Have you heard of estrogen dominance? It's not uncommon, and is associated with symptoms like PMS, premenstrual acne, fibrocystic breasts or breast tenderness, irregular cycles, heavy periods, uterine fibroids, and weight gain.
The name makes it sounds like it's all about too much estrogen, which isn't always the case. It actually has more to do with the balance of estrogen with other hormones (really we’re talking mostly about imbalance with progesterone), so we can’t just look at estrogen in isolation, as is the case for many things with our bodies. Testing can be very helpful here so we can determine how best to support hormone balance. More on reasons for estrogen dominance in another post, but I wanted to get that out of the way because I think it’s a common misconception that it’s just high estrogen causing issues. Plus, we want some estrogen! Estrogen is an amazing and important hormone, but we want it to be in balance with your other hormones. What I really want to talk about is symptoms of estrogen dominance, so you can better asses if this is something going on for you. Although some of the images paired with the symptoms below are meant to be humorous, these can all be significant and you shouldn't have to suffer through them without help.
PMS or mood swings – I think a lot of women just accept that feeling moody prior to their period is“normal” and they are stuck with it. Yes, it’s not out of the ordinary for women to experience mood changes toward the end of their cycle, but it's not what we should be aiming for in a well-balanced cycle. It is completely okay to feel more introspective or have other shifts in perspective, but if your mood change is interrupting normal activities and causing friction in your relationships, it may be a sign of estrogen dominance.
Premenstrual acne – There are other hormones involved with acne (including insulin, so despite some claims to the contrary food CAN impact acne), but if you’re noticing a rise in acne before your period, estrogen dominance is a potential culprit.
Fibrocystic breasts or breast tenderness - A little breast tenderness a couple of days before your cycle is probably not too much to worry about in terms of hormone balance, but if you dread going down stairs the week before your cycle, you may want to check in with your hormone balance.
Irregular cycles - This could mean cycles that are never the same length, cycles where you experience spotting, or cycles that are consistently long or consistently short (although with those last two, there’s likely to be more involved than estrogen dominance alone). Though the “average” cycles is 28 days, anywhere between 26-32 is considered normal, and if you consistently have a 33 day cycle, with no other symptoms of hormone imbalance, I wouldn’t start to get too worried, but you should talk to your doctor if you’re concerned.
Weight gain or difficulty losing weight - Weight and healthy body composition is a complex issue, not just physiologically, but also psychologically and emotionally. If you feel like you’re holding on to adipose tissue (body fat), in a way that’s not normal for you -you’re exercising regularly, and eating a balanced diet including vegetables, protein, and healthy fats, you may want to investigate what’s going on with your hormones.
Uterine fibroids or heavy periods - Estrogen promotes growth of fibroids (a type of benign tumor in the wall of the uterus that can cause heavy menstrual bleeding). Depending on the size of a fibroid, it may require treatment beyond balancing estrogen with other hormones, but hormone status should be assessed. Heavy periods can be present without fibroids, and may also be associated with estrogen dominance.
Note that a lot of these symptoms can occur from non-estrogen dominance related hormone imbalance, metabolic issues, food sensitivities, and more, so speak with your naturopathic doctor or functional medicine doctor to determine what’s going on for you if you’re concerned about any symptoms you’re experiencing.