This article was originally published in June 2011 and has been updated.
Estrogen balance is essential for achieving and maintaining fat loss. In men and premenopausal women, too much estrogen — a condition called estrogen dominance — causes toxic fat gain, water retention, bloating, and a host of other health and wellness issues. As women age, there is a natural decline in testosterone and progesterone levels, leaving a relative excess of estrogen.
While premenopausal women with too much estrogen tend to have the pear-shaped body type — with more weight at the hips — both men and menopausal women with this estrogen excess exhibit an apple shape with more fat accumulation in the abdominal area.
What causes estrogen dominance? There are only two ways to accumulate excess estrogen in the body: we either produce too much of it on our own, or acquire it from our environment or diet. Unfortunately, accumulating estrogen is not hard. We are constantly exposed to estrogen-like compounds in foods that contain toxic pesticides, herbicides, and growth hormones. Many of these toxins are known to cause weight gain, which serves to fuel the production of more estrogen from our own fat cells.
Pharmaceutical hormones, such as those used in hormone-replacement therapy (HRT), can also increase estrogen — whether we take them actively or absorb them when they make their way into our drinking water. We are living in a virtual sea of harmful estrogens, and researchers are only beginning to identify the extent of this exposure on health in humans — and even other species.
The signs and symptoms of estrogen dominance If you are a premenopausal woman with estrogen dominance, you likely have PMS, too much body fat around the hips and difficulty losing weight. Perhaps you have a history of gallstones, varicose veins, uterine fibroids, cervical dysplasia, endometriosis, or ovarian cysts. In both sexes, estrogen dominance is thought to be responsible for many types of cancers. This particular hormone imbalance could be be one of the leading causes of breast, uterine, and prostate cancer.
How to correct estrogen dominance Use these foods or habits to decrease harmful estrogen:
1. Take care of your liver Since the liver breaks down estrogen, alcohol consumption, drug use, a fatty liver, liver disease, and any other factor that impairs healthy liver function can spur an estrogen build-up.
2. Eat healthy bacteria Bacterial imbalance in the gut, and other problems that compromise digestion, interfere with the proper elimination of estrogen from the body via the digestive tract. Try including a daily probiotic to your diet.
3. Boost your fibre intake Insoluble fibre binds to excess estrogen in the digestive tract, which is then excreted by the body. A fibre supplement can also affect the composition of intestinal bacteria and reduce the build-up and re-absorption of free-floating estrogen. Good sources include wheat bran, corn bran, rice bran, the skins of fruits and vegetables (apples, pears, berries, tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini and carrots), nuts (especially almonds), seeds (particularly sunflower seeds), soybeans, dried beans, and whole-grain foods.
4. Go organic Some dairy and meat products may contain hormone additives, so choosing organic dairy and meat may reduce your exposure to excess estrogen.
5. Change up your diet Consume weak phytoestrogenic foods, which counteract the effects of estrogen, such as pomegranate, flaxseeds, pears, apples, berries, organic non-GMO fermented soy, wheat germ, oats, and barley.
6. Ensure you're getting your vitamins The body requires sufficient intake of zinc, magnesium, vitamin B6 and other essential nutrients, not only to support the breakdown and elimination of estrogen, but also to aid the function of enzymes responsible for the conversion of testosterone to estrogen.
7. Be mindful of what you consume Avoid exposure to xenoestrogens from plastics, cosmetics and the birth control pill. Xenoestrogens mimic the effects of estrogens, and tend to be found in water, soil and food products.
8. Be soy careful Soy has a relatively high concentration of some types of estrogens, so try to avoid unfermented soy products like tofu and soy milk.
9. Manage your stress As the body responds to high levels of stress, it “steals” progesterone to manufacture the stress hormone cortisol, often leaving a relative excess of estrogen.
10. Sleep well Maintaining poor sleep habits cause a reduction in the hormone melatonin, which helps protect against estrogen dominance. Aim for seven to eight hours of sleep per night in a cool, dark room.
Natasha Turner, N.D. is a naturopathic doctor, Chatelaine magazine columnist, and author of the bestselling books The Hormone Diet and The Supercharged Hormone Diet. Her newest release, The Carb Sensitivity Program, is now available across Canada. She’s also the founder of the Toronto-based Clear Medicine Wellness Boutique and a regular guest on The Dr. Oz Show. For more wellness advice from Natasha Turner, click here.
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