Top 3 Tips to Keep Estrogen in BalanceMay 20, 2022
Estrogen gets a bad rep.
We talk a lot about estrogen and its negative impacts- we talk about things like breast cancer, endometriosis, and fibroids, which all can be linked to the hormone estrogen. However, estrogen is also critically important for our fertility, for our menstrual cycle, for our bone health and so much more.
What is Estrogen?
Estrogen is known as the most classic “female” hormone, and is the primary hormone responsible for development of the reproductive system in women during puberty.
Estrogen is made by our ovaries in response to the brain's stimulation, with a hormone called FSH, or follicle stimulating hormone, with every menstrual cycle. At the very beginning of your menstrual cycle, the brain starts to signal to the ovaries that it's time to make an egg and get ready for ovulation. As follicles develop and mature into an egg, other cells in the ovary called granulosa cells start to make the hormone estrogen.
Estrogen has a couple of really important actions during that time.
The first is to thicken the lining of your uterus so it can be ready for implantation.
Second is that it helps you make fertile cervical mucus.
Estrogen has a variety of other effects in the body like helping to improve egg maturation. It tells the brain when you're ready to ovulate, because you'll make this massive surge of estrogen when that egg is ready. And that tells your brain to switch functions and trigger ovulation through a hormone called LH.
In addition to supporting the menstrual cycle, estrogen helps cells around our bodies in other ways. Estrogen helps our skin cells stay nice and plump and juicy. With perimenopause, when estrogen starts to decline, there can be skin changes and skin thinning for women, including in the vaginal vault, where tissues become far more sensitive. Some women experience vaginal dryness in combination with the more fragile skin which can make intercourse uncomfortable.
Estrogen is also critical for bone health. Bone health in women peaks when you are in your 20s. After that, there is an age-related slow decline in bone density for the majority of women. This is most pronounced during menopause, when estrogen declines. Estrogen is protective of bone density and is one of the top reasons women seek estrogen replacement therapy during menopause.
So, with all of these benefits, why does estrogen get a bad reputation?
Estrogen Excess or Estrogen Dominance
Estrogen does have negative effects when it's not in balance.
Let’s start by discussing some of the disease states associated with excess estrogen.
Some examples of diseases stimulated by estrogen include endometriosis and fibroids, which occur in cycling women (primarily) and actually resolve or improve in menopause due to estrogen’s decline. Breast cancer and endometrial cancer are other examples that can have lasting health consequences. Some types of cancer cells can be stimulated to grow faster with estrogen.
Signs of Estrogen Dominance
Even away from disease states, there are many symptoms of estrogen being high or relatively high and out of balance. A few examples include:
- Breast tenderness and swelling
- Fibrocystic breasts
- Increased libido
- PMS symptoms
- Mood swings
- Irregular menses
- Hair loss
- Weight gain
Why does estrogen get out of balance?
One of the biggest problems we face with estrogen balance is that a lot of chemicals such as plastics mimic estrogen in the body. They can actually weakly bind to our estrogen receptors, which are like the little ears on our cells that listen for signals like hormones from their outside world.
When these receptors are overstimulated, women can experience what we call estrogen dominance or estrogen excess.
Sometimes it's not that your estrogen is actually too high, but your other hormones are out of balance, which allow estrogen to function unchecked. If estrogen is your Queen B hormone, think about what happens when that queen bee goes unregulated and unchecked- she becomes a bit bossy and problematic!
What can we do to keep our estrogen in good balance?
I recommend that women eat a lot of cruciferous vegetables. These are veggies like broccoli, broccoli sprouts, kale, cabbage, and cauliflower. Cruciferous vegetables contain some functional nutrients such as indole-3-carbinol (called I3C), sulforaphane, and di-indole methane (DIM) that assist with proper detoxification of estrogen. This can help you process estrogen appropriately, even if there is a bit more in your system than is desired.
Support Optimal Digestion
Estrogen is excreted through your stool. If you're not going to the bathroom regularly, that stool that sits in your intestines for longer, allowing your estrogen to be reabsorbed back into your bloodstream. That’s almost like taking a dose of estrogen medication.
Avoid Outside Estrogens (Xenoestrogens)
You don’t’ want to be exposed to a lot of environmental estrogens. We want your estrogen to be limited to what your body makes itself. The best thing you can do here is to avoid plastics, receipt paper (which contains BPA, a potent xenoestrogen) and phthalates (which are in most fragrances and many other products).
Look at what you put ON your body or IN your body today to assess where you can clean up your exposures with most ease. A few common swaps include:
- Choose foods packaged in glass over plastic
- Don’t store food in plastic at home, especially hot or cold foods
- Swap out products with fragrance for things that are unscented or naturally scented
- Check your beauty products ingredients and make swaps for things with parabens or phthalates in them.
- Use a coffee mug instead of disposable cups & lids for all hot drinks (even when out!)
If you work on these 3 simple actions, you can go a LONG way to improve your estrogen balance & keep it at a healthy level!