Estrogen Dominance: Signs, Symptoms, & Treatments
When I was 22 years old, I walked into the third health clinic I had been to in the past six months, desperate for answers. I had a migraine that wouldn’t abate except when I was asleep, fatigue, dizziness, faintness, weight gain, sleep disturbances, and a slew of other issues.
That particular time, the doctor asked me, “Could you be going through menopause?”
What prompted that question was the fact that on that occasion, I had also missed periods for three or so months in a row (perhaps it was even four).
Of course, she also suggested I might be pregnant.
The answer to this mystery was one I didn’t discover until years later. I know it sounds stereotypical and rather unbelievable to say it was after “years of trial and error,” but it actually was. I’d had no luck with doctors, which meant I had to figure out what was wrong on my own.
It turned out the answer was something called “estrogen dominance.”
What Is Estrogen Dominance?
Estrogen dominance is a name for a health condition where your hormones are out of balance. Specifically, your body is not manufacturing enough estrogen compared to progesterone.
As a result, estrogen is “dominating” your hormonal profile in an unhealthy fashion, causing symptoms like those I described above.
The reason no doctor ever told me I had estrogen dominance is because doctors do not currently recognize estrogen dominance as a “real” health disorder.
Indeed, if you want to read a sceptical post about this from a naturopath, see this one.
The same author concludes however that, “That’s not to say that there isn’t legitimate research and discussion about hyper- and hypometabolic estrogen levels.”
In any case, whatever you want to call or not call it, I can tell you that estrogen dominance is a thing. I can tell you this because figuring out what was going on with my hormones changed my life from a living hell to something resembling normal and liveable.
Do not expect to walk into a mainstream doctor’s office and be diagnosed with estrogen dominance. You can however get your hormone levels tested or see a specialist, who may be an MD or a naturopath.
Just make sure you are seeing someone with an open mind. There are professionals out there who recognize this issue, whether they refer to it by a name or not.
Estrogen Dominance and Menopause Have Quite a Few Matching Symptoms
Now, this post is directed specifically at women who may be undergoing estrogen dominance during menopause—or who may not be sure whether they are experiencing either or both.
This is why I started out with my story about a doctor asking me if I was going through menopause when I was 22.
Common Symptoms of Menopause Include:
- Skipped or irregular periods
- Night sweats
- Hot flashes
- Vaginal dryness or pain
- Mood disorders
- Sleep disorders
- Dry skin
- Metabolic issues (including possible weight gain)
- Hair loss
- Changes in sex drive (usually a loss of interest)
- Digestive issues
- Brain fog
- Difficulties with memory
- Breasts may lose their fullness
- Breasts may be tender
Common Symptoms of Estrogen Dominance Include:
- Skipped or irregular periods
- Changes in sex drive (usually a decrease)
- Mood disorders
- Sleep disorders
- Swelling in the breasts
- Tenderness in the breasts
- Fibrocystic breasts
- Weight gain
- Hair loss
- PMS symptoms
- Thyroid issues
- Brain fog
- Risk for developing other disorders (i.e. thyroid disorder, cancer, etc.)
I went ahead and bold-faced the symptoms which matched up between the two so you could see at glance where the overlap is. As you can see, it is quite substantial.
I can also add that on top of most of the estrogen dominance symptoms listed, I often manifest some other menopause symptoms not usually linked to estrogen dominance, like hot flashes and night sweats. I suppose it is possible I am in perimenopause, but it certainly isn’t menopause. I am quite regular most months with periods.
The reason I am pointing all this out is so that you will see how hard it can be to tell the difference between menopause and estrogen dominance.
If you assume you have one, you might have the other, or vice versa. It is also possible to have both going on simultaneously (see below). These conditions can be mild or severe, depending on how hard they hit you.
You Can Get Estrogen Dominance Before or During the Menopausal Transition
Estrogen dominance is something that can hit at any point of life, so far as I know. Most commonly, I hear about it in conjunction with menopause, perimenopause, or the entire span of time where menses are regular beforehand.
But it seems it can strike even after menopause, since your body still produces estrogen and progesterone afterward, just in much smaller amounts where estrogen may still outpace progesterone. Here is a relevant study looking at treatment options for both perimenopausal and postmenopausal women.
Estrogen Dominance During Menopause
Estrogen dominance may sound counterintuitive during or after menopause. After all, you are producing less estrogen now than you did earlier in your life. So why would you suddenly start experiencing estrogen dominance?
The reason is that your progesterone levels are dropping as well, and may decline more quickly than your estrogen levels, leaving you with an imbalance. From what I can tell, this seems to be pretty common.
I would even hazard a guess that this is one of the reasons for the common symptoms between menopause and estrogen dominance. It seems plausible that many menopausal women are estrogen dominant, but are never diagnosed as such.
So if you are around an age where menopause seems like a likely explanation for your symptoms, yes, it is possible you are experiencing either or both.
And if you are younger, do not forget that some people do experience premature menopause as well. So that remains a possibility.
RELATED: 3 Top Vitamins for Menopause
Estrogen Dominance Before Menopause
What if you do not have any particular reason to suspect you are in perimenopause or menopause? Perhaps like I was at age 22, you are young and it would be statistically unlikely for you to be entering menopause. Or maybe your periods are regular but you have the other symptoms.
I would say that point that if you do showcase estrogen dominance symptoms, there is a good chance you have it.
You could also have another similar condition like chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), or a thyroid disorder however. So it is important to discount other possibilities.
One thing which helped me figure out my own case was this chart:
This simply shows the rising and falling levels of progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone across your monthly cycle.
You will notice that the first half of your cycle is dominated by rising estrogen levels with progesterone remaining quite low in the beginning. The latter part is dominated by much higher progesterone levels relative to estrogen.
After a long enough time observing my head pain, I noticed it was usually much worse right after my period, and was often better in the weeks approaching it.
In other words, when my progesterone levels were higher than my estrogen levels, I was on the whole feeling better. When my estrogen levels were higher than my progesterone levels, I felt terrible.
This led me to suspect I was somehow “sensitive” to times in my cycle where estrogen was dominant—that perhaps I was already imbalanced in that direction, and the first part of my monthly cycle was emphasizing that.
So I ended up trying an experiment. I did some research and found out about a few different herbs which can be used for hormonal balancing. The one that seemed like the most logical fit was Vitex, also called “chaste berry.”
Researchers do not know a lot about Vitex yet, but the theory is that it acts as a dopamine agonist and helps your body to balance out production levels for estrogen and progesterone.
Sure enough, I started experiencing improvements, almost immediately. Within one week alone, I had seen my pain drop maybe 30%.
So if you do not think you are going through menopause, look for hints in your monthly cycles which may indicate that you have estrogen dominance. It was the timing of my symptoms more than the symptoms itself which was the giveaway for me. That might help you figure out your situation as well.
How Can You Treat Estrogen Dominance?
So let’s say you do have estrogen dominance. Regardless of whether you are also menopausal, what can you do to treat it?
1. Try Vitex or other herbs to balance your hormones
Your first thought when you have estrogen dominance might be, “I’ll just get hormone replacement therapy (HRT).” Doctors are pretty divided on whether HRT is safe and healthy or not.
Personally, I feel like there is enough evidence from this research to at least make me highly uncomfortable with the idea of HRT.
Herbs help your body actually produce the hormones it needs on its own, instead of relying on hormones from an outside source.
For this reason, I prefer the herbal solution, and it is one I recommend you try before resorting to hormone replacement therapy.
Plus, herbal medications are over-the-counter, and often quite affordable. Of course my top recommendation is Vitex (Chaste Tree Berry), which has made a world of difference for me. I would say it cut my pain in half over time, maybe more. There are also no indications that it is unsafe for long-term use as of this point in time.
There are other herbs you can try as well for hormone balancing, especially during menopause.
Keep Reading: 7 Herbs for Female Hormone Balance in Menopause
2. Eat a diet which has a balancing effect
Eat lots of vegetables—specifically cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, kale, and so on. These vegetables apparently can work with the liver to flush estrogen, which can help keep your system from building up an overload.
Actually, eating cruciferous vegetables may not only help you fight estrogen dominance, but may even protect you from cancer.
3. Stay away from xenoestrogens.
No one is totally clear on what causes estrogen dominance, as you might have guessed. Remember, there has been very little actual scientific recognition of this condition, and thus little research as well.
One theory is that the balance in our bodies is upset by exposure to xenoestrogens, which are chemical compounds that mimic estrogen and have an estrogenic effect on us. They can be natural or chemical in nature.
Xenoestrogens are all over the place in today’s world. There are foods which contain them (in plants, they are called “phytoestrogens”), and lots of household products as well (soaps, shampoos, pesticides, plastics, etc.).
You cannot escape from xenoestrogens entirely, but minimizing your exposure is something you can do.
Consider getting away from products which contain a lot of unnecessary additives. Stick with natural household products which contain few or no xenoestrogens whenever possible.
You can also mind your intake of foods which contain phytoestrogens (soy is a good example). You do not necessarily need to stop eating them altogether, but try not to go overboard.
4. Get more fiber
Did you know that you actually excrete estrogen? Delays in this process can result in a loss of efficiency in this process. Indeed, if you are constipated, it is possible your body will re-absorb the estrogen you are supposed to be excreting rather than it passing out of your system.
For that reason, you should do what you can to stay regular. If you are able to do this, it is less likely that your estrogen will be re-absorbed into your system. This may prevent further build-up.
5. Try progesterone cream
Another treatment which you can try is progesterone cream from wild yam roots. Surprisingly enough, the key active compound here is a phytoestrogen called “diosgenin.” Diosgenin can be converted into progesterone.
Now, this is not something your body can do—it has to be done in a lab. So if you buy a natural yam-based progesterone cream containing bio-identical progesterone, you are buying a product which already contains progesterone derived from the wild yams in a laboratory.
Scientists are on the fence about whether you can absorb this progesterone topically, but a lot of people claim that it works. So it might be worth giving it a try (I have no personal experience with this).
6. Work out
Another thing you can do is exercise more often. This has several benefits:
- If you exercise more, this in itself may help balance out your hormones.
- You can shed excess weight, which may assist as well.
- You may stress less.
- You are more likely to sleep well at night.
I have found on the whole that during times when I have exercised more, that has helped with my symptoms, though the effect has been a broad, long-term one. Acutely, it does nothing for me, but it may be different for you than it is for me. A lot of people actually say that exercising helps reduce migraine pain for example. It makes mine worse most of the time, but I seem to be an outlier.
7. Reduce your stress levels
Stress messes with your hormones and has adverse effects on your body-wide health. Both physically and psychologically, it causes problems. Indeed, adrenal fatigue and estrogen dominance are two conditions which often seem to occur together.
So rest when you need to. If you are overworked, or you have too many commitments and you are struggling to keep up, take a long, hard look at your obligations and priorities. Your top priority needs to be your health.
What you do to de-stress is up to you. There are so many options. You can meditate, exercise, read a book, watch a movie, play a game with your kids, go on a hike, whatever. Just do something that you enjoy.
8. Don’t give up
Finally, my last item of advice is that you never give up. I say this because healing could be a long time coming. I know that isn’t what anybody wants to hear, but it was for me.
If you are lucky, you might get some improvements fast, especially since you are starting out with a lot more information than I had. But it is not unusual to take months or years to get to where you need to be to be happy with your health.
A lot of the strategies above are long-term methods. Vitex gave me some immediate results, but most of its effectiveness only became evident after months of use. Working out and adjusting your diet are also long-term commitments which will gradually improve your health more and more.
You know what? The day you can wake up and enjoy all or most of your day pain-free, it will all have been worth it. The harder the battle, the sweeter the victory.
Conclusion: Estrogen Dominance Can Cause Severe Symptoms, But It Is Treatable
Living with estrogen dominance isn’t easy—sometimes it can be downright awful. But there are steps you can take to encourage your body to start producing more progesterone in relation to estrogen, so come up with a treatment regimen. Most importantly, stick with it! It can take many months to see a dramatic shift in your health. Long-term healthy habits however should yield long-term improvements.
It’s a tough thing to have to deal with estrogen dominance now, but look at it this way. Your symptoms have alerted you to a condition which left untreated could lead to much nastier things later down the line.
You have a chance now to potentially halt that process in its tracks. One day, you may even look back on this struggle with gratitude. It forces you to learn to lead a healthier life now and cultivate habits which will serve you well over the decades to come. That could mean that you enter middle age or old age much healthier than your peers.
Read Next: Can Stress Cause Menopause?