Estrogen Dominance: The Hidden Cause of Weight Gain, Moodiness and Heavy, Painful, and Irregular Periods
There are so many different reasons our bodies may be suffering, trying to figure it all out can be dizzying. Hormone imbalance is really a hot topic these days in the wellness sphere, and for good reason.
Millions of women everywhere are suffering needlessly with hormonal imbalances. Busy, stressful lives, widespread toxicity, poor diet and sedentary lifestyle are contributing to these imbalances which seem to plague us.
As you may be aware, I have hormonal imbalances myself. I have PCOS as well as an underactive thyroid gland. I deal with adrenal insufficiency as well. All of these issues seem to be connected, and the hormone estrogen is one of those connections.
If you’re struggling with weight gain in the hips, thighs, belly and back, or are dealing with mood problems and bad periods, I urge you to read on. What you will discover may be the lightbulb moment you need to begin taking targeted and natural action to smooth your symptoms and allow you to LIVE again.
What Is Estrogen Dominance?
First of all, let’s get this out of the way. Educating yourself about WHAT is going on in your body and WHY (this comes below) will give you the direction you need to keep going.
Estrogen dominance is a term that’s become quite popular, but many don’t truly understand what it means. Often we think “dominance” must mean too much, but this is not the case.
Estrogen dominance is simply an imbalance in the ratio of estrogen to progesterone, in favour of estrogen. This could mean that:
(1) You have excessively high levels of estrogen
(2) You have normal estrogen and low progesterone
(3) You have low estrogen and extremely low progesterone
Therefore, it is possible for women of all ages (even through and beyond menopause) to be estrogen dominant. There are 3 main estrogens, (1) estradiol, (2) estriol and (3) estrone. For the purposes of this article, I’m talking about estradiol- the estrogen that is most important throughout our lifespan. On the flip side, estriol is highest in pregnancy, and estrone becomes the dominant estrogen post-menopause.
What Are The Symptoms of Estrogen Dominance?
There are so many different symptoms or complaints of estrogen dominance, and I’ll outline them below based on the 3 possible variations of estrogen dominance we discussed above.
(1) Excessively high levels of estrogen and low progesterone
- Sore, swollen and tender breasts
- Breast growth beyond puberty
- Swelling in the hands/fingers, legs and ankles
- Menstrual cramps
- Heavy menstrual flow
- Being called “too bossy”
(2) Normal to high estrogen and low progesterone
- Absent periods
- Irregular periods
- Menstrual flow clotting
- Sore, tender breasts
- Water retention/swelling
- Fibrocystic breasts
(3) Low estrogen and extremely low progesterone
- Memory loss
- Hot flashes or night sweats
- Vaginal dryness
- Low libido
- Chronic fatigue
- Sagging breasts
- Quick weight gain
- Absent or irregular periods
Other, more general symptoms and signs of estrogen dominance include:
- Accelerated aging
- Hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar) – feeling “hangry” between meals
- Premenopausal bone loss
- Thyroid dysfunction
- Uterine cancer and fibroids
- Breast cancer
- PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome)
- Ovarian cysts
- Low progesterone and/or luteal phase defect
- Cervical dysplasia
- Hair loss
- Mood swings
- PMS or PMDD
- Sluggish metabolism
- Fat deposition in the hips, thighs, belly and back
- Gallbladder disease
How You Get Estrogen Dominance
So how did we get here? What happened in our lives that brought on estrogen dominance and all these bothersome symptoms?
First and foremost, we must chat about toxicity. There are infinite sources of toxicity in our environment, and we cannot escape it. This sometimes makes us feel like giving up- because if we don’t have control, what’s the point? The truth is we do have control.
The main sources of toxicity we can’t control are:
- Air pollution
- Use of chemicals in clothing, furniture, cars, etc
Sources of toxicity we can control:
- Food and water
- Household cleaning products
- Indoor air environment
- Personal care products such as deodorant and shampoo
As you can see, a lot of the control is in our hands. This is really important, as toxins can disrupt proper estrogen and hormone metabolism (endocrine disruptors) contributing to any or all of the symptoms listed above.
Specifically, it’s important to watch out for xenoestrogens, man-made estrogens found in many places, including:
- Commercially-raised meat and dairy products like chicken, beef, pork, and all dairy
- Non-organic foods with high levels of insecticides and pesticides
- Tap water
- Shampoos, lotions, soaps, toothpastes, cosmetics, deodorants, etc
- Soft plastics (BPA is a popular xenoestrogen here)
- Artificial food additives, including artificial sweeteners and MSG
- Non-organic soy and soy derivatives like soy protein isolate
- Dryer sheets
- Birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
- Disposable menstrual products like tampons and sanitary pads
The problem with these xenoestrogens is that they mimic the function of our natural estrogen, but in a much stronger or more powerful way. Beyond giving our bodies too much estrogen, they will also disrupt that delicate estrogen-progesterone ratio, the definition of estrogen dominance.
Diet is one of those areas where we do have control, and ignoring this is detrimental to our health. As you can see from the above list, five of the ten sources of xenoestrogens mentioned are food-based.
This makes logical sense then that dietary xenoestrogens are contributing to estrogen dominance. You can also see that these foods aren’t healthy choices either, so eliminating them from your diet is the easiest way to ditch 50% of the xenoestrogens you come into contact with.
Beyond dietary xenoestrogens, other dietary problems can contribute. For example, if you eat a diet high in refined carbs (think bagels, bread, muffins, noodles, donuts, crackers, etc), your blood sugar and insulin balance will be upset.
When this happens, insulin messes with your ovaries, changing up estrogen and progesterone balance. Additionally, insulin resistance and blood sugar imbalance create more opportunity for your body to store extra fat and to be anxious, depressed, irritable or down right moody.
Birth Control and Hormone Replacement Therapy
Medications are another branch of toxicity worth it’s own section. Many women today are on some form of hormones birth control, like the pill, shot, IUD or patch. Other peri- and post-menopausal women are given synthetic hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
All of these drugs push high amounts of synthetic estrogen into your body. Because the lab-made estrogen doesn’t look or at the exact way our natural estrogen does, it often binds to receptors first and has the same powerful and harmful action as other xenoestrogens. When women using hormonal birth control pee, the hormones are left in the water system, ending up in tap water. Local filtration systems just aren’t enough to remove the hormones from the water.
The good news is that there are many non-drug ways to have contraception, or hormone support, depending on your needs. For example, the Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) can be used to prevent pregnancy or enhance fertility, depending on your goals.
Estrogen Dominance and Weight Gain
So what’s the connection between having estrogen dominance and weight gain? It’s pretty simple.
Estrogen is partly responsible for keeping our metabolisms in good shape. It also helps to maintain fat loss in proper levels. Having too much can slow metabolism, as can having too little. So, you’re more apt to gain weight, especially in the hips, thighs and back, as well as the belly. You might notice you started out as a pear shape, and have gained weight and now have an apple shape, with much of your weight in the belly area as time goes on.
Beyond this, estrogen dominance negatively interferes with thyroid hormone. The thyroid is the main controller of our metabolism, and of estrogen dominance is slowing our thyroid, our metabolism will slow and we will gain weight.
Many women with estrogen dominance also have some level of thyroid dysfunction.
Estrogen Dominance and Mood Problems
Beyond weight gain, mood disturbances are a big light bulb that estrogen dominance may be contributing to your issues.
When estrogen is in balance, we feel sexy, strong, confident and ready to take on the world. We are uplifted and pleasant to be around.
When estrogen dominates over progesterone, this can lead to anxiety (progesterone is a calming hormones) and depression, which may be seen even with low estrogen levels.
Additionally, excess estrogen may have you feeling super irritable, or people may begin calling you bossy because of the way you act.
These things don’t have to be cause for using anti-depressants, but rather are a signal to bring estrogen and progesterone into balance naturally to restore your moods.
Estrogen Dominance and Painful, Heavy and Irregular Periods
Another big sign of estrogen dominance is period issues. Specifically, heavy, painful and/or irregular periods.
Having too much estrogen in relation to progesterone can stall or halt ovulation altogether. No ovulation = no period.
Excessive estrogen also builds up the lining of the uterus more than normal, and often results in heavy periods accompanied by clotting. Pain and menstrual cramping may also be severe with estrogen dominance.