The consequences of high estrogen levels can be just as detrimental to women's overall health and well-being as low estrogen levels.
One of the first steps to resolving the abnormal fluctuation and living an improved quality of life begins with understanding how the imbalance evolves. Continue reading through the following sections to learn more about elevated estrogen levels and its causes.
About High Estrogen Levels
Elevated estrogen is not to be confused with a condition known as estrogen dominance, which is a more permanent state of hormonal imbalance. This condition is common in women who are obese, diabetic, hypertensive, or those who take medication containing estrogen.
It is acceptable for monthly estrogen levels to range from 30 - 400 pg/mL throughout a woman's life, depending upon menstrual cycle stage and her age. Nevertheless, periods of deviation are inevitable, and these abnormal variations can be caused by a variety of factors.
Causes of High Estrogen Levels
It is not uncommon for healthy women over the age of 35 to have high estrogen levels. However, because they assume it is due to the menopausal transition, they leave the hormonal imbalance untreated. On the other hand, others worsen the condition by further supplementing the body's overall amount of estrogen because they incorrectly interpreted their high estrogen as a deficiency.
Luckily, one may take the appropriate steps to healthily lower excess estrogen in the body by first understanding the causes.
Natural Causes of High Estrogen Levels
During Adulthood (20s to 40s)
Estrogen levels shift on a daily basis with the menstrual cycle. Innately, estrogen should be highest during the first half, or follicular phase, of the cycle for proper development of uterine lining. With the final spike right before ovulation, progesterone then takes over as the dominant hormone in the luteal phase.
If a woman doesn't conceive, the uterine lining sheds, and the entire cycle repeats itself. If conception occurs, estrogen levels will continually increase to cause growth and changes in the mother's reproductive system and body in preparation to give birth.
During Perimenopause and After Menopause (40s on up)
An initial signal of entering the menopausal transition is the occurrence of irregular and anovulatory periods, caused by the ovaries slowing down reproductive functions. The absence of ovulation will lead to a drop in progesterone production, thus leading to elevated estrogen levels as the hormone goes unopposed.
This estrogen surge can lead to symptoms such as weight gain, headaches, and breast tenderness. If left unmanaged, the imbalance may lead to a more permanent state of estrogen dominance, which can lead to complications such as breast and uterine cancer. A woman suffering from high estrogen levels during menopause will usually have an estrogen reading of 200+ pg/ml.
Lifestyle Factors that Cause High Estrogen Levels
Moreover, some lifestyle factors that can prompt high levels of estrogen include:
- Poor diet. A low-fiber diet that is heavy in artificial ingredients and refined sugars can increase estrogen levels. Because fiber helps food pass through the digestive system, a low-fiber diet can prevent excess estrogen from being properly excreted, leading to reabsorption. Also, deficiencies in certain key vitamins, such as zinc and magnesium, can also contribute to high estrogen levels.
- Stress. If a woman is under extreme stress, adrenal gland production and excretion of cortisol, the stress hormone, increases. To produce sufficient levels of cortisol, the adrenal glands may suppress progesterone production. Consequently, high level of stress hormones may cause elevated estrogen levels – eventually estrogen dominance – and a progesterone-deficient state.
- Smoking. Research has shown that smokers have lower progesterone metabolite levels during the luteal phase due to a shortening of their follicular phase. Shorter follicular phases may result in inadequate follicle development, which leads to inadequate corpus luteum function; the corpus luteum is responsible for progesterone production after ovulation.
- Alcohol use. Research has proven that circulating levels of estrogen are significantly higher in women who drink. In one study, blood and urine estrogen levels increased over 30 percent in women who drank two daily alcoholic drinks. Additionally, damage to the liver from excessive alcohol consumption hinders estrogen excretion.
- Caffeine. Excessive caffeine intake has been shown to increase estrogen production and secretion, depending on ethnicity. Biologically speaking, caffeine is a stimulant that can prompt uneasiness and anxiety; high estrogen levels can also cause anxiety. Additionally, caffeine depletes the body's B vitamin stores and impedes proper liver function, further increasing estrogen.
Induced Causes of High Estrogen Levels
High levels of estrogen can also be attributed to environmental triggers, medications, and treatments, such as:
- Hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Many postmenopausal women turn to estrogen replacement therapy to sustain premenopausal estrogen levels. Nonetheless, estradiol levels could climb to levels that are fundamentally disproportionate throughout therapy. Not only could this increase a woman's chance of blood clotting problems, but it also puts her at risk of contracting endometrial cancer, strokes, breast cancer, and more.
- Consumption of exogenous hormones. Another trigger of high estrogen levels includes usage of certain prescription drugs – such as steroid medications, ampicillin, phenothiazines, tetracyclines – and medications containing estrogen, such as birth control pills.
- Environmental pollutants. Xenoestrogens are man-made chemicals in the environment that mimic natural estrogen when ingested, altering normal hormone functioning and increasing estrogen levels. They're found in beauty products, pesticides, plastics, commercial meats, and more.
Other Causes of High Estrogen Levels
Furthermore, high estrogen levels — followed by an estrogen dominant state, if ignored — can be induced by the following conditions:
- Insulin resistance. With insulin resistance, the body doesn't properly regulate the amount of glucose in the blood, which can cause an increase in body fat. In turn, extra estrogen can be produced from this body fat.
- Poor liver function. Reabsorption of estrogen back into the body or generation of elevated estrogen levels can result from improper liver functioning since it is responsible for the metabolism and excretion of estrogen.
Paying attention to hormonal levels is important before imbalances develop into more serious complications. Continue reading to learn more about the signs and symptoms of high estrogen.
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