I used to resist learning about hormones. Too complicated – don’t wanna go there. Now, it’s all I read about, research, and chat about with my lady friends (and sometimes my guy, though I am sure it doesn’t interest him as much). Let’s face it – hormones are complicated! I constantly consider how my sleep, stress, food choices, household and personal care products could affect my cycle, my energy, my long-term health. Once you get the hang of hormones, it can be fun to learn about your body – to experiment with new things like essential oils or herbal teas. And it’s even more fun to feel good!
What is Estrogen
You may remember learning in Sex Ed that most of our estrogen is made by the ovaries and is responsible for the development of our lady parts. Estrogen helps grow the uterine lining in preparation for pregnancy, but it also balances cholesterol levels, affects skeletal growth, and is important for electrolyte balance and brain functioning! That’s one powerful hormone! And estrogen sits on a seesaw with progesterone – sometimes up and sometimes down. But the sweet spot is when both estrogen and progesterone are in balance, like yin and yang.
It’s common for many ladies to experience estrogen excess and/or estrogen dominance. Does this mean we have supercharged fertility and insane libido? Not quite. It takes two to tango and estrogen’s relationship with progesterone is what we need to be looking at.
Estrogen excess can mean one of two things:
- We have an excess of estrogen in our system and it’s not being cleared out efficiently. This is what usually happens with estrogen excess but sometimes the ovaries produce too much (woah there, Nellie!).
- Remember that seesaw? Progesterone and estrogen like to be in balance. But if progesterone is low and estrogen is at a normal level, estrogen will be the dominant one in relation to progesterone. This is more commonly referred to as estrogen dominance.
How do you know if you have excess estrogen?
If you’re experiencing any of the lovely symptoms below, then your estrogen may need a timeout:
- PMS or mood swings
- Decreased libido
- Headaches or migraines
- Breast tenderness
- Heavy periods
- Irregular periods
You can also test for estrogen excess – ask your doctor to test your estrodiol and progesterone in the middle of your luteal phase (which is the second have of your cycle). Testing estrogen in conjunction with progesterone can show you estrogen’s level in relation to progesterone. It’s important to understand that your estrogen fluctuates throughout your cycle, so testing can be a little tricky – it helps to work with a practitioner well-versed in hormones, such as an endocrinologist, a functional medicine doctor, or a naturopath.
How to Naturally Clear out Excess Estrogen
If your symptoms and/or your tests are telling you that estrogen is taking up too much real estate, there are many steps you can take to naturally escort estrogen to the exit.
There are two main pieces to this puzzle – your liver and your gut bacteria. Think of it this way – when a sink gets clogged, stuff doesn’t drain efficiently. You have to clear it out so that everything can flow freely. Your body has a built-in filter and detoxification system – the liver! The liver helps deactivate estrogen but it needs plenty of nutrients to do its job. The second process is having healthy gut bacteria kick estrogen out of the club.
Natural Ways to Reduce and Clear Excess Estrogen
Swap Alcohol and Sugar for Liver-Friendly Foods
I know that glass of wine or that salted caramel bar might be calling your name at the end of a stressful day, but alcohol can affect menstrual cycles and delay ovulation (1,2) and sugar….well….is it really doing you any favors?
Add in lots of green leafies and cruciferous veggies to support detoxification and healthy fats like avocados, fresh water fish, nuts, seeds, and coconut oil to help your body with hormone production. If you need some help with those sugar cravings, check out my tips.
Ditch the Chemicals
I had a professor once say that you shouldn’t put anything on your body that you wouldn’t eat! Everything gets in – yes, your makeup and hairspray, too! Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that disrupt hormonal functioning and can lead to reproductive, developmental, and neurological side effects. They do this by mimicking our hormones, binding to receptor sites and blocking our natural hormones from binding, and/or altering the metabolism of our hormones in the liver. Yikes! They lurk in personal care products (phthalates), plastic food containers (BPA), food (pesticides), and more (3,4).
Try my favorite way to store food: glass storage containers! And if you’re on the fence about whether or not organic is work the price, check out my article on what the research says about eating organic. For personal care and household products, I always refer to the Environmental Working Group to check the safety of my products, but feel free to email me and ask me for my favorite personal care products (many of which I concoct myself!).
Build Your Good Gut Bacteria
A healthy belly makes for happy hormones because your healthy bacteria are vital for moving excess estrogen out of the body. If the bad guys outnumber the good, then the bad bacteria can reactivate estrogen, sending them back into circulation. Antibiotics and the birth control pill can impair beneficial gut bacteria, thereby impairing estrogen metabolism (5)
There are so many yummy probiotic-rich foods! Kimchi, sauerkraut, plain yogurt, kombucha, miso, kefir! And if you don’t like sour foods, there are plenty of great encapsulated probiotics.
Try Castor Oil Packs
Castor oil packs are one of my favorite go-to’s for anxiety, period pain, and liver detox. It improves circulation and supports liver function, thereby helping hormones to be metabolized more efficiently. You can make your own with a few items. Click here to learn how to make your own.
Try Seed Cycling
Seed cycling can be helpful for evening out estrogen and progesterone levels. The concept seems a little strange but if you’re reading this, chances are you believe in the healing power of food! The idea is that during the first half of your cycle, you eat flaxseeds that contain lignans, which bind to the excess estrogen in your system to help them leave your body. You pair them with pumpkin seeds, which contain zinc and help promote progesterone release. During the second half of your cycle, you switch to sunflower seeds that encourage progesterone production and sesame seeds, which deter estrogen production (6). And that’s it!
Here’s more information about how to incorporate seed cycling.
There’s a Tea for That
The Bottom Line
Learning more about your body and your awesome hormones can make a huge impact on your energy levels, sex drive, menstrual regularity, cravings, and overall health. It takes some detective work to really get in there and figure out what’s going on, but it is so empowering to really know your body. If you need some support or insight, feel free to reach out and ask!