Oestrogen dominance - is it an environmental thing, a stress thing, or perhaps one of diminished detox?
by Ian Craig
in Blogs

Those of you who regularly read my blog posts will know that I talk an awful lot about hormones… I’m often talking about the main stress hormone cortisol and how that links in with many modern health imbalances. The topic of female hormones is actually no different, as you’ll read about in a minute or two. But, my focus for today is oestrogen and its sister hormone, progesterone. Many women experience very irritating or even debilitating symptoms that can be linked to an imbalance between oestrogen and progesterone.

Here are a few symptoms for starters: menstrual irregularities, polycystic ovarian syndrome, menstrual cramping, fibroids, endometriosis, infertility, acne, brittle nails, dry cracked skin, depression, anxiety, mood swings, low libido, fatigue, foggy thinking, slow metabolism, central weight gain, sugar cravings, migraines, headaches, joint pain and allergy symptoms.

Over the course of a woman’s monthly cycle, oestrogen and progesterone synergistically dance – the conductor of this intricate dance is the pituitary gland, which sends out luteinising hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), which may be names you remember from a blood test that you’ve had in the past. Because it is such an intricate dance, if the pituitary gland is thrown off focus because it’s dealing with other aspects of a woman’s physiology, this can really mess with female hormone balance. The pituitary gland also conducts messages to the adrenal and thyroid glands, so if these glands are demanding too much attention (like a naughty child) or are under-functioning, female hormone rhythms can be upset. A common sporting example of this is when a woman overtrains and loses her periods, at least for some months. However, even the stress of daily life can be enough to throw out the regularities of a woman’s cycle, or to cause problems such as PMS.

So, stress is a factor in oestrogen-progesterone balance, and if you look at the diagram below (which comes from a laboratory test that I often use), you’ll see at the top of the hormone cascade, a hormone called pregnenolone. Pregnenolone is essentially the master hormone that is required to make all of our sex and stress hormones. Stress always wins the battle, however, because in evolutionary terms, at any given moment, it is more important to able to fight or flight than to make babies! Pregnenolone can therefore be used to make more cortisol when a woman is stressed, but consequently less oestrogen and progesterone – in the functional medicine world, this is called the pregnenolone steal.

Moving beyond stress, let’s look more specifically at female hormones. Possibly the main reason that we see issues with oestrogen dominance and not progesterone dominance, is that we have synthetic forms of oestrogen everywhere in the environment these days. These are called xenoestrogens, xeno meaning ‘foreign’, and they have a much stronger affinity for oestrogen receptors than a woman’s natural levels of oestrogen. The most common sources of xenoestrogens are plastics, unfiltered water, the birth control pill, and hormone replacement therapy. Women are not alone with problems of oestrogen excess; with the arrival of man boobs, or ‘moobs’, men are also becoming more feminised these days!

So in order for women to become less oestrogen dominant, it has become very clear that they need to be incredibly aware of the sources of environmental toxicity, and to avoid them as much as practically possible. But, more than this – they can also improve on the detoxification capacities in her their body, specifically to improve rates of oestrogen clearance. You can see in the laboratory diagram below, a case of a woman with low progesterone levels, which may well be due to excessive stress levels (I know this lady!), plus two out of the three types of oestrogen (E1 and E2) are on the high side. Additionally, if you follow downstream to the metabolites of oestrogen, 2-OH-E1 and 4-OH-E1 are above reference range. In this type of scenario, if left untreated for many years, this is a woman who may be at high risk an oestrogen-related cancer, such as breast cancer.

With regard to nutritionally dealing with oestrogen clearance, I have three very specific recommendations for you. The first one, unsurprisingly, is broccoli and the entire cruciferous family, which includes cauliflower, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, and kale. Cruciferous vegetables are highly supportive of a natural antioxidant and detoxification system in our body called glutathione – I even use encapsulated sprouted broccoli seeds as a supplement of choice in these kinds of scenarios.

My second recommendation is sulphurous vegetables, such as onions leeks, and garlic. Sulphur is required by a process in the body called sulphation, which is one of the clearance routes for oestrogen.

My third recommendation is B-vitamins, especially vitamin B6, B12, and folate. These are collectively termed as methylating nutrients. Methylation is another vital process in our body, which does a lot more than detoxification, but in this scenario, it is vital for the successful detoxification of oestrogen metabolites, which might otherwise cause hormonal imbalances in our body, and long-term cancer risk. Here are some links to the World’s Healthiest Foods website, which give good sources of vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and folate.

So, like many other physiological conditions, oestrogen dominance comes back to food choices, and of course stress, toxicity, lifestyle issues, with a bit of genetics thrown in…


Dutch test pic