Oestrogen, along with progesterone, is a primary female sex hormone essential to the menstrual cycle, ovulation, and pregnancy. Progesterone balances the level of oestrogen in the body. Various things affect the levels of progesterone and oestrogen, including luteinizing hormone and follicle stimulating hormone, which are made by the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus. Diet, stress, and age can also increase or decrease the amount of progesterone and oestrogen produced by the body. Moreover, external contact with either hormone can disrupt the body's natural balance. If there is too little progesterone - or too much oestrogen - in the body, a condition known as oestrogen dominance can occur.
Oestrogen dominance, and the role of excess oestrogen in the development of many serious medical disorders, is currently being studied. As increasing numbers of studies prove a link between high oestrogen levels and various types of cancers, a greater emphasis will be placed on early screening and improved hormone replacement therapy for post-menopausal women. Concerns about food and environmental sources of oestrogen are at an all-time high, with some experts linking environmental exposure and early oestrogen dominance to precocious puberty.
When levels of oestrogen in the body are too high, symptoms of oestrogen dominance may occur. Typically, these symptoms first begin to appear during the 30s, as ovulation becomes erratic and the body ceases to produce consistent levels of progesterone. When oestrogen levels become high in relation to progesterone, early symptoms of oestrogen dominance, such as breast tenderness, anxiety, headaches, weight gain, water retention, and irregular periods may develop. Many other symptoms have been related to abnormally high levels of oestrogen, including decreased sex drive, mood swings, fatigue, insomnia, hair loss, and memory loss. A number of serious health conditions, such as cancer of the breast, uterus, and ovaries, infertility, endometriosis, osteoporosis, gallbladder and thyroid disease, unstable blood sugar, mineral deficiencies, PCOS, and stroke have also been linked to oestrogen dominance.
Identifying oestrogen dominance is not easy. Recognising the symptoms of oestrogen dominance and confirming an imbalance between oestrogen and progesterone through blood tests is the only reliable method of identification. However, it is important to remember that slightly elevated levels of oestrogen may be normal for some women during certain times of life. Lab results should be combined with the patient's symptoms, medical history, and family history before a diagnosis is made.
If oestrogen levels remain unopposed, women are at risk for developing endometriosis, fibroids, cancer, stroke, heart disease, infertility, osteoporosis, and numerous other medical conditions. Menopausal women who are being treated with synthetic oestrogen supplementation may notice an increase in symptoms instead of an improvement. The long-term effects of oestrogen dominance in children are still being studied, but preliminary studies show an increase in precocious puberty, PCOS, obesity, and irregular periods.
For younger women and for those who have not yet developed any symptoms of oestrogen dominance, maintaining a healthy balance of progesterone and oestrogen may be as simple as eating a healthy diet, getting plenty of exercise, and avoiding unnecessary environmental sources of oestrogen, such as meat from hormone-fed cattle. Older women, including those currently on HRT for menopausal symptoms, should speak with their doctor about hormone testing and progesterone supplementation. Creams and lotions containing natural progesterone are widely available, but should only be used under the guidance of a medical professional.