If estrogen is supposed to decrease as we approach menopause, then why do many women experience symptoms of estrogen dominance during perimenopause in particular?
From erratic (and often, heavy) periods to weight gain, as well as hot flashes, swollen breasts and mood swings…these symptoms are quite common during perimenopause.
And they’re linked to high estrogen (and low progesterone).
So, which one is it: is estrogen supposed to be high or low during perimenopause?
Well, that’s what this post is going to answer for you.
We’re going to look at what the current research says about estrogen fluctuations during perimenopause, as well as what you can do to take charge of your health.
Note: this post contains affiliate links and I earn a commission (at no additional cost to you) if you use them to make a purchase.
IS ESTROGEN HIGH DURING PERIMENOPAUSE?
More and more studies are showing that estrogen levels are quite high during perimenopause.
In fact, on average, estrogen levels can be higher than they were in our 20s and 30s!
To paint a clearer picture, let’s take a look at the research around estrogen and perimenopause as a whole.
Elevated Estrogen and Perimenopause Symptoms
- One study compared two groups of perimenopausal women. Group 1 had heavy, irregular bleeding, while group 2 had normal cycles. The study found that estrogen levels were higher in group 1 (the women with heavy bleeding) (source).
- Another study compared estrogen levels in women aged 47 with women aged 19 to 38. That study found that the 47-years old had higher estrogen and lower progesterone, compared to the 19 – 38 age group (source).
- During perimenopause there’s a decline in progesterone. And lower progesterone, combined with higher estrogen, causes your endometrial lining to be thicker. As a result, when that lining sheds you’re more likely to have heavy bleeding and clots (source).
- Most of the hysterectomies that are performed during perimenopause are mainly because of fibroids. And interestingly, fibroids grow when there’s more estrogen. Not surprising since estrogen is a growth hormone! In addition, the stress that many of us face each day can make fibroids worse. This is because stress increases cortisol and insulin, and both of these hormones affect estrogen levels.
High Estrogen, The Nervous System and Perimenopause Symptoms
In this section we’re going to look at several important points that were discussed in this 2007 paper from the Women’s Health medical journal.
First, the paper points out that hot flashes originate from the nervous system and they’re also regulated by the nervous system. In addition:
“Even though estrogen is an effective therapy for hot flashes, a lack of estrogen is not the cause of a hot flash…By way of analogy, aspirin is therapeutic for headaches, but headaches are not due to aspirin deficiency.”
Rather, this paper indicates that a hypothalamic dysfunction is a more likely cause of hot flashes.
So, more specifically, it would be a dysfunction of the HPA (hypothalamic pituitary adrenal) axis, which is the pathway in the nervous system that modulates our response to all stress (be it unhealthy food, toxins or emotional worry).
Now, last but not least, this paper also notes that sleep is mediated by the central nervous system (CNS).
And this brings up the fact that: “…menopause is more than ovarian aging. There is also a CNS component that may be responsible for many of the symptoms that occur at this time of a woman’s life.”
So, once again, this statement reiterates the fact that the nervous system (the HPA axis) determines how the body responds to perimenopausal changes.
DOES PERIMENOPAUSE CAUSE ESTROGEN DOMINANCE?
As we’ve seen in the previous section, there are a lot of hormonal changes happening during perimenopause.
And it would be inaccurate to say that perimenopause causes estrogen dominance.
After all, if that was the case then every perimenopausal woman would have those symptoms.
So, a more accurate answer is that estrogen dominance seems to be a major underlying factor of many perimenopause symptoms.
Overall, what the research highlights is that:
- High estrogen levels combined with low progesterone contribute to estrogen dominance symptoms in perimenopause.
- Taking care of the central nervous system and our stress response system (which involves the hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenals) is an essential part of improving perimenopause symptoms.
- Standard hormone therapy, which involves taking in more estrogen, doesn’t always alleviate symptoms for every woman. If there’s estrogen dominance, hormone therapy adds fuel to the fire.
SYMPTOMS OF HIGH ESTROGEN AND LOW PROGESTERONE
This section lists some common symptoms of elevated estrogen and declining progesterone.
Please note that this is by no means a complete, exhaustive list (source):
- Weight gain
- Erratic sleep patterns and difficulty sleeping
- Cold hands or feet
- Tender or swollen breasts
- Low libido
- Irregular menstrual cycles
- Heavy periods
- Hair loss
- Memory problems
- Brain fog
- Thyroid dysfunction
- Mood swings
HOW TO SUPPORT YOUR BODY AND LOWER ESTROGEN LEVELS DURING PERIMENOPAUSE
Now that we have an understanding of how estrogen dominance contributes to perimenopause symptoms, let’s have a look at what you can do to lower estrogen naturally and get back to feeling whole again.
1. Reduce Your Exposure To Toxic Xenoestrogens
Xenoestrogens are external forms of estrogen that mimic or interfere with the function of your natural estrogen.
They are one of the main causes of estrogen dominance.
And xenoestrogens, like many toxins, have a cumulative effect, which means it may take years for them to start causing side effects.
So, it’s important to assess your lifestyle and diet, both now and prior to perimenopause, to see if there are areas where you’re exposing your body to unwanted estrogen.
Now, as far as where xenoestrogens come from, the most common sources are:
- Food (herbicides, pesticides, insecticides, as well as preservatives or additives in packaged food).
- Plastics (plastic bottles used for water and soft drinks is the most common).
- GMO soy (GMO soy is resistant to pesticides. This means it can be sprayed with way more pesticides than non-GMO soy. While soy helps some women, GMO soy may worsen things if you are estrogen dominant).
- Conventional (non-organic) meat and dairy.
2. Increase Consumption of Cruciferous Veggies
Cruciferous veggies have high levels of the natural compound I3C (indole-3-carbinole).
And I3C happens to support the body in the detoxification of excess estrogen.
So, eating more cruciferous veggies is an important aspect of transitioning comfortably into menopause.
As far as which veggies to eat, choose from:
- Red and green cabbage
- Bok choy
- Collard greens
- Mustard greens
- Brussel sprouts
3. Boost Your Liver Health
The liver is the organ that filters your blood so that it can be free of excess hormones (and toxins).
Consume more of the following foods to keep your liver healthy and functioning optimally:
- Bitter foods: Bitters are particularly beneficial for the liver. We’re talking about things like endives, artichokes, green tea, dandelion greens, arugula and so on.
- Healthy fats: make coconuts, avocados, raw nuts and seeds, olives and other unprocessed fats, a regular part of your diet.
- Beets: beets are a potent blood purifier. They also contain betaine, B-vitamins, iron,, calcium and other compounds that are a must for proper liver function.
- Anti-inflammatory foods: pro-inflammatory foods (mainly packaged foods and foods loaded with other toxins) cause your liver to work harder. So, focus on eating more whole, nutrient-dense and unprocessed foods.
Also, be mindful of alcohol and consume it sparingly (if at all).
You see, alcohol captures the liver’s attention.
Basically, when your liver is busy breaking down that glass of wine, that means it’s not doing other work.
And when you have a hormonal imbalance like estrogen dominance, this can seriously slow down your progress.
4. Support Your Nervous System
The central nervous system (CNS), which includes your spinal cord and brain, mediates all the stress that we experience.
So, whether it’s emotional stress or the stress from toxins, the entire nervous system and the stress response system (mainly hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenals glands) has to regulate your body’s response.
But here’s the thing: the nerves from your spine are also connected to every single part of your body.
This means the CNS regulates everything else in the body.
So, if the nervous system is under constant stress, it becomes harder for your body to regulate other processes.
That’s why you can have a harder time with sleep, low libido, thinning hair and just about everything else.
Therefore, consider supporting your nervous system with these tips:
- Reduce stress with the help of essential oils, exercise and other self-care practices that suit you.
- Eat anti-inflammatory, whole foods that nourish your nerves (yes, your nerves need nutrients).
- Drink calming teas like chamomile, peppermint or lavender to lower stress.
- Find ways to tune out external noise, whether it’s through some type of meditation, journaling, hitting a punching bag…just find something(s) that helps you feel calm, serene, less agitated and ultimately, feeling better!
5. Use An All-in-One Herbal Supplement
Herbs are great for any type of hormonal imbalance. And during perimenopause, they can be particularly helpful.
The trick is finding one that is formulated specifically for perimenopause, such as Formula 4|5, by Mighty Menopause (a company that specializes in supplements for the various phases of menopause).
I had the opportunity to chat with the company’s fun and dynamic founder, Jeanne Chung and I learned that she launched Mighty Menopause as a result of her own struggles during perimenopause.
She didn’t get much help from her doctor (who told her to simply take some pain meds). So, she went on a hunt for herbal remedies and found relief in herbs (like vitex).
She’s now put everything she’s learned into the perimenopause supplement, Formula 4|5 (the 4|5 highlights the fact that it’s for women in their 40s and early 50s).
Here’s what this perimenopause supplement contains:
- EstroG-100: a blend of cynanchum wilfordii, phlomis umbrosa and angelica gigas. In research done with pre, peri and postmenopausal women, a blend of these herbs leads to improvements in insomnia, vaginal dryness, fatigue, hot flashes, nervousness, burning/tingling sensations, feelings of sadness, vertigo and joint pain. One study indicates that this particular herbal blend improves symptoms “without weight gain or any serious side effects” (source).
- Vitex: known to help with progesterone production and reducing hot flashes.
- Milk Thistle: one of the best herbs for liver health and detoxification.
- I3C (indole-3-carbinol): the active ingredient in cruciferous veggies which we talked about earlier.
- DIM (Diindolylmethane): when your stomach breaks down I3C, one of the by-products is DIM, which metabolizes estrogen.
How can I balance my hormones during perimenopause?
Focus on lowering inflammation with nutrient-dense foods, reducing stress and using natural supplements that fill in any nutritional gaps that your current diet might be missing.
You can get started with my 28-day detox or my collection of 100 recipes. Whether it’s breakfast, lunch, dinner or snacks/desserts, they come with a variety of recipes (and tips) to cover all your needs. Go here to access the detox and the recipe collection.
Where does estrogen come from after menopause?
After menopause estrogen is produced by your adrenal glands as well as your fat cells.
Hormonal imbalances during perimenopause are becoming more common.
As we’ve seen, a lot of it is due to the fact that we’re bombarded with hormone-disrupting compounds every day.
The good news is that you don’t have to live in a bubble and avoid all toxins in order to turn things around.
The basic dietary and lifestyle recommendations we’ve covered in this post can help you feel better and feel more at ease in your body.
Free, 3-Day Starter Plan (with Recipes) For Hormone Support
Think eating for your hormones is difficult and boring? Treat yourself to this 3-day plan and enjoy delicious recipes that will have you begging for seconds!