What Is Estrogen Dominance – And Is It Always Bad?

October 24, 2013

While it’s true that too much estrogen causes trouble for fat loss – as well as estrogen related cancers (i.e. breast, uterine, etc) – it’s an essential hormone for fat loss as well. Confusing huh?


What’s even more important is that every woman has her own unique hormonal balance that is ideal for her, so sweeping recommendations to lower or minimize estrogen is a mistake.

And although estrogen does add to more fat in hips and thighs, we can’t look at a woman with fuller hips and assume she’s got high estrogen. It’s just not that simple, ladies – but when are we ever that simple?? The female hormone cycle is truly a symphony of several key hormones – and doesn’t take much being out of tune for the whole thing to sound dreadful.

Each event in the hormone cycle triggers the next event, so as one hormone domino falls, another is soon to follow. Meaning, if you’ve got an estrogen issue, you’ve also got a progesterone issue.

So it’s best not to get fixated on any one hormone as we sift through the complicated female hormone landscape.

That said, what is too much estrogen? Let’s look at what’s normal first.

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While many, many women have hormonal disruptions due to stress, PCOS, taking the pill, menopause, etc., normally estrogen dominates the first half of the menstrual cycle and progesterone dominates the second half. Problems arise when estrogen is too high too often.

Estrogen dominance happens any time that estrogen dominates the hormonal landscape rather than being in balance with other hormones for that woman, for that particular time in her life.

Here are a couple ways estrogen dominance can happen:

1. Any low progesterone state.

Whether progesterone is low due to stress, taking estrogen (the Pill, hormone replacement, etc.), or when a woman has ovulation issues (such as with PCOS – Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) there will be an overt or relative estrogen dominance.

2. Menopause.

While this time in a woman’s life is characterized by overall sex hormone decline, there are spikes and fluctuations in estrogen as the ovaries start to fail and the brain tries very hard to stimulate them to make estrogen. Also, while both estrogen and progesterone are falling, progesterone will fall more creating a “relative estrogen excess” (essentially the spread between estrogen and progesterone widens).

3. Problems with estrogen detoxification or elimination.

When we say “estrogen” we are usually talking about estradiol, aka E2. But there is also E1 and E3. E3 is considered, “good” or protective E2 while E1 and E2 are active and more problematic (particularly E1). Next, these estrogens need to be metabolized by the liver into safe metabolites – if not we get troublesome estrogens floating. Lastly, all this metabolized estrogen has to be eliminated through the digestive tract – if not, they will get taken back up into the body and continuing having estrogen activity. Trouble in any of these three areas can create estrogen dominance.

Brooke Estrogen Dominance

4. Environmental estrogens.

While we have really no environmental progesterone mimickers, there is quite a lot of estrogen coming our way these days. There is estrogen in most commercially raised meat and all dairy. Many foods and herbs such as soy have phytoestrogen properties which can have a weak estrogenic effect for some women. And plastics as well as many preservatives (i.e. parabens) and pesticides have estrogen activity.

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So how does all this make us fatter?

Estrogen, while it has a role in fat loss and maintaining our feminine frame, too much to or if its overrunning progesterone causes fat loss problems.

Here’s how:

  • Excess estrogen causes lower free thyroid hormone – remember, its thyroid hormone, namely free T3, that has the activity.
  • When estrogen dominates progesterone we lose some balancing effects progesterone has against our stress hormone cortisol (this mess leads to more belly fat).
  • The more body fat we have, the more estrogen we make in our fat cells (not our ovaries) via a process called aromatization. An enzyme in our fat cells can turn testosterone (considered a lean hormone) into estrogen. This process is ramped up when we have blood sugar highs and lows (via the hormone insulin).

Do You Have Estrogen Dominance?

  • If your periods are on the heavy side, significant PMS, cramp and or clots with your period as well as breast tenderness, water retention, or fibroids you may have estrogen issues.
  • If you have PCOS, you can have high or low estrogen.
  • If you are on the PILL or HRT (hormone replacement therapy) you are estrogen dominant (although this not as a big a problem for some women).
  • If you struggle to shed fat particularly in the hip and thigh region, you may be estrogen dominant as well (although this is more complicated than just estrogen).
  • And if you are in perimenopause or menopause, you will be at least relatively estrogen dominant.

What to do about it:

  1. Start with minimizing estrogens in the environment by avoiding plastics (or at least not heating your food in them or using very soft water bottles).
  2. Consider paraben free cosmetics, shampoos and body care products.
  3. Buy hormone free meat and minimize or avoid dairy.
  4. Minimize booze – very estrogenic overall.

Read this sobering blog I did a while back.

While it can seem really daunting to start to tackle all of these higher level hormones, like estrogen, without a degree in biochemistry – focus on the ones you can control: insulin and cortisol. These two are managed by eating within your carb tolerance, getting enough sleep and minimizing stress (including not skipping meals).

Most peripheral hormone imbalances will clear up at about 75% by focusing on these two key metabolic hormones – and you don’t need to be an endocrinologist to watch when and what we eat. (More posts on managing these two key hormones – insulin and cortisol – coming very soon!)

Consider estrogen detox support such as cruciferous veggies and supplements like DIM (di-indole-methane). Green tea is also excellent at balancing out estrogen metabolism. And ladies, you have to move those bowels daily. Fiber such as psyllium husks, flax seed, etc. can be helpful – as is plenty of water and loads of veggies in the diet.

If you err on the side of constipation, consider calcium-d-glucarate as a supplement (which helps scoot more estrogen out the digestive tract). And don’t panic 🙂 Seems as soon as we start thinking about how much estrogen is in our world we wonder how in the heck we’d be able to avoid it all? You can’t.

But do consider significant sources like the pill and minimize where you can with diet, cosmetics and plastics; boost your estrogen detox capacity with more green tea and broccoli; and of course, mind your blood sugar and stress.

Beyond that, if you suspect you’re still having an estrogen dominance issue work with someone who can do some thorough thyroid and estrogen testing to see where you’re really at.

I recommend salivary testing to pick up this type of estrogen issue – blood tests will rule out scary pathology, confirm menopause, etc. but aren’t as helpful with these more subtle, functional issues.

Wanting to know more about female fat loss resistance, particularly for PCOS and Hashimoto’s? Tune in Thursdays at 3PM EST on Facebook for my weekly live Q&A.

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