This week, I’m diving into estrogen dominance and how it affects the health of both women AND men. As America’s Gut Doctor, you know I’m going to talk about how everything goes back to the gut, too. I promise I won’t leave that out!
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and that means you’ll be seeing a lot of pink ribbons, reading quite a few breast cancer facts, and witnessing a lot of people celebrating survivors and honoring those that we’ve lost to this highly prevalent disease.
For any of our readers that have gone through breast cancer treatments and survived, I know what a fighter you are. Thank you for continuing to share your light with the world.
We’ll also be thinking and talking a lot about women’s health in general, especially women’s hormone health. What you won’t see as much of is content that dives into the link between breast cancer and the hormone estrogen; more specifically, the link between breast cancer and “estrogen dominance.” But, this topic is even broader than just the female sex, because it can also affect men.
Keep reading for a totally fresh perspective on estrogen.
What is estrogen dominance?
Estrogen is often thought of as the main female reproductive hormone; and in some ways, that’s a good manner in which to think about it! More specifically though, estrogen is actually a family of hormones that is present in the body of all humans, regardless of gender. The different types of estrogen, which include estrone (known as E1), estradiol (or E2), and estriol (E3) play a role in much more than a woman’s monthly hormone cycle, too. These hormones play a role in blood sugar balance, mood, skin health, urinary tract wellness, pregnancy, mucous membrane functioning, cognition, and even heart health. Increases and decreases in estrogen are what cause the bodily changes that occur with puberty and the symptoms that women experience while they transition to menopause.
As you can probably guess from reading the above, there are quite a few important reasons to keep estrogen levels in a healthy place. Should estrogen levels get too high or too low, you’ll experience a wide range of symptoms.
What are the symptoms of estrogen dominance?
In women, the symptoms may include the following:
- Water Retention
- Breast Tenderness
- Fibrocystic Breasts
- Heavy Periods
- Worsening PMS
- Mood swings
- Depression / anxiety
- Fibroids (this can can lead to really heavy and painful periods, anemia, and chronic fatigue)
And in men, estrogen dominance is often characterized by:
- Male Breast Tissue Growth
- Weight Gain (especially an apple-shaped belly)
- Low Testosterone / low libido
- Brain fog
- Mood swings
- Depression / anxiety
As you can see, there is some overlap in the symptoms of estrogen dominance between men and women. High estrogen levels are also linked to an increased risk in breast cancer. For example, one study showed that the excessive expression of aromatase — the enzyme responsible for the synthesis of estrogen that causes increased estrogen in the body’s tissues — can be linked to breast cancer as well as endometriosis and endometrial cancer.
So, how does estrogen become dominant in the first place? The answer might surprise you. In fact, when I explain the root cause of estrogen dominance to my patients, they’re often shocked and surprised!
5 Things You Didn’t Know About Estrogen Dominance
1. Estrogen dominance is linked to processed meats and red meat consumption
Studies have shown that consuming high levels of processed meats and red meat can be linked to an increase in circulating estrogen levels. Interestingly, red meat consumption is also linked to breast cancer. In fact, one study even showed that a serving a day of red meat intake during adolescence was linked to a 13 percent higher risk of developing breast cancer in one’s lifetime.
2. Estrogen-mimicking chemicals almost always play a role
Estrogen is produced naturally in the body, but there are chemicals found in our environment that are a lot like estrogen, too. Some of these chemicals, called “xenoestrogens,” are found in everyday products — anything from makeup and sunblock to cleaning products, furniture, and pesticides used on vegetables. These chemicals can overload the body and contribute to the overall estrogen burden.
3. Men can have estrogen dominance, too
I know we already covered this a bit, but it’s worth repeating and elaborating upon. Estrogen dominance is becoming increasingly common in men. In fact, I had a male patient in his 30s that was experiencing symptoms of estrogen dominance. So what was the cause? As it turns out, he was consuming GMO soy products nearly every single day. A type of compound found in soy, called isoflavones, are also similar to estrogen and can have the potential to cause estrogen-like effects in the body. That’s not to say that all soy is unhealthy — in fact, in some cases it can have anti-estrogenic effects — but when eating soy, it’s best to consume it in moderation and always organic whenever possible.
4. Your estrogen levels are controlled by your gut microbiome
Now we know that estrogen isn’t just one single hormone, that it’s connected to what we eat, and that there are estrogen-mimicking chemicals in the environment. But what determines whether someone gets estrogen dominance or not? A lot of this comes back to the microbiome, which seems to be a key regulator of your estrogen levels.
It goes like this: Estrogen is produced in the ovaries and then proceeds to circulate throughout the body. Once it has done what it needs to do, it gets sent to the liver where it is broken down and then excreted with the bile into the GI tract to be eliminated through a bowel movement. But before it’s eliminated, it interacts with your gut bacteria and interestingly, there are specific enzymes in your gut, like one called beta-glucuronidase, that release metabolized estrogen, allowing it to circulate back into the body and causing estrogen dominance. Knowing this, it won’t be a surprise that, estrogen-positive breast cancer is associated with gut microbiome imbalances as well; for example, one study showed that the bacteria Clostridia, Enterobacterium, Lactobacilli, Bacteroides, and Escherichia coli were observed at higher levels in patients with breast cancer.
5. The birth control pill can cause estrogen dominance
When we talked about xenoestrogens, we talked about the overall estrogen burden on the body. Well, we can’t finish that conversation without talking about oral contraceptives, which contain artificial versions of hormones, mostly estrogen and progestins. These compounds must also circulate throughout the body, broken down by the liver, and then excreted by the digestive system. Again, if encountering an imbalanced gut microbiome, the metabolized estrogen can be released and recirculate back into the body leading to dominance. Many women don’t notice the effects of estrogen dominance until they stop taking the pill, but it’s often a factor in estrogen dominance.
7 Easy Fixes for Estrogen Dominance
If you’ve read this far, there’s a good chance you’re concerned about the possibility of estrogen dominance in your life. Maybe you’re just starting to head in that direction with 2 – 3 symptoms on the list. The good news is that estrogen dominance has many causes, which means there are even more ways to resolve it. So without further adieu, here are seven easy fixes for estrogen dominance that you can get started on right away.
1. Get a combination of soluble and insoluble fiber
As we learned earlier, estrogen has to be excreted through the GI tract. But what happens when your GI tract is moving on the slower side? The answer is that the estrogen tagged for elimination from your body can actually be reabsorbed and contribute to estrogen dominance. To combat this, it’s important to get plenty of fiber — preferably, a mix of soluble and insoluble fiber, which will work to draw water into the intestines to keep you regular and feed healthy gut bacteria that help with motility.
2. Eat more fermented foods
Another great way to support the gut microbiome is fermented foods, which inoculate your gut with beneficial bacteria and allow for more efficient estrogen metabolism. Including more fermented foods in your life can mean eating more plant-based foods like sauerkraut and kimchi or dairy ferments like Kefir and yogurt. These are different from pickled veggies, so read the labels and try to avoid excess added sugars or try making your own. You’ll get the hormone health benefits of fermented foods but also a long list of other benefits, too.
3. Lose those extra pounds
As I mentioned earlier, estrogen can also be produced by fat cells. Therefore, it makes sense that the more fat cells you have and the bigger they are, the more estrogen you’ll have in your body, right? This is what we often find in individuals with excess weight, which we now know can contribute to estrogen dominance. Elevated estrogen also explains the connection between obesity and breast cancer; for example, the authors of a study published in Endocrinology wrote that “Elevated serum estrogen levels as well as enhanced local production of estrogen have been considered primary mediators of how increased body weight promotes breast cancer development in postmenopausal women.” If you want healthy estrogen levels for life, maintaining a healthy weight is key. Whether you’ve struggled with your weight for years, or you’ve recently put on the “quarantine 15”, losing excess weight is one surefire way to gain healthier estrogen levels. I do a deep dive into the more effective gut-centered weight loss strategies in my book, HAPPY GUT®.
4. Drink alcohol in moderation (or not at all)
Have you ever heard that even moderate alcohol consumption (as little as one drink per day) is linked to an increased risk for breast cancer? It’s true, and estrogen is to blame. Studies have shown that alcohol consumption can lead to a temporary increase in estrogen levels. If you enjoy a daily drink, but are experiencing symptoms of estrogen dominance, it’s worth experimenting with cutting back to see whether it helps improve your symptoms.
5. Remove toxic cooking surfaces and utensils from your kitchen
Many of the xenoestrogens we are exposed to come from our kitchen, so a great way to avoid overloading your body with estrogen is to “green-ify” your kitchen by removing toxic cooking surfaces and utensils with estrogen-disrupting chemicals in them. The chemicals to look out for are PFAS, which stands for polyfluoroalkyl substances. This is a family of hundreds of chemicals that are used to make nonstick coatings on pans and other consumer goods, such as takeout containers and food wrappers. Another chemical to look out for is BPA, which is often found in canned goods and in plastic storage containers. To avoid these chemicals, opt for stainless steel, ceramic-enameled, or cast-iron cookware and store your food in glass Pyrex dishes instead of plastic ones.
6. Choose non-toxic skincare products and makeup
If you want to reduce the estrogen in your body, cutting down on your exposure to xenoestrogens is one way to do it. The good news is that there’s a great website called the Skin Deep Cosmetics database, which was created by the Environmental Working Group, that rates skincare and beauty products based on their toxicity. You can check the products you currently use and if they are scored poorly, you can look for alternatives. You can also browse the Credo Beauty website, which is akin to a Sephora for natural cosmetics and a company I gladly stand by because of their integrity in choosing non-toxic products.
7. Support detoxification
Finally, there’s detoxification, which is arguably how all the steps above come together. If you’re not detoxing efficiently, you’ll have too much estrogen. And if you are estrogen dominant, your body isn’t detoxing enough. Luckily, I designed my HAPPY GUT® RESET: 7-DAY DETOX to help you jumpstart your body’s detoxification systems to beat the bloat, gain energy, clear mental fog, and balance hormones in as little as 7 days.
Take these tips and tricks, apply them to rebalance your hormones, and let me know how you did in the comments below!