Top Herbs for Estrogen Dominance
Hormones are crazy things. We need them to be produced in balance for pretty much everything in our bodies to function properly, but it is so easy for them to get out of whack.
In fact, just one hormone being out of balance can cause a cascade effect of other hormones going out of balance—not fun.
These days you may be hearing a lot about “estrogen dominance.”
You may even suspect based on your own symptoms (or tests) that you have estrogen dominance. If that is the case, you may well be desperate for a solution. You probably haven’t been handed one by the traditional medical community, which may even have told you that your condition does not exist.
I am here to tell you that whether estrogen dominance ever is acknowledged in a formal sense by the scientific world or not, it is most definitely a thing.
Thankfully, there are some steps you can take to treat it on your own without medications. What can make the most dramatic difference in many cases is taking herbs.
In this article, I will introduce you to some of the top herbs which you can try for restoring balance in your body and overcoming the symptoms of estrogen dominance.
But first, I will go over some basics and tell you my story to give you some context if you are new to this topic.
What is Estrogen Dominance?
As I mentioned previously, estrogen dominance is not a formal medical diagnosis. It is a colloquial term.
It is however pretty easy to define. It is a condition where your body is manufacturing too much estrogen in comparison to progesterone.
Note that this is not always identical to having high estrogen.
You certainly can have high estrogen and be experiencing estrogen dominance, but it is not always the case.
You can even have low estrogen and still have estrogen dominance if you are manufacturing even less progesterone than you are supposed to.
This sometimes happens during perimenopause, but estrogen dominance can strike in one form or another at any age.
Signs You May Have Estrogen Dominance
The best evidence of estrogen dominance is of course a blood test showing your levels are out of balance.
But there are plenty of other signs and symptoms which may signal that you are suffering from this disorder:
- Excess weight gain or difficulty losing weight
- Headaches or other chronic pain issues
- Mood issues
- Sleep disorders
- Fibrocystic breast disease
- Tender or painful breasts (particularly right before your period)
- Libido issues (typically low libido)
- Irregular periods
- Signs of thyroid disorders
- Signs of PCOS
This is not an exhaustive symptom list, and you do not have to have every symptom on the list to be manifesting estrogen dominance.
There are quite a few other conditions which cause similar symptoms as well, so it is important to eliminate them.
Why I Know a Lot About Estrogen Dominance
I haven’t actually hit menopause yet. To say I’m dreading it is an understatement, considering how many female issues I’ve had throughout my life.
The reason I am well-versed in this topic is because I either have had estrogen dominance, and/or I am overly sensitized to the effects of estrogen.
When I was in my early 20s, my life turned upside-down in an instant. One day I felt fine—better than fine, actually. The next, I had a crippling, throbbing nightmare of a headache that wouldn’t let up.
It didn’t hurt when I was asleep, but the moment I started to wake up, it was back. This went on for months with only marginal reprieve, and there was never a waking moment it wasn’t with me.
It took six months before there was even a glimmer of solid hope for improvement. During that timeframe, I developed quite a few of the symptoms I listed above. I skipped four periods in a row, put on 55 pounds in around 3 months, and started having night terrors, dizziness, faintness, and fatigue.
I didn’t have the resources to get tested back then, so to this day I cannot confirm with certainty whether I had estrogen dominance or not. Going by the confluence of symptoms, I am pretty sure I did.
Over the years, many of the symptoms calmed down or went away, and with the help of chiropractic care, careful daily habits, ibuprofen, and an herb called Vitex, I got the headache to abate to the point where I have quality of life again. There are a lot of days the pain is minimal or not detectable, and episodes of crippling agony are mostly constrained to the week following my periods.
Vitex literally made a world of difference. I have had my hormone levels tested since, but only while taking the Vitex. On the Vitex, they show up as balanced.
Does that mean that without the Vitex, I would have estrogen dominance? It is certainly possible, but I do not know.
I just know that even with the Vitex in my system, I feel worst when my estrogen levels are highest during the month and best when progesterone levels are highest.
What Causes Estrogen Dominance?
This is an area where research has yet to really catch up. After all, doctors still are not properly acknowledging that estrogen dominance exists.
But here are a few likely possible causes:
- Perimenopause: If your estrogen levels are dipping less in proportion to the drops in your progesterone production, you could experience estrogen dominance. It might be a prolonged condition or something which you experience on and off, depending on what your hormones are doing.
- Too many xenoestrogens and phytoestrogens. These are compounds from your environment which act like estrogen in your body. In our modern world, we are exposed to these at rather alarming rates on a regular basis. They are in our food sources and in the cosmetic and hygiene products which we use.
- Genetic predisposition. Some people might simply be genetically predisposed to imbalances in hormone production.
- Other conditions. Since hormones are an interconnected network, it could be that your estrogen dominance is the result of something else which is out of balance in your body.
- causes. If researchers start taking the matter seriously and studying it, I expect more answers to emerge. Lifestyle issues. If you do not exercise a lot and you happen to be overweight, this too may lead to an overabundance of estrogen. Why? Because fat tissue stores estrogen. Read more about this here and learn how too much estrogen can put your health at risk (over the long term, it may lead to lethal diseases like cancer). This can become a vicious cycle, since excess estrogen can itself cause weight gain.
- Stress. Anytime you are super stressed, there is a chance that will mess with your hormones. Extended stress, in particular, could have an extended effect.
- Any failure to ovulate. You need to ovulate in order to enter the luteal (backend) phase of your menstrual cycle. If you do not ovulate for any reason, there is a chance that could lead to estrogen dominance, especially if it happens on a routine basis. This is common with PCOS. See this article for some more information.
- Birth control pills and HRT. Taking hormones for birth control or hormone replacement therapy may lead to estrogen dominance.
Once again, I want to emphasize that this list is not complete. It is simply compiled based on my knowledge and research into possible causes. If researchers start taking the matter seriously and studying it, I expect more answers to emerge.
If you are curious about my case, at this point, all I have are theories. My best guess at this point is that I am genetically predisposed to chronic pain, and possibly to hormone imbalance, likely via a neurotransmitter pathway.
Because there are so many different possibilities, how you treat estrogen really will depend on your exact situation.
Along with trying out herbs (which I will share with you in the next section), I recommend that you do the following:
- Check to make sure that no other health conditions are involved. If you do come across one or more health issues which could be influencing hormone production, start by treating those.
- Take a careful look at the food you are eating and the products you are using. Get away from meats which were raised with added hormones, and stop using soaps, shampoos and detergents with ingredients which are known to be endocrine disruptors.
- Try to reduce your weight. A low-carb diet and an exercise program can help with this.
- Do what you can to cope with the stress in your life. This may mean taking more time to relax (which can be hard when you are physically suffering, but you need to do your best).
- Using birth control? Consider getting off of it, especially if you determine that it is contributing.
- Try an herb for estrogen dominance (see below).
- Do treat your symptoms. While it is vital to tackle the root of the issue if you can, it is also just as important to treat your symptoms. Doing so will improve quality of life, reduce stress, and help your body heal. Treating acute pain also reduces the likelihood of developing chronic pain.
A holistic approach which combines all of these suggestions is most likely to be effective in counteracting estrogen dominance.
Top Herbs For Treating Estrogen Dominance
My number one recommendation is the herb which I have been using successfully for years, and that is Vitex.
Vitex is actually a trade name for chasteberry. Products which you see for sale may list either on the label; they are identical.
A really good article to read about Vitex is this one. It is one of the most detailed and comprehensive which I have seen to date.
Vitex acts as a dopamine agonist. That means that it stimulates the production of dopamine in your body.
This by itself may help any pain issues you are experiencing in some ways (problems with the dopamine system have been implicated in certain cases of chronic pain).
But it has another useful effect as well, and that is that it increases progesterone production and decreases estrogen production.
Additionally, it can suppress excess prolactin production. This too may help to reduce some of the symptoms of hormonal imbalance.
As a bonus, the article above points out that Vitex may even have a protective long-term effect against breast cancer.
When I started taking Vitex, I noticed improvements almost immediately. I did not take careful notes, but the timeframe “five days” seems about to be what I remember.
As a cautionary note, some people do experience side effects when they first start taking this herb. Irregular periods are common. As a result, they often give up before they experience the benefits.
If you hang in there, you should find that your periods even out again. Within a few weeks or months, you may find yourself feeling significantly better than you have in a long time.
Again, this does not happen to everyone. I had no side effects, and saw immediate results. But the results of Vitex accumulate over time, and it was probably around half a year before I saw the full positive effects.
2. St. John’s Wort
Another option you can consider is St. John’s Wort.
St. John’s Wort, like Vitex, is a dopamine agonist. It is also a serotonin agonist. So it boosts levels of both of these neurotransmitters simultaneously.
That means that like Vitex, it may help to increase progesterone and reduce estrogen via the dopamine channel.
Before you start taking St. John’s Wort, it is important to make sure that you check for possible interactions with other medications you might be taking.
Before you start taking St. John’s Wort, it is important to make sure that you check for possible interactions with other medications you might be taking.
If you are using other medications or herbs which increase serotonin levels, taking St. John’s Wort might lead to too much serotonin. This condition is known as “serotonin syndrome.”
Headache, sweating, severe fever, seizures, and other serious symptoms are possible. Serotonin syndrome can be deadly.
If you do not have any interactions to worry about, you can take St. John’s Wort without these concerns.
3. Black Cohosh
This is an herb which I frequently see recommended for estrogen dominance, but which I also see used for low estrogen.
If that sounds contradictory, that is because it is. Black cohosh is something of a riddle; researchers are still not sure if it exerts an estrogenic effect or not. Indeed, it may depend on both the person and the part of the body. WebMD writes, “In some parts of the body, black cohosh might increase the effects of estrogen. In other parts of the body, black cohosh might decrease the effects of estrogen.”
This site states, “Cimicifuga has been reported to displace estradiol from docking at estrogen receptors, as well as to bind dopamine receptors and promote dopaminergic neurotransmission.”
Having conducted some further research into black cohosh, I have discovered that a lot of the older studies indicate an estrogenic effect, whereas many of the newer ones do not.
So it seems one could cautiously consider it for estrogen dominance—but I would not ignore those older studies. There is too much uncertainty in the data and its interpretations to discount anything right now.
One further thing to be aware of is that black cohosh seems to behave in a fashion similar to serotonin. Neurotransmitter issues appear to be common in conjunction with hormonal problems, so it may be an appropriate treatment in some cases.
This herb isn’t as well-known as those referenced above, but it seems like another which may be suitable for treating estrogen dominance.
Jillian Stansbury, ND on NDNR writes the following:
“In addition to simply relaxing uterine muscle, Leonurus has been reported to inhibit the growth of uterine fibroids in mice, presumably due to other endocrine effects that may reduce hyperestrogenism. Researchers attempted to isolate the constituent responsible for the antineoplastic and antifibroid effects in mice, but found the synergistic action of all the components to be most effective (Nagasawa et al.,1992).”
For these reasons, Stansbury recommends it for treating PCOS. But if it really can help prevent hyperestrogenism, it would be ideal for treating estrogen dominance as well.
5. Wild Yam
Another option for increasing progesterone is to take … progesterone.
There are a couple of ways you can approach this. One is to request a pill from your doctor with synthetic progesterone.
The other is to use an over-the-counter product. Here there are natural and synthetic options as well. Most take the form of a cream.
Going the natural route, you have progesterone made from wild yam.
Wild yam is a source of a phytoestrogen known as “diosgenin.”
Diosgenin can be converted into progesterone, though this process cannot occur in the body.
You can actually buy wild yam capsules with diosgenin in them, but they will probably not do you any good since your body cannot handle the conversion process.
The cream on the other hand is manufactured out of progesterone made in a lab using diosgenin from wild yam.
When you rub it into your skin, it is absorbed into your body where it can be used.
A lot of people report excellent results with wild yam, but there can be some issues with it.
If the progesterone is absorbed through your skin into fatty tissue, it is possible for it to build up in that tissue over time.
This build-up can actually lead to production problems with other hormones. At this point, symptoms not only stop improving, but may worsen. Thankfully, there is a way around this.
Dr. Mercola writes:
“If you apply the cream to your mucous epithelial membranes that line your uterus and vagina you obtain a virtually ideal administration system. Not only is absorption through these membranes more complete than through your skin, but hormones absorbed through your vaginal membranes enter the very same pelvic plexus of veins that your ovaries normally empty into.
From here the hormones are carried to your heart and lungs and distributed to your tissues just as if your ovary had actually produced them.”
You should also be aware that some women experience weight gain when they use progesterone supplements. So you may want to add in more exercise throughout the week.
Use Caution and Take Notes When Starting New Supplements
Herbs can make a tremendous difference when you are suffering from estrogen dominance, or even if you are just extra sensitive to estrogen’s effects, and need some more progesterone to balance things out.
You can see however that the mechanisms through which these herbs work are still not all that well understood, and that effects can be hard to predict.
The fact that there are so many individual variations from one woman’s body to the next also can result in divergent effects from different supplements and combinations of supplements.
I advise that you proceed with caution for that reason. Take the time to observe your body and mind carefully to see how your respond to different treatments.
- Read up on the effects of different dosages, and take the one which seems most appropriate to your needs. If you can get away with a smaller dosage and achieve the same results, start with that smaller dosage.
- Test only one new herb at a time. You do not have to do this, but I recommend it so that your independent variables are kept to a minimum. If you take a combined supplement initially with multiple ingredients, you will not know which ingredients are exerting helpful and/or harmful effects.
- Keep a log. Actually write down notes—do not just maintain them in your head. Write down the date, what you took that day, and how you felt throughout the day. Also make sure you note events like menstruation and ovulation. This will help you to track patterns.
- Remember that not all herbs produce effects immediately. You may need to take an herb for a few weeks or even longer to see the results.
- Consider seeing a doctor about your situation. It is unlikely that your doctor will acknowledge estrogen dominance, but he or she can help you rule out other conditions which may cause similar symptoms.
If you are lucky, you will find an herb which helps you with estrogen dominance right away. If you do not, you can try and keep testing different herbs until you find one or more which suit you.
You now know some herbs which may be able to help you manage estrogen dominance.
Whether your estrogen dominance is a result of perimenopause or has struck earlier in your life, you are not helpless—you can give your body at least some of what it needs to tilt the balance a bit (or a lot) more in your favor.
Consider giving some of these recommendations a try, and remember to pair up herbs with healthy lifestyle practices for the best chance at success.