I recently wrote an article on all things oestrogen – the good, the bad and the not so ugly. Today I want to delve a little more into the “bad”; that being oestrogen in excess – how this occurs, what this means, and how we can work on bringing back hormonal balance.
Oestrogen excess is generally not caused by the overproduction of ovarian oestrogen; rather it is a result of an increased exposure to oestrogens. There are a number of factors that increase our exposure to oestrogens and they include:
- A greater lifetime exposure to oestrogen – as women today we experience many more menstrual cycles than the women that came before us. This is generally due to fewer pregnancies, less time spent breastfeeding, earlier menarche and later menopause. As such, we are exposed to oestrogens for a significantly greater proportion of our lives1.
- Exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals – unfortunately environmental oestrogens are almost unavoidable these days as they exist in our food chain, air and water supply. They also exist in our personal care products, plastics, canned products, cleaning products and kitchenware. Endocrine disrupting chemicals wreak havoc within our bodies, increasing or decreasing certain hormones, and/or preventing the detoxification and clearance of others.
- Obesity – body fat tissue makes oestrone (one of the three types of oestrogen), which stimulates oestrogen sensitive tissue. Oestrone does not fluctuate with our cycle, rather it is constantly high.
- Poor oestrogen clearance and hampered detoxification – oestrogen metabolism and excretion occurs via the liver, kidneys and bowel. If these organs are not functioning adequately we are unable to properly detoxify and clear oestrogen and so we are exposed to greater and greater circulating levels.
Excess oestrogen can be a major player in symptoms of PMS, breast tenderness and heavy periods; and may be a driver (although not a cause) in such disorders as endometriosis, fibroids and oestrogen-dependant cancers.
It’s not all bad though. There are some relatively simple ways we can support the clearance of oestrogen and bring our hormones back in to balance.
- Increase your intake of cruciferous vegetables: cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and kale contain a lovely constituent called indole-3-carbinol which supports the detoxification of oestrogen via the liver. They are also a great source of fibre, therefore supporting bowel health. Steamed, roasted or sautéed are my favourite ways to eat cruciferous veggies.
- Fibre: increasing dietary fibre works to maintain healthy intestinal bacteria therefore supporting the clearance of excess oestrogens via the bowel. Consuming a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds will keep your gut happy and your bowels functioning adequately. Psyllium husks, chia seeds and flaxseeds are great if you need an extra hand getting things moving.
- Consume fermented/probiotic rich foods: healthy intestinal bacteria supports the clearance of oestrogens via the bowel. On the other hand, an unhealthy or imbalanced microbiome can cause oestrogen to be reactivated and reabsorbed into the blood stream. Fermented and probiotic rich foods support the health and diversity of our gut. I have written an article outlining my favourite gut loving foods that you can check out here.
- Protein: the liver requires the amino acids within protein to complete the detoxification process. Ensure you are consuming protein with every meal and snack. Protein sources include meat, fish, chicken, dairy, eggs, grains, legumes and nuts and seeds.
- Reduce alcohol: alcohol places a burden on the liver and studies show that women who consume more than one drink a day have higher levels of oestrogen.
- Reduce exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals: as I mentioned above, exposure to environmental oestrogens is almost unavoidable as they exist in our food chain, water supply and air. However, there are so many ways in which we can reduce our exposure. Choose organic food where possible, invest in a water filter, switch your chemical laden beauty and personal care products to natural, switch your cleaning products to natural (or make your own), and avoid using plastic (use glass instead). This is a huge topic, one that I promise to expand on soon.
- Supplementation: there are some wonderful supplements and herbal medicines that can support detoxification and oestrogen clearance including B vitamins, glutathione, turmeric, magnesium, N-acetyl cysteine, milk thistle and schisandra to name a few. It is always wise to speak with a qualified naturopath or nutritionist before commencing any sort of supplementation.
If you suffer from PMS, heavy periods, breast tenderness, or would like help with oestrogen clearance, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. I’d love to support you in your journey back to balanced hormones.
(1) Trickey, R. (2011). Women, Hormones and the Menstrual Cycle. Melbourne, Australia: Melbourne Holistic Health Group, 2011.