Estrogen Dominance Part 2:
Achieving Hormone Balance
In Part 1 of this series, we discussed the signs and symptoms of estrogen dominance as well as the most common causes of this phenomenon. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, I know this information can be overwhelming, but I assure you that small incremental steps can lead to massive health transformations over time. I see this in my practice all the time!
Estrogen has a bad rep, but remember, this hormone is critical for so many functions in the body, some of which include signaling the uterus to grow and thicken in preparation for pregnancy, proper sexual function, maintaining bone density, and promoting thyroid health. To achieve hormone health, estrogen must be in harmony with progesterone. In Part 2 of this series, I offer you a comprehensive guide to overcoming estrogen dominance.
Changes to your diet can have the most profound impact on your estrogen dominant symptoms. The words food as medicine have never rung truer. In general, a whole foods plant-based diet is recommended where 75% of your plate consists of vegetables. Meat can still be part of your meal. Remember to treat it like a side dish instead of the main course.
Here are some specific dietary guidelines to follow for better hormone health:
- Eat organic. Organic whenever possible. Consuming organic foods can help ensure that you are limiting your intake of pesticides and herbicides that are known endocrine disruptors. On a budget? Follow the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Clean Fifteen and Dirty Dozen guide to find out which produce is worth splurging on.
- Eat mostly plants. This is the foundation of a plant-based diet. Remember, eating primarily plant-based does not mean you cannot consume any animal-derived foods, it simply means you emphasize plant-based foods over animal-derived foods. Plants also contain more fiber, which helps to bind up excess estrogen that is then excreted in the stool. Fruits, starchy root vegetables, and legumes are a great source of soluble fiber. Aim to consume fiber rich foods with each meal.
- Brassica family of vegetables. While nearly all vegetables can positively influence hormone health, the brassica family of vegetables (examples include cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, kale, and cabbage) is truly a superfood for your hormones. These vegetables contain a special compound called indole-3-carbinol (I3C) which helps to modulate the detoxification of estrogen in the liver. I encourage you to get creative and incorporate the brassica family into each meal.
- Small amounts of high quality animal products. For animal based products, think pasture-raised, grass-fed, and wild-caught. These aren’t just buzzwords, science has actually shown that pasture-raised, grass-fed, and wild-caught animal products have a better nutritional profile and less environmental toxins compared to conventionally raised meat, seafood, and dairy products. In today’s world, the source of the animal product is so vitally important. Whenever possible, if you are eating out or shopping for groceries, go the extra mile to find out the source of the protein. Side note: mercury is a common concern with fish. Here is a smart seafood buying guide that breaks down which fish contain the least and most amount of mercury per serving.
- Healthy fats. Gone are the days of the low-fat craze, and I’m all for it! Fat intake is critical for hormone production. In fact, fat is crucial for reproductive health, ovulation, and menopausal health. Remember that NOT all fats are created equal. It’s best to incorporate organic, cold-pressed, and unrefined oils such as avocado, coconut, and olive oil with each meal. Of course, avocados, olives, nuts and seeds, pasture-raised eggs, and small amounts of animal-derived fats such as grass-fed butter, ghee, and lard are also great sources of healthy fats. These fats contain high quality omega-3s and omega-6s which create the backbone of nearly all steroidal hormones. Avoid fats and oils that are highly processed such as canola oil and soybean oil as these are extremely inflammatory to the body.
- Probiotics. I mentioned in Part 1 of this series that gut dysbiosis can be a major contributor of estrogen dominance. It’s important to ensure you are consuming probiotics daily to help create a rich and diverse microbiome. Beneficial flora can help with estrogen detoxification. Probiotic rich foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, coconut yogurt, and kefir should become a regular part of your diet. In fact, sauerkraut and kimchi are a bang for your buck when it comes to hormone health since you are consuming both beneficial gut bugs and the brassica family of vegetables.
- Minimize alcohol and caffeine. Alcohol is processed through the liver, the same site for estrogen detoxification. Excessive alcohol interferes with estrogen metabolism in the liver, and ultimately leads to greater circulating levels of the hormone in the bloodstream. Similarly, in some women, caffeine can also increase estrogen in the body. I typically recommend trying a 30-day alcohol and caffeine-free diet. During this time, you can drink alternatives such as filtered water, herbal teas, and caffeine-free lattes such as turmeric lattes, and note how this change affects your hormone related symptoms.
In addition to dietary changes, lifestyle modifications can also help to reduce your exposure to xenoestrogens, estrogen-like chemical compounds found in the environment. Here are the lifestyle changes that can make the most profound impact:
- Consciously de-stress. Take time each day to pause, reflect, and deep breath. Try a meditation from Insight Timer or a deep breathing exercise such as Dr. Andrew Weil’s 4-7-8 breathing technique. Even simple habits like going to bed earlier, drinking plenty of water throughout the day, and spending time with friends can help. In fact, these exercises are intended to bring us back to center and lessen the production of cortisol, our stress hormone. Remember cortisol has an intimate relationship with estrogen. When our stress levels increase, the amount of estrogen circulating in the bloodstream can also increase. Reducing your cortisol levels through specific stress reducing techniques can, in turn, reduce estrogen dominant symptoms.
- Filter your water. Ditch the plastic water bottle, but be wary of tap water. Known endocrine disruptors are often found in tap water supplies. It’s important to invest in a high quality water filter that can remove these contaminants. Remember, what is legally acceptable in terms of the upper limit is not necessarily safe. Find out how your tap water ranks by clicking here, and then learn more about what you can do to get the safest drinking water by visiting the EWG’s water filter guide.
- Filter your air. As modern humans, we spend the majority of our time indoors. So it stands the reason that we pay attention to the quality of air around us. One way to check for air quality is by visiting this website, inputting your zip code, and checking out the air quality forecast near you. Changing the air filter on your HVAC system often would be a great first step to improve the air quality around you. Investing in a quality portable air filter is another option to consider. To learn more about air filters, refer to the EWG’s homeguide on air filters.
- Cookware. Skip the non-stick pots and pans. While it’s an incredibly attractive offer--easy to cook and easy to clean, the toxins are simply not worth the convenience. My personal favorites include cast iron, stainless steel, ceramic, and porcelain enamel. Read more about the best cookware options here.
- Eliminate plastics. As I elaborated in Part 1 of this series, plastics and BPA are everywhere in our modern world. These are potent endocrine disruptors. The best solution here is to reduce the use of plastics. Changing out plastic tupperware for glass is a great first step. Similarly, replacing plastic water bottles with reusable stainless steel bottles as well as bringing a reusable tumbler for your morning cup of Joe (or turmeric latte) are easy swaps that would benefit your hormones and the environment.
- Replace your personal care products. As much as our food is littered with pesticides and herbicides, our personal care products are not much better. Thousands of personal care products contain potentially questionable and outright unsafe ingredients. Unfortunately, the government does not review the safety profile of chemicals before they are added to a product and sold to consumers. This is where consumers have to become their own best advocates and carefully research products before investing in them. Luckily, the EWG’s Skin Deep® cosmetic database lists easy-to-navigate hazard ratings for nearly 70,000 products and 9,000 ingredients. If you want to ensure a product is safe, look for the EWG VERIFIED™ mark on a product.
- Household products. Curious about where household products stand? Refer to the EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning for more information.
It’s intentionally the third item on the list here. That’s because diet and lifestyle are critical to overcoming estrogen dominance. Once you’ve implemented these changes, nutritional supplementation can then only serve to amplify the positive effects of these changes. So which supplements dampen estrogen dominance? Here’s the short list:
- Probiotics-support gut health.
- Adaptogens (such as Ashwagandha and Rhodiola)-modulate our stress response.
- Vitamin B6-enhances progesterone production, which in turn, counteracts excess estrogen.
- Chaste Tree Berry (also known as Vitex)-also supports the production of progesterone.
- Diindolylmethane (DIM) (a metabolic byproduct of I3C)-boosts estrogen detoxification processes in the liver.
- Broccoli Seed Extract (an incredibly powerful supplement)-also boosts estrogen detoxification processes in the liver.
- Calcium D-Glucarate-inhibits beta-glucuronidase activity in the gut, which in turn, allows for more estrogen to be excreted through the stool. Refresher: beta-glucuronidase is an enzyme in the gut that prevents the clearance of estrogen.
- Magnesium-influences the pituitary gland, which in turn, supports the production of estrogen and progesterone.
Speak to a qualified health professional about your options regarding hormone replacement and contraception. While HRT and oral contraceptives are one option, it’s important to note that other hormone-free alternatives also exist. Working with a qualified professional will empower you to make the best decision for yourself regarding contraception and hormone replacement.
I have a deep admiration for the human body. When we give our bodies the raw ingredients it needs, it will take care of us in return. Through conscious diet choices and lifestyle changes, you can overcome estrogen dominance.
Written by Pooja Mahtani, PharmD, MS, CNS, LDN. Pooja is a functional nutritionist as well as the founder of Pooja Mahtani Wellness, a virtual functional nutrition practice specializing in gut, immune, and hormonal health. It wasn't until Pooja's own health struggles that she discovered the immense healing power of food. She witnessed firsthand the human body's astonishing ability to heal when given the raw ingredients it needs to perform its job. Pooja has now made it her mission to help her clients achieve optimal health through a combination of cutting edge nutrition science and sustainable lifestyle changes. Her goal is to empower women everywhere with the tools they need for better physical health so they can go on to lead more fulfilling lives.