We’ve all heard the saying, “Too much of a good thing”. And nothing could be truer when it comes to estrogen.
High estrogen levels can set off a host of symptoms, such as heavy periods, irregular cycles, weight gain, and much more.
It’s normal for estrogen to be high at certain points in the menstrual cycle and during pregnancy. But when high estrogen levels become chronic – or if it rises too much – problems can arise.
Concerned your estrogen levels are too high? Don’t worry, we’re here to help!
In this article, we’ll break down the symptoms of high estrogen and what causes it. We’ll then share what you can do to get your estrogen levels back in a healthy range.
What is estrogen?
Estrogen is a hormone best known for its role in the female reproductive system. While typically thought of as a female sex hormone, both males and females produce estrogen. Women just make it at a much grander scale.
Estrogen works with its sister hormone progesterone to help regulate your menstrual cycle. Yet estrogen plays a vital role in many other important bodily processes.
Here are a few ways estrogen affects your health:
- Breasts: Supports the development of breast tissue during puberty and pregnancy
- Vagina: Regulates the growth of epithelial cells in the vagina and promotes the production of cervical mucus
- Uterus: Helps thicken the uterine lining during the follicular phase to prep for a potential pregnancy
- Bone health: Prevents bone loss and protects against osteoporosis
- Heart health: Lowers “bad” LDL cholesterol and increases “good” HDL cholesterol
- Skin: Boosts skin health by supporting collagen production
- Brain: Promotes cognitive function and helps synapses carry signals effectively
There are three types of estrogen. And the type of estrogen you make will depend on your stage of life:
Estrone (E1) is the weakest type of estrogen and the main form produced during menopause. Estrone is made by your adrenal glands or fat cells.
Estradiol (E2) is the main estrogen made during a female’s reproductive years. It’s produced in your ovaries and is the most potent form of estrogen.
Estriol (E3) is the main estrogen produced during pregnancy and is made by the placenta.
Estrogen and your menstrual cycle
Estrogen fluctuates throughout your menstrual cycle, rising and falling twice.
Estrogen rises first in the middle of your follicular phase roughly 3-4 days before ovulation. This rise triggers luteinizing hormone (LH) to surge, prompting the ovary to release an egg.
After ovulation, progesterone rises and estrogen sharply drops. Estrogen then rises again in the mid-luteal phase before falling at the end of your cycle.
Estrogen and progesterone have an antagonistic relationship, meaning your progesterone levels influence estrogen and vice versa. Estrogen is considered a pro-growth hormone, while progesterone is inhibitory and balances estrogen’s effects.
The role of estrogen in fertility
Without enough estrogen, it’s difficult to get pregnant – and stay pregnant – for many reasons.
For starters, estrogen helps your body produce fertile cervical mucus. This not only makes sex more pleasurable, but it also helps the sperm swim easier to the egg.
Estrogen’s preovulatory and postovulatory rise initiates the growth of the uterine wall to increase the chances of implantation. Once pregnant, estrogen maintains the uterine lining and helps the uterus expand to make room for a growing baby.
Estrogen also supports the development of milk ducts, prepping your body for breastfeeding.
What are ‘normal’ estrogen levels?
Estrogen levels vary depending on your age. Before puberty, estrogen is low. Once puberty hits, estrogen levels shoot up and remain high throughout your reproductive years.
During perimenopause, your ovaries gradually shrink – along with your estrogen levels. After menopause, your ovaries stop producing estradiol, causing your estrogen levels to plummet.
The chart below will give you an idea of how estrogen levels shift throughout your life:
Normal estrogen levels chart (blood values)
As the chart shows, estrogen levels vary widely even during your reproductive years.
This is partly because estrogen fluctuates so much throughout your menstrual cycle. Check out the chart below and you’ll see what I mean.
Estrogen levels during the menstrual cycle
If estrogen’s preovulatory peak seems high, it’s nothing compared to pregnancy.
During pregnancy, estrogen levels skyrocket – increasing up to six times higher than before pregnancy. They peak during the third trimester at roughly 32 weeks.
Normal estrogen levels in blood during pregnancy
In fact, according to one study, estrogen can get as high as 20,000 pg/mL during pregnancy!
Having high estrogen levels is perfectly normal and healthy when pregnant. But when you don’t have a baby on board, high estrogen can pose some problems.
What happens when you have high estrogen?
While estrogen is crucial for your health, too much estrogen can disrupt your body and bring on a slew of symptoms.
High estrogen symptoms include:
- Breast tenderness, breast swelling, or fibrocystic breasts
- Reduced sex drive
- Anxiety or mood swings
- Weight gain (especially around the waist, hips, and thighs)
- Heavy periods
- Irregular cycles
- Uterine fibroids
- Hair loss
And if high levels of estrogen linger for too long, it can increase the risk of certain health conditions, including:
- Breast cancer
- Cervical cancer
- High blood pressure
- Blood clots
- Low calcium levels
Types of high estrogen
There are a few different paths to high estrogen:
Normal high: In this situation, your estrogen is on the high side, but still within the normal range.
For example, let’s say one woman’s preovulatory estrogen is 400 pg/mL and another’s is 725 pg/mL. Both of these values are within a normal range and nothing to worry about – as long as progesterone levels are in balance as well.
Estrogen dominance: This imbalance happens when your body doesn’t have enough progesterone to keep estrogen in check. Estrogen dominance is also called unopposed estrogen.
Medical conditions: Certain health issues are linked with high estrogen including PCOS, endometriosis, insulin resistance, and breast cancer.
What causes high estrogen levels?
High estrogen can be due to a variety of factors including health conditions, lifestyle habits, medications, and more.
Common causes of high estrogen include:
These chemicals mimic estrogen’s effects on the body, causing your estrogen levels to rise. Some of the most common xenoestrogens include BPA, phthalates, parabens, and PBCs. They’re found in most plastics (like takeaway containers) and can leach into your food and water. But they also hide in many shampoos, lotions, and personal care products.
- Sluggish liver
- Poor gut health
- Being overweight
- Health conditions
Your stress hormone cortisol and pregnancy hormone progesterone are made from the same building block: pregnenolone. Some progesterone is then converted into cortisol by your adrenal glands.
When stressed, your body kicks up cortisol production, and progesterone takes a back seat. And without enough progesterone to balance estrogen’s effects, estrogen levels can get out of hand.
Certain foods are linked with higher estrogen levels. These include refined grains, processed meats, red meat, and dairy products. Processed foods also contain preservatives that can disrupt your hormone balance. Animal products such as chicken, eggs, and red meat may also increase estrogen.
Your liver detoxes hormones, including estrogen. So if your liver function is poor, you may struggle to flush out excess estrogen. And if your estrogen levels get too high, it can overwhelm your liver and interfere with estrogen metabolism.
Research shows that drinking alcohol raises estrogen levels. That’s because your liver has to process any alcohol you drink. And when your liver’s busy processing alcohol, you can’t detox estrogen as effectively.
Certain strains of gut bacteria, known as your estrobolome, help regulate your body’s estrogen levels. If your microbiome is overrun by bad bacteria, your estrobolome can get thrown off, along with your estrogen.
As mentioned, estrogen isn’t just made by your ovaries. It’s made by your body fat too. The more excess body fat you carry, the more estrogen levels climb. In contrast, if you’re underweight, your body may struggle to produce enough estrogen.
High estrogen levels are linked with certain health conditions. These include PCOS, uterine fibroids, endometriosis, and insulin resistance.
Many birth control pills contain a synthetic form of estrogen. Taken long-term without supervision, these medications can elevate your estrogen. Consult your doctor before you start any medication for regulating your hormones.
Hormonal replacement therapy (HRT) can also cause estrogen levels to get high if the dosage isn’t a good fit for your body.
How do I know if I have high estrogen levels?
If you suspect your estrogen may be high, you can ask your healthcare provider for a blood test. These tests typically measure all three forms of estrogen. While helpful, these tests only give you a snapshot, since estrogen fluctuates throughout your cycle.
How do I track my estrogen levels?
You can use the Inito Fertility Monitor to track your estrogen levels in urine. Inito allows you to test your estrogen metabolite E3G levels in your urine from the comfort of home.
Inito also tests actual values of LH, FSH, and PdG (a urine metabolite of progesterone), to get a full picture of your cycle. You even get personalized hormone charts you can share with your doctor.
Treatment for high estrogen
Treatment for high estrogen varies depending on the cause. For example, if medications such as HRT are to blame, your doctor may need to adjust your dosage.
Lifestyle can also play a huge role in lowering estrogen levels. Here are a few ways to bring estrogen into a healthy range:
- Ditch xenoestrogens
Limit your exposure to xenoestrogens by kicking plastics to the curb. Opt for glass or stainless steel containers and water bottles instead. Choosing organic foods and natural personal care products can lessen your xenoestrogen load.
- Eat healthy
What you eat affects your hormone levels. Here are a few dietary shifts to keep estrogen levels in a healthy range:
Eat a high-fiber diet rich in fruits, veggies, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Fiber helps you poop, which helps your body excrete excess estrogen. Not getting enough fiber can lead to constipation, causing estrogen to be reabsorbed.
Add fermented foods such as yogurt and sauerkraut to nourish your estrobolome. When your gut bacteria are in balance, it helps keep your estrogen in balance as well.
Avoid processed foods. They contain chemicals that can disrupt your hormones and impair liver function. If your liver’s weak, it can’t detox estrogen well.
Cut back on dairy and red meat. These foods are inflammatory and contain hormones that can disrupt your hormone balance.
Eat cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale, arugula, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage. They contain a liver-loving compound called sulforaphane, which may support estrogen detox.
Get your fill of omega-3 rich foods like salmon, sardines, and mackerel. Omega-3s reduce inflammation, which can contribute to hormone imbalance.
Try seed cycling. This holistic practice involves eating specific seeds during different phases of your menstrual cycle. And it’s said to promote a healthy balance of estrogen and progesterone.
- Keep stress at bay
Reducing stress hormones helps keep your estrogen and progesterone ratio balanced. So set aside time for daily stress relief. Yoga, meditation, deep breathing, and exercise are all proven stress-busting methods.
- Maintain a healthy weight
Your body fat secretes estrogen. So reducing your body fat can help lower your estrogen levels. Clearly, this is easier said than done! So if you need support, work with a nutritionist for guidance.
- Limit alcohol
- Limit alcohol
When your liver’s not busy processing alcohol, it can devote more energy to estrogen detox. So if you drink alcohol, consider cutting back.
- Estrogen is a sex hormone that plays an important role in your reproductive system and overall health.
- There are three types of estrogen: estrone (E1), estradiol (E2), and estriol (E3).
- Levels of estrogen fluctuate throughout your menstrual cycle and lifetime.
- High estrogen levels can lead to symptoms such as irregular periods, heavy bleeding, and breast swelling.
- Having high levels of estrogen increases the risk of certain health conditions, such as breast cancer and endometriosis.
- High estrogen may be due to medications, diet, stress, poor liver function, or exposure to xenoestrogens.
- You can check your estrogen with an estrogen blood test or with the Inito Fertility Monitor.
- Treating high estrogen depends on the cause. Many lifestyle habits can support healthy hormone levels. Eating a healthy diet, reducing stress, limiting alcohol, and reducing body fat can all help bring estrogen in balance.