The basics of estrogen detoxification

Oestrogen detox

In this blog we discuss the importance of estrogen detoxification for overall hormone health. We cover everything you need to know about the basics of estrogen detoxification, why it is so important and how you can begin to support it at home.

Key takeaways:

  • Estrogen has many vital roles to play in the body including the regulation of female reproductive organs, brain health and supporting the nervous system. 
  • Unopposed estrogen is linked to symptoms such as painful, heavy and irregular periods. 
  • The most common causes of unopposed estrogen are poor estrogen detoxification, low progesterone and genetic SNPs or variations. 
  • Estrogen detoxification takes place in 3 phases. 
  • In phase 1 detoxification estrogen is broken down and transformed so that it is ready for phase 2 detoxification. 
  • In phase 1 the most preferred pathway is the 2OH pathway. 
  • In phase 2 it undergoes many processes including methylation which prepares estrogen to be removed from the body. 
  • In phase 3 the estrogen is removed from the body via stool, bile and urine. 
  • The FUTURE WOMAN hormone tests all look at estrogen metabolism and detoxification. 
  • Three things you can start doing at home to support estrogen detoxification.

The role of estrogen

So you may have heard of estrogen and all of her wonderful qualities. Luckily for us, estrogen is all about being bright, vibrant and sexy. Some of the roles estrogen plays in the body include:

  • Development and regulation of the female reproductive organs 
  • Growth and maintenance of the skeleton
  • The normal function of the cardiovascular and nervous systems
  • Important for metabolic health, muscle mass and preventing insulin resistance
  • Supports brain health

The negative sides of estrogen

Although estrogen has many benefits for the body and brain, you may also have heard about the negative sides of estrogen. For example, when you have unopposed or excess estrogen and its link to some of the following symptoms:

  • Heavy periods 
  • Painful periods 
  • Severe PMS
  • Mood changes 
  • Breast pain or tenderness 
  • Weight gain 
  • Depression 
  • Infertility issues 
  • Irregular periods 
  • Endometriosis 
  • Fibroids 

Unopposed estrogen can become a problem when we have low progesterone, high estrogen production and poor estrogen detoxification.

Estrogen and progesterone

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 

As we discovered, estrogen has many important roles to play in the body; primarily estrogen is responsible for the development and regulation of the female reproductive organs.

estrogen and your menstrual cycle 

Estrogen takes centre stage in the follicular phase or first phase of your menstrual 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 maturing the egg prior to ovulation.

Estrogen levels act as a signalling system during your cycle; for example, when estrogen reaches a certain level in the follicular phase, this sends a message for the brain to release luteinising hormone (LH) which in turn causes ovulation to occur. Therefore, balanced estrogen levels are vital for a healthy menstrual cycle.

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 too high relative to progesterone (this can also include testosterone). The most common causes for this are:

  • 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. 
  • Genetic SNPs – there may be variations on some of your genes that encourage the production of estrogen (eg: CYP19A1), or that impede healthy estrogen detoxification such as the COMT gene.

What is estrogen detoxification and why is it important?

Estrogen detoxification occurs in three stages. The first two stages occur in the liver and the third predominantly in the gut.

Phase 1 estrogen detoxification

As mentioned, estrogen detoxification happens in two phases. In Phase 1, there are enzymes called the CYP family of detoxification enzymes which take estrogens through a process called hydroxylation and prepares them for Phase 2 detoxification. What this basically means is that in phase 1 estrogen is broken down and transformed so that it is ready for phase 2. After undergoing these processes in phase 1 it can leave the estrogen more ‘toxic’. This means that it is very important that phase 2 is working properly to neutralise this estrogen again for removal in the body.

Within phase 1 detoxification there are three different pathways that estrogen can move through. 

  • 2OH – this is the most favoured pathway. 
  • 4OH – this is the least favoured pathway and can be more carcinogenic because it has more risk for DNA damage.
  • 16OH –  This pathway has the strongest binding effects to estrogen receptors. Therefore it is considered to be the most proliferative. This means this pathway may cause symptoms such as heavy periods, tender breasts and painful periods.

An extract from the FUTURE WOMAN Classic Hormone Test shows optimal Phase 1 detoxification. 

Testing and understanding which pathway your estrogen is predominantly moving through is vital, especially if you have signs of high estrogen.

Phase 2 estrogen detoxification

Phase 2 of estrogen detoxification helps to prepare the estrogen to be removed from the body by making it water soluble so it can be removed easily. 

Methylation is one of the processes that occurs in phase 2. Methylation, commonly termed ‘one-carbon metabolism’, is an important biochemical process that involves the transfer of active methyl groups to functions or processes that need them. 

To put this simply, methylation of estrogen is the transformation of estrogen so it can be removed. Therefore the process of methylation needs to be working well to support healthy estrogen detoxification.

Poor methylation status can be caused by many factors such as: 

  • Poor nutrient status (such as folate or B12)
  • Genetic variants on genes such as COMT or MTHFR 
  • Other factors such as stress. 

If there is poor methylation status in the body it can lead to hormone imbalance, poor detoxification, poor sleep, mood changes and low energy. We can test your methylation status in relation to estrogen detoxification in all of our hormone tests.

An extract from the FUTURE WOMAN Classic Hormone Test shows some room for improvement in Phase 2 detoxification.

Phase 3 estrogen detoxification

Phase 3 estrogen detoxification is all about the safe removal of estrogen from the body via bile, urine and stool. 

Once estrogen has been through phase 2, it’s packaged up (and made water-soluble) and pushed into the bile and then into the gut where it leaves via the stool.

It is important to ensure phase 3 is working properly, as if it is not it can lead to the unpacking of your estrogen (by an enzyme called beta-glucoronidase) and can lead to your estrogen being reabsorbed in the body again = resulting in high estrogen.

How can we test estrogen detoxification?

All three of our FUTURE WOMAN hormone tests provide insights into your current hormone levels and also how effectively your body is able to metabolise them. This is important when understanding why estrogen may be high as it helps to assess your entire hormone health picture, from production of hormones to the way they are removed from the body. 

It may also be beneficial to take our hormone genetics test in order to look at the genes involved in the biosynthesis of hormones, the detoxification of hormones, histamine and methylation to better understand how your genes are influencing your body and its interaction with hormones.

Top three things you can start doing at home to support healthy estrogen detoxification:

  1. Ditch the alcohol. Alcohol can impact the quality of both phase 1, 2 and 3 of estrogen detoxification. 
  2. Increase your fibre – encouraging daily bowel motions will ensure that you are detoxing and removing estrogen from the body daily. 
  3. Increase your cruciferous vegetables – they are deeply supportive of phase 1 and 2 estrogen detoxification and support the preferred 2OH pathway.

References:

Almeida M, Soares M, Fonseca-Moutinho J, Ramalhinho AC, Breitenfeld L. Influence of Estrogenic Metabolic Pathway Genes Polymorphisms on Postmenopausal Breast Cancer Risk. Pharmaceuticals (Basel). 2021 Jan 27;14(2):94. doi: 10.3390/ph14020094. PMID: 33513690; PMCID: PMC7910923.

Calcium-D-glucarate. (2002). Alternative medicine review : a journal of clinical therapeutic, 7(4), 336–339.

Czernik, P. J., Little, J. M., Barone, G. W., Raufman, J. P., & Radominska-Pandya, A. (2000). Glucuronidation of estrogens and retinoic acid and expression of UDP-glucuronosyltransferase 2B7 in human intestinal mucosa. Drug metabolism and disposition: the biological fate of chemicals, 28(10), 1210–1216.

Hodges, R. E., & Minich, D. M. (2015). Modulation of Metabolic Detoxification Pathways Using Foods and Food-Derived Components: A Scientific Review with Clinical Application. Journal of nutrition and metabolism, 2015, 760689. https://doi.org/10.1155/2015/760689

Nho, C. W., & Jeffery, E. (2001). The synergistic upregulation of phase II detoxification enzymes by glucosinolate breakdown products in cruciferous vegetables. Toxicology and applied pharmacology, 174(2), 146–152. https://doi.org/10.1006/taap.2001.9207

Tsuchiya, Y., Nakajima, M., & Yokoi, T. (2005). Cytochrome P450-mediated metabolism of estrogens and its regulation in human. Cancer letters, 227(2), 115–124. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.canlet.2004.10.007

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