Estrogen Dominance is a bit of a catch phrase in the world of women's health and fertility right now. This is because many women suffer from symptoms of Estrogen Dominance, and/or they have been diagnosed with it. In her previous blog on Estrogen Dominance, Daria discussed what Estrogen Dominance is and how to navigate it so I highly suggest you read that blog as well. Today, I want to dive further into Estrogen Dominance and chat about environmental estrogens. No, estrogen isn't just a hormone produced by the female body, it's found in the environment as well. Men also make estrogen and Estrogen Dominance in men is related to Low Testosterone so this is also an important topic for men. But before I talk about the two types of environmental estrogens, it's important to discuss the types of estrogens found in the human body so you can understand how environmental estrogens can be problematic.
"Estrogen" actually comes in many forms naturally. Estrone (E1), Estradiol (E2), and Estriol (E3) are the primary types of estrogen found in the human body. From there, estrogens can break down even further during a process called methylation which leads to detoxification of estrogens from the body. In other words, your body makes estrogen and then removes estrogen in a continuous cycle. If you happen to have one of the problematic MTHFR or COMT gene variants, then this process of methylation can get interrupted and Estrogen Dominance can occur. Incidentally, one of the forms of estrone (16a-OH) is linked to higher rates of breast cancer. Essentially, there are many forms of estrogen and your body gets rid of estrogen by breaking them down and detoxifying them. Depending on your genetics and environmental factors, your body may break them down into the more cancerous types or not detoxify them well and cause Estrogen Dominance. While you can't do much about your genetics (although epigenetics is a fascinating field that gives us new hope in this realm), you can and should do what you can to limit damaging forms of estrogen in the environment, and do everything you can to detoxify it from your body.
There are two primary types of estrogens in the environment - Phytoestrogens and Xenoestrogens. Phytoestrogens are naturally occurring plant-based estrogens. Soybeans are particularly high in phytoestrogens and so are flax seed and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli. Women with Estrogen Dominance might see this and start cutting out all plant-based foods with phytoestrogens; however, many of these foods work synergistically with the body to detoxify estrogens. For example, cruciferous vegetables have been widely studied in regards to their ability to metabolize estrogens and lower the risk of developing many types of cancer including estrogen-based cancers. So clearly, the fact that they contain high levels of phytoestrogens does not mean that they are to blame for Estrogen Dominance so don't go throwing the broccoli out just yet! Soybeans can be a bit of a hot button topic in the world of alternative diets (alternative to the Standard American Diet) so I won't get into the nitty gritty on that in this blog. But there are some really interesting discussions out in science land on organic soybeans versus the genetically modified, glyphosate covered soybeans and their different roles in the development of estrogen based cancers. But I digress as usual... My point is that just because a plant naturally contains phytoestrogens does not automatically mean that it's bad for someone with Estrogen Dominance. Xenoestrogens, on the other hand, are pretty nasty.
Xenoestrogens are synthetic hormone-like chemicals that mimic estrogen in the human body. They're often referred to as estrogen mimicking compounds, pseudo-estrogens, endocrine disrupting chemicals (which includes synthetic progesterone), and synthetic estrogens. Xenoestrogens disrupt the normal estrogenic activity of the human body and have been linked to PCOS, low sperm count, and precocious puberty as well as breast cancer. This means that xenoestrogens disrupt the normal synthesis and detoxification of estrogen in the human body and lead to a whole host of health problems.
The two most famous of xenoestrogens are Ethinyl estradiol used in the hormonal birth control and Bisphenol A (BPA) found in plastics and the coating of cash register receipts. Other well-known xenoestrogens are Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) that were widely used industrially in the US before being banned in the 1970s. Even though PCBs have been banned and many companies are voluntarily reducing or eliminating their use of BPAs, our soil, air, and water are already contaminated with these xenoestrogens. BPAs are also still used in some food containers, and Ethinyl estradiol that isn't filtered out from human urine finds its way into our drinking water (that's a lovely thought, isn't it). And if drinking someone else's left over birth control hormones isn't bad enough, your skin can absorb BPA from receipts. In one well done study, nearly 70% of cord blood (you know, from newborn babies) tested contained BPA.
So, are you drinking estrogen? Likely so. And if you're not drinking it, then you're almost certainly exposed to it in some other way. Given the increased rate of estrogen related problems in our society, including Low Testosterone in men (more on that later), what should you do to reduce your exposure to xenoestrogens? Activated Carbon filters and Reverse Osmosis systems reduce the amount of xenoestrogens (and other pharmaceuticals) from your water. You can avoid touching receipts and switch to glass food containers (or at least BPA free ones). If you do use plastic food containers, then the Mayo Clinic advises that you don't heat them up or put them into the dishwasher. I personally, don't touch receipts because of the high concentration of BPAs that have been associated with them. In addition to reducing your exposure, you should assist your body in removing xenoestrogens by drinking lots of (Reverse Osmosis or Activated Carbon Filtered) water. You should also eat healthy, unprocessed foods, and focus on foods known to help detoxify estrogens such as cruciferous vegetables and berries. Always talk to your knowledgeable health care provider before using supplements or if you have concerns about your diet. If you suspect that you have Estrogen Dominance or other estrogen related problems, you can begin charting your menstrual cycle using the Creighton Model FertilityCare System with one of our practitioners. We can assist you in finding answers!