As women, we hear over and over again about estrogen. Whether we have symptoms like infertility and low mood or non-existent energy and debilitating PMS, estrogen seems to have its hand in it. But what exactly is estrogen, and how can we support healthy estrogen levels for a healthy life? That’s what we’re learning in this article. Let’s get started.
What is estrogen?
Estrogens are a group of 3 primary hormones responsible for sexual and reproductive health in both men and women: estrone, estradiol, and estriol.
- Estrone: Estrone is mainly produced in the ovaries prior to menopause and can also be made in our adrenal glands and adipose tissues. Although our total levels of circulating estrogen reduces after menopause, we will continue to produce estrogen in the form of estrone.
- Estradiol: Estradiol is produced in the ovaries of premenopausal women, and it is also made by the adrenals and by the placenta during pregnancy. It’s the most abundant form of estrogen we produce during our reproductive years and the most potent. It plays a big role in breast development and is important for bone growth, heart health, cognitive function, and reproductive tissue. It also is at play in conditions like endometriosis, breast and endometrial cancers, and uterine fibroids.
- Estriol: Estriol is the least potent form of estrogen but has a big role during pregnancy. It’s produced in large amounts by the placenta.
As we’ve learned, while most estrogen is produced from the ovaries in women, the adrenal glands and fat cells are also responsible for producing estrogen hormones—in men, the testes produce small amounts of estrogen.
You can think of estrogen as the Queen Bee of hormones. For women, She’s known for shaping our monthly hormonal cycle, but there’s a lot more to her and what she does for our well-being as women. In fact, we have estrogen receptors in not only our uterus, but also our heart, bones, and brain! That’s why estrogen can impact so much, and it’s why if levels are out of whack, we can experience brain fog, moodiness, weight gain, low energy, and more. Here are some roles estrogen is responsible for:
- Stimulates cell growth
- Controls cholesterol levels
- Helps produce neurotransmitters like serotonin (happy chemical)
- Helps produce melatonin, our sleep hormone
- Regulates stress response
- Maintains skin and hair health
- Maintains bone health
- Prepares uterus for pregnancy
- Maintains healthy blood sugar levels
- Supports vaginal and urinary tract health
- Supports cognitive health and memory
- Controls inflammation
Too-high or too-low estrogen levels have been linked to minor issues like breast tenderness and occasional headaches to more severe issues like uterine and breast cancer, endometriosis, and uterine fibroids.
Estrogen Hormone Imbalance
Before we go any further, I want you to know that it’s normal for hormone levels to fluctuate throughout our menstrual cycle and the day. Our hormone levels are different in puberty than in our twenties and thirties and menopause and so on. Hormone imbalance in this aspect is a misnomer because there is no one state of hormone balance.
It makes more sense to say that when our hormones aren’t in optimal ranges for a stage in life or during our cycle, then something is awry. Let’s dive into the symptoms of estrogen imbalances.
Low Estrogen Levels
Symptoms of low estrogen in women can show up as:
- Irregular cycle, a less frequent period or no period at all
- Hot flashes/night sweats
- Insomnia/trouble sleeping
- Dryness and thinning of vagina
- Little to no sexual desire
- Dry skin
- Mood swings
- Vaginal dryness
- Urinary tract irritation
High Estrogen Levels
Excess estrogen or estrogen dominance seems to be the talk of the wellness town these days, and we can thank our modern world for that! Estrogen-mimicking chemicals from our industrialized food system and conventional cosmetics can easily overburden the body with excess estrogen.
Now, sometimes it’s normal for estrogen levels to be a bit higher, like before our period begins. We can recognize these fluctuations as breast tenderness or mood changes. But when estrogen is higher than normal, it can make these symptoms unbearable and intense. Here are some symptoms of estrogen dominance that you may be experiencing:
Symptoms of Excess Estrogen
- Weight gain, mainly in hips, thighs, and waist
- Bloating from water retention
- Cyclical breast tenderness
- Menstrual issues, light or heavy bleeding
- Worsening of premenstrual syndrome
- Fibroids (noncancerous tumors) in the uterus
- Fibrocystic breasts (noncancerous breast lumps)
- Loss of sex drive
- Cervical dysplasia
- Feelings of depression or anxiety
If estrogen levels remain too high for too long, you can be at risk for issues including:
- Hypothyroidism: if your estrogen levels are too high, you can experience a decrease in the amount of thyroid hormone circulating in your body
- Endometrial Hyperplasia
- Breast, ovarian, and endometrial cancers
- Heart disease, stroke, clotting problems
What Can Cause Estrogen Dominance?
Estrogen-mimicking hormones from our food and environment
A bit earlier, we touched on endocrine-disrupting chemicals
(EDC), how they’re commonly found in conventional foods and cosmetics, and how they are one of the biggest contributors to estrogen dominance.
Unfortunately, these endocrine disruptors are so easily absorbed into our bodies that they are actually found at much higher concentrations in our tissues than our hormones! Our normal hormone processes are disrupted, blocked, and overwhelmed when this happens. To learn more about EDCs, go here.
Obesity and High Body Fat
Carrying a lot of extra body fat can increase the likelihood of producing excess estrogen. As we learned, adipose tissues also manufacture estrogen, and the most adipose tissue means more estrogen production. We also store environmental toxins that act as estrogen in our adipose tissue.
One study that looked at overweight and obese women found that using an average of about 16 pounds warranted a 13.4% decrease in average concentrations of free estradiol (a form of estrogen).
Poor Gut Health
What’s the gut got to do with it? Well, slow gut elimination of estrogen could be causing high estrogen levels. One of the biggest regulators of estrogen is our gut! If we have excess estrogen, it’s our GI tract’s job to eliminate it! But, if our gut health is impaired, then we can have a hard time eliminating excess estrogen and estrogen-mimicking toxins.
Low Fiber Diet
Fiber is critical for healthy bowel movements, which we know is essential to move excess estrogen from the body. Research has shown that a high-fiber diet decreases the risk of estrogen-positive breast cancer! Start consuming more high-fiber veggies and seeds like flax!
Estrogen-containing pharmaceuticals like the birth control pill and hormone replacement therapy can increase our exposure to estrogens and estrogen-like chemicals.
Hormone Replacement Therapy
Hormone therapy or estrogen therapy is often used for perimenopausal or menopausal women. When used over a long period of time, it can lead to excess estrogen. According to the FDA, hormone replacement therapy products are approved for therapies for relief from moderate to severe symptoms of vaginal dryness and hot flashes. The FDA also recommends the lowest doses of HRT for the shortest duration of time to achieve goals.
Birth Control and Estrogen
Here’s the thing, if you are taking hormonal birth control, depending on what kind you’re on, it can skew your hormones. For example, if you are taking estrogen-based birth control, that will determine your estrogen level. It’s important to note that you do not experience a natural cycle when on hormonal birth control. Birth control suppresses your natural cycle, interfering with your body’s natural hormonal communication system. Enter our body’s daily dose of excess estrogen that it has to deal with.
For more information on birth control, alternatives, and natural options, check out these articles and podcast episode:
- 51: Natural Birth Control Options
- Natural Birth Control that Doesn’t Mess with Your Hormones
- Why is My Sex Drive Gone? This Could Be the Reason
- Hormonal vs. Non-Hormonal IUDs and What They’re Doing To Your Body
For more information on estrogen dominance, check out this article.
How to Reduce Estrogen Levels and Estrogen-Mimicking Chemicals
The most important step in improving estrogen levels is reducing exposure to estrogen-disrupting chemicals. Here’s how:
- Swap your conventional chemical-laden cosmetics and body products with all-natural alternatives
- Ditch plastic and opt for glass food storage containers/ bottles
- Consume organic and hormone-free foods
- Wash hands well after touching paper receipts which are coated with BPA
- Buy BPA and BPS FREE canned foods
How to Balance Estrogen
- Prioritize gut health with gut-lovin’ foods like fermented foods, leafy greens, high-fiber foods
- Reduce stress: our bodies can withhold ovulation if we are stressed! Try meditation, light exercise, adaptogens, and dancing!
- Cut down on alcohol: our liver maintains estrogen balance by breaking it down for elimination, if it is too burdened/sluggish with alcohol it won’t be able to do its job.
- Supplement with magnesium and vitamin B6 (I love our Hydration Superfood Energy for this!)
- Avoid highly-processed fats and vegetable oils and up intake of healthy fats rich in omega-3’s like avocado and walnuts
Check out our Live Well Bundle for supplements that can help balance hormones like estrogen.