Estrogen balance is essential for achieving and maintaining fat loss. In men and premenopausal women, too much estrogen, a condition called estrogen dominance causes toxic fat gain, water retention, bloating and a host of other health and wellness issues. While pre-menopausal women with too much estrogen tend to have the pear-shape body type with more weight at the hips, both men and menopausal women with this excess exhibit an apple shape with more fat accumulation in the abdominal area. In fact, excess estrogen is as much a risk factor for obesity -- in both sexes -- as poor eating habits and lack of exercise.
Although estrogen is typically considered a female hormone, a certain amount of it is natural and important for men as well. Excess body fat in men, however, spurs an unhealthy rise in estrogen levels because fat cells are involved in converting testosterone to estrogen. In women, with stress and age there is a natural decline in testosterone and progesterone levels leaving a relative excess of estrogen. Estrogen dominance can also be an issue for men, as testosterone and progesterone naturally decline with age or stress while estrogen conversely rises.
Causes of Estrogen Dominance
There are only two ways to accumulate excess estrogen in the body: we either produce too much of it on our own or acquire it from our environment or diet. Unfortunately, accumulating estrogen is not hard. We are constantly exposed to estrogen-like compounds in foods that contain toxic pesticides, herbicides and growth hormones. Many of these toxins are known to cause weight gain, which serves to fuel the production of more estrogen from our own fat cells. More weight gain then leads to insulin resistance which, you guessed it, increases the risk of estrogen dominance.
Pharmaceutical hormones such as those used in hormone-replacement therapy (HRT) or the birth control pill also increase estrogen, whether we take them actively or absorb them when they make their way into our drinking water. We are living in a virtual sea of harmful estrogens, and researchers are only beginning to identify the extent of this exposure on health in humans and even other species.
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"Exercise is absolutely critical," says Susan Moores, a registered dietician. Exercise can be a powerful sleep aid, combating the sleep disturbances many women complain about. It has been shown to improve the whole gamut of menopause symptoms from hot flashes to mood swings. She says not to just focus on aerobic exercise, but also try strength training and relaxation techniques, such as yoga.
"Flaxseed falls in the same camp as soy for the phytoestrogens," says Susan Moores, a registered dietician. One study by the Mayo Clinic found the incidence of hot flashes was reduced as much as 50 percent by consuming flaxseed. It is also thought to be very promising because, along with phytoestrogens, it also contains omega-3 fatty acids, which can aid in mood stabilization. According to A.D.A.M., an online health content provider, when compared to hormone replacement therapy, 40 grams of flaxseed was reported to be equally as effective in reducing hot flashes, vaginal dryness and mood disturbances.
Two German studies have shown black cohosh to be effective in reducing hot flashes, according to A.D.A.M. One study in particular showed 80 percent of women saw a decrease in hot flashes while using black cohosh. However, no long-term studies have been done and there have been reports of side-effects including upset stomach and low blood pressure, caution the experts at Harvard Medical School.
This over-the-counter cure uses progesterone or progesterone-like compounds as the active ingredient. "Natural progesterone is a hormone and it works," says Dr. Marcie Richardson, obstetrician and gynecologist at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates and Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in Boston. "Skin creams that contain extracts of Mexican wild yams have been widely promoted for natural menopause relief for years," says Harvard Medical School. However, because of variation among products and the individual nature of skin's responsiveness, this method is not recommended by the North American Menopause Society, says Harvard. There's no safety data on this hormone, Dr. Richardson cautions. Learn more about the risks and benefits here.
Red clover is often used to reduce vaginal dryness and decrease hot flashes. The effectiveness of red clover is thought to be due to a plant-chemical, isoflavones, which has an estrogen-like effect in the body. However, according to Harvard Medical School, research results have been disappointing. Two studies published in the journal 'Menopause' found that women fared no better with red clover than a placebo for both hot flashes and vaginal dryness. Learn more about red clover here.
Fish isn't just delicious; it contains a valuable ingredient that may help stabilize your mood swings too -- omega-3 fatty acids. There have been some good studies to attest that omega-3 can help improve mood, says Dr. Marcie Richardson. There's also growing research that omega-3 fatty acids help fight heart disease. The best way to add this key ingredient to your diet is by eating fatty fish like salmon, tuna and trout.
You wouldn't necessarily think that sticking needles in your body would be a helpful way to cure menopause symptoms, but when combined with other treatments, it can be helpful. Some controlled studies have shown some effectiveness in some woman for hot flashes, says Dr. Marcie Richardson. According to A.D.A.M., "both the World Health Organization and the National Institutes of Health recognize that acupuncture can be a helpful part of a treatment plan" for many illnesses, including menopausal symptoms.
There has been a study, which showed a slight effect in decreasing hot flashes for women using vitamin E, says Dr. Marcie Richardson. Along with reducing hot flashes vitamin E may carry with it extra benefits, such as fending off macular degeneration, lowering blood pressure, and slowing the aging of cells and tissues according to A.D.A.M.
Who hasn't felt the negative effects of drinking too much alcohol, such as trouble sleeping or feeling flushed? This goes double for women during menopause. The thing about alcohol is: women metabolize it worse than men and we metabolize it worse as we age, says Dr. Marcie Richardson. According to Harvard Medical School, alcohol can act as a trigger for hot flashes. And if that wasn't enough to ward you off the bottle, studies show that consuming alcohol regularly ups your risk for other conditions like breast cancer and stroke.
What Does Estrogen Dominance Look Like?
If you are a pre-menopausal woman with estrogen dominance, you likely have PMS, too much body fat around the hips and difficulty losing weight. Perhaps you have a history of gallstones, varicose veins, uterine fibroids, cervical dysplasia, endometriosis or ovarian cysts. For all you men out there, low libido, poor motivation, depression, loss of muscle mass and increased belly fat are big red flags. You may even notice breast development. These symptoms are very similar to those that result from low testosterone, since estrogen dominance is most often accompanied with suboptimal testosterone.
In both sexes, estrogen dominance is thought to be responsible for many types of cancers. This particular hormone imbalance is currently estimated to be one of the leading causes of breast, uterine and prostate cancer.
Use these foods or specific habits to decrease harmful estrogen:
• Since the liver breaks down estrogen, alcohol consumption, drug use, a fatty liver, liver disease and any other factor that impairs healthy liver function can spur an estrogen build-up. If you occasionally consume alcohol, always take a 1 mg folic acid and a B complex to reduce its negative effects.
• Bacterial imbalance in the gut and other problems that compromise digestion interfere with the proper elimination of estrogen from the body via the digestive tract. Be sure to include a probiotic daily with 15 billion
units. Store it in the fridge and take 1-2 capsules twice daily on an empty stomach.
• Insoluble fibre also binds to excess estrogen in the digestive tract, which is then excreted by the body. A fibre supplement can also affect the composition of intestinal bacteria and reduce the build-up and re-absorption of free-floating estrogen. Add a non-psyllium fibre supplement, ground flaxseed or chia seeds 1-2 times daily in your smoothies.
• Choose organic dairy and meat products to reduce your exposure to hormone additives.
• Consume weak phytoestrogenic foods such as pomegranate, flaxseeds, pears, apples, berries, organic non-GMO fermented soy, wheat germ, oats and barley.
• The body requires sufficient intake of zinc, magnesium, vitamin B6 and other essential nutrients not only to support the breakdown and elimination of estrogen, but also to aid the function of enzymes responsible for the conversion of testosterone to estrogen. Be sure to add a high quality multivitamin supplement daily.
• Avoid exposure to xenoestrogens from plastics, cosmetics and the birth control pill.
• Avoid unfermented soy products like tofu and soy milk.
• As the body responds to high levels of stress, it "steals" progesterone to manufacture the stress hormone cortisol, often leaving a relative excess of estrogen. Stress management is essential!
• Infrared sauna treatments are an excellent way to rid your body of estrogen.
• Maintaining poor sleep habits cause a reduction in the hormone melatonin, which helps protect against estrogen dominance. Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep per night in a cool, dark room.
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