Causes of Estrogen Dominance
Estrogen dominance is a common situation where the body has too much estrogen circulating in the blood, causing symptoms like PMS and heavy bleeding - but also impacting more severe conditions like thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions and cancer.
In this post, I will explain three of the most common situations that lead to estrogen dominance.
Low Estrogen Leads to Estrogen Dominance
A common misconception about estrogen dominance is that it would be due to the body producing too much estrogen. This is very rarely the case. In fact, it is often the opposite that is true - people with estrogen dominance often produce too little estrogen.
Now, where's the logic in that?
Well, if we produce less estrogen than optimal, we will have difficulty ovulating. Counterintuitively, this will cause MORE estrogen stimulation throughout the cycle - since the pre-ovulatory phase where estrogen is the dominant hormone will become prolonged - and be longer than the luteal phase (the phase between ovulation and menstruation), where the estrogen-balancing hormone progesterone is dominant. In the end, this leads to a situation of estrogen dominance in the body, even if we in fact are producing too little estrogen.
This situation is common in people with irregular cycles (PCO), PCOS, and amenorrhea.
Low Progesterone Leads to Estrogen Dominance
Estrogen and progesterone have a yin-and-yang kind of relationship - creating opposing effects throughout the body.
Estrogen stimulates the immune system, while progesterone inhibits it.
Estrogen stimulates certain kinds of cell growth (for example in the breasts and endometrium - that's why unbalanced estrogen is a known cancerogenic, especially in these areas of the body), while progesterone inhibits it (progesterone has an anti-cancerogenic effect).
Estrogen inhibits thyroid hormone production, while progesterone stimulates it.
...and so forth.
And in fact, a lot of situations of estrogen dominance is due to too low levels of progesterone. That is, estrogen dominance is usually an imbalance in the ratio between estrogen and progesterone. Estrogen is dominating progesterone, so to say.
Possible root causes of low progesterone can be stress (both psychological stress, and substances that act as stressors - for example caffeine) or nutrient deficiencies - but also more complex issues like thyroid issues and inflammatory conditions.
Very often low progesterone goes hand in hand with low estrogen and problems with ovulation. If estrogen is low before ovulation, progesterone will likely be low after ovulation. That is since the follicle surrounding the egg in the ovary, which produces estrogen, also is the source of progesterone production after ovulation. If the follicle is poorly developed, it will both struggle with producing estrogen leading up to ovulation and producing progesterone after ovulation. The result? Estrogen dominance.
Liver and Gut Issues Leads to Estrogen Dominance
But the production of hormones is not the whole answer to the question of estrogen dominance - there's also the component of our ability to break down estrogen and remove it from the body, known as estrogen metabolism. If we have a problem at this level, estrogen will keep on circulating in the blood even after its role is done, which will lead to symptoms of estrogen dominance.
When it's time for estrogen to leave the body, the liver picks up the estrogen from the blood and breaks it down. The broken-down hormone compounds (also called metabolites) are then transported to the gallbladder and secreted into the intestines with the bile. There, if things work as they should, they will be integrated with food waste and leave the body with faeces (also known as poop).
Several things can go wrong in this series of events. The first pitfall can appear in the liver. If the liver is overworked or not functioning properly, it will have a problem with breaking down estrogen. This can happen for example if the liver is occupied with breaking down alcohol, caffeine, or chemicals from smoking, industrial foods, cleaning products or beauty products. There are many ways in which we can support the liver - first of all by reducing the amount of substances and chemicals we situate ourselves to, secondly by supporting it with nutrition, specific herbs and foods.
The second common pitfall is in the gut. If the gut is not working properly, it will have a problem with removing the estrogen metabolites through the faeces. Instead, the estrogen pieces may be reassembled and reuptaken by the body! To support the detoxification of estrogen in the gut, one wants to look towards optimizing the bacterial flora and reducing inflammation.
In both these cases of metabolic pitfalls, estrogen will keep circulating in the blood for longer than optimal - creating a situation of estrogen dominance.
Have you learned something new from this post? Let me know in the comments!