Oestrogen dominance is a term that is becoming more familiar, as people start to recognise the crucial role that hormone balance has in our health and in the prevention of many disease states. Oestrogen, a mainly female hormone, has hit the spotlight due to its potential influence in the development of hormonally influenced cancers such as those of the breast, edometrium and in men, the prostate gland. However, oestrogen is an essential hormone that we must have in our bodies, so how do things go wrong?
We have three main types of oestrogen – recognised as E1 oestrone, E2 oestradiol and E3 oestriol. They all have important roles to play, and in balance, they have a positive influence over many areas of health. For example E1 is required to build strong healthy bones, E2 is required for optimal fertility and E3 supports strong skin structure and moisture content. To label all oestrogen as “bad” and to warn women over it’s dangers as a ploy to sell “oestrogen detoxification supplements” as I’m hearing more and more of lately, does a disservice to the complex biochemistry that makes up our hormone balance. It’s not necessarily about labelling hormones as “good” or “bad”, but recognising that many natural substances we create internally have the potential to do harm when out of balance. However they are essential, and created in our body for a purpose and a reason.
In the same way that the medical profession sees our natural and vital cholesterol as a “danger” and prescribes medication to lower it as much as possible; oestrogen is now being classed the same way, and the general understanding is “the lower the better”. But this is just not the case.
The key to hormones is BALANCE. Each person will have a unique individual hormonal profile, that will change due to the circumstances of their life. Stress levels, dietary habits, exercise, stage of life, enivronmental influences, toxins and body composition will all have an influence over hormone balance. This is where a qualified naturopathic practitioner or integrated doctor who uses saliva hormone testing as a baseline for hormonal treatment – are the only ones that should be prescribing herbs, supplements or bio-identical hormones to people. Without the crucial information that shows up in testing, harm can be done through the taking of unnecessary supplements, or by incorrectly assuming that by taking “oestrogen lowering” supplements, that they are now protected against cancer.
Oestrogen dominance can show up in many ways – and it does not always mean that a person has excess levels of oestrogen – and also doesn’t mean that if there is excess oestrogen that it is always potentially carcinogenic. This is where expert knowledge plays a big part in patients getting accurate advice. For example oestrogen dominance could stem from having an abundance of the three types of oestrogen, but if they are in balanced ratios with each other, then their carcinogenic potential is a lot less. However a person may have very low E2 and E3 levels, however if E1 is high on its own, this could signify a potentially carcinogenic situation and further urinary metabolite testing would be required. A person may also be oestrogen dominant due to a lack of progesterone, but may not have high oestrogen levels at all. In that case it will be about increasing progesterone, to achieve balance, rather than lowering oestrogen.
Some of the signs of oestrogen dominance that may warrant further investigation to assess hormone levels are:
- Painful swollen breasts
- Fibrocystic breasts
- Weight gain
- Heavy periods
- Muscle aches and pains
- Fluid retention
- Low libido
- Sugar cravings
- Mood swings
- High blood pressure
- Family history of breast / endometrial cancer
If oestrogen dominance seems like it might be a health issue in your life, don’t just run out and take “oestrogen lowering or oestrogen detoxifying” supplements without investigating exactly what is happening in your body and what your unique hormone profile is. Oestrogen can be carcinogenic, but due to the multitude of factors that need to be taken into account, it isn’t as simple as taking a supplement and assuming you are doing the right thing. With all the hormone disrupting chemicals in our lives, not to mention the stress and often poor dietary habits, this is not an area that should be left in the hands of the unqualified. Get the rigth information, and make sure that your oestrogen is working for you, not against you!