When Estrogen is Harmful: What You Need to Know about Estrogen Dominance
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women, and over 200,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed every year. We’re seeing girls reaching puberty as early as age 8. Ask any woman, and she’s bound to say she’s experienced PMS, and maybe even endometriosis, fibroids, or ovarian cysts. The common thread in these conditions? Too much estrogen.
Estrogen: It’s one of a woman’s two main sex hormones; the other is progesterone. Estrogen peaks in the first half of a woman’s menstrual cycle to trigger ovulation, then progesterone peaks in the second half of the cycle and continues to rise if there is a pregnancy, or falls to trigger menstruation.
(side note: Men have estrogen too. Too much estrogen in men contributes to gynecomastia (AKA man boobs).
In women, progesterone and estrogen should exist in a ratio of about 30:1, but when this ratio becomes skewed and a woman has a deficiency of progesterone and/or an excess of estrogen, that woman is in a state of estrogen dominance. Over 50 percent of women over 35 are estrogen dominant, and I see it so frequently in my practice. Typically, women will have very low progesterone, so even if their estrogen is in a normal range on lab work, that’s still estrogen dominant due to the low progesterone. Or, they may have high estrogen levels.
Symptoms of Estrogen Dominance
- painful periods, heavy bleeding or clotting
- sore, tender breasts
- swollen fingers and feet
- irregular periods
- ovarian cysts
- breast cancer
- fat gain
- hair loss
- dry skin & eyes
- early menarchy
- low thyroid function (hypothyroid)
What Causes Estrogen Dominance?
- xenoestrogens: chemicals in cosmetics, pesticides, plastics, pollution, and our environment that are shaped like our body’s own estrogens and plug up estrogen receptors, contributing to our estrogen load
- CAFO (conventionally raised) beef and meats fed antibiotics and growth hormone
- soy, which contains plant-based estrogens, especially processed soy
- conventional dairy, which contains hormones and is naturally androgenic (promotes growth)
- birth control pills: the average low dose pill has 20 TIMES a woman’s natural estrogen levels!
- being overweight or obese
- processed foods, corn syrup
- excess alcohol
- ovarian cysts or tumors that can produce excess estrogens
- liver congestion
- B vitamin deficiencies
- too much coffee
Here is a classic pattern I see in my practice: busy career woman and/or mom hustling in her job and raising her family, eating too many processed or refined foods; drinking a lot of coffee as a pick-me-up; too much sugar to beat the energy lulls; grabbing fast food or take-out too frequently. She doesn’t have time to plan meals or cook and often picks up take-out pizza for the family on the way home. She drinks wine every night to unwind and help her sleep, but she ends up tossing and turning and wakes up feeling unrested. Eventually, this pattern causes weight gain, and she may notice a worsening in PMS, and her periods get heavier and more painful. Her breasts are very tender the week before her period. She may notice infertility issues, fatigue, and irritability. What’s going on?
In a word, stress. This woman is burning the candle at both ends, eating poor quality food, not getting quality sleep, not exercising, and drinking too much caffeine and alcohol. These are all stressors for the body, which contributes to increased cortisol, your main stress hormone. Your body churns out cortisol in response to stress, whether it be too much sugar or too much work or too little sleep, and it will begin to borrow reserves it would normally use to make your other hormones, like progesterone, to feed the excess cortisol.
Eventually, progesterone levels drop, but estrogen continues to rise due to chemical exposure from poor food and weight gain. Excess fat can convert to estrogen. This woman is now estrogen dominant and probably not feeling great. Add to this the cosmetics she’s applying to her skin, the alcohol that’s congesting her liver, which is in charge of detoxing excess estrogens (if it can’t perform that duty, the estrogens back in into the system and aren’t excreted), the environmental pollutants and pesticides she’s in contact with, and the lack of sleep (which raises cortisol), and we’ve got a hormone imbalance.
This cycle is exacerbated when a woman takes hormonal birth control pills, which artificially elevate estrogen levels and suppress progesterone to prevent pregnancy.
How to Rebalance Your Hormones and Prevent Estrogen Dominance
- First point of business: Clean up your diet. Eat organic meats, plenty of fiber-rich veggies, and good fats, which is what your body uses to make hormones. Avoid non-organic meats, dairy, refined sugar, inflammatory vegetable oils, alcohol, coffee, refined flours and carbs. Focus on the cruciferous veggies (kale, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, bok choy, and Brussels sprouts), especially broccoli, which contain indole-3 carbinole that helps estrogen detox.
- Detox twice yearly: A happy liver is crucial to hormone balance, because one of the liver’s main jobs is metabolizing hormones and detoxing excess hormones from the body. Click here for an easy liver detox (and see below for more detail).
- Poop well. After your liver detoxes and sends excess estrogens to be excreted via stool, they must then be excreted from the body. If you’re constipated, the stool is immobile, and estrogens and toxins can be reabsorbed through the gut and back into your system. You don’t want that! Daily pooping will facilitate detox.
- Clean up your products: get rid of cosmetics with any ingredients you cannot pronounce, and stop putting chemical lotions on your skin. It’s all absorbed and filled with xenoestrogens. Here’s an example of my natural skin care routine, and I use chemical-free shampoo.
- Clean up your environment: use green cleaning products, or make your own. There are tons of DIY cleaning product recipes out there.
- Address stress level by getting 8 hours or sleep, making time to prepare healthy meals (hello, crock pot), and exercise. Prioritize. Your health is worth it. Here are 10+ ways to build stress relief into your day.
- Exercise and maintain ideal body weight.
Supplemental Support to Help (can use this protocol when detoxing from hormonal birth control pills)
- Diindolylmethane (DIM) helps detox excess estrogen. Take 60-100 mg standardized extract 1-2x/daily
- Chasteberry (vitex) is an herb that regulates progesterone
- Wild yam or bio-identical USP progesterone can be taken from days 14-28 of the cycle to normalize progesterone levels, which peak in the luteal phase, or second half of the cycle. I do not recommend progesterone creams, because they can be stored in fat tissue and build up to unhealthy levels.
- B vitamins help to regulate stress level and hormones
- Liver detox supplements and herbs such as milk thistle, glutathione, N-acetyl-
cysteine, methionine. Take a liver support tincture, or I highly recommend these detox support packets.
- I like this FemGuard supplement that helps normalize estrogen and progesterone levels.
- Anti-inflammatory supplements such as fish oil and turmeric. I like this turmeric tea for detox.
- If you’re transitioning off hormonal birth control and would like a natural, hormone-free method of pregnancy prevention, read this book. Here is my post on how to stop taking birth control pills.
I recommend saliva testing to measure stress hormones and estrogen and progesterone levels to see exactly what level of hormone imbalance exists. Then I design a personalized protocol using a combination of diet and supplements to help rebalance hormones. I also stress lifestyle habits like sleep, exercise, and addressing emotional well-being.
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- PMS, menopausal symptoms, trouble with hormone balance?
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If you read What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Thyroid Disorder, then you know that classic thyroid symptoms such as weight gain, cold hands and feet, low energy and fatigue, dry skin, brain fog, poor memory, depression, hair loss, and digestive issues might not be caused by the thyroid at all. While these symptoms can be caused by issues with the thyroid, they can also be the result of an imbalance. Imbalances in the gut, the liver, the brain, the adrenal glands, even the individual cells of your body – or any combination of those can also contribute. It is important however, to look at the connection between liver and thyroid disorder and secondary thyroid conditions.
A secondary thyroid condition is where the thyroid, itself, is functioning normally, but dysfunction is present in other areas of the body due to chronic stress, inflammation, congestion, or toxicity. This can result in less than optimal amounts of thyroid hormone being produced or available to the cells. As a result symptoms can present identically to an improperly functioning thyroid.
Believe it or not, the liver is a major player in maintaining the optimum levels of usable thyroid hormone. How? Let’s take a look at a little science.
A healthy thyroid produces two types of thyroid hormone, T4 and T3. It produces T4 in larger amounts than the T3, yet T3 is the ONLY form of thyroid hormone that the cells can use. T4 must be converted to T3 before it can be used by the cells. Guess where that conversion takes place? That’s right! In the liver!
It’s a pretty simple process. T4 is made up of one molecule of tyrosine (a protein) and four molecules of iodine. In the conversion of T4 to T3, one molecule of iodine is taken away. The newly formed T3 is then set out into the bloodstream to have its effect on every cell in the body. If this conversion doesn’t happen properly, the shortage of usable thyroid hormone will result in poor metabolism and a variety of symptoms. It’s important to remember, thyroid hormone is the essential “fuel” that allows every cell in your body to do its job efficiently.
The second function of the liver as it relates to thyroid hormone is binding. The liver produces a substance called thyroid binding globulin that “binds” up the thyroid hormone. This prevents it from being absorbed into the cells immediately surrounding the thyroid gland. It puts the thyroid hormone in safe storage for transport to other areas. If the liver produces too much of this binding globulin, then there will not be enough free T3 circulating, and thyroid hormone levels will appear low. Conversely, if too little is created, then too much free T3 will be circulating, making thyroid levels appear high.
Why is too much T3 not a good thing? If the cells are bombarded with too much T3 at too fast a pace, the thyroid hormone receptor sites in each cell become resistant rather than receptive to T3. This starves the cell of its much needed thyroid hormone. Our miraculous body has regulatory safeguards built in to prevent this resistance from happening. One of these safeguards is the production of the binding globulin in the liver.
Another safeguard also takes place in the liver. This is the production of RT3, or reverse T3. Just like it sounds, it is essentially the opposite of T3, specifically designed to balance out levels of T3 in the body.
Liver congestion or dysfunction can lead you to believe that you have a thyroid condition. However, a thyroid blood test may show that your thyroid is producing the correct amount of hormones. And your medical doctor may tell you “everything looks normal.”
This must be translated as; “everything on the thyroid hormone test” looks normal. Further investigation is needed.
Because of the connection between liver and the thyroid, it is vital to optimize the body’s detoxification pathways. A healthy diet of whole foods and regular exercise is a vital part of reversing this issue. Working with a functional health coach can help you to find the right foods to support a healthy liver and thyroid. A functional health coach can also guide you to the right lifestyle changes to help restore optimal liver and thyroid function.
Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (aka NAFLD) is a somewhat common liver condition that affects about 25% of Americans. A healthy liver naturally contains some fat, but NAFLD is a condition where there is an excessive build- up of fat. Alcohol consumption can be one reason for increased fat in the liver, but not in the case of NAFLD. Instead, it’s caused mainly by obesity, diabetes, elevated cholesterol or poor dietary choices.
NAFLD can be mild and symptomless, but it can also cause problems such as fatigue, swelling in legs, nausea and other non-fatal conditions. There is even the possibility that it can progress to liver cancer or liver failure over time. So it’s important to know if you have it in order to stop the progression.
Beyond the known causes previously mentioned, NAFLD may also be linked to low thyroid function. A large study was published recently that looked at over 9000 people who were monitored to see if they developed NAFLD over the course of 10 years. Researchers measured everyone’s thyroid levels (free T4 hormone and TSH) at the start of the study and at the end.
The researchers found that the higher the thyroid hormone levels were to start, the lower the risk of developing NAFLD. Patients who were diagnosed with hypothyroidism had the highest risk. Researchers noticed that people who were considered to have “normal thyroid” tests, but were on the lower end of normal, also had increased risk of developing NAFLD.
Patients who had elevated TSH levels, the standard test used to diagnose hypothyroidism, (high TSH = low thyroid hormone) had a higher risk for NAFLD. The overall trend was that the more “normal” the thyroid and TSH tests were, the lower the person’s risk of developing NAFLD.
This study is interesting because it links liver health to thyroid levels fairly convincingly. Anyone with low- normal thyroid levels, hypothyroidism or Wilson’s Temperature Syndrome, should be aware of this connection and have their liver checked out (liver enzyme tests) by their physician. The reverse is also true- if you have liver problems, you should check to see if your thyroid is sluggish. By taking your temperature, you will see whether or not you have a slow metabolism. If so, standard thyroid tests will help you see whether you have hypothyroidism or Wilson’s Temperature Syndrome. Instructions for taking your temperature are HERE.
Did you know a healthy thyroid gland depends on a healthy liver?
Your thyroid gland produces two main hormones: T4 (also called thyroxine) and T3 (also called triiodothyronine). These hormones help to control your metabolic rate, that is the rate at which your body burns calories. They also have a huge bearing on your energy levels and maintenance of normal body temperature.
T4 is not the active thyroid hormone; it must be converted into T3 in your body in order to exert its effects. The majority of this conversion does not occur in your thyroid gland. Most T4 to T3 conversion happens in your liver, kidneys and muscles. If you have a fatty liver or a sluggish liver, this conversion will not be effective. This can leave you feeling tired, depressed, puffy, overweight and with dry skin and thinning scalp hair. Indeed you would have a thyroid problem caused by a faulty liver.
If you are taking thyroid hormone medication in the form of thyroxine, it too must be converted into the active form in your body. Therefore if you are taking thyroid medication but still not feeling much better, your liver could be to blame! It is vital that you work on improving the health of your liver if you want healthy thyroid hormone levels.
Apart from having a healthy liver, you can also keep your thyroid gland in good shape with the following strategies:
- Obtain adequate iodine in your diet. Iodine deficiency is becoming an increasingly common problem. The thyroid gland requires iodine in order to manufacture the hormones T4 and T3. Iodine is mostly found in the oceans, therefore is present in seafood (as long as it came from the ocean and was not farmed), and seaweed. Kelp is a rich source of iodine and is available in supplement form. Your doctor can organise a urine test for you to determine your body’s iodine level.
- Obtain adequate selenium in your diet. Selenium is a mineral that is required for the conversion of the thyroid hormone T4 into its active form, T3. People taking thyroid hormone replacement such as Synthroid or Oroxine benefit from selenium supplementation because it enables their bodies to use the medication more efficiently. Selenium also helps the immune system and can reduce the production of auto-antibodies in Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Graves’ disease. Brazil nuts are the richest dietary source of selenium, however supplementation is usually required to achieve optimal levels in the body. Selenium and iodine are found in thyroid health capsules.
- Consume good quality protein. The amino acid tyrosine is required for thyroid hormone production. Tyrosine is found in protein rich foods such as chicken, fish and cheese, and also in smaller quantities in avocados, bananas and almonds. Protein rich foods are also a good source of zinc, which is needed by the thyroid hormone receptors in your cells, to allow thyroid hormones to bind there. Eating enough protein is one half of the equation, the other half is to make sure you digest the protein properly. Irritable bowel syndrome, bloating, heartburn and reflux can all indicate that you don’t digest protein properly. Taking a digestive enzyme supplement, sipping some diluted apple cider vinegar before meals, and making sure you are relaxed while eating can all help.
Sardinia is the second largest island off Italy’s coast. Besides being beautiful, there is a medical mystery about Sardinians that have scientists scratching their heads. Sardinia claims its place as one of the top “blue zones” for longevity, where people live to be well over 100.
At least 220 of Sardinia’s current 1.6 million people have reached 100, twice the average of the rest of the world, and 20 times as many as in the United States. Interestingly, men and women share longevity equally, whereas elsewhere, women reach 100 4 times more often than men.
Sardinia, particularly the central-eastern part of the island, is one of five blue zones that have been discovered by National Geographic Magazine writer Dan Buettner. The other zones of longevity include:
- The islands of Okinawa, Japan – home of some of the longest lived people on earth
- Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
- Ikaria, Greece – the most recently discovered blue spot has the highest percentage of 90-year-olds on earth. Nearly 1 out of 3 people live into their 90s. they also have 20% lower rate of cancer, 50% lower rate of heart disease, and almost no dementia, according to Buettner.
- Loma Linda, California – the only location known in the United States, this area is home to a group of Seventh-day Adventists who live to be centenarians.
Scientists believe Sardinian men share a genetic trait passed from father to son that makes them less likely than the general population to die from heart disease or stroke. But while researchers look for genetic clues, the people of Sardinia attribute this phenomenon to their unpolluted air, lack of stress, and a healthy diet, including wine with very high levels of antioxidants.
The Sardinian diet is a balance of healthy nutrients, fresh locally grown foods prepared simply with olive oil, lemon and garlic to compliment dishes. Meals are served in small courses usually with a pasta or soup first, a main dish with a focus on plant-based foods such as vegetables, legumes, and nuts, and ending with a salad to aid in digestion.
Meat intake is low in Sardinia, typically only once or twice a week. When meat is eaten, it is generally regional and consists of lamb, lean pork, oily fish, and shellfish. The most common method for cooking meat is over a woodfire or spit. One dish meals containing a little meat and a lot of seasonal, locally grown vegetables are also popular in this area.
Farms in Sardinia grow many different fruit and vegetable crops, including tomatoes, oranges, figs, apples, apricots and grapes. Artichokes (carciofi) are a regional favorite and eaten in the winter season.
Desserts are primarily a little cheese and fresh fruit. The cheese, called Pecorino, is made from the milk of grass-fed sheep and is high in omega-3 fatty acids. There is another type of cheese, called Cazu marzu or rotten cheese, which contains live maggots that ferment the cheese. Sardinians eat this because they feel the bacteria are good for the gut, however it is considered illegal, and can only be purchased on the Black Market.
Because of the dangers associated with this cheese, it is considered an illegal and is only available on the Black Market….Definitely not for the faint-hearted
The wine of Sardinia is a very dark, red wines called vino nero, which means “black wine”. Wine is consumed with the meal. Some wines local to the Sardinian island include Occhio di Pernice, Cannonau, Vermentino, Malvasia di Bosa, Moscato, Mirto, Fil’e ferru, and Abbardente.
As the Sardinians say “A Kent’ Annos“, which means may you live to be 100.
Sources Include: ABC News, In Italy, Go-Sardinia.com, and the journal Experimental Gerontology.
Pancreatic cancer can arise in the exocrine or endocrine part of the gland, and represents a relevant modern health care issue because of its extremely high mortality and increasing incidence in most developed countries, which imposes a constant epidemiological surveillance. The aim of this study was to analyse and describe the epidemiology of pancreatic cancer in North Sardinia, Italy, in the period 1992-2010.
Materials and methods: Data were obtained from the tumor registry of Sassari province that makes part of a wider registry web, coordinated today by the Italian Association for Tumor Registries (AIRTUM).
Results: The overall number of pancreatic cancer cases registered was 1,388. The male-to-female ratio was approximately 1:1 and the mean age 69 years for males and 73 years for females. The standardized incidence rates were 13.7/100,000 and 9.4/100,000 and the standardized mortality rates 13.3/100,000 and 8.6/100,000 for males and females respectively. The relative 5-years survival was 6.9% for males and 6.2% for females.
Discussion: Incidence rates of pancreatic cancer in North Sardinia were similar to those of other countries close to the equator, confirming an inverse variation with solar exposure, and thus, vitamin D levels. Furthermore, our data showed a substantially stable trend in incidence and mortality rates of pancreatic cancer in both sexes in the last decades in the area. The relative survival rates were low, therefore efforts in all fields of research and clinical practice must be enhanced to improve outcomes in patients with pancreatic cancer. http://www.
This hour documentary is key to succcess B|
Published on Oct 8, 2015
Showing as part of BBC Wales’s Live Longer Wales season. There are more 100-year-old people in Wales today than ever before, but our centenarian count is still lower than the majority of western countries. Why is this, and what can we do to make sure that we too live long and healthy lives?
In How to Live to a Hundred, Welsh-Italian cook Michela Chiappa attempts to discover the secret recipe to longevity. It is a colourful and insightful journey that takes her from her home town of Merthyr all the way to the Italian island of Sardinia – home of the longest-living people in Europe – and back to the Welsh valleys again.
Mixing food, lifestyle and science, Michela meets some incredible Welsh centenarians – each with their own theories and tales to tell about why they have lived so long.
She visits Wales’s leading longevity expert, Professor Burholt, Director of the Centre for Innovative Ageing in the College of Human and Health Sciences at Swansea University. Then she heads out to meet Europe’s longest-living community: the people of the Ogliastra valley on the Italian island of Sardinia, where living to 100 is a surprisingly common occurrence.
What she discovers and brings back to Wales is a surprising recipe for longevity.
A warm and engaging celebration of good food, good people and good living, How to Live to a Hundred offers a compelling insight into living a longer, healthier life.
50 Secrets of the World’s Longest Living People by Sally Beare takes us into the lifestyles of 5 traditional people groups who live much longer and healthier than the average modern person (think over 100 and still outside working and playing).
As a nutritionist she studied people from Okinawa, Japan; Symi, Greece; Campodimele, Italy; Hunza, India; and Bama, China.
These people groups have 2 or 3 times the amount of people living page age 100 and 70% less of certain chronic diseases like heart attacks.