While estrogen is predominantly a female hormone, men have small amounts too. Over the last 50 years, estrogen dominance has become a major health threat. This condition is often misunderstood because it can occur both men and women, who can have either low, normal, or excessive estrogen levels.
The key sign of estrogen dominance is the presence of little or no progesterone to balance the effects if estrogen on the body. In other words, there is too much estrogen relative to progesterone.
Why Estrogen Dominance Is So Prevalent
There are five major factors that explain why estrogen dominance is so widely prevalent today.
In a nutshell, the more fat you have, the higher your levels of estrogen will be. This is just one more reason to lose fat and maintain a healthy weight.
Obesity contributes to estrogen dominance because fat cells produce estrogen—so the more fat your have, the more estrogen you make. In addition, excess body fat alters the levels of several hormones, including insulin, leptin, and estrogen. Estrogen slows down the metabolism and boosts insulin production, which causes the body to store more calories as fat rather than use them for energy—therefore increasing obesity.
Fat tissue is also the main source for aromatase, the enzyme that converts testosterone to estrogen. Aromatase levels go up if you are deficient in vitamin D, zinc, selenium, and magnesium. It’s no surprise that individuals with benign prostate hypertrophy (BPH) or an enlarged prostate are commonly deficient in these very same minerals and vitamins.
Alcohol also increases aromatase and has routinely been linked to low testosterone and high estrogen levels.
Certain foods, however, decrease aromatase. Probably the most beneficial foods in this category are cruciferous vegetables, which include broccoli, cabbage, bok choy, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, radishes, watercress, arugula, mustard greens, horseradish, turnips, rutabaga, and kohlrabi. They contain sulfur groups and indoles that not only decrease production of aromatase but also protect against cancer.
In addition, the cruciferous vegetables along with grapefruit, apples, and oranges contain a natural calcium salt called calcium-D-glucarate—another natural aromatase inhibitor that blocks glucuronidase activity in the bowel. Our bodies actually make small amounts of calcium-D-glucarate, but raising these levels with these foods has been shown to reduce estrogen-dependent cancers.
Diet also influences estrogen levels. One culprit, the overconsumption of carbohydrates, is also a major underlying contributor to our obesity epidemic.
A recent study found a significant link between high estrogen levels, early puberty, and breast cancer and the amount of high-carbohydrate drinks (soft drinks) young girls drink. When premenopausal women eating a typical “Western diet,” comprised of high fat (40 percent of total calories) and low fiber, were compared to vegetarians eating a moderate fat (30 percent of total calories), high-fiber diet, the vegetarians excreted three times more estrogen in their feces and had 10 to 15 percent lower blood plasma estrogen levels. Also, when those on the Western diet were compared to Asian immigrants eating a very low-fat diet (20 to 25 percent of total calories), the blood plasma levels of estrogen in the very low-fat diet group were 30 percent lower.
Ineffective Breakdown of Estrogen
One of the liver’s responsibilities is to break down excess hormones like estrogen. If the liver is impaired in any way, then you will see higher levels of estrogen. One of the most common findings in alcoholic men is impaired liver function. Often accompanying this is a condition known as gynecomastia or “man boobs.” This is a direct result of heightened estrogen activity.
It's really important that your body has the ability to bind securely to excess estrogen so it can be removed from the body. If it "breaks free" during transit through the colon, it will re-enter the bloodstream. Flaxseed hulls are particular good at increasing the sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) which binds to estrogen and keeps it from attaching to cellular receptors throughout the body. Flaxseed also tends to inhibit the enzyme aromatase, which turns testosterone into estrogen. Make sure you start with whole flaxseed and grind it fresh each day to avoid rancidity.
Other foods that act as aromatase inhibitors include the cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, etc.), oysters (because of their zinc content), parsley, button mushrooms (these work even better with taken with green tea) and olive oil. Keep in mind also that cruciferous vegetables also contain DIM, a compound known to block estrogen activity.
Additionally, be sure to include fermented foods and a good daily probiotic in your daily diet. The wrong bacteria in your intestine cleaves or separates bound estrogen and allows it to re-enter the circulation.
The time it takes for waste to move through the intestinal tract plays a role in estrogen dominance. This is known as bowel transit time. If this transit time is normal, then the excess estrogen can pass with the stool and out of the body. If there is a lengthy transit time, meaning you suffer from constipation, this allows for the reabsorption of waste materials and toxins, which puts even more pressure on the liver.
Also known as “gender benders,” xenoestrogens are estrogen-like compounds that we are being exposed to at an increasingly alarming rate. These include BPA, PCBs, phthalates, flame retardants, pesticides, herbicides, and DDT residue—all of which have been found in our food and water supplies.
BPA has been recognized as a particularly widespread endocrine disrupter. It is used to manufacture rigid plastic cups, water bottles, and food storage containers. It’s also found in the linings in many food cans and dental sealants. Phthalates are used in PVC products to make them softer and more flexible. They show up in everything from toys to food packages, flooring, and shower curtains, as well as nail polish, hair spray, and shampoo.
Xenoestrogens are typically fat soluble and not easily broken down. They tend to accumulate over time and are stored by the body in fat cells. This subjects the body to a never-ending toxic assault and inflammatory process that alters the intercellular functions of fat cells.
In addition, these compounds can be 10 to 100 times more powerful than natural estrogen. To demonstrate this potency, just look at the dramatic change we’ve seen in the age young girls today, who are constantly exposed to these compounds, are starting puberty. In 1900, the average age that girls entered puberty was 14.2. Contrast that with one study that found that by the age of 7, 14 percent of white girls, 23.4 percent of black girls, and 14.9 percent of Hispanic girls had reached puberty. At 8 years old, 18.3 percent, 42.9 percent, and 30.9 percent, respectively, had reached puberty.
To limit your xenoestrogen exposure as much as possible, and therefore treat estrogen dominance:
- Go organic. Avoid consuming pesticides and growth hormones by choosing organic produce and hormone-free meats. Peel or thoroughly rinse non-organic fruits and vegetables. As a general rule, the closer you stay to nature with the foods you eat (the least amount of processing), the better you’ll be in the long run. The protection provided by a good multivitamin/mineral supplement is also essential.
- Avoid pesticides and herbicides as much as possible. If you have to use one of these products, avoid direct contact and inhalation.
- Use natural home cleaning products. Vinegar and baking soda are two good options.
- Opt for safer personal care products. Xenoestrogens are common ingredients in sunscreens, lotions, soaps, and shampoos. Keep in mind that just because something says natural, that doesn’t mean it’s not a xenoestrogen. Two natural items you should not use on young children are lavender and tea tree oil. It is not uncommon to see young babies or toddlers up to age 2 developing breast tissue from the use of lavender or tea tree oil bath soaps.
- Don’t touch thermal credit card and cash register receipts. They contain BPA. Research has found that individuals who handled these had the compound show up in their urine after just a few hours.
- Don’t use plastic containers that contain BPA. Also, never microwave or heat food in plastic containers.
- Take these supplements. Studies have demonstrated that turmeric (or its extract, curcumin) help stop the growth of estrogen-dependent cancer cells. I also recommend using natural detoxifiers such as cilantro and spirulina on a regular basis. Green tea in high concentrations also has anti-estrogenic properties.
- Avoid consumption of these products: Soy mimics estrogen, so stay away from processed soy products (although occasional consumption of fermented soy is acceptable). Sunflower, safflower, cottonseed, and canola oils may be natural, but they are estrogenic and should be avoided, or at least restricted. (Olive oil is fine.) Finally, licorice and red clover inhibit the activity of progesterone.