Stop and consider for a moment what differentiates a man from a woman. Hormonally speaking, you might say that a man is more dominant in testosterone, while a woman’s body favors estrogen: and you’d technically be right. But is it really that simple, and is there a point at which high estrogen levels can become a problem for women?
It’s pretty much common knowledge that men generally want to avoid estrogen like the plague – we get plenty of it as it is, and more often than not need more testosterone. But women who have very high estrogen levels (known as estrogen dominance), or who may be at risk of developing estrogen-related health conditions, are oftentimes in the exact same boat as men. For a woman suffering from estrogen dominance, even a little extra estrogen from, say, an endocrine-disrupting chemical (EDC) in her favorite shampoo, could be enough to completely send her health over the edge.1
You might be thinking to yourself: but isn’t estrogen good for women? It is, but only in proper balance with testosterone.2 If you think of the human body as a see-saw, testosterone and estrogen hormones represent the weight and counterweight that keep the platform from plunging one way or the other into the ground. There are going to be ups and downs, sure – back and forth, ebb and flow – this is completely normal and in line with normal human physiology. But there’s a general balance that keeps the body anchored to the pivot point, so to speak, and this balance is missing in women with estrogen dominance.
Common Causes of Estrogen Dominance
So what causes dangerously high levels of estrogen in women? There are many potential factors, not the least of which include EDCs, as I mentioned earlier. These chemical toxins hide in everything from water and air to food and even furniture. Escaping them in our heavily industrialized world is definitely a challenge – especially when you can’t necessarily see, smell, or taste them. They’re basically invisible poisons that quietly wreak havoc on the body, and this is true for both women and men.
Industrial pollutants of nearly all kinds almost always have estrogen-mimicking properties which add to a woman’s estrogen load. These include plastics chemicals like bisphenol-A (BPA), flame-retardant chemicals, pesticides and herbicides, and parabens.3 Many foods also contain phytoestrogenic compounds like isoflavones that, while they serve a purpose, can overwhelm the body’s hormone stores. Such foods include soy and other legumes, alcohol (especially beer that contains hops), refined sugars, simple carbohydrates (especially those derived from processed grains), and conventional meat and dairy products that contain growth hormones and antibiotics.
Stress is another factor linked to estrogen dominance, and one that many people, both men and women, tend to overlook. It’s a common misconception that our bodies are only limited in their potential by our reluctance to push them to the max. While there’s something to be said for training hard – and I should know, being a former bodybuilder – there’s even more to be said about making time for rest and relaxation, something that too many people in today’s busy world fail to incorporate into their daily routines.
When a woman’s body is constantly wound up in go, go, go mode, her adrenal glands can get overworked to the point that they no longer produce enough progesterone in relation to estrogen. Usually this is because her adrenals are instead having to produce cortisol (a “fight or flight” hormone) to offset all the stress she’s enduring. This throws off her progesterone-estrogen balance, typically swaying it in favor of estrogen.
Do You Have Adrenal Fatigue and Don’t Even Know It?
We call this condition adrenal fatigue, or adrenal burnout. Because symptoms start out small and progress over time, many women don’t even know that their stressful lifestyles are harming them in this manner.4 This is one of the biggest reasons why stress is arguably the most toxic “substance” in our modern lives.
In the same vein, not getting enough rest can also contribute to estrogen dominance. Irregular sleeping patterns and lack of sleep directly inhibit a woman’s body from recharging its hormone stores. Inadequate sleep also negatively affects production of nighttime hormones like melatonin, a sleep hormone that actually helps to protect a woman’s body against estrogen dominance.