Functional Nutrition for Estrogen Dominance
Disclaimer: the information in this article is for educational purposes only and is not designed to replace individualized recommendations from a practitioner. Always check with your doctor before adding supplements or making changes to your treatment plan.
I love helping people put together their unique puzzle pieces to figure out what is holding them back from the health/body/function that they want most and I love it even more when we can use the power of real food to overcome it. This post will be the first in a series called "real food strategies" where I'll walk you through common roadblocks to success and give you some first-line nutrition strategies for it. One of the most common issues I see is Estrogen Dominance. If you're on my email list (if not, be sure to sign up at the bottom) you've already learned about this one. Estrogen dominance means that either estrogen levels are too high or that estrogen levels are high relative to progesterone levels. Regardless of which form of estrogen dominance you have, this imbalance poses serious challenges toward achieving body composition goals, having symptom-free cycles, maintaining positive mood and energy levels and improving overall health. Though commonly thought of as the "female hormone", estrogen dominance can absolutely occur in men as well.
Symptoms of Estrogen Dominance:
- mood swings/mood instability
- water retention
- difficulty losing body fat
- acne and skin issues
- irregular periods or anovulatory cycles
- painful cycles
- low sex drive
- difficulty building lean muscle mass
- poor recovery from exercise
- sleep issues
Why is Estrogen Dominance so Common?
Estrogen dominance is increasingly common due to a combination of exposure to hormones in conventional animal products, synthetic hormones in birth control pills, the abundance of xenoestrogens and endocrine-disrupting compounds found in plastics, cosmetics, etc, high stress levels and a decreased ability to rid the body of excess estrogen.
While we can't totally solve the exposure to these compounds (I've outlined some things you can do here) we CAN support our body's ability to get rid of excess estrogen.
but first, Estrogen Metabolism:
Estrogen isn't always a bad thing. In fact we need estrogen to look, feel and function our best - it's only when excessive amounts are present that we run into issues. Any estrogen in excess of the body's needs is shuttled to the liver for detoxification. Here, the liver completes the amazing task of both phase 1 and phase 2 detoxification to help rid your body of excess estrogen in addition to any other toxic chemicals that need clearing. Since estrogen is a fatty compound (as are all hormones), it is bound with bile to be emulsified and sent to the intestines for removal. If there is sufficient fiber in your diet, that fiber binds to the bile and makes sure it is excreted in a bowel movement.
There are a few ways in which this system can break down: overexposure to estrogens burdens the system, the liver is "sluggish" at detoxification, there is insufficient fiber to bind with the bile OR we have the wrong kind of bacteria living in our gut and they are able to "unpackage" the estrogen and reabsorb it into the body. The end result is the reintroduction of that estrogen back into the body, along with any other toxins that bile may have been trying to excrete. Not a pretty picture.
Real Food Solutions:
- Limit xenoestrogen exposure - though not technically food, this tip had to be on the list because if we don't cut down the burden on our liver it's like pouring into a cup with a hole on the bottom. Cutting down on your use of plastics and chemical-laden cosmetics/fragrances is a fantastic place to start to help to reduce the burden on your body. Two of the best resources for this would be the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Database and to check out my friend's fantastic site Detox Me Tuesday to help you find simple swaps you can implement right away.
- Organic animal products - unfortunately the current conventional farming techniques means that animal products (eggs, dairy, poultry & meat) contain hormones and antibiotics that can wreak havoc on your system. If you consume animal products on a regular basis, consider purchasing organic when possible as organic standards do not allow for the use of hormones and antibiotics. If organic is not an option or not budget-friendly, aiming for lower fat products may actually be helpful here. Since hormones are fatty-compounds they are stored in the fat content of the food, so opting for lower fat dairy and lower fat % poultry and meat can help reduce exposure to hormones.
- Cruciferous veggies - this family of vegetables contains a compound called sulforaphane glucosinolate that is essential for detoxification in the liver. In addition to that compound, these veggies are chock full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. Reach for brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and kale several times a week to benefit!
- Adequate Fiber (raw carrot a day) - like I mentioned previously, even if the liver effectively detoxifies the estrogen, if we don't have sufficient fiber to bind with the bile we aren't able to excrete the estrogen in a bowel movement. As a general rule of thumb, aim for ~25-40g of fiber per day from a variety of sources. Fiber gets left out of the conversation way too often and I HIGHLY recommend tracking your intake for a week to get a feel for what your average fiber intake is, you may surprise yourself! In addition to the common sources of fiber (seeds, whole grains, fruits, veggies and legumes) I like to emphasize adding in raw carrots due to their propensity for binding with bile.
- Nutrients to support the Liver - the liver is responsible for SO much, in fact I wrote a whole post on supporting liver detox here. There are several key nutrients that the liver requires to function properly and these include: B vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium, choline, glutathione and amino acids (especially cysteine, glutamine and taurine). Ensure an adequate level of these nutrients by including dark leafy greens, fresh fruit, egg yolks (for choline), whole grains (if tolerated) and high quality protein at each meal.
- Support healthy gut flora - we need healthy bugs in our digestive tract in order to have optimal health. When the wrong bugs move in, they are able to produce something called beta-glucuronidase that essentially undoes the work of our liver and reabsorbs the estrogen back into the body via the gut lining. In addition to the tips above, include fermented foods regularly (kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir, etc), avoid refined sugars and inflammatory oils and consider supplementation below.
When Real Food isn't enough:
- Testing - I am a big fan of testing rather than guessing. Hormonal imbalances often occur due to inflammation, nutrient deficiencies or both. If you have been struggling with estrogen dominance and have already worked your way through the real food strategies, I would highly recommend looking into specialized testing:
- DUTCH testing - to get an in-depth view of hormone balance, hormone metabolism and neurotransmitter activity.
- MRT Testing + LEAP protocol - to help you accurately identify the foods that are driving inflammation in your body + 8 weeks of guidance to rapidly reduce inflammation and develop an eating pattern that supports your body.
- Micronutrient testing - assesses functional levels of 34 different vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to take the guesswork out of possible deficiencies.
- Targeted supplementation - the following supplements may be helpful for overcoming estrogen dominance in addition to a healthy diet + lifestyle. Supplements should be used under the supervision of a practitioner that is overseeing your treatment plan. To view these supplements, click the Fullscript image on the right, create an account and take a look at both the "hormone balance" and "detoxification" categories.
- DIM pro or DIM detox (Pure Encapsulations)
- calcium-d-glucarate (Pure Encapsulations or Seeking Health)
- Estrofactors (metagenics)
- Liver GI Detox (Pure Encapsulations)
- Mediclear SGS + Fibermend (Thorne)
If you have any questions about where to get started, feel free to shoot me an email at email@example.com so I can point you in the right direction. Thanks for reading and have a wonderful week!