Estrogen balance is essential for achieving and maintaining fat loss. In men and premenopausal women, too much estrogen, a condition called estrogen dominance causes toxic fat gain, water retention, bloating and a host of other health and wellness issues. While premenopausal women with too much estrogen tend to have the pear-shape body type with more weight at the hips, both men and menopausal women with this excess exhibit an apple shape with more fat accumulation in the abdominal area. In fact, excess estrogen is as much a risk factor for obesity – in both sexes – as poor eating habits and lack of exercise.
Although estrogen is typically considered a female hormone, a certain amount of it is natural and important for men as well. Excess body fat in men, however, spurs an unhealthy rise in estrogen levels because fat cells are involved in converting testosterone to estrogen. In women, with stress and age there is a natural decline in testosterone and progesterone levels leaving a relative excess of estrogen. Estrogen dominance can also be an issue for men, as testosterone and progesterone naturally decline with age or stress while estrogen conversely rises.
Causes of Estrogen Dominance
There are only two ways to accumulate excess estrogen in the body: we either produce too much of it on our own or acquire it from our environment or diet. Unfortunately, accumulating estrogen is not hard. We are constantly exposed to estrogen-like compounds in foods that contain toxic pesticides, herbicides and growth hormones. Many of these toxins are known to cause weight gain, which serves to fuel the production of more estrogen from our own fat cells. More weight gain then leads to insulin resistance which, you guessed it, increases the risk of estrogen dominance.
Pharmaceutical hormones such as those used in hormone-replacement therapy (HRT) or the birth control pill also increase estrogen, whether we take them actively or absorb them when they make their way into our drinking water. We are living in a virtual sea of harmful estrogens, and researchers are only beginning to identify the extent of this exposure on health in humans and even other species.
What Does Estrogen Dominance Look Like?
If you are a premenopausal woman with estrogen dominance, you likely have PMS, too much body fat around the hips and difficulty losing weight. Perhaps you have a history of gallstones, varicose veins, uterine fibroids, cervical dysplasia, endometriosis or ovarian cysts. For all you men out there, low libido, poor motivation, depression, loss of muscle mass and increased belly fat are big red flags. You may even notice breast development. These symptoms are very similar to those that result from low testosterone, since estrogen dominance is most often accompanied with suboptimal testosterone.
In both sexes, estrogen dominance is thought to be responsible for many types of cancers. This particular hormone imbalance is currently estimated to be one of the leading causes of breast, uterine and prostate cancer.
Use these foods or specific habits to decrease harmful estrogen:
- Since the liver breaks down estrogen, alcohol consumption, drug use, a fatty liver, liver disease and any other factor that impairs healthy liver function can spur an estrogen build-up. If you occasionally consume alcohol, always take a 1 mg folic acid and a B-complex to reduce its negative effects.
- Bacterial imbalance in the gut and other problems that compromise digestion interfere with the proper elimination of estrogen from the body via the digestive tract. Be sure to include a probiotic daily with 15 billion units. Store it in the fridge and take 1-2 capsules twice daily on an empty stomach.
- Insoluble fibre also binds to excess estrogen in the digestive tract, which is then excreted by the body. A fibre supplement can also affect the composition of intestinal bacteria and reduce the build-up and re-absorption of free-floating estrogen. Good sources include wheat bran, corn bran, rice bran, the skins of fruits and vegetables (apples, pears, berries, tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini and carrots), nuts (especially almonds), seeds (particularly sunflower seeds), soybeans, dried beans and whole-grain foods.
- Choose organic dairy and meat products to reduce your exposure to hormone additives.
- Consume weak phytoestrogenic foods such as pomegranate, flaxseeds, pears, apples, berries, organic non-GMO fermented soy, wheat germ, oats and barley.
- The body requires sufficient intake of zinc, magnesium, vitamin B6 and other essential nutrients not only to support the breakdown and elimination of estrogen, but also to aid the function of enzymes responsible for the conversion of testosterone to estrogen. Be sure to add a high quality multivitamin supplement daily.
- Avoid exposure to xenoestrogens from plastics, cosmetics and the birth control pill.
- Avoid unfermented soy products like tofu and soy milk.
- As the body responds to high levels of stress, it “steals” progesterone to manufacture the stress hormone cortisol, often leaving a relative excess of estrogen. Stress management is essential!
- Infrared sauna treatments are an excellent way to rid your body of estrogen.
- Maintaining poor sleep habits cause a reduction in the hormone melatonin, which helps protect against estrogen dominance. Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep per night in a cool, dark room.