Updated: Oct 9, 2018
Estrogen is an important endocrine hormone we all need to be healthy and vibrant, and yes this includes men! Too much estrogen can make you anxious, gain weight, heavy periods, moody and emotional, and too little can give you hot flashes, night sweats, brain fog, depression or incontinence.
These days we are constantly exposed to a variety of factors that mess up our hormone balance. Stress, inflammation, diet, drugs, and lifestyle can all wreak havoc on our estrogen. On top of that we are surrounded by unnatural chemical estrogens called xenoestrogens, or we eat phytoestrogens in our diet, and many women take birth control, or hormone replacement therapy. Our fat tissue even converts testosterone into estrogen, so the more aft you carry, the higher your estrogen load is!
Given these varied estrogen influences, you can see how easily our hormones can shift out of balance in modern society as our estrogen load increases.
Estrogen is produced in the ovaries and fat tissue in women, but can also be synthesised from the adrenal hormone DHEA, or it can be converted from testosterone via a process called aromatase. If we are inflamed or insulin resistant (carbohydrate intolerant), the process of aromatase is upregulated, therefore increasing the conversions of testosterone into estrogen.
Once a woman goes through menopause, her ovaries stop producing estrogen, and her adrenals take over the process. The more dysfunction a woman’s adrenals, or more specifically her Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenal axis (HPA axis) is, the more challenging the menopause transition will likely be.
3 types of estrogen:
Estrone (E1) is about 12 times weaker than E2, and it becomes the predominant circulating estrogen after menopause. It mainly comes from aromatase conversion in fat tissue, or from conversion of E2 in the liver.
Estradiol (E2) the most potent form in pre-menopasual women and can be converted into either E1 or E3. It’s produced in the ovaries and levels peak just before females ovaluate.
Estriol (E3) is the predominate form of estrogen produced in pregnancy, it is about 80 x weaker than E2 and has some protective benefits against stronger estrogen.
10 signs your estrogen levels are out of wack
Irregular or painful periods, and bad PMS symptoms
Fatigue and or sleep disturbances
Depression, anxiety or irritability
Fibrocystic breasts, ovarian cysts or uterine fibroids
Mood swings and overly emotional or teary
Weight gain, particularly around hips and thighs
Brain fog and memory problems
Decreased sex drive
Ok so my Estrogen levels are out of balance, what do I do?
First up you need to establish whether your estrogen levels are high, or low, how it's being used by your body, as well as looking at what the rest of your hormones and HPA Axis is doing. Urinary testing via the DUTCH test is the best way to measure estrogen levels, AND see how the body is metabolising, or using the hormones. Urine testing is ideal, given that there is around 1000 x more estradiol in urine compared to saliva, and thus it provides more accurate values.
Traditional blood tests give a peek into a window of time but cannot determine the estrogen overall production for a day, nor how the body is using the hormone. The same applies to saliva hormone testing.
So if you look at the below tables, these give an approximation of symptoms across testosterone, estrogen and progesterone, and can provide a rough idea of what night be happening. As you can see many symptoms overlap, so it's important to test!
We don’t just top up hormones
When hormones are out of balance, the solution isn’t to supplement with those hormones and build up levels. Hormone balance is a body wide issue, and a myriad of influences like gut health, liver function, metabolism, diet, thyroid function, lifestyle factors and more can contribute to the imbalance. It’s often the case that by cleaning up diet and lifestyle, and seeking to rectify hidden issues in the gut, or HPA axis, that hormones naturally balance themselves out and thus they do not require direct support.
For a woman to feel her best, the Ovarian-Adrenal-Thyroid Axis (OAT) must be functioning well collectively, and in many cases the most appropriate way to bring hormones back into balance is to support the adrenal glands, and the stress response. If the stress response is in motion (fight-or-flight), non-essential functions like the endocrine system shut down for life surviving processes. When stress is high, reproduction and hormone balance isn’t a priority, which is why it’s essential to help quell the sympathetic nervous system type fight or flight response, and upregulate the parasympathetic response so we can rest, digest, heal and reproduce.
So what’s the answer?
The first step must always be diet and lifestyle. By addressing the exposome, we can create a dramatic shift for 80% of cases. Health is the sum of all habits, so it's important to go after imbalance by investigating the underlying root cause of dysfunction, and then use a multi faceted approach to building up systemic health.
Drink 2-3 litres of filtered water a day
Clean up the diet and eliminate processed foods, and eat a whole food diet of good quality, nutrient dense food that is ideally organic.
Eat healthy fats to increase cholesterol. Cholesterol is the precursor to all steroid hormones, which means sex hormones like estrogen cannot be made without it, which is why low fat diets are not a good solution. Foods like olive oil, macadamia nuts, avocado, coconut oil, meat from grass fed pasture raised animals.
Cut refined sugar which is inflammatory, increases insulin resistance, activates the stress response due to blood sugar spikes and drops, negatively impacts gut microbiome and depletes key nutrients.
Cut gluten. Undiagnosed gluten sensitivity is a growing problem, and can significantly impact hormone levels, and ignite an inflammatory cascade and poor gut and liver health.
Eat your leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables which help with deeding gut bacteria, and enhancing detoxification of hormones.
Avoid Soy like the plague. Soy has been shown to stimulate the growth of estrogen-dependent tumors and cause thyroid problems. It compromises protein digestion, effects pancreatic function, increases the requirement for vitamin D and reduces the absorption of minerals like zinc and iron. 1 cup of soy milk can decrease sperm count in men by 50 percent. 2 cups of soy milk is the estrogen equivalent to a birth control pill!
Phytoestrogens are naturally occurring plant compounds that have a weak estrogenic effect that mimic estrogen, and can bind to estrogen receptor sites to block stronger, more toxic, estrogens. Foods like legumes, chick peas, flax seed, beans, prunes, broccoli, asparagus, garlic etc.
Nutrient deficiencies; key nutrients for estrogen are magnesium, vitamins B’s C, D, E, and zinc.
Low fibre diets can increase estrogen level by disrupting gut and liver function
Seed cycling can be an easy way to help regulate hormone levels throughout the menstrual cycle, and involves eating 2 tablespoons of specific seeds in different phases of the female menstrual cycle.
Day 1-14: eat 2 tablespoons of Flax or Pumpkin seeds
Day 15-28 Eat 2 tablespoons of Sesame or Sunflower seeds
Seeds can be useful for hot flashes too, and ground flax seed has been shown to reduce hot flashes as it helps boost estrogen levels. 2 Tablespoons per day is recommended.
Stress: making reproductive hormones is not a priority when the body is stressed. In addition, stress compromises gut function, digestion and increases weight gain and inflammation, all of which negatively shift estrogen levels.
Remove Xenoestrogens which are man-made chemicals that mimic estrogen in the body. Key examples are plastic drink bottles or storage containers, printed receipts, pesticides, cosmetics and skin care, cleaning products etc
Promote healthy gut function by ruling out pathogens and cultivating health bacteria with a healthy real food diet, probiotics, fermented foods and prebiotic fiber. If constipation or leaky gut is an issue, then it’s likely estrogen isn’t being eliminated efficiently in the stool, which can lead to recirculation and higher estrogen levels.
Liver function – sluggish liver clearance can increase estrogen levels, and lead to estrogen not being excreted from the body, thus increasing hormone levels. It’s important to see how estrogen is being detoxified in the body as certain pathways are beneficial, and others can lead to DNA damage, or cell proliferation and tumour growth. Cruciferous vegetables, Beetroot, dark leafy greens, onions, garlic, leeks etc are all essential for health liver detoxification.
Reduce Fat Tissue: The more fat you hold, the more testosterone you will convert to estrogen, as well as higher levels of insulin resistance, inflammation and toxicity, all of which further disrupt hormones.
There are many supplements you can use to affect estrogen levels and metabolism, but it’s essential to know what your levels are, and investigate what might be contributing to your imbalance before going down that route. It’s always best to start with cleaning up the diet and lifestyle, before diving deeper into targeted therapy. If you want to investigate further, I would recommend the DUTCH test by precision analytical, which measures HPA axis function and all sex hormones, as well as the metabolites which help show how your body is actually using the hormones.