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10 Symptoms Of High Estrogen & Holistic Ways To Get Your Levels Down

Certified holistic nutrition consultant

By Lindsay Boyers

Certified holistic nutrition consultant

Lindsay Boyers is a nutrition consultant specializing in elimination diets, gut health, and food sensitivities. Lindsay earned a degree in food & nutrition from Framingham State University, and she holds a Certificate in Holistic Nutrition Consulting from the American College of Healthcare Sciences.

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Estrogen may be best known for it role in pregnancy and menstruation, but its effects reach far beyond reproductive health. High estrogen can cause short-term discomfort, but it can also contribute to chronic health problems and even fertility challenges in the long run. Here, we’ll break down the most common high estrogen symptoms and what women can do to get their levels in check ASAP.

The need-to-knows:

High estrogen is a hormone imbalance: High estrogen, also known as estrogen dominance, happens when the ratio of estrogen is too high compared to the level of the hormone progesterone.It can cause painful symptoms: High estrogen can cause irregular bleeding, breast tenderness, insomnia, mood swings, low libido, and more.It’s associated with a number of chronic health issues: Elevated estrogen levels are also common in chronic conditions like endometriosis and PCOS. For this reason, you’ll want to consult with your doctor if you suspect your levels are high.You may be able to get estrogen in check with lifestyle changes: Eating whole foods, exercising regularly, and limiting environmental toxins when possible may all help keep your estrogen levels in check through various pathways.

What does it mean to have high estrogen?

Estrogen is most often categorized as a sex hormone—and it is. But this steroid hormone is involved in so much more beyond reproduction. It controls many aspects of health1 in both women and men, including glucose balance, lipid homeostasis, brain function, and bone metabolism. It’s also responsible for ovulation.

According to functional medicine gynecologist Wendie Trubow M.D., estrogen is produced mostly by the ovaries, but your adrenal glands and fat cells also make it. There are three main types of estrogen: 

Estrone (E1): A common form that your body makes after menopause Estradiol (E2): The strongest form your body makes. This is the primary form of estrogen during the reproductive yearsEstriol (E3): This type is mostly found in your body during pregnancy

Put simply, estrogen dominance is a state of imbalance in the ratio of estrogen to progesterone. “It can also be found when women have inappropriate processing of estrogen, which leads to a buildup of toxic forms of estrogen, also leading to dominance in the estrogen balance,” says Trubow. 

Summary

Estrogen is a steroid hormone that plays a role in blood sugar, brain function, and bone metabolism in both women and men. It’s also responsible for ovulation. High estrogen (estrogen dominance) happens when the ratio of estrogen is too high compared to the level of the hormone progesterone.

Causes of high estrogen

Estrogen dominance can have several causes, but here are some of the most common.

1.

Poor liver function

The modern world can be a toxic place. We’re exposed to environmental toxins and toxins in our food supply on a daily basis. And all of this gets processed through your liver. The liver is also where estrogen is eliminated from the body.

If your liver is overloaded and/or sluggish, it will have a hard time processing substances like estrogen on top of environmental toxins. This can lead to incomplete detoxification and leave you with high estrogen levels2, according to Trubow.

2.

Poor gut function 

There are a handful of ways your gut can contribute to estrogen dominance, but one is an imbalance in gut bacteria that produces an enzyme called beta-glucuronidase. 

According to Trubow, beta-glucuronidase divides the estrogen3 that’s bound for excretion. “When this happens, the estrogen goes back to being a free radical and is also no longer water-soluble, so it is brought out of the intestines (a water-soluble area) and back into the bloodstream (fat-soluble). Then, it is either re-processed or stored in the fat,” she says.

Constipation can also contribute to estrogen dominance. Eliminating your bowels is one of the three main ways your body detoxifies. Proper gut function and daily, well-formed stools help reduce the reabsorption of waste products, like excess estrogen. When you’re constipated, it increases the chance that estrogen will be cleaved by the beta-glucuronidase, and then the estrogen has nowhere to go but back into your bloodstream.

High estrogen also seems to cause constipation4 in some cases, so it can put you in a negative digestion cycle.

3.

Obesity

Having obesity or a particularly high body fat percentage can also contribute to elevated estrogen levels in men5 and women6.

This could be due to the fact that cells are responsible for converting circulating androgens (male sex hormones, the most common of which is testosterone) into estrogen.

Fat tissue is the primary source of estrogens7 and high estrogen levels in postmenopausal women and men with certain health conditions, like pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure in the lungs).

4.

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

Abnormal menstruation is one of the main clinical signs of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). This can create a cascade effect that goes on to cause high estrogen levels.

PCOS can lead to imbalanced estrogen8 since women [with PCOs] aren’t regularly ovulating (that’s when progesterone gets created),” says Trubow. Missing periods due to stress, illness, travel, etc. can also throw off estrogen levels.

There’s also a chicken or the egg situation here, since high estrogen levels can eventually lead to PCOS, which we’ll cover more below.

5.

Hormone replacement

Exogenous hormone replacement can elevate estrogen levels, too, specifically taking too much estrogen in relationship to progesterone.9

High estrogen symptoms

So, what are the symptoms of high estrogen in women and people assigned female at birth? The most common high estrogen symptoms are:

Uterine fibroids (non-cancerous tumors that grow in or on your uterus)Dysfunctional menstrual pattern (heavy, too frequent, intermenstrual bleeding, lasting too long, clotty)Breast tenderness and/or fibroids in breastsIrritability or mood swingsInsomnia/trouble sleepingDepression and anxietyFatigueLow libidoWeight gain and/or difficulty losing weightFertility challenges

How to diagnose high estrogen

Many of these symptoms are not exclusive to estrogen dominance and can also be a sign of other issues. If you suspect you have high estrogen levels, you’ll need to consult with your doctor to know for sure.

While there are at-home tests you can take to measure hormones, like the Veracity Hormone Test, Trubow says these aren’t always accurate. Testing can be tricky since estrogen varies throughout the menstrual cycle, and there can be a wide range of what’s considered “normal.” Some women, like those going through menopause, will also have intrinsically lower levels of estrogen than younger women. 

Your doctor may test the estrogen levels in your blood or urine. Trubow says that urine testing tends to be more accurate, as it can measure estrogen levels throughout a person’s cycle.

Summary

While at-home hormone testing kits are available, they aren’t always accurate. Work with your doctor to determine if your symptoms are due to high estrogen levels.

What else could cause these symptoms?

If you have symptoms of high estrogen but don’t actually have elevated levels, Trubow says there are likely two things to blame: toxicity from environmental toxins or endocrine-mimicking plastics (or both).

Environmental toxins can overload your liver and cause numerous symptoms, from reproductive dysfunction to autoimmunity. They have also been connected to PCOS and endometriosis10.

Regular exposure to endocrine-mimicking plastics and other endocrine disruptors, like some of the chemicals found in personal care and cleaning products, can also cause similar symptoms to high estrogen levels (including fatigue, weight gain, and fertility challenges).

If you use a lot of plastics and/or conventional personal care products, refer to our advice below on how to cut back.

Summary

Regular exposure to environmental toxins or endocrine-mimicking plastics can cause similar symptoms to estrogen dominance.

High estrogen during menopause

Estrogen levels start to naturally decline during perimenopause (the period of time right before menopause), and then continue to drop post-menopause. However, some women may have symptoms of high estrogen even during this transition. 

“It’s not so much that the estrogen is intrinsically high—more that it is imbalanced since women aren’t regularly ovulating, which produces the progesterone to balance out the estrogen,” says Trubow. And because there’s no period of ovulation, there’s no resulting withdrawal bleeding, so the uterine lining builds up (from the estrogen) and then doesn’t shed regularly.

To mitigate these risks, and any potential uncomfortable symptoms, Trubow often recommends perimenopausal women look into progesterone therapy to help regulate the cycle through the transition and balance out estrogen. Progesterone has also been shown to improve sleep quality11 during the perimenopausal period. 

Once a woman has reached menopause, Trubow recommends continuing the progesterone and also considering adding estrogen to maintain brain, bone, heart, and sexual health.

High estrogen risks

Beyond causing uncomfortable symptoms, estrogen dominance can exacerbate the following chronic health issues if not properly managed.

1.

PCOS

While the cause of PCOS is unknown, women with PCOS seem to produce excess estrogen8. PCOS occurs when the ovaries produce too many androgens, which then causes an imbalance in all hormones.

According to the World Health Organization12, 8-13% of reproductive-aged women have PCOS. It also estimates that 70% of PCOS cases are undiagnosed, pointing to a serious gap in women’s health care. PCOS can have many symptoms, like irregular periods, abnormal hair growth, weight gain, and thinning hair. It’s also one of the most common causes of fertility challenges in women and people assigned female at birth.

Real-life stories

“By age twelve, my hormones were abruptly changing, and the first menstruation that came and never left led me to become severely anemic and in need of a blood transfusion. I did not feel like myself—I had no energy and felt sick every day. I had countless visits with different doctors to get my hormones and cycle under control. Finally, I was provided with labels for the condition and symptoms I had been wrestling with. At the age of thirteen, I discovered that I had PCOS.”—Author Renée Marie Joyal on her experience being diagnosed with PCOS

2.

Endometriosis

Another severely underdiagnosed condition affecting women, endometriosis occurs when tissues similar to the endometrial lining in the uterus grow outside of the uterus. The tissue thickens and breaks down with each menstrual cycle. This can cause irregular periods, abdominal pain, fatigue, and fertility challenges. 

High estrogen levels13 seem to contribute to inflammation14, which can go on to exacerbate painful endometriosis symptoms.

Real-life stories

When I was 21 and wrapping up my undergraduate degree in journalism, I had just landed my first big reporting assignment for a television station. But while on assignment, I had to keep running to the bathroom to take deep breaths, loosen my waistband, and brace myself against a stall door to work through debilitating menstrual cramps. At least that’s what I thought I was experiencing. At the urging of my mother, I later went to my OB/GYN. He performed exploratory laparoscopic surgery to determine I had endometriosis. —Journalist Jennifer Chesak on her experience being diagnosed with endometriosis

3.

Cancer

A number of cancers, including ovarian, breast, and uterine, have also been connected to high estrogen levels. In estrogen-receptor-positive breast cancers, estrogens bind to receptors and drive the formation of cancerous cells.

Trubow says these cancers are essentially the end result of estrogen dominance and inappropriate processing15.

How to get levels in check

While high estrogen levels can have several undesirable outcomes, Trubow says it’s important to remember that estrogen also plays many protective roles in the body. “It’s only when the system is imbalanced that estrogen can be damaging,” she says, adding that a lack of estrogen is also harmful to tissues, brain health, and sexual health.

You’ll want to work with a doctor to correct a diagnosed hormone imbalance. However, there are a few holistic lifestyle changes that may also help support healthy hormone levels. Here are a few you can try:

1.

Eliminate or decrease alcohol

Alcohol and estrogen are both detoxified through the liver. When your liver is presented with both, alcohol takes precedence, according to Trubow. There also seems to be a correlation between increased estrogen levels16 and increased alcohol use in females. You can give your liver the best chance of properly detoxifying estrogen by cutting back on alcohol or avoiding it altogether.

2.

Make healthy dietary changes

The food you eat has an impact on your hormones. Registered dietitian Maggie Michalczyk, R.D., previously told mindbodygreen that the best way to support hormone health through diet is by eating nutritionally balanced meals that contain protein, healthy fat, and fiber-rich carbohydrates. Whole, unprocessed foods, like leafy greens, veggies, berries, nuts, seeds, and fatty fish, may also help maintain healthy levels of other hormones, like insulin and cortisol.

3.

Manage your stress levels

Chronic stress doesn’t affect estrogen directly, but it does increase levels of cortisol17, which, in turn, can decrease progesterone levels. It can also send signals to the liver that shut down detoxification18. This can cause a chain reaction that ends with high estrogen since there’s not enough progesterone to balance it out.

4.

Get enough sleep

Like stress, a lack of sleep can disrupt cortisol levels, leading to unwanted changes in estrogen and progesterone. Most experts recommend 7-9 hours of sleep for adults, but it’s not just about the quantity; you must ensure you’re getting high-quality sleep, too.

5.

Exercise regularly

Research shows that the direct effect of exercise on estrogen is relatively modest. However, staying active can promote a healthy body weight, which may help keep estrogen levels in a good place.

6.

Switch your personal care and cleaning products

Many of the things you use at home, from window spray to face wash, contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals that can throw off your estrogen and other hormones, says Trubow. Try to use phthalate-free and paraben-free products as much as possible. Here are guides to mindbodygreen’s favorite less-toxic products:

7.

Eliminate plastic storage containers and drinking bottles

Plastics, especially single-use ones, have estrogen mimickers in them that can disrupt hormones in high amounts19, according to research. Instead, use glass containers as much as possible, and never heat up food in plastic.

8.

Consider probiotics

If your estrogen dominance is fueled by gut dysbiosis and/or constipation, taking a high-quality probiotic may help by reinvigorating the gut microbiome.

The mindbodygreen POV

High estrogen can cause many uncomfortable symptoms in women and those assigned female at birth—such as irregular bleeding, breast tenderness, insomnia, mood swings, low libido, and more. High estrogen symptoms may look different depending on a woman’s age. An estrogen imbalance may worsen the side effects of menopause in older women, for example.

While you’ll want to work with a doctor to diagnose and treat hormone imbalances like high estrogen, certain lifestyle changes may be able to help, too. In particular, we recommend limiting alcohol consumption, exercising regularly, eating a varied whole-food diet, avoiding environmental toxins when possible, limiting single-use plastics, and supplementing appropriately.

—Emma Loewe, mindbodygreen’s Health & Sustainability Director

Frequently Asked Questions

What happens when estrogen levels are high?

What causes high estrogen levels in females?

How do you lower high estrogen levels?

The takeaway

If you have high estrogen, there are a lot of things you can do at home to help support your hormones naturally. Of course, none of these are short-term solutions; you’ll need to commit to sustained lifestyle changes to see some real (and lasting) results. If you’re concerned that you might have an estrogen-related condition, like PCOS or endometriosis, check in with your doctor. They can order tests to help discover the best path forward.

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