Estrogen dominance is an umbrella term that describes several situations in both men and women where hormonal estrogen levels are abnormally high.
Estrogen is often known as the female sex hormone, but it’s found in men and women.
Women have higher estrogen levels than they do progesterone but also have a low level of testosterone.
Men also carry all three of these sex hormones but have higher concentrations of testosterone than women.
In either men or women, a higher estrogen level relative to other hormones could indicate estrogen dominance, also known as estrogen imbalance.
What is estrogen?
Estrogen (also known as oestrogen) is a hormone that plays a crucial role in vital biological functions, including but not limited to our reproductive and sexual health. Estrogen also plays a significant role in our immune system function, metabolism, skin health, bone health and much more.
The body relies on a finely tuned concoction of hormones to stay balanced, and when one is out of whack, such as estrogen, this can cause issues.
What many people don’t realise is that estrogen is a collective term in itself. There are varying types of estrogen, including estrone, estradiol and estriol. Estriol helps prepare women for childbirth during pregnancy, whereas estrone is weaker in postmenopausal women. Estrogen also helps regulate and modulate a woman's menstrual cycle.
Estradiol is the most common unisex form of estrogen and plays a crucial role in spermatogenesis (sperm production).
Estrogen dominance has risen in prominence lately, and more and more people are learning about it and self-diagnosing their estrogen dominance.
Many of the common remedies for estrogen dominance are by-and-large healthy habits in their own right. However, you must seek medical assistance if you intend to take any herbal remedies or medicines for your self-diagnosed estrogen dominance.
What are the symptoms of estrogen dominance?
The symptoms of estrogen dominance are wide-ranging and can be hard to diagnose.
It’s important to remember that many of the following symptoms occur with various other conditions and may or may not indicate a problem at all.
If you’re in any way suspicious of estrogen dominance or if any of the following symptoms persist without getting better or disappearing, then you should consult your doctor.
In rare cases, high estrogen levels can increase the risk of certain types of cancer, blood clotting leading to heart attacks and stroke and thyroid disease, according to studies overviewed by Healthline.
Estrogen dominance symptoms in women
It’s worth noting that the worst risks of estrogen dominance are highest in women undergoing hormonal replacement therapy (HRT) to replace estrogen lost after menopause.
It would be rare for estrogen levels to rise this high on their own without any other indications of disease or HRT therapy.
For the most part, estrogen dominance is associated with the following symptoms in women:
- Anxiety and panic attacks
- Cold extremities
- Decreased libido/sex drive
- FIbrocystic lumps in your breasts
- Hair loss
- Increased symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
- Irregular menstrual periods and heavier bleeding
- Memory problems
- Mood swings
- Swelling and tenderness in your breasts
- Trouble sleeping or fatigue
- Weight gain
Estrogen dominance symptoms in men
Men can experience much of the same general estrogen dominance symptoms as women, but their sexual health is impacted differently.
Namely, high estrogen levels in men can cause infertility as estrogen is required to create healthy sperm. Gynecomastia is a rare condition where high estrogen levels stimulate breast tissue growth in men.
Estrogen also plays a crucial role in male libido - a lack of estrogen can cause erectile dysfunction. Studies outlined in Medical News Today also found that estrogen dominance in men was linked to depression.
Some of the main symptoms of estrogen dominance in men include:
- Abdominal weight gain
- Bloating and digestive issues
- Brain fog
- Depression and anxiety
- Low libido
- Mood swings
- Erectile dysfunction
- Trouble sleeping or fatigue
Is estrogen dominance dangerous?
Estrogen dominance usually only causes generalised, low-level symptoms. However, in the case of HRT therapy and more severe estrogen spikes, high estrogen levels can rise to dangerous levels.
Your doctor should closely monitor your hormone therapy plan.
Some common symptoms that prompt people to look up estrogen dominance are low mood, fatigue and trouble sleeping, excessive weight gain, and low libido. In women, high estrogen can also play havoc with the menstrual cycle, leading to excessive bleeding, cramping and unpredictable cycles.
Some women and also men are at higher risk of breast cancer or other cancers that high estrogen levels can exacerbate.
Many of these symptoms prompt people to investigate hormonal imbalances, including estrogen dominance. Persistent, moderately high estrogen levels can cause these symptoms, but treatment is usually relatively straightforward.
However, it’s important to remember that a proper medical diagnosis is invaluable, especially if you intend to treat your estrogen dominance using herbal medicines or supplements. Always seek medical advice in this scenario or if you're ever unsure.
How is estrogen dominance diagnosed?
A doctor can order a blood test to check your hormone levels. Estrogen is measured in picograms per millilitre (pg/mL). It’s pretty easy for a doctor to compare your estrogen levels and your other hormone levels against others your age. It might not be that estrogen is a problem, but that other hormones are, for example, in the case of high or low thyroid activity.
Usually, a doctor will test all of these hormones at once (or will give you a full blood workup).
You can also obtain these tests via private healthcare agencies and private laboratories, some of which are specialists in treating hormonal conditions.
How is estrogen dominance treated?
Estrogen dominance will be treated when levels are excessively high or when they exacerbate another health condition. For example, some types of cancer are sensitive to increased estrogen levels.
Doctors can prescribe aromatase inhibitors that stunt estrogen production, the three main types being anastrozole (Arimidex), exemestane (Aromasin) and letrozole (Femara). Medication can also stop the ovaries from producing estrogen.
High estrogen levels in these more serious contexts are pretty rare. Instead, most people want to tackle estrogen dominance to improve their mood, lose weight, increase libido, get a better night's sleep and improve their general health.
What causes high estrogen levels?
Many things cause slightly elevated estrogen levels, the most common culprits being diet, being overweight, stress, anxiety and other emotional or mental health conditions.
High estrogen can be caused by:
- Certain antibiotics
- Being overweight or obese
- Poor diet or malnutrition
- Excessive stress, anxiety or depression
- Hormonal contraceptives
- Phenothiazines, drugs used to treat some mental or emotional disorders
- Some herbal medicines
- HRT therapy
- Environmental toxins and pollution
- Lack of exercise
Some cosmetics may also contain xenoestrogens that mimic our own natural estrogen. These include parabens, phthalates and benzophenones, but the evidence surrounding this is unclear and still developing.
One of the key things that cause high estrogen levels is excess fat, but we also know that excess fat is related to low estrogen dominance. So herein lies a problem - estrogen has to be finely balanced to mitigate the effects of either high or low estrogen, as both are potentially bad for us.
As this scientific study published in Biomedicine and Pharmacotherapy sums up: “Both hypo[low] and hyper[high] levels of estrogen have been linked to chronic and acute diseases.”
How to avoid estrogen dominance?
Most strategies for how to avoid estrogen dominance or how to treat estrogen dominance naturally revolve around the two headline acts in general health:
Hormones are closely linked to our general health and homeostasis. While it’s possible to be fit and well but still suffer from some form of estrogen dominance, the odds are slashed dramatically.
1) Lose weight
Losing weight is one of the single most potent things you can do to cut your estrogen levels. This applies to both men and women. Estrogen is created and stored in fat cells - excessive fat is linked with excessive estrogen in several studies.
Breastcancer.org cites a study that found massive drops in estrogen levels after participants followed a calorie-restricted diet for a year alongside exercise. Some observed reductions of some 20%. They found that this firstly reduced general estrogen dominance and secondly cut the risk of breast cancer.
“This study offers more evidence that getting to and maintaining a healthy weight through diet and exercise is worth the effort. A healthy weight can improve your overall health, lower your risk of breast and other cancers, and make it more likely that you'll survive if you're diagnosed with breast cancer.” - Breastcancer.org.
2) Focus on diet
The link between poor diet and elevated estrogen levels is well-established. For example, red meats, processed sugars, carbohydrates and other processed foods have been frequently observed to increase estrogen in men and women.
Conversely, diets rich in grains, dark green veg, Omega-3 and other vitamins and minerals reduce estrogen levels. Fibre is also essential as estrogen dominance has been linked to digestive health.
Deficiency in specific vitamins and minerals could also be linked to estrogen dominance. Magnesium is one candidate, as are B-vitamins.
The Mediterranean diet is a fantastic way to reduce estrogen levels and restore general hormone balance - you can read more about that here.
3) Build an exercise routine
Exercise is a wonderful stimulant of all sorts of hormonal activity and has been linked with reductions in estrogen.
One study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that regular exercise could successfully reduce high estrogen levels associated with increased breast cancer in at-risk women. In both men and women, strength training, in particular, can boost muscle production, which in turn boosts testosterone, also lowering estrogen.
If exercise helps you lose weight, then that's a bonus. However, it's crucial to think about whether you’re meeting your exercise needs if you’re looking into estrogen dominance as a probable cause of lethargy, fatigue and weight gain.
It may seem like a vicious circle that you can't escape. But, armed with some fitness challenges, exercise plans for burning belly fat and workout plans, you can step up your exercise to reduce estrogen dominance. The first step is the toughest - once you’re launched, you’ll be well on your way to restoring hormonal balance.
4) Manage stress
Easier said than done, we know, but managing stress is one of the most important things we can do for our general health. Stress is strongly associated with elevated estrogen levels, which can significantly affect our general health.
Stress is also linked with our diets and exercise levels, which is good news, as improving in these areas will reduce our stress levels. However, the first step in stress management is usually the hardest, and that step is often to admit that we do feel stressed.
Being aware of when you feel stressed and why enables you to take a step back from stressful situations.
There are so many excellent resources online that teach us about stress. Check out
- Mindful: 9 ways to reduce stress
- Very Well Mind: effective stress relievers for your life
- NHS: 10 stress busters
You can also consider apps such as Headspace and Calm. Guided meditation is another excellent technique to look into - there are many videos on YouTube.
What is estrogen dominance?
Estrogen dominance is a general or umbrella term for elevated estrogen levels.
In some cases, estrogen dominance can pose more serious medical problems that a doctor should assess. Always seek medical assistance if you’ve been experiencing new or changed symptoms that persist and don’t go away on their own.
Minor estrogen dominance can contribute to poor sleep, fatigue, low libido, brain fog, weight gain and similar symptoms. This is often why people research estrogen dominance, and it is true that it can play a significant part in some of these symptoms.
The natural, healthy and holistic way to tackle low-level estrogen dominance (e.g. that isn't caused by HRT) is to focus on diet, exercise, stress and weight. If you can successfully improve these four key areas, you'll likely see improvements in your estrogen dominance-related symptoms.