The Truth About Xenoestrogens and Estrogen Dominance
Many of us are very aware of what happens when women have low estrogen because we know all about the not-so-fun symptoms of menopause: weight gain, low libido, hot flashes, mood swings, etc.
But what about having too much estrogen? Short answer: it’s a hot mess.
Estrogen dominance leads to “frustrating” health problems like headaches and cramping, “concerning” health problems like depression and heavy bleeding, and “devastating” health problems like infertility and cancer.
And here’s the crazy thing: estrogen dominance is super common…among women and men.
One of the biggest culprits behind estrogen dominance are xenoestrogens (AKA: estrogen posers). They’re all over the place – probably in your kitchen, your bathroom, your laundry room, and even your fridge.
I can’t stress this enough: estrogen dominance is dangerous and widespread, and xenoestrogens are exacerbating the issue quickly. We need to understand the basics behind these health problems, so we can do something about it (not to worry: I have eight action steps to combat the xenoestrogen problem at the end!).
What are Xenoestrogens?
The simple xenoestrogens definition:
Xenoestrogens are hormone disruptors that mimic estrogen.
The more complex xenoestrogens definition:
Xenoestrogens are any type of substance that comes into your body and throws off its proper balance of estrogen by essentially acting just like estrogen. They can be synthetic or natural, but they are almost always a big problem as they can block or bind to our hormone receptors (1).
Then these xenoestrogens are stored in our fat cells – leading to a massive estrogen buildup. Considering some of our organs are more hormone-sensitive than others – two for women in particular are the breasts and the uterus, but the immune system and brain are also sensitive – this extra estrogen is problematic.
Xenoestrogens and Estrogen Dominance
To really understand the harm of xenoestrogens, we need to understand estrogen dominance.
What Is Estrogen Dominance?
Estrogen is an incredible hormone that is so valuable for the reproductive system and the entire body of both women and men, helping with everything from bone health and blood supply to moods and cholesterol – and so much more!
Estrogen is amazing, but too much estrogen… is too much.
Estrogen dominance happens when there is an overabundance of estrogen in the body and often not enough progesterone (a steroid hormone that preps the female body for pregnancy and develops sperm for men) to balance it out (2).
Remember how those xenoestrogens are often stored in your fat instead of properly detoxed from the body? This is the second half of the estrogen dominance dilemma:
It’s not just that we’re consuming too much estrogen… we’re also not eliminating it properly.
What Causes Estrogen Dominance?
Lots of things!
- The birth control pill puts large amounts of synthetic estrogen into the body every single month as long as you take them
- Many different chemicals and toxins in our cosmetic, beauty, kitchen, or cleaning products are xenoestrogens (more on which to avoid below!)
- Digestive issues or poor gut health harms proper estrogen elimination and balance
- Xenoestrogen food choices (find the list below!)
- Chronic stress or emotional issues
- Smoking and alcohol
High Estrogen Symptoms
So what are the high estrogen symptoms you can expect when you’re estrogen dominant? (3,4)
- Low sex drive
- Mood swings
- PMS symptoms
- Irregular or abnormal periods
- Heavy bleeding
- Breast tenderness
- Cold hands and feet
- Foggy thinking
- Hair loss
- Accelerated aging
- Blood clotting
- Autoimmune disorders
- Ovarian cysts
- Gallbladder or thyroid issues
Low Progesterone Symptoms
When you’re experiencing high estrogen symptoms, you’re probably also dealing with low progesterone, which may give you (7,8):
- Irregular, abnormal, or missed periods
- Mood swings – maybe anxiety or depression
- Hot flashes
- Low libido
- Frequent miscarriages
- Spotting or pain during pregnancy
Estrogen Dominance and Weight Loss
A common issue facing those with estrogen dominance is the inability to lose weight, so it’s worth mentioning on its own.
Estrogen plays a big role in the way our bodies respond to the foods we eat, so when there’s too much estrogen, we often gain weight. Estrogen dominance also slows down your metabolism and encourages weight gain around the stomach and hip area in particular (4,5).
The whole estrogen dominance and weight loss concept can be extremely frustrating. If you’re struggling to lose weight, maybe it’s time to see if estrogen is getting in your way.
Symptoms of High Estrogen in Men
Men make and need lower levels of estrogen than women. When that estrogen starts to increase too much, they may experience some of these high estrogen symptoms (6):
- Erectile dysfunction: He may have a difficult time developing or keeping an erection
- Infertility: Estrogen plays a role in ensuring your sperm is healthy and ready to make a baby
- Gynecomastia: Too much estrogen may lead to female sex characteristics like larger breasts
The “C” Word: Xenoestrogens and Breast Cancer
One of the biggest issues surrounding the topic of estrogen dominance is xenoestrogens and breast cancer – as well as many other reproductive cancers. Studies have strongly linked estrogen dominance to breast, uterine, and ovarian cancers, as well as cervical dysplasia, which is a precancerous condition (2,9).
Think about this: in 1960, 1 in 20 people had breast cancer. Now, we’re looking at 1 in 8. The rise in the use of the birth control pill and the rise of xenoestrogens in our household products are correlated.
Some experts believe just about all of the risk factors leading to a breast cancer diagnosis have to do with imbalanced hormones – too much estrogen or an improper balance of estrogen and progesterone.
This means xenoestrogens and breast cancer are directly linked. Let’s take this seriously.
How to Lower Estrogen Naturally
Now we all can see the problem: high estrogen and xenoestrogens are significantly harming so many facets of our health and wellbeing.
That means the next step is learning how to lower estrogen naturally. Below you are going to find 8 steps to take to start eliminating xenoestrogens and kicking your estrogen dominance to the curb.
Limit/Avoid Foods with Estrogen
The easiest first step to take for cutting out xenoestrogens is avoiding foods with estrogen. Certain foods either behave like estrogen or have actual estrogen and/or other hormones in them. Both are problematic.
The estrogen dominant diet, then, avoids foods that increase estrogen in the body. Here are the top offenders (10):
- Soy: Soy is extremely estrogenic – so much so it’s often recommended for menopausal women struggling with too little estrogen. It’s also a highly genetically modified food and has been connected with infertility. So it should be the first to go. You also have to be really careful with soy if you’re vegan. Lots of the more processed vegan foods like vegan cheese and “meat” are loaded with hormone disrupting soy. These are some of the worst foods with estrogen. Soy is everywhere: salad dressings, snack crackers, protein powders, etc., so read those labels and avoid processed foods (even the “healthy” kind) as much as possible. This is often where soy hides.
- Grains: On crops of wheat, corn, and other common grains, you can find a fungus called zearalenone. It’s a xenoestrogen. One study discovered zearalenone interfered with estrogen elimination. Plus, it’s been blamed for girls’ early breast development as well.
- Conventional Dairy and Meat: The majority of dietary estrogen we consume comes from dairy. And that makes sense – animals have reproductive hormones too. (Plus, animals are often fed soy!) When you’re a meat eater, you will get exposed to hormones from both dairy products and meat, but when you choose conventional options, it all gets worse with added hormones. This is why conventional meat and dairy is a big no-no on the Estrogen Dominance Diet. If you eat meat and dairy, make sure it is organic, grassfed, and at minimum hormone/antibiotic-free.
- Propyl Gallate: Nobody goes to the store and buys a bottle of propyl gallate, but many people go to the store and buy vegetable oil, soup mix, frozen meals, and chewing gum – so therefore, we are buying propyl gallate. This preservative is a xenoestrogen that not only messes with your hormones, but may also cause cancer. Again, avoid processed foods as much as possible and especially if you are already estrogen dominant or you’re on the Estrogen Dominance Diet.
- Water: There are no xenoestrogens in water itself (and you need to drink plenty of it for healthy elimination!). The problem lies in the xenoestrogens that come into the water from outside environmental sources and human/animal waste. The best solution is a water filtration system, not bottled water – they can be worse because of the plastic. One study tested water bottles for estrogen and over 60% were positive for estrogenic response.
- Alcohol: Alcohol is a problem for two reasons. First up, the alcohol itself is often created from plants that are xenoestrogens. Then alcohol makes it harder for the body to metabolize estrogen, causing those levels to rise. This includes beer, wine, and hard liquor.
- Processed foods: These often contain all sorts of preservatives and dyes that are xenoestrogens.
Eat Supportive Foods
It’s not only about avoiding the bad, it’s about filling up on the good. You want a produce-filled diet that focuses on real, unprocessed nourishment as well as these two categories:
There are foods that help your body increase progesterone production. None of these have actual progesterone in them, they’re just going to support your body as it produces the progesterone it’s supposed to (11):
- Cruciferous veggies (cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts)
- Leafy greens (kale, spinach)
Fiber = Elimination
Fiber is essential for creating waste, and you need a healthy “exit” system to get rid of all that estrogen. Luckily the progesterone-support foods above are all great choices for fiber intake. Also try to eat more (12):
- Chia Seeds
- Coconut products
Get Rid of Xenoestrogen Products
Here’s the irony – though men can absolutely have estrogen dominance, this is an issue facing most women. Because women are the ones most often using dangerous xenoestrogen chemicals in their products.
It’s time to clean it all out – the skincare, the haircare, the makeup, the cleaning products, the lotions, the potions, the medications – all of it.
Xenoestrogens Avoidance List: Products to Get Rid Of Today
Here’s the xenoestrogens avoidance list. Of course, this does not include all the common chemicals that can cause you harm, but it’s a good start.
- Plastics: BPA is a massive health hazard leading to health problems like diabetes, asthma, liver damage, ADHD, and even cancer. But it is also a xenoestrogen. (There’s a big link between BPA and infertility!) Unfortunately, BPA-free plastics are not ideal alternatives. They are often made with compounds closely related to BPA, which can have the same exact problems. Aim for low to no plastic in your kitchen!
- Parabens: One of the main xenoestrogens in conventional cosmetic products are parabens. These are major hormone disruptors (13). You can often find them in skincare, fragrance, hair care and more.
- Phthalates: These are one of the worst hormone offenders as they interfere with your estrogen receptors. Phthalates can bring puberty on too early in girls and can disrupt our adult reproduction as well (14). You can often find them in skin care, hair care, makeup, fragrance, and more.
- Hormonal Contraception: The birth control pill puts high amounts of synthetic estrogen into your body to keep you from getting pregnant. It’s effective at achieving its goal, but it is also effective at overloading our bodies – and our water supply systems that we all drink from – with too much estrogen. When someone on the pill urinates, small traces of estrogen get into the sewage system and into the water. This is such an issue, fish feminization (male fish creating eggs) is becoming a big problem.
- Oil and Gas Chemicals: If you live near any sort of fracking site, you may be exposed to around 100 different chemicals that act as endocrine disruptors. Twelve of these have direct estrogen effects and are often found in the water supply near fracking sites. If this applies to you, a whole house water filtration system is essential if moving is not an option.
- Insecticides: I know you don’t want bugs in your house, but I’m assuming you want dangerous health problems even less. Bug sprays and pesticides are hormone disasters. Stick to natural insecticides and traps as much as possible.
Nail care items have a ton of harmful chemicals in particular, so check out our article on organic nail care for safer options.
Improve Your Gut Health
Our guts are much more than just a place to process food. Most of our immune system actually resides in our guts. It also plays a vital role in hormone balance.
When you’ve had many rounds of antibiotics, or you’ve dealt with digestive issues, or you’ve kept a pretty poor diet – your microbiome (all of those living organisms in your gut) is a mess. Sometimes this mess is referred to as leaky gut.
There are steps we can take to fix the issue, heal our bodies, and help balance our hormones.
- Take a probiotic: You need to introduce healthy bacteria into your gut to restore balance to your microbiome (2).
- Eat fermented foods: Fermented foods have lots of good bacteria too. My favorites are sauerkraut, kombucha, and kimchi.
- Get rid of inflammatory foods: This includes sugar and artificial sweeteners, processed foods, trans fats, fast food, and frankengrains.
- Eat a variety: Different whole foods have different gut benefits. When you eat lots of different fruits and vegetables, you get a larger spectrum of nutrients to heal your gut.
- Drink bone broth: That variety concept goes for meat too. We obviously cannot eat bones directly, but they are powerhouses of health and wellness. Creating a long-simmering bone broth allows you to absorb those unique nutrients (15).
Exercise is a fabulous way to get rid of some of that built up estrogen (4, 15).
- First off, perspiration is an amazing natural detoxifier
- Then, it reduces fat – the place where a lot of those xenoestrogens go to hide
- Next up, it lowers the stress that causes adrenal fatigue (which plays into your hormone balance)
Regular low-impact cardio mixed with high-intensity strength training is the key, but you can make this happen in lots of creative ways: hiking, hot yoga, dancing, swimming, and of course, good ol’ sweaty gym sessions.
Lower Your Stress
Stress makes all the symptoms of estrogen dominance worse (4). That over-burden is wreaking havoc to your hormone balance by increasing cortisol, insulin, and norepinephrine.
You need to do whatever you can to lower your stress:
- Remove yourself from environments that bring chronic stress like your life depends on it… because it does
- Make sure you are including time for rest and relaxation into your day
- See a licensed therapist to help you learn how to deal with your stress
- Get outside whenever possible
- Hug, kiss, and have sex – touch is a fabulous way to produce endorphins
- Diffuse calming essential oils during stressful situations (Here are my top 5 choices!)
Luckily, all that regular exercise you’ll be doing and this next tip below are wonderful de-stressors too.
Try an Infrared Sauna Session
Remember the key to combating estrogen dominance is not only to decrease your exposure to xenoestrogens, but also to increase your elimination/detoxification pathways (15). Far Infrared Saunas can be yet another way to do just that.
Learn more in my “7 Benefits of Far Infrared Saunas” post.
Essential Oils for Estrogen Dominance
Any long-time reader knows how much I value essential oils in my wellness journey, so I don’t want to leave without acknowledging two oils that can be beneficial in our pursuit of getting rid of xenoestrogens and balancing our hormones (16):
- Clary Sage: Clary sage has been shown to help your body balance estrogen
- Thyme: Research has shown that thyme can help improve your body’s progesterone production, which we already know is essential for balancing estrogen
My favorite way to use these is to simply diffuse them. You can also apply topically by diluting in a carrier oil and rubbing into the abdomen, forearms, behind the knees or inner thighs.
Saying Goodbye to Xenoestrogens
It’s time to set aside our xenoestrogens. Let’s allow our bodies to produce all the estrogen it needs on its own and support it as it eliminates the estrogen it doesn’t need.
Do you have any of the symptoms of estrogen dominance? Did you know so many products you use were mimicking estrogen? What steps have you taken to balance your hormones? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
- Women in Balance Institute, (2018). Xenoestrogens – What are they? How to avoid them. Retrieved from: https://womeninbalance.org/2012/10/26/xenoestrogens-what-are-they-how-to-avoid-them/
- American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, (2018). Estrogen Dominance: Too Much of a Good Thing Can Certainly Be BAD! Retrieved from: https://www.naturopathic.org/content.asp?contentid=401
- Healthline, (2016). Low Progesterone: Complications, Causes, and More. Retrieved from: https://www.healthline.com/health/womens-health/low-progesterone
- Christiane Northrup, M.D., (2018). What Are the Symptoms of Estrogen Dominance? Retrieved from: https://www.drnorthrup.com/estrogen-dominance/
- Gottfried, Sara, MD for MindBodyGreen, (2016). What I Tell My Patients Who Want To Lose Weight: A Hormone Expert Explains. Retrieved from: https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-24654/what-i-tell-my-patients-who-want-to-lose-weight-a-hormone-expert-explains.html
- Healthline, (2015). Signs and Symptoms of High Estrogen. Retrieved from: https://www.healthline.com/health/high-estrogen
- Hormone Health Network, (2018). What is Progesterone? Retrieved from: https://www.hormone.org/hormones-and-health/hormones/progesterone
- Healthline, (2016). Low Progesterone: Complications, Causes, and More. Retrieved from: https://www.healthline.com/health/womens-health/low-progesterone
- Women in Balance Institute, (2018). Causes of Hormone Imbalance. Retrieved from: http://womeninbalance.org/seventh-woman/causes/
- Dr. Axe, (2018). Top High-Estrogen Foods to Avoid + Other ‘Environmental Estrogens’ Hiding Out in Your Home. Retrieved from: https://draxe.com/5-high-estrogen-foods-avoid/
- Healthline, (2017). How to Naturally Increase Your Progesterone Levels. Retrieved from: https://www.healthline.com/health/natural-progesterone#foods
- Dr. Axe, (2018) 20 Ultimate High-Fiber Foods. Retrieved from: https://draxe.com/high-fiber-foods/
- Kucińska M, Murias M. (2013) Cosmetics as a source of xenoestrogens exposure. PubMed. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24466711
- EWG (2015) EWG lists the top 10 toxic chemicals EPA should review now. Retrieved from: https://www.ewg.org/release/ewg-lists-top-ten-toxic-chemicals-epa-should-review-now#.Wni4c2bMyqA
- Jockers, David, (2018). 12 Tips to Balance Estrogen Levels Naturally. Retrieved from: https://drjockers.com/balance-estrogen-levels-naturally/
- Dr. Axe, (2018). Top 3 Essential Oils to Balance Hormones Naturally. Retrieved from: https://draxe.com/essential-oils-for-hormones/
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