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A strong connection exists between your thyroid hormones and other hormones in your body. Specifically, your thyroid hormones and sex hormones are known to work together when they are in balance. However, when either system is off-kilter, it can disrupt the other, causing many symptoms and even health issues. As more women struggle with conditions like PCOS, infertility, autoimmune disorders, and breast cancers, researchers uncover the truth behind estrogen dominance and its role in these conditions.
Estrogen dominance is just like it sounds: it is a state where there is too much estrogen in your system. Both men and women require estrogen. However, this sex hormone is predominantly a female hormone. It occurs in much higher concentrations in women and is responsible for everything from our secondary sex characteristics to preserving bone health.
Having estrogen dominance does not necessarily mean your estrogen levels are off the charts, although this is the most common reason. In some women, it may be that their progesterone levels are too low, which means that estrogen is the more dominant sex hormone in your system. Progesterone is another sex steroid that is responsible for helping to regulate the menstrual cycle and support pregnancy. Estrogen and progesterone regulate one another to keep your menstrual cycle regular and help support other organ systems.
Many women attribute these symptoms as a normal, albeit frustrating, response to hormonal fluctuations in their menstrual cycle. Yet, any combination of these symptoms may be signs that you have a hormonal imbalance.
Symptoms of estrogen dominance include:
- Weight gain, especially in the abdomen, hips, and thighs
- Slowed metabolism
- Water retention
- Brain fog
- Severe PMS
- Uterine fibroids
- Polycystic ovaries
- Irregular periods
- Low libido
Estrogen dominance is usually not caused by one thing, making it challenging to identify and treat. Chronic stress, poor gut and liver health, and environmental toxins (known as xenoestrogens) could all contribute to estrogen dominance. Additionally, lack of ovulation (anovulation) can lead to low progesterone in the latter half of your menstrual cycle, making estrogen more dominant.
Other causes of estrogen dominance include:
- Hormonal birth control
- Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
- Poor detoxification
Many of the symptoms of estrogen dominance often turn up in perimenopause, the 5-10 years that precede when a woman reaches menopause. Perimenopause is a time when your hormones fluctuate erratically as your ovarian function begins to decline. Thus, estrogen can become more dominant even though it is gradually decreasing overall as you near menopause. Although this is an expected time for women to struggle with estrogen dominance, women (and men too!) of any age can have estrogen dominance.
Estrogen suppresses thyroid hormone and increases our need for thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). In comparison, progesterone stimulates thyroid hormone production. Estrogen increases levels of thyroid-binding globulin (TBG), which is a protein that helps thyroid hormone travel in your bloodstream. However, when thyroid hormones are attached to TBG, they are inactive. Inactive thyroid hormone means that your cells cannot use the hormone to help regulate metabolism and fuel your body.
As you can see, if estrogen levels are dominant, it may cause a woman to enter a state of hypothyroidism. But the effects of estrogen dominance on your thyroid extend well beyond thyroid hormone production. It also affects your immune system. People with an underactive thyroid have a more challenging time ridding the body of estrogen. The liver is responsible for breaking down estrogen, yet hypothyroidism slows your liver function as well.
Prolonged exposure to excess levels of estrogen can place a woman at greater risk for autoimmune thyroiditis (or Hashimoto's thyroiditis) because the immune system releases TPO antibodies and TG antibodies. Furthermore, with the constant influx of inflammatory agents like xenoestrogens in our day-to-day life, estrogen receptors become over-expressive, and we become prone to other autoimmune disorders and even cancers.
As you may imagine, treating these conditions requires a multifaceted approach. For example, some women require hormone replacement therapy to help restore the balance between estrogen and progesterone. In contrast, others may need to stop using synthetics estrogens. Most women also benefit from making dietary and lifestyle modifications.
Treating Hashimoto's thyroiditis sometimes requires a combination of medication and holistic changes. Hashimoto's can cause hypothyroidism, the condition in which your thyroid is underactive. Most people with an underactive thyroid need to take thyroid hormone replacement medication because their thyroid cannot produce enough thyroid hormone to meet the body's metabolic needs. Without correcting low thyroid hormones, it is difficult to rid your body of Hashimoto's symptoms and prevent other health conditions.
Fortunately, the dietary and lifestyle modifications necessary to help treat estrogen dominance and Hashimoto's are pretty similar.
Increase the fiber in your diet to help restore microbial balance in your gut. Both estrogen dominance and Hashimoto's may be caused or exacerbated by an unhealthy accumulation of "bad" bacteria.
Treat underlying digestive problems
The digestive system plays a crucial role in thyroid health. Indeed, autoimmune conditions like Hashimoto's may start in people who have permeable gut membranes or "leaky gut." In addition, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) also commonly occurs in people with thyroid disease. So, it is necessary to test for and treat that condition and any other digestive issues like constipation, bloating, etc.
Take care of you liver
Your liver is an essential organ for converting thyroid hormones and breaking down estrogen. As such, it is crucial to keep your liver functioning as optimally as possible. To support your liver, you can remove dietary triggers like alcohol, add supportive foods, reduce your exposure to toxins, and exercise your body regularly.
Get more sleep
Our bodies are surprisingly busy during sleep to repair tissue, form memories, and detoxify the body. Getting more sleep means getting rid of more toxins and breaking old cells and excess hormones.
Having chronically high cortisol levels can stress your adrenal glands, which play an essential role in estrogen production. Chronic stress also exacerbates autoimmune conditions and worsens inflammation, so there are health benefits for relaxing more and worrying less.
A note from Paloma Health
Testing your thyroid is a decisive first step for starting on the journey towards better health. Order your at-home thyroid test kit today.