Disclaimer: I am not a health professional. My advice is based solely on my experiences as a patient. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your health regimen!
Happy Valentine’s Day! What better day to celebrate female hormones, amirite? (Hey, don’t look at me like that.)
If you’re a woman, you won’t be surprised to learn that everything in your body is connected to your hormones. The same is still true if you’re a man — but it’s especially true if you’re a woman.
And that doesn’t just cease to be the case if you have endometriosis. In fact, endometriosis can be a cause and an effect of hormone imbalance — especially when it comes to the female sex hormone estrogen.
As a symptomatic woman struggling to receive an endometriosis diagnosis, I identify with many of the symptoms of estrogen dominance: too much estrogen and (by comparison) too little progesterone.
But just what is estrogen dominance, and how can you tell if your estrogen is out of balance? This post covers everything from what estrogen is to how to get your estrogen levels back on track — especially if you, like me, have (or suspect you have) endometriosis.
All About Estrogen
Estrogen is a female sex hormone found in large amounts in women and smaller amounts in men. Occasionally, however, estrogen production can skyrocket — or we can be exposed to excess estrogen through hormonal birth control or our environment. This is how estrogen dominance develops.
But before we can fully understand estrogen dominance, we need to understand how estrogen functions within the body. Estrogen serves many functions in the body, especially for women’s reproductive health: produced primarily in the ovaries, it regulates the menstrual cycle and supports healthy pregnancy. Estrogen can also be produced in the kidneys and in fat (a.k.a. adipose) tissue.
According to the Hormone Health Network, the body produces three main types of estrogen:
- Estradiol (E2): the most common type of estrogen in women of childbearing age
- Estriol (E3): the main estrogen produced during pregnancy
- Estrone (E1): the only estrogen made by the body after menopause
Your estrogen levels fluctuate naturally throughout your menstrual cycle. They are highest in the middle of your cycle, when you ovulate, and lowest during your period. Sometimes, however, women develop high or low estrogen for other reasons.
The most common causes of low estrogen are menopause or oopherectomy (removal of the ovaries). Today, we’ll focus on high estrogen, which consequently throws progesterone (another female sex hormone) out of whack in a condition known as estrogen dominance.
Symptoms of Estrogen Dominance
The growth and shedding of the uterine lining each month is controlled by estrogen — meaning, if you have endometriosis, the behavior of your endometriosis is also controlled by estrogen. Some recent studies (2019, Marquardt et. al.) suggest that dysregulation of the E2 form of estrogen may be partially responsible for endometriosis.
Estrogen dominance and endometriosis are intricately linked. Other signs of estrogen dominance include:
- Ovarian cysts
- Heavy and/or irregular periods
- Early onset puberty
- Weight gain
- Low libido
Many of these symptoms surface not only because of the presence of excess estrogen, but also because the body’s progesterone levels are low in comparison.
The long-term consequences of estrogen dominance may also be grim. For example, women who started their period before age 12 (and therefore have been exposed to more estrogen) have a higher chance of developing breast and ovarian cancers, according to Bright Pink.
Rebalancing Your Estrogen
So, what’s a girl to do if she suspects she has estrogen dominance? I’m not a doctor, so I can’t promise to cure your estrogen dominance (or your endometriosis). However, research suggests that there are some surefire ways to reduce your exposure to excess estrogen from your environment, as well as to improve your overall hormone health:
- Consume organic meat and dairy. Unless specifically labeled as hormone-free, regular meat and dairy may contain added growth hormones that can mess with your estrogen levels. Purchase organic, hormone-free meat and dairy if you choose to eat these foods.
- Avoid BPA-containing plastics. Make sure you drink out of a BPA-free water bottle, replace your Tupperware with BPA-free containers and avoid any other sources of BPA, which can also disrupt your hormones. (Avoiding plastics also happens to be great for the environment, and is therefore great for everyone.) I love my glass BKR water bottle, which is a great alternative to plastics!
- Take your vitamins. B vitamins and magnesium, to be exact — which have both been found to support the processing of estrogen. If you take other daily medications for chronic conditions, I highly recommend Pill Pack by Amazon, a prescription delivery service that will package your daily medications along with your OTC vitamins and ship them straight to your door.
- Swap your personal care products. Using organic, all-natural beauty and personal care products is all the more important if you have estrogen dominance. This is because harmful chemicals like phthalates can mimic the effects of estrogen in the body — and because our skin is so porous, anything applied externally can be absorbed into our bodies and affect our hormone balance. So, swap to organic pads and tampons by brands like L. or Cora, and make sure to avoid any toxic chemicals in your beauty products.