What You Need To Know About Migraines and Estrogen Dominance
If you’ve found your way to this article, I’m guessing you already have at least heard of estrogen dominance, and realize it might have something to do with your headaches. Before I jump into this topic, though, I want to tell you my story.
I’ll never forget the day it started.
I was just returning from a vacation, driving back across state lines, and suddenly it struck—crippling, agonizing, throbbing pain in my head.
I’d had migraines before. It didn’t seem all that different on the surface, but somehow in my gut I knew almost immediately that this was different from any headache I had ever had before.
Hours later, there was no relief, and a little voice in my head said, “You’re in for a long haul.”
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That little voice was right. The next morning, the headache was still there—and the next, and the next, and the next, and the next …
In fact, I experienced no relief for months. Life ceased to be an enjoyable experience. My body became my own private torture chamber.
I saw a few doctors during that time, and none of them had the slightest idea what was wrong with me. One of them guessed muscle tension was involved (true, but not the biggest issue). Most didn’t really take my complaints seriously. Headaches after all are invisible.
I realized I was more or less on my own pretty fast. And for a long time, gathering data was nigh impossible, because the pain was always there, and it was always unbearable.
But at some point, perhaps because I’d made enough smart lifestyle adjustments, maybe only because time had passed, there was a small change.
It was almost imperceptible at first, but gradually I started noticing a pattern.
My headache was at its most intense during and (especially) right after my periods. It was at its least severe in the week preceding my periods.
This seemed so backwards to me. I mean, I had heard of “premenstrual syndrome” (PMS). But I had never heard of any sort of “post-menstrual syndrome.” Yet my periods were obviously tied to my migraines in some way.
Over time, this cycle became more and more obvious. This was because I was getting a bit better on my own, and I was getting some palpable relief in the week leading up to my periods.
But it took months of research before I finally found the right term for the condition I was suffering: estrogen dominance.
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And that discovery changed my life.
What is Estrogen Dominance?
Estrogen dominance refers to a hormonal imbalance of estrogen and progesterone ratios.
Basically, your body is producing too much estrogen, or it is producing the right amount—but your progesterone levels just are not adequate.
As a result, there is not enough progesterone to balance out the effects of the estrogen—which then proceeds to wreak havoc on your body.
Believe it or not, this can even happen if you do not product sufficient estrogen in some cases. If the progesterone levels are low enough, you still will have estrogen dominance.
If you look at a chart of estrogen and progesterone over the course of the menstrual cycle, here is what you will discover:
- Estrogen is relatively low at the start of your cycle (following your period), but progesterone is even lower.
- Estrogen climbs swiftly towards day 12 or so (depending on the length of your cycle), when it reaches a sort of peak. Progesterone is also climbing during this time, but much more gradually, so this is the most estrogen-dominant part of your cycle.
- There is a brief dip in both around ovulation.
- Following ovulation, both estrogen and progesterone rise, but during this part of your cycle, progesterone rises much higher than estrogen. So this is the most progesterone-dominant part of your cycle.
- Beginning around day 21 or so (assuming a 30 day cycle), both estrogen and progesterone start dropping off rapidly, but it is not until day 27 or so that progesterone dips down below estrogen again.
- During your actual menstruation, both estrogen and progesterone are at very low levels.
This chart was very revealing for me when it came to identifying estrogen dominance as a key underlying cause of my own migraines. Looking at the chart, I saw that indeed during the part of the cycle were estrogen is at its highest and progesterone is at its lowest, I tend to experience the most pain. Likewise, during the part of my cycle were progesterone is highest in ratio to estrogen, I tend to experience the most relief.
If you also notice a similar pattern with your own migraines, it is possible that estrogen dominance is playing a role in your headaches as well. The next thing to do would be to check and see if you have other symptoms which are common with this condition.
Symptoms of Estrogen Dominance
Symptoms of estrogen dominance can vary quite a bit. You may have a large number of these symptoms, or only a few. It is likely however that you have more than just one.
- Weight gain (which may be abrupt)
- Fibrocystic Breast Disease (FBD)
- Increased anxiety or depression
- Sleep disturbances
- Swollen lymph nodes (be sure to investigate this to discount other possibly serious health conditions)
- Brain fog
- Dry eyes
- Concurrent conditions like PCOS, adrenal fatigue, thyroid conditions, and so on
- Changes in sex drive
- Irregular periods
- Tension headaches
This is not an exhaustive list. You may have symptoms which are not listed here at all, and you may not have all or even most of these symptoms (I had a whole bunch). But if you have several, and/or your migraines or worse after your periods and better before, it is possible that you have estrogen dominance.
It is also possible that you have other conditions as well (as mentioned in the list). It is important to check into this possibility.
Getting a Diagnosis
Getting a solid diagnosis of estrogen dominance is no easy task. In fact you may find that it is impossible. For whatever reason, doctors do not seem to have a very comprehensive understanding of the complexities of hormones. As a result, some doctors acknowledge the existence of estrogen dominance while others do not.
This is likely why I never received a proper diagnosis. Just to add to the difficulty, estrogen dominance closely mimics a number of other health conditions. This is why the doctors I did see theorized about everything from lupus to pregnancy. None of them ever hit near the right thing. Many will guess that your problem involves your thyroid. This is well worth ruling out, so if tests are advised for it, you should take them. But like me, you may discover that your thyroid is just fine.
One idea is to request hormone testing. Not all doctors offer this. It is expensive, and it can be difficult to get an accurate reading, so often you have to repeat the tests several times to get a real answer. If you go this route, the blood tests are generally more accurate for this purpose than the saliva tests.
What Causes Estrogen Dominance?
If you do figure out that you might have estrogen dominance, you probably are wondering how you got yourself into this situation in the first place.
Unfortunately, you probably will never figure this out. This goes back to doctors not having a clear understanding of hormones. Just as doctors are still debating whether estrogen dominance exists, they also are still debating what causes it.
One popular theory is that the internal balance of hormones or bodies is being disrupted constantly through exposure to xenoestrogens in our environments.
What are xenoestrogens? This word refers to any natural or synthetic chemical compound which imitates estrogen and its effects.
The problem is that xenoestrogens are everywhere, and they are nearly impossible to avoid. They are found in pesticides, food products, plastics, cosmetics, birth control products, soaps, detergents, and so much more. Even if you are being extremely careful to avoid them, you probably are still being exposed to them in some form or fashion.
Could there be other factors involved? Quite possibly. There is a complex relationship between cortisol and estrogen. So an imbalance in cortisol could lead to an imbalance of estrogen and progesterone ratios.
It seems entirely possible that a genetic factor could be involved as well. Another possibility would be dietary factors. If your diet is lacking in certain nutrients, or your body is not processing them correctly, you may not have the precursors you need to manufacture hormones in the correct quantities.
Another possibility (and this is just a personal theory) is something to do with dopamine production. Vitex, the herb I use to treat estrogen dominance (see below) appears to work as a dopamine agonist. There are also other indications in my health that I produce dopamine in lower levels than I should.
How Can You Treat Estrogen Dominance?
If you can somehow get to the bottom of what is producing your estrogen dominance and treat that, obviously that is a best case scenario. Anytime you can tackle problem with the root underlying cause, that is going to be the best course to health.
Realistically, however, this is unlikely. Remember, you probably are not going to get a great deal of assistance from health professionals, because they will not comprehend what is going wrong in the first place. Plus, since there are so many possible underlying causes, investigating them all presents quite a challenge.
So what can you do to try to treat estrogen dominance, and thus reduce the frequency and severity of your migraines?
- Avoid xenoestrogens. Obviously you will not be able to avoid them completely, but anything you can do to reduce your exposure will at least provide outside factors from feeding into the problem.
- Try using bio-identical progesterone cream. I never actually took this step for a number of reasons. There are a lot of people who report good results using this method, but you have to be incredibly careful what product you choose to ensure that what you are getting will be healthy and effective.
- Try using one or more herbal supplements to balance your hormone levels. Because this is not an exact science, there is some debate as to which herbs are best to address this problem. Some common recommendations include Maca, Vitex (chaste berry), and DIM. I use Vitex and have had life-changing results.
- Reduce stress. If you have a lot of stress in your life, you should do what you can to find a way to cope with it more efficiently. If there are stressors which can be removed, do so.
- Eat a nutritious diet and supplement possible gaps. If you suspect that there is some kind of dietary gap which could be causing your imbalance, do what you can to supplement it. Some common culprits could include fiber, iron, vitamin C, magnesium, B-6, zinc, and essential fatty acids.
If you are curious about my approach, these were the lifestyle changes I made to treat my estrogen dominance:
- I started taking Vitex on a daily basis.
- I began taking a multivitamin. I experimented with a few other supplements, but I cannot say definitively which ones have helped.
- I started forcing myself to take more time to relax and rest when I need it.
- I got away from chemical products to the best of my ability. I stick with natural soaps, shampoos, perfume oils, makeup products, and so on.
And that was really all I did to tackle that end of things. I have taken a lot of other steps to treat my migraines (as well as the tension headaches I get), but the steps to keep my hormones roughly in balance have been fairly simple.
You might also be wondering how long it took to get results. That question has quite an encouraging answer. Before I identified my estrogen dominance, I was lucky enough that I was getting gradual improvements. But after I identified it and decided to give Vitex a try, my headaches were cut roughly in half in terms of both severity and frequency within about a week. They continued to decline for months after that before reaching a plateau.
On this blog, I try not to spend too much time promoting products, but I do want to mention that EU Natural’s new My Brain! migraine supplement includes Vitex in the formula along with vitamin B complex, vitamin D, magnesium, and other healthy herbs.
The supplement is more or less a general-purpose natural migraine treatment, but because it contains Vitex, it may be an ideal fit for you if your migraines are caused by estrogen dominance.
Since starting Vitex, most of my migraines are now mild to moderate. I do still get some severe headaches, but for the most part, I am able to go through my life either pain-free or with only mild pain. I can’t even tell you what that is like after suffering through steady, excruciating pain for as long as I did. The simple absence of pain is something I will never take for granted again.
Of course, over the years to come, I know I will face new challenges—I will eventually have to deal with perimenopause, and then menopause. I have no idea what impact that will have on my situation.
But for now, I have a pretty good handle on things, and I know that knowledge will serve me over the years to come. And in the meantime, life is worth living again.
My Story Had a Happy Ending, And Yours Can Too
My life literally went from being torture to being rewarding and livable again, and it was all because I finally got to the bottom of things and figured out that estrogen dominance was the cause of my migraines.
If you discover you also may have estrogen dominance, I suggest taking action to treat yourself ASAP. Doing so will not only help you to beat your migraines, but it will also restore your body to a more balanced hormone profile for long-term health.
Ultimately, this may even reduce the likelihood that you will end up with dangerous health conditions which are associated with excess estrogen (like certain forms of cancer).
And when you finally wake up one morning to a day without head pain, and go to sleep that night without having suffered even a tiny bit, you will be so glad you took the initiative. It happened for me, and it can happen for you too!