Everything you need to know about high levels of estrogen including signs and symptoms such as heavy & painful periods and PMS, as well as causes of high estrogen and how you can test your estrogen levels with FUTURE WOMAN.
Let’s start with the basics: What is estrogen?
Estrogen is one of the two main female sex hormones (the other being progesterone).
There are three main estrogens:
- Estrone (E1) – this is the main estrogen in menopausal years
- Estradiol (E2) – this is the main estrogen in reproductive years
- Estriol (E3) – this is the main estrogen that your body makes in pregnancy
Estrogen has many important roles to play in the body; primarily it is responsible for the development and regulation of the female reproductive organs. It also plays many other roles including being responsible for the growth and maintenance of the skeleton and the normal function of the cardiovascular and nervous systems.
Estrogen and your menstrual cycle
Estrogen takes centre stage in the follicular phase of your cycle. This is the phase between your period and ovulation. Having balanced estrogen is extremely important in your cycle as it is responsible for growing and maintaining the uterine lining and also for the maturing the egg prior to ovulation.
Estrogen levels act as a signalling system during your cycle; for example when they reach a certain level in the follicular phase, this send a message for the brain to release luteinising hormone which in turn causes estrogen levels to drop and ovulation to occur. Therefore balanced estrogen levels are vital for a healthy menstrual cycle.
Estrogen actually rises and falls twice in your cycle, once before ovulation and again rising in the mid-luteal phase (from ovulation to your period) before falling just before your period begins.
what is estrogen dominance or unopposed estrogen?
One of the most common hormonal imbalances is what we call estrogen dominance, estrogen excess or unopposed estrogen. This means that estrogen levels are higher relative to progesterone (this can also include testosterone). Therefore this typically looks like high estrogen levels and low progesterone levels.
What are the signs and symptoms of unopposed estrogen?
Unopposed estrogen or estrogen dominance can present is many ways, here are some common signs:
- Heavy periods
- Painful periods,
- Bad PMS
- Mood changes
- Breast pain or tenderness
- Weight gain
- Infertility issues
- Irregular periods
What causes estrogen to be too high?
There are many reasons why you may be struggling with estrogen dominance; here are some common reasons:
- Low progesterone – In comparison to estrogen. This may be due to lack of ovulation, over exercise, stress, poor HPO axis activation or under-eating.
- Histamine – Histamine causes the ovaries to produce more estrogen which can lead to excess estrogen in the body.
- Poor estrogen detoxification – Impaired estrogen detoxification at phase 1,2 or 3 can lead to estrogen being reabsorbed and reactivated instead of being removed from the body.
- Perimenopause – This is a time where fluctuating hormones and decreasing ovulation can lead to dramatic differences in progesterone and estrogen levels resulting in an estrogen dominant picture. You can read more about the signs and symptoms of perimenopause and the four stages of perimenopause.
- Toxins – Endocrine disrupting chemicals like BPA can lead to higher levels of estrogen (xenoestrogens) and lower progesterone levels.
- Genetic SNPs – There may be variations in some of your genes that encourage your estrogen down certain pathways that can result in symptoms of estrogen excess (eg: CYP19A1) or genes that impede healthy estrogen detoxification such as the COMT gene.
There are many other reasons why you may be struggling with an estrogen dominant picture which is why testing and working with one of our practitioners is vital to understanding the root cause of the imbalance in your body.
What to do if you suspect you have high or unopposed estrogen
If you suspect you might have high or unopposed estrogen, the first best step is to test your hormones with one of our at-home tests to have it confirmed. This is important because symptoms of high estrogen can mimic symptoms of other hormone imbalances such as low progesterone.
It is also important to test to establish why you may have high estrogen, for example is it due to excess estrogen production or is it because you have poor methylation and phase 2 detoxification (meaning estrogen is being recirculated through the body)? Once we establish the root cause, then we can support the body in the correct ways.
Here are three key markers we look at when testing estrogen in our FUTURE WOMAN Hormone Tests:
- Your overall estrogen levels. This looks at three types of estrogen, including estriol, estradiol and estrone. This will give you a clear picture of what is happening with your overall estrogen, but also if you are low or high in any of the three main estrogens too.
- Your estrogen phase 1 metabolites. Our FUTURE WOMAN Hormone Tests also look at the three estrogen pathways in phase 1 detoxification. These pathways are called 2-OH, 16-OH and 4-OH. It is important to understand the proportion of your estrogen moving through each pathway, as it can impact your symptoms. For example, the 16-OH pathway is the most proliferative pathway. So even if you have normal estrogen levels, a greater proportion going down the 16-OH pathway can create symptoms of excess or high estrogen. We would look to support and redirect your estrogen to the 2-OH pathway instead.
- Your estrogen phase 2 metabolites. One of the other markers we look at is called methylation. This looks at how well you are detoxifying estrogen from the body in phase 2 detoxification. This result will show if it is too slow or fast which can affect total estrogen levels in the body.
One of the reasons we prefer to test hormones in urine and not blood, is because it allows us to assess your phase 1 and phase 2 estrogen metabolites. You can learn more about the benefits of urine testing vs. blood testing here. And to learn more about estrogen metabolites and what to look for, you can read our handy guide to estrogen detoxification.
Treatment and next steps
Your FUTURE WOMAN practitioner will make personalised supplement, dietary and lifestyle recommendations based on your individual test results and individual symptoms picture. But here are three diet and lifestyle recommendations that you can start today if you suspect you have high or unopposed estrogen.
- Increase your cruciferous vegetables. Research has shown that cruciferous vegetables help support the metabolism and detoxification of estrogen, including encouraging estrogen to move through the preferred 2-OH pathway in phase 1 detoxification. Increase foods like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and kale.
- Ensure you get 7-9 hours of sleep. This is important not only to support healthy hormone production and detoxification, but getting good sleep is one of the best ways to support and boost progesterone. By ensuring you have adequate progesterone levels, this will help reduce symptoms of unopposed estrogen (symptoms present as high estrogen).
- Ditch or reduce alcohol. Alcohol can impact many areas of hormone health, but especially estrogen detoxification. Estrogen detoxification occurs in 2 phases in the liver, and drinking any alcohol can disrupt this detoxification process leading to higher estrogen levels in the body.