“Some 85 percent of women over 35 have elevated estrogen levels, and that puts them at risk for a slow thyroid,” asserts Harvard-trained weight-loss expert Sara Gottfried, MD. Excess estrogen — a condition known as “estrogen dominance” — raises levels of thyroid-binding globulin, a compound that decreases the amount of free thyroid hormone that’s available to the body, leading to vague symptoms such as brain fog, exhaustion, and more. But according to Ronald Hoffman, MD, director of the Hoffman Center in New York City, the majority of sufferers never get diagnosed because many doctors aren’t familiar with the condition.
Estrogen dominance is a particular problem for women over 40. “During perimenopause, estrogen levels begin to fall, but estrogen’s partner, progesterone, falls even lower,” explains Dr. Gottfried, author of The Hormone Reset Diet ($12.79, Amazon). Indeed, research shows that progesterone production slows by 75 percent during our fifth decade of life; in comparison, estrogen levels fall by only 35 percent. “This relative excess of estrogen makes women more likely to gain weight,” she notes. What’s more, when women seek help for their symptoms, doctors often prescribe antidepressants or hormone replacement therapy, but these treatments can be costly — and ineffective since they don’t actually et to the root of the problem.
Other factors that raise the risk include the use of certain medications, stress, which impairs the function of adrenal glands, suppressing progesterone output even more, and exposure to toxins like bisphenol-A (BPA), which mimics the effects of estrogen.
Doctors can order hormone tests to measure estrogen and progesterone levels, but Dr. Hoffman says it’s possible to diagnose based on symptoms alone.
Is estrogen dominance draining your thyroid?
If you have fatigue and two or more of the symptoms below, you may be suffering from hypothyroidism caused by excess estrogen:
- Cold sensitivity
- Dry skin
- Weight gain
- Brain fog
- Puffy face
- High cholesterol
- Breast tenderness
- Heavy periods
“Traditionally, hypothyroidism is treated with daily use of thyroid hormone,” says Dr. Gottfried. Your doctor can determine the best one for you, but these natural strategies can also help balance hormone levels:
Load Up on Fiber
The natural fiber found in whole, plant-based foods binds to excess estrogen so it can be flushed from the system, and they’re also loaded with compounds that optimize estrogen levels.
“That’s the magic in whole foods,” notes Felice Gersh, MD, an integrative physician based in Irvine, California. “Just taking a fiber supplement isn’t going to give you the same outcome as eating whole, fresh vegetables.”
Dr. Gottfried recommends eating at least 35 and up to 50 grams of fiber per day from beans (15 grams per cup), seeds (10 grams per cup), berries (8 grams per cup), leafy greens (5 grams per cup), root vegetables (4 grams per cup), and cruciferous vegetables (3 grams per cup). Cruciferous vegetables, which include broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and kale, are especially helpful in supporting estrogen removal because they’re loaded with sulfur compounds that boost liver function to support the deactivation and removal of estrogen. One note of caution: Don’t try to add all of that extra fiber at once, warns Dr. Gersh, or you’ll get a stomachache. Instead, try increasing your fiber intake by 5 grams every three days until you’ve reached the recommended amount.
Move a Little
One of the simplest — and most effective — things you can do to balance estrogen and progesterone levels is to dial down stress. “High levels of the stress hormone cortisol block progesterone, contributing to estrogen dominance,” says Dr. Gottfried. Try taking a leisurely 20-minute stroll every day — Japanese research suggests doing so can reduce cortisol levels by 40 percent for five hours to help the body bring estrogen and progesterone back into balance.
Try a Supplement
Dr. Gottfried recommends taking 200 mg. of diindolylmethane (DIM). The nutrient, found in cruciferous vegetables, has been shown to improve estrogen balance. One to try: Source Naturals DIM 200 mg. ($23, Vitacost).
This article originally appeared in our print magazine, Heal Your Thyroid.