The hormone that controls a woman's monthly cycle, estrogen, gets a lot of attention in women's lives, but it is actually a hormone that affects both men and women. We all need estrogen, but we need it in the right amounts in order to maintain hormone harmony within the body. Unfortunately, we live in a time when toxins and other environmental hazards can throw estrogen levels out of balance. More often than not, we see estrogen levels become excessive and overpowering other important hormones such as progesterone and testosterone leading to a condition called Estrogen Dominance. When this happens, we can see a number of unpleasant health conditions come along, some of which are potentially life threatening.
What Is Estrogen?
Estrogen is the hormone that causes a girl to develop into an adult during puberty. It creates the changes that cause growth of the breasts, hair in the pubic area and under the arms and the beginning of menstruation. Once puberty is complete, estrogen continues to work, helping control the menstrual cycle, and protect bone health and keep cholesterol in control. Estrogen is also crucial to a woman's fertility.
Estrogen is produced primarily in the ovaries, the reproductive organ that produces the woman's eggs. Adrenal glands also make estrogen, which is why men will have estrogen in small amounts. Fat also creates estrogen. Once it is created, estrogen is transported to the body's tissues through the blood.
During the menstrual cycle, estrogen levels change. In the middle of the cycle, estrogen levels are at their highest. Women will have lower estrogen levels during their periods. Because menstruation ceases in menopause, estrogen levels also drop at this time.
Types of Estrogen
Believe it or not, there are three types of estrogens made by the human body. These are referred to as "endogenous" estrogens:
But that's not all.. We also are exposed to "exogenous" estrogens, or estrogens through our environment. There are also three types:
Metabolism of Estrogens
How estrogens are metabolized is a complex and lengthy discussion, but to simplify things, research shows that Estrone, Estriol and Estradiol are broken down by the liver into estrogen metabolites - or daughter compounds - called 2-hydroxyestrone, 4-hydroxyestrone and 16-hydroxyestrone. These metabolites can have stronger or weaker estrogenic activity within the body, and thus can increase a woman's risk of breast, uterine, and other cancers, depending on how they are metabolized. What we want to see is a higher amount of the 2-hydroxyestrone metabolite as it is the one shown to have a lower estsrogenic effect on the body, meaning it results in a lower risk of cancer. The 4 and 16-hyrdoxyestrone metabolites work very differently within the body leading to an elevated risk of breast cancer and association with direct genotoxic effects and carcinogenicity.
How Does Estrogen Become Dominant?
Estrogen dominance (too much estrogen in relation to progesterone or testosterone) can be created in a number of ways but is generally caused by just a few factors including:
Symptoms of Estrogen Dominance
Estrogen dominance can wreak havoc on our bodies, cause a number of unpleasant conditions and/or make other pre-existing conditions worse.
How to Support Healthy Estrogen Balance
There is no getting away from estrogens in our environment but there are a number of things that we can do to minimize our exposure and to help support our body in having a healthy balance of estrogens and their metabolites.
We live in a time where our bodies are being exposed to toxins like they never have before, through our food, the day-to-day products that we use and our external environment. Trying to maintain balance, especially when it comes to hormones, is getting harder and harder. By being aware of how estrogen can become imbalanced, what the symptoms are and how we can make appropriate changes in our lives to reduce our risk and mitigate any imbalance that is already present, we can go a long way to feeling well and staying healthy.
Jill Taylor is a Certified Holistic Nutritionist based in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. She is the mom of two pretty awesome teenagers, s very dramatic dog, a hedgehog and a snake (yikes!). Jill assists her clients in achieving true wellness through thoughtful and compassionate dietary and lifestyle coaching. Feel free to visit the "Contact" page to get in touch. Jill would love to hear from you!