read additional disclaimer info here.
- Patel, H. et al. (2018). Estrogen: The necessary evil for human health, and ways to tame it. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy, 102, 403–411. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopha.2018.03.078
- Cleary, M. P., & Grossmann, M. E. (2009). Obesity and breast cancer: The estrogen connection. Endocrinology, 150(6), 2537–2542. https://doi.org/10.1210/en.2009-0070
- Goldstein, S. (2019). Estrogen Dominance in Women.
- Proov Test. Estrogen Dominance: What You Should Know.
- Marquardt, K. (2019). Progesterone and estrogen signaling in the endometrium: What goes wrong in endometriosis? International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 20(15), 3822–. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms20153822
- Jones, C. (2019). Estrogen Dominance: When an Unhealthy Gut Estrobolome is to Blame.
- Rostenberg, A. (2015). Treating COMT and MAO: The Hormonal Cause of Stress and Anxiety.
- Wallace, D. R. (2015). Nanotoxicology and Metalloestrogens: Possible Involvement in Breast Cancer. Toxics, 3, 390-413. doi:10.3390/toxics3040390