A few weeks ago, I had a blood test run at a wellness boutique in Los Angeles to get a basic idea of my hormonal and metabolic health. I'd never had a blood test like this done before, and even though I generally feel like I'm in pretty good health, I was deeply curious to see what the numbers had to say. I went to a facility called Next Health, a high-tech health optimization center that offers services ranging from cryotherapy to genetic testing. They ran their baseline blood test on me, which costs $199, and a couple weeks later, I went back to go over my results. Everything checked out pretty much as I expected (including my low B12 #veganproblems), except for one surprising piece of information: My estrogen levels were slightly high.
"Do you remember where you were during your menstrual cycle when you had the test done?" the Next Health nurse asked. As it turns out, your estrogen levels are naturally lowest when you're on your period and highest when you're ovulating a few weeks later, exactly in between periods. At the time of the test, mine had just ended. "Have you noticed any weight gain?" she continued. "Excess fat behind your upper arms?" This question really got me: Evidently, women with slightly high estrogen levels often complain of a mysteriously flabby tricep area, which just so happens to be my one profound body insecurity. This insight was truly enlightening. My estrogen was undoubtedly a little bit high, and I needed to do something about it.
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Not every woman with high estrogen experiences the same symptoms or faces the same risks. So with my curiosity about this hormone imbalance newly piqued, I decided to get in touch with two women's health experts to help other women figure out if they might be experiencing something similar. Curious to see if you might have high estrogen and, if so, how you can fix it? Keep on scrolling.
Let's answer the most basic question first: What is estrogen, and why do we have it? Estrogen is a hormone mostly produced by the ovaries in women (and also by fat cells). The hormone plays a key role in the development of female secondary sexual characteristics, like breasts and a wider pelvis, and it regulates the menstrual cycle and reproductive system. Synthetic estrogen is used in birth control and in medication to help manage menopause. Estrogen is naturally lower in very young and older women, but some women's bodies produce too much estrogen, which can lead to a range of health issues.
"Some signs of high estrogen can be abnormal bleeding, breast tenderness, increased vaginal discharge, and weight gain," explains Patrice Harold, director of minimally invasive gynecology at Detroit Medical Center's Hutzel Women's Hospital. Other signs of high estrogen include bloating, heavy periods, decreased sex drive, fatigue, mood swings, and depression.
These unpleasant symptoms can sometimes, though certainly not always, be a sign of something more serious. "Prolonged elevated estrogen levels throughout the years could result in fibrocystic breast disease, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis, endometrial polyps, PMS, uterine fibroids, and breast cancer," Harold explains. This is why it's important to see a physician if you're experiencing signs of high estrogen to get a test done to confirm, and then proceed with the proper course of action.
The Causes and Treatments
Treating high estrogen is not particularly simple, however. "Each body is unique, so there is no single magical pill to balance our hormones," says holistic health and wellness specialist Natalya Fazylova. "Your practitioner might recommend that you take an herbal supplement, a bio-identical hormone, or a combination of both to help you re-establish hormonal balance." My nurse recommended I go on a hormone-modulating supplement called Dim-Plus (which contains for diindolylmethane), the benefits of which would be naturally obtained by consuming large amounts of cruciferous vegetables.
Your physician might also suggest adjusting your diet, exercise, or sleep regimen depending on the root cause of your high estrogen, which could be any number of factors including certain medications or cysts. "Recent studies note that estrogen dominance may also develop from exposure of the body to external chemicals called xenoestrogens," Fazylova comments. These are chemicals found in products such as phthalates and pesticides. "Other chemicals that may have estrogenic effects are hormonal residues found in dairy and meat products."