“Estrogen dominance” is a term that describes the symptoms of high estrogen and low progesterone. This is the second most common hormone imbalance I see in women in my practice.
In this article, I’ll break down why estrogen is a great hormone (but why you need progesterone to control it), the most common symptoms of “estrogen dominance,” and some of the reasons why it occurs.
What does estrogen do to you?
Despite the negative reputation of “estrogen dominance,” estrogen is an amazing hormone. You actually have 3 types of estrogen, but the main one we’re going to focus on is estradiol (for simplicity, I’ll call it “estrogen” in the article).
Estrogen performs the following functions:
Helps promote egg development
Supports the growth of the uterine lining
Contributes to ovulation (together with other hormones)
Helps you to be happy and energetic
Supports healthy libido
Protects your bones
Good for your brain function, cognition and mental acuity
Supports healthy, supple skin and hair
Protects your heart and cardiovascular system
Supports your metabolism
I describe estrogen as the “yang” hormone of the first half of your cycle. Estrogen at healthy levels can help you feel energetic, confident, sexy, mentally sharp, and productive, especially during the follicular phase.
As we know from traditional Chinese medicine, “yang” energy must be balanced with “yin”. In this case, it is progesterone. Progesterone is a calming, cooling, grounding and “yin” balancing hormone.
Progesterone balances out estrogen and we need to ovulate regularly to prevent ‘estrogen dominance’. Ovulation is the key event in bringing progesterone levels back to normal. If ovulation doesn’t occur, it leaves us progesterone deficient…which means we have an excess of estrogen compared to progesterone (aka “estrogen dominance”).
What you need to know about “estrogen dominance”?
I put “estrogen dominance” in quotes because it’s not actually a medical term. If you ask your doctor about estrogen dominance, they will give you a blank stare. More accurately, “estrogen dominance” is a general term for the combination of high levels of estrogen and low levels of progesterone. The difference between these two hormones can cause unpleasant symptoms.
Estrogen dominates during adolescence as the brain and ovaries figure out how to regulate ovulation. Ovulation “skipping” is quite common in post-menarche (first period) teenagers, when progesterone is low and estrogen is relatively high.
It’s a recipe for – you guessed it – estrogen dominance. Remember the heavy periods, cramps, acne, and crazy mood swings you had as a teenager? It was estrogen dominance.
This hormonal pattern can also occur later in life. Hormonal imbalances that cause anovulation, such as polycystic ovary syndrome, are characterized by high levels of estrogen and low levels of progesterone.
In addition, around the 40s, around menopause, hormones begin to change, leading to a drop in estrogen and progesterone. If you’re in your 40s and your periods are suddenly heavier or your PMS is getting worse, it could be an “estrogen dominance” pattern.
Estrogen levels may increase and progesterone levels may decrease in the following cases.
You have PCOS
You don’t ovulate regularly
You’re in your 40s and going through menopause
You have symptoms of low progesterone
10 Signs You May Be Estrogen Dominant
These are the common symptoms I study in women that are related to elevated estrogen levels. Some of these symptoms may overlap with other hormonal issues, such as thyroid problems, so it’s important to seek help from a hormone-trained naturopathic doctor to evaluate your symptoms and rule out other concerns.