Sometimes it seems impossible to lean out. You lift weights, eat clean, and you're still smack-dab in the middle of a plateau! Not only are you not losing fat, you suffer from bloating and low energy levels. Talk about adding insult to injury!
If any of this sounds familiar, you may be dealing with an overload of the hormone estrogen, a condition referred to as estrogen dominance. I sought out several endocrine (hormone) specialists to get their take on estrogen dominance and how it affects our fitness goals. Here's what they had to say.
What Are Some of the Benefits of Estrogen?
Although normally associated with the female body, estrogen is needed in both the male and female body, explains Paul Mystkowski, MD, an endocrinologist at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle. For the female body, estrogen helps produce a healthy reproductive system and encourages strong bones; for males, it does the latter.
"In fact, all men normally convert testosterone to estrogen to build bone mass," says Dr. Mystkowski.
When in perfect balance, this much-needed hormone works in our favor. Unfortunately, accumulating too much estrogen is a frequent byproduct of the modern lifestyle. Estrogen can be acquired from daily norms such as stress and poor diet, negative lifestyle factors such as smoking and too much drinking, digestion issues, and more, says Maggie Ruiz-Paedae, DOM, a practitioner of functional medicine. And sometimes, this leads to problems.
What is Estrogen Dominance?
One such problem is what's called estrogen dominance.
"Estrogen dominance occurs when there's too much of the female sex hormone, estrogen, floating around in someone's bloodstream," explains Dr. Ruiz-Paedae. "This can cause several undesirable symptoms in both men and women, including weight gain, water retention, breast enlargement [for females and males alike], fatigue, mood swings, sluggish metabolism, excess abdominal fat, and more."
Given this array of side effects, it's no wonder weight loss can become a struggle. That's not all, though. Dr. Ruiz-Paedae adds that unchecked estrogen dominance eventually can lead to serious health complications, including increased risk for developing prostate, uterine, and breast cancer.
Can Estrogen Dominance Affect Fitness?
Yes. Hormone levels must fall within desired ranges and be balanced relative to one other. And estrogen is one hormone in particular that we cannot ignore in our quest for a lean, muscular body.
"Estrogen balance is essential for achieving and maintaining fat loss," says Natasha Turner, ND, author of "The Supercharged Hormone Diet" and several other books. "An imbalance will definitely impact your ability to build and retain lean and metabolically active muscle tissue, as well as your ability to burn fat."
Are There Natural Ways to Lower Estrogen Levels?
Just as there are many ways to acquire too much estrogen, there are many things you can do to get this essential hormone in check:
1. Replace Plastic Containers With Glass or Steel
According to Dr. Ruiz-Paedae, plastics contain BPA (and other harmful chemicals) that negatively impact your estrogen levels. Although there are a variety of BPA-free products on the market, your best bet is to play it safe and go with glass!
2. Eat Liver-Supporting Foods
Since your liver is responsible for helping to remove excess estrogen and toxins from your body, make sure your diet supports healthy liver function.
Kelly Milligan, a naturopath and detoxification specialist, recommends eating foods such as leafy greens, avocados, garlic, green tea, beets, lemons, and limes to promote liver health. Adequate sleep (at least 7 hours a night) also support healthy liver function.
3. Manage Stress Levels
No one can completely avoid stress, but there are certainly things we can do to take some pressure off. Since prolonged stress encourages excess estrogen, a yoga class every week or monthly massage might be a great way to manage and reduce stress over time.
You can also find ways to incorporate de-stressing into your lifestyle, such as:
- Experiencing the outdoors (hiking, walking, biking)
- Watching a comedy
- Light exercise
- Spending time with loved ones
- Practicing a hobby
- Taking a break from electronics
4. Go Organic as Much as Possible
Harmful hormones and toxins can sneak into our bodies through residual pesticides on our grains, fruits, vegetables, and animal products treated with antibiotics and growth hormones. Thankfully, safer and healthier options exist. Look for labels such as grass-fed, non-GMO, and organic when buying meat and produce. Since buying organic may boost your grocery bill, save money by buying in season and visiting farmers markets.
5. Eat More Fiber
Fiber can bind to estrogen and help flush it out of your system. Great sources include leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, flax, chia, artichokes, figs, apples, pears, beans and legumes, turnips, squash, peas, and berries.
If you think you may be struggling with estrogen dominance, talk to your doctor about getting proper testing done. Until then, it can't hurt to be proactive implement these strategies. They're smart health moves regardless of your estrogen status.