* This Article was originally published on Rupa Health. *
Estrogen is an important hormone for reproductive function, as well as optimal function in many other body systems. When estrogen levels are too high, however, it can lead to disruption in reproductive processes and other serious health consequences.
Conditions associated with too much estrogen, such as breast and ovarian cancer, infertility, and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), are rising. This highlights the need for awareness of the related causes and symptoms to prevent these serious health outcomes.
This article will shed light on estrogen excess, including causes, symptoms, the difference between excess and estrogen dominance, functional laboratory testing to identify a root cause, and which conventional and functional medicine treatments can support a return of hormone balance.
What is Estrogen?
You likely know estrogen by the role it plays in the female hormone system. But did you know that men also produce estrogen? Did you know estrogen plays a role in brain function, skeletal growth, bone metabolism, and glucose and lipid balance? Estrogen does so much more than just regulate the menstrual cycle. Healthy levels of estrogen are vital for optimal health.
Estrogen is a steroid hormone produced primarily in the ovaries in women and in the testes in men; however, small amounts are also made in the liver, skin, heart, brain, breasts, adipose tissue, and adrenal glands. Estrogen is produced by converting androgen hormones into estrogen by an enzyme called aromatase.
There are three forms of estrogen: estrone, estradiol, and estriol. Estriol plays a more significant role during pregnancy, estrone plays a larger role after menopause, and estradiol is the most prominent and potent form of estrogen.
In women, estrogen is indeed involved in regulating the female menstrual cycle. It is one of the primary female sex hormones. It plays a key role in developing and maintaining the female reproductive system and secondary sex characteristics, such as the growth of breasts and the widening of hips. Estrogen is also involved in many other physiological processes throughout the body, including bone health, cardiovascular health, and brain function. In women, estrogen levels fluctuate during the menstrual cycle and decrease during menopause. In men, estrogen levels also play a role in maintaining bone density and overall health.
What is Estrogen Excess?
Estrogen excess occurs when estrogen levels rise above normal laboratory reference ranges. Excess estrogen is associated with cancer, dementia, cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance, PCOS, fibroids, and adrenal tumors.
How is Estrogen Excess Different From Estrogen Dominance?
Estrogen and another steroid hormone, progesterone, fluctuate during the different phases of the menstrual cycle. During the first part of the cycle (the follicular phase), estrogen levels are higher than progesterone, and prior to ovulation, estrogen levels peak. After ovulation, progesterone levels rise higher than estrogen during the cycle’s luteal phase. If pregnancy doesn’t occur during this menstrual cycle, estrogen and progesterone levels fall, and menstrual bleeding begins the follicular phase of the next cycle. This relationship between estrogen and progesterone is very important for maintaining not only menstrual health but many aspects of health. We refer to this relationship as the estrogen-to-progesterone ratio.
Estrogen dominance occurs when estrogen is elevated in relation to progesterone, and there is an imbalance in the estrogen-to-progesterone ratio. Estrogen dominance can occur when estrogen levels are elevated with normal or low progesterone levels or when estrogen is normal or low with lower progesterone levels. Essentially, estrogen dominance is an increase in the gap between estrogen and progesterone levels.
Estrogen dominance can occur when estrogen levels technically fall within normal ranges. Estrogen excess, on the other hand, occurs when estrogen is elevated outside normal ranges.
Estrogen Excess Symptoms
What Causes Estrogen Excess?
Estrogen levels can become elevated in the body in the following ways:
- Overproduction of estrogen
- Inability to appropriately break down or dispose of estrogen
- Exposure to outside (exogenous) sources of estrogen
The inability to metabolize (break down) or excrete estrogen can occur with liver dysfunction and cervicovaginal or gut dysbiosis (an imbalance in the microbes that live in these sites). Low magnesium levels and a diet low in fiber can also prevent proper excretion of estrogen from the body.
Exposure to exogenous sources of estrogen often occurs in the form of hormone medications or xenoestrogens (environmental chemicals that act like estrogen and increase estrogen levels in the body). Hormone medications include estrogen-containing birth control medications and hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Sources of xenoestrogens, also known as endocrine disruptors, can consist of bisphenol A (BPA), phthalates (found in plastics), pesticides, preservatives, and flame retardants, to name a few.
Functional Medicine Labs to Test for Root Cause of Estrogen Excess
Your Functional Medicine practitioner may order several functional laboratory tests to identify both the presence of estrogen excess and a root cause for it.
Hormone testing is vital to confirm whether there is an excess of estrogen in the body. Hormones can be tested in several ways, including in blood and urine. The Vibrant America Hormones Panel is a blood test that evaluates 13 sex hormones, including estrogen and related biomarkers. The DUTCH Complete™ is a urine test that provides a complete picture of hormone health. It assesses the sex hormones, stress hormones, and hormone metabolites.
A micronutrient test will also determine if nutritional factors, such as magnesium deficiency, play a role in estrogen excess.
Comprehensive Stool Testing
A healthy microbiome in the gut and vagina is important for proper hormone metabolism and disposal. To evaluate for gut dysbiosis, a comprehensive stool analysis, such as the Genova Diagnostics GI Effects® Comprehensive Profile, can provide valuable information about microbiome health. To assess for vaginal dysbiosis, the Doctor’s Data Vaginosis Profile is an excellent option for insight as to whether imbalances in the vaginal microbiome are contributing to estrogen excess.
Environmental Toxin Testing
Xenoestrogens can be evaluated with an environmental toxins test, such as the Vibrant Wellness Environmental Toxins test. This urine test measures the presence of several xenoestrogens in the body, including BPA, phthalates, and pesticides.
It’s essential to evaluate for proper liver function to ensure proper metabolism and excretion of estrogen and xenoestrogens. The Vibrant America Hepatic Function Panel is a blood test that evaluates important liver markers to assess overall liver function.
Conventional Treatment for Estrogen Excess
Conventional treatments for estrogen excess often include medications to halt estrogen production. These include aromatase inhibitors or gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) agonists.
Functional Medicine Treatment for Estrogen Excess
A functional medicine approach to treatment helps practitioners address the root causes of excess estrogen. Here are some of the evidence-based treatment options:
Nutrition for Treatment for Estrogen Excess
When it comes to estrogen excess, a nutritional approach addresses the improved metabolism and disposal of estrogen, as well as avoiding dietary factors that increase estrogen production, such as alcohol and a Western diet.
High-fiber foods are an essential consideration to support a healthy microbiome as well as liver health, which will improve metabolism and excretion of estrogen. Other foods that support a healthy microbiome include probiotic-rich foods such as yogurt, kimchi, or pickled veggies.
Adding cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, etc.) to the diet may be helpful as they contain a compound called diindolylmethane (DIM). This compound improves the metabolism of estrogen and supports liver function.
Various foods have been shown to have aromatase-inhibiting effects, making them great additions to the diet. These include white button mushrooms, mangosteen, collards, kale, tea, coffee, and cocoa.
The Mediterranean diet is an excellent option if you’re looking for a specific diet to reduce estrogen levels. Participants in this study that adhered to a Mediterranean diet for six months had reduced total estrogen levels by 40%.
Minimizing exposure to xenoestrogens in the diet is also an important strategy to consider. This can include opting for organic food whenever possible to avoid pesticide exposure, avoiding foods in containers containing BPA, avoiding heating or storing food in plastic containers, and avoiding harsh chemicals in your cleaning and personal care products.
Lifestyle Changes for Estrogen Excess
Supplements for Treatment for Estrogen Excess
Too much estrogen can result in suboptimal magnesium levels; therefore, your Functional Medicine practitioner may suggest a magnesium supplement. Other micronutrient supplements may also be recommended based on the results of your micronutrient test to support hormone health and overall well-being.
When gut dysbiosis is part of the root cause of estrogen excess, various herbal antimicrobials, probiotics, prebiotics, and ginger supplements may be recommended to restore balance in the microbiome.
In cases of vaginal dysbiosis, oral garlic supplements or oral and vaginal probiotics with the Lactobacillus strain of beneficial bacteria may be used to restore balance to the vaginal microbiome.
DIM, the compound found in cruciferous vegetables, can also be supplemented to support metabolism and liver detoxification of estrogen.
Calcium D-glucarate is a supplement that improves estrogen metabolism by modulating liver detoxification and inhibiting an enzyme called beta-glucuronidase.
Other supplements supporting healthy liver detoxification include curcumin, quercetin, milk thistle, licorice, cinnamon, fish oil, and methylated B vitamins.
Estrogen excess occurs when estrogen levels rise above normal laboratory reference ranges and can contribute to serious health consequences like cancer, dementia, and cardiovascular disease.
Awareness of the symptoms and associated conditions can help indicate whether excess estrogen may be an issue for you to talk to your functional medicine practitioner about. With functional lab testing, your practitioner may identify a root cause for your hormone imbalance and help you develop a plan to restore your hormone health and well-being.