Estrogen Dominance – What Is It and Why Do I Care?
Women live most of their reproductive lives cycling through the ebb and flow of estrogen and progesterone. Estrogen and progesterone exist in a natural balance – sort of a Yin and Yang kind of relationship. As women age, progesterone levels are the first to fall with approaching menopause – sometimes years before menopause. This results in relatively too much estrogen that is not balanced by enough progesterone. This is called estrogen dominance and is responsible for many of the symptoms we see in the perimenopausal woman. This can occur even if you’re estrogen is low if there isn’t enough progesterone around to balance things out.
Estrogen dominance can also be unintentionally ‘self-inflicted’ due to the effects of alcohol, hormones and preservatives in our food supply and exposure to synthetic chemicals in our environment (xenoestrogens – plastic bottles a good example). With obesity, even the fat cells start to secrete estrogen!
Symptoms of Estrogen Dominance
The laundry list of problems caused by estrogen dominance is long, but a few of the more common complaints include:
- Breast tenderness / nipple tenderness
- Memory loss / foggy thinking
- Heavy periods / irregular periods / clotting
- Weight gain in the hips and thighs
- Depression / anxiety /irritability / poor sleep
- Water retention and bloating
We need both estrogen and progesterone throughout our adult lives in a balanced state. Progesterone is important even in with who have had a hysterectomy……because ALL cells have progesterone receptors. Estrogen is a proliferative hormone meaning it likes to make things grow. Progesterone has the opposite effect. Too much estrogen and not enough progesterone can possibly result in the formation of breast cyst, uterine fibroids or even cancer!
Estrogen Dominance Treatment
The ‘fix’ is to first become aware of the problem. The diagnosis of estrogen dominance is usually made through clinical evaluation and the appropriate lab tests. Then, measures can be taken to lower estrogen levels if they are too high and balancing progesterone when appropriate.