If you’ve ever been told that you have high estrogen levels, you were probably worried and a little confused. What constitutes high and what are the consequences? How do I bring it down? Was the test accurate?
Let’s start with a bit of myth-busting (in typical period power fashion): estrogen dominance is not a thing. In order for this “diagnosis” to be true, there would need to be a few non-negotiable conditions met.
1. Estrogen levels would need to be specific and set for every single body, with no fluctuation whatsoever.
2. We would need to specify the type of estrogen that is high – there are multiple forms in the human body!
3. Estrogen would have to be isolated from all other hormones it interacts with as part of normal human physiological processes.
4. Symptoms of physiologically high estrogen would need to be specific to high estrogen and estrogen alone.
And if we know anything about estrogen, it’s that fluctuation is normal, there are varying “appropriate” levels depending on the lab you talk to, and there are multiple types that are going to vary in concentration as well.
Even the form you test estrogen levels in can impact the supposed readings – right now serum appears to be the most accurate as it’s more of a snapshot of what’s going on in the body at the time it’s taken. We don’t have enough high-quality evidence to indicate whether urine or salivary measures are accurate to determine estrogen levels reliably – be critical of practitioners offering these tests to you privately and for a big fee.
All this being said, it is possible to have high estrogen levels physiologically. Estrogen works as a growth and development hormone in the human reproductive tract, so we may see a thicker endometrium (uterine lining) leading to heavier periods, more breast tissue and associated tenderness, and significant fluctuations in mood and cognitive function. It’s important to know that these symptoms can be related to other causes as well – for example, big mood fluctuations may be related to higher work-home stress, and heavy periods may be related to delayed ovulation and irregular cycles. Working with an experienced practitioner is important to rule out these other factors!
So how can you support reducing estrogen levels through nutrition and lifestyle?
1. Address your fibre intake. Fibre works in the digestive system to bind with excess glucose, cholesterol and hormones, and as a result can help to clear levels through regular bowel movements. You can find fibre in whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and nuts and seeds. If you really struggle to get enough fibre during your day, this is a great place to start – with additional benefits on reducing bloating and cramping!
2. Switch out your fat sources. Our sex hormones, including estrogen, are built using the cholesterol molecule. We don’t really need to consume cholesterol, as our bodies will make its own in the liver using the fats we eat. If we’re lacking in the unsaturated fats department (think olive and canola oil, avocado and peanut butter), this can impact how the body clears LDL or “bad” cholesterol with potential impacts on hormone levels. Explore adding in these foods without feeling like you have to completely cut out the other stuff.
3. Don’t forget to eat regularly. Estrogen and insulin work tightly together to promote glycemic control, and when meals are irregular, this can impact estrogen function. Plan to eat every 3 to 4 hours with a balance of fibre, proteins and fats at each meal and snack, and use your personal hunger and fullness cues to decide the amount of food that leaves you feeling satisfied and comfortable.
4. Consider movement inclusion. Moving our bodies improves insulin sensitivity and metabolic function, supporting the partnership between estrogen and insulin and helping the body use estrogen more effectively. Anything counts here – walking, sex, physiotherapy, gym workouts… you name it!
5. Don’t rule out the need for prescription support. Your provider may suggest the use of hormonal birth control options or other hormone therapy to manage levels, especially if other concerns exist such as endometriosis, breast cancer or PCOS. You have the right to ask questions about the suggested options, and can decline them if they’re not right for you. For those who find benefit in prescription hormone care, this can provide a relief in managing periods and preventing unwanted pregnancy (depending on the type).
6. Reduce your exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs). Plastics can leach over time, potentially impacting food quality – switch to glass containers where accessible, and avoid heating in the microwave or washing in the dishwasher. Look for water bottles and storage items that are BPA and PCB-free. And where you can, switching to safer household cleaning products, skincare and fragrances can be helpful too.
No need for further confusion about estrogen – bookmark and favourite this list to refer back to!