Sometimes, it seems like the answer to most questions about our bodies is centered around these little invisible things called hormones. Don’t know why you’re crying? Hormones. Don’t know why you’re bloated? Hormones. They affect everything from the good to the bad to the ugly. While estrogen is typically associated with women because they have naturally higher levels of estrogen, everyone has estrogen present. In females, estrogen helps control the menstrual cycle as well as reproduction in general. In males, estrogen is imperative for sexual function. (1) Like anything, too much of a good thing is not always a good thing, and the same can be said for high levels of estrogen in both males and females alike. First, let’s briefly review histamine intolerance (HIT) and how this plays into estrogen dominance.
Histamine intolerance is an imbalance between the amount of histamine released and the ability to break down accumulated histamine. DAO is the enzyme that is primarily responsible for breaking down histamines in the digestive tract of the body. Decreased DAO activity in addition to increased histamines may result in symptoms that are similar to one having an “allergic reaction” to something. Certain histamine-rich foods, as well as medications that cause excess histamine to be released and/or DAO enzymes to be blocked, can cause symptoms such as diarrhea, headaches, congestion, runny nose, breathing difficulties, low blood pressure, heart abnormalities, hives, asthma attacks, and skin redness in people with histamine intolerance. (2)
Background on Hormones
Now, in order to understand the connection between estrogen and histamines, we need to have a physiology lesson. So we already discussed estrogen as one of the sex hormones that females produce, but now we need to add progesterone into the picture. Estrogen and progesterone are both female sex hormones but are opposite in function. Estrogen builds up the uterine lining, increases body fat, results in depression and headaches, and increases the risk of breast and endometrial cancer, while progesterone maintains uterine lining, utilizes fat for energy, functions as an anti-depressant, and protects from cancer. Both sex hormones decline in all females with age; however, from age 35 to 50, progesterone drops about 75%, while estrogen only decreases by about 35%. So now, we have a situation where we are naturally put in a state where estrogen is automatically going to be higher than progesterone, commonly known as estrogen dominance. (3)
Estrogen dominance refers to elevated levels of estrogen or hormone imbalances that can occur in both men (testosterone/estrogen) and women (progesterone/estrogen). Common symptoms of estrogen dominance are:
- Pre-menstrual symptoms
- Hot flashes
- Decreased libido
- Weight gain
- Menstrual cramping
- Uterine fibroids
- Fibrocystic breasts
- Excessive menstruation
- Thyroid issues
- Cancer (breast, uterine, ovarian, prostate, colon) (3)
Factors That Contribute To Estrogen Dominance
So picture this. We naturally are going to have more estrogen as we age. Then add to it the chronic stress of our modern lifestyles and exposure to environmental toxins and we end up with an even greater accumulation of estrogen. Chronic stress, obesity, poor diet, lack of exercise, use of contraceptives/hormone replacement therapy, and environmental estrogen can all lead to elevated estrogen and/or hormone imbalances.
The adrenal glands are the primary player in the endocrine system related to our ability to handle stress by releasing cortisol into the bloodstream. Prolonged, elevated cortisol levels guarantee the liver is unable to discard and eliminate estrogen effectively. Elevated cortisol also leads to the depletion of progesterone. This increase in estrogen caused by liver dysfunction combined with a decrease in progesterone will lead to signs and symptoms of estrogen dominance. And all because of your chronically stupid boss. (4)
Body Fat and Obesity
Similarly, fat cells have an enzyme that converts cortisol into estrogen; estrogen is stored in fat. When you lose weight, there will be more estrogen in your bloodstream, causing temporary estrogen dominance until your liver can clear it out. In men, an enzyme in body fat called aromatase converts testosterone into estrogen. Elevated body fat levels result in increased aromatase and therefore, increased estrogen levels. (4)
Unfortunately, heading to the middle of the grocery store and loading up on boxed and processed foods increases levels of substances that mimic estrogen function, which results in elevated estrogen levels. (3) Similarly, eating habits, such as skipping breakfast and consuming plentiful sugar and caffeine all day long, also affect our ability to manage stress and will likely result in an estrogen-dominant state. If you skipped “Chronic Stress” above, now would be a good time to head on back up the page! Caffeine in general increases estrogen release and causes depletion of magnesium, vitamin C, and vitamin B, which are key nutrients in liver function for eliminating toxic substances from the bloodstream. (4)
Lack of exercise
Exercising regularly improves estrogen clearance by increasing metabolism, minimizing fat storage, balancing blood sugar levels (improving our ability to cope with stress), and decreasing the risk of breast cancer. Lack of exercise can also result in an increased risk of depression, weight gain, decreased digestive function, and decreased energy, in addition to putting us at more risk for estrogen dominance. (4)
Hormone Replacement Therapy
Conventional hormone replacement therapy is typically estrogen-only hormone supplementation without the addition of progesterone. If you’re absolutely looking to stay in an estrogen-dominant state, then this is a really simple way to do it! It is very important that you decide on the appropriate hormone replacement therapy combination for you, so before trying anything, consult with a healthcare professional that can help you make the best choice for your body, especially if you are also dealing with thyroid concerns. (4)
Xenoestrogens are chemicals that are found in our environment that mimic estrogen once in our body, giving our liver a big-time job, especially if we also are stressed, don’t have time to cook or exercise, and are overweight. Constant exposure to xenoestrogen compounds will inhibit our body from clearing excess estrogen effectively. There are many industrial chemicals, including plastics, especially when exposed to heat or acid, household products (fabric softeners, cleaning products), personal hygiene products (nail polish remover, surfactants found in condoms and contraceptive gels), and some makeup/perfumes that will function as estrogen once in our bodies. Heavy metal accumulation is something else to be considered. Mercury, lead, and aluminum in excess, like what is found in tooth fillings, cans, and processed foods, can block liver function and the result is poor toxin filtration and higher estrogen concentration in the blood. (3,4)
Relationship Between Histamines and Excess Estrogen
You may have noticed that histamine intolerance and estrogen dominance look the same in many respects: both may result in headaches and abnormal menstrual function. It makes sense that estrogen and histamine intolerance is therefore intrinsically related. As discussed above, the excess estrogen may not only be our ovaries producing too much, but also that we may not be efficiently breaking down and excreting our excess estrogen, causing it to build up in our system.
Remember, cells have many different types of receptors that the chemical messengers, or hormones, like estrogen, will recognize and attach to. That is how hormones are able to affect only specific tissues. Interestingly enough, histamine and estrogen attach to the same receptors (H1). Because of this, estrogen will cause the release of histamine from the mast cells present in the reproductive organs of both men and women. The more estrogen you have, the more histamine that will be released into the bloodstream. More histamine results in more estrogen, which is where people will get stuck in a vicious cycle. Because of this, it is imperative to treat patients with symptoms of histamine intolerance and estrogen dominance simultaneously because it is likely that one problem is feeding into the other. (5)
Recommendations for Estrogen Dominance and Histamine Intolerance
Here is what I recommend for improving estrogen dominance and histamine intolerance:
Xenoestrogens are artificial hormone-mimicking compounds that mimic the effects of estrogen and contribute to estrogen excess or prevent the beneficial effects of natural estrogen in your body. Xenoestrogens can increase estrogen dominance and related issues, including PMS, PMDD, menstrual pain, and histamine intolerance. I recommend that you remove xenoestrogen-containing products, including conventional cleaning, body, and beauty products, and choose natural and organic alternatives.
Avoid Birth Control Pills and Hormone Replacement Therapy
Hormonal contraceptives with estrogen, hormone replacement therapy, and some other hormonal medications with estrogen can increase estrogen dominance, histamine intolerance, and related symptoms. Consult your doctor about getting off or reducing hormonal contraceptives, hormone replacement therapy, and other hormone-based prescription medications to reduce your symptoms of estrogen dominance.
Lower Your Histamine
Estrogen dominance and estrogen imbalance can result in histamine intolerance, which may increase your risk or severity of symptoms. I recommend that you work with a functional health practitioner (hint: my team and I) to check for histamine intolerance. If you are dealing with symptoms of histamine intolerance, I recommend that you follow my Histamine Reset Plan outlined in my Histamine Online Program.
Eat an Anti-Inflammatory & Low-Histamine Diet
I recommend following a low-histamine, anti-inflammatory, nutrient-dense, whole foods diet. Remove inflammatory foods, including refined sugar, refined oils, canned and processed meat, artificial ingredients, junk food, and highly processed foods. Remove high-histamine foods. Follow a nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory, and low-histamine diet rich in greens, vegetables, herbs, spices, fruits, healthy fats, and organic meat. Try new recipes. I recommend all the low-histamine recipes in The 4-Phase Histamine Reset Plan and Low Histamine Cooking in Your Instant Pot.
Move Your Body
A lack of movement can also increase the risk of hormonal imbalance and histamine intolerance. Moving your body is a great way to reduce stress, improve detoxification, boost your mood, and support your overall health. Stay active throughout the day by dancing to your favorite songs, taking a stroll in the park, stretching regularly, and playing with your kids or pets. Exercise at least 20 to 30 minutes five days a week and move your body regularly. I recommend getting 10 to 15K steps in a day if you can. Add resistance and strength training to your routine. If you follow cycle syncing, I recommend moderate-intensity workouts, such as pilates, power yoga, and strength training the week before your period, and light movements, including Kundalini yoga, Tai Chi, pilates, and walks in nature during your period.
Reduce Stress and Improve Sleep
Stress and poor sleep are major contributing factors to hormonal imbalance and histamine intolerance. To reduce stress and improve sleep, I recommend practicing breathwork, meditation, positive affirmation, journaling, yoga, grounding, and time in nature for stress and anxiety reduction. Taking an Epsom salt bath is another great way to relax your muscles, calm your mind, and detoxify your body. Make sure to sleep at least 7 to 9 hours a night.
Improve Your Gut Health
Your gut health affects your entire body. Poor gut flora can increase your risk of histamine intolerance and hormonal imbalance, and related symptoms. Poor gut health may increase digestive symptoms before and during your period, including ‘period poop’. Along with a gut-friendly anti-inflammatory diet, I recommend working with a functional medicine practitioner (like me) to test your gut and see if opportunistic bacteria, yeast overgrowth, parasites, H. pylori and/or leaky gut can be what is driving your histamine issue.
Try Cycle Syncing
Cycle syncing means that you are using the hormonal fluctuations during each phase of your menstrual cycle to your advantage by eating different foods and engaging in different activities depending on where you are within your cycle. Cycling syncing may be a great option if you are experiencing symptoms of PMS or PMDD. It may be right for you if you are experiencing fatigue, depression, anxiety, or cravings, or are generally not feeling yourself around your period or during other parts of your cycle. It may be helpful if you have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), low libido, estrogen dominance, or low energy, are overweight or obese, or are trying to conceive.
Though there is not much scientific evidence to back this, there is no shortage of anecdotal evidence. Millions of women have tried, and used cycle syncing and claim that it has changed their life. Cycle syncing is entirely safe and natural. You have nothing to lose by trying it and so much to gain if it works for you. Considering your cycle when choosing your meals, workouts, and other activities helps you stay mindful and in tune with your body’s needs every single day. To learn more about how to practice cycle syncing and what to eat, how to move, and what to try during each phase of your menstrual cycle, I recommend reading this article on cycle syncing with detailed tips.
Use Di-Indole Methane (DIM), Sulforaphane, or Calcium-D-Glucarate
If you are experiencing estrogen dominance and your estrogen metabolism pathways are out, such as having a high 4-OH pathway), I recommend DIM-Evail, a Di-Indole methane (DI) supplement, to improve your estrogen levels and estrogen metabolism. DIM is an extract derived from broccoli. It helps your body to neutralize reactive estrogen metabolites, such as estrone and estradiol. DIM also helps the production of non-reactive estrogen and improves your estrogen balance.
If you are in perimenopause, approaching menopause, but still have a period at least off-and-on, and your estrogen levels are low, DIM is not right for you. If your estrogen levels are low, I recommend sulforaphane instead. Sulforaphane comes from broccoli sprouts. It helps to support estrogen metabolism. It helps to redirect 4-OH estrogen from going down the wrong pathway and reduces the risk of oxidative damage. I recommend BroccoBlend for sulforaphane. The bioavailability of this supplement is not dependent on myrosinase produced by intestinal bacteria, making BroccoBlend especially effective for individuals with GI flora that produce negligible amounts of this enzyme.
If you have trouble metabolizing estrogen in the gut, I recommend Calcium-D-Glucarate. Calcium D-Glucarate is calcium bound tod-glucaric acid, which is a natural compound produced in small amounts by the human body and is abundantly found in various plant foods such as broccoli, cabbage, kale, apples, oranges, and grapefruit. It helps to support the body’s natural elimination of excess steroid hormones and toxins. Calcium-d-glucarate assists in the detoxification process as it forms conjugates with unwanted estrogenic hormones and environmental toxins, which are then eliminated from the body instead of being reabsorbed.
If you are not sure where your issue lies, working with a practitioner is the best way to determine which one of these supplements may work the best for your body. We are always happy to help at our practice.
Estrogen dominance and histamine intolerance often come hand-in-hand. You have to address both to reduce your symptoms and improve your health. I recommend that you follow the strategies outlined in this article to improve your health.
If you are dealing with symptoms of histamine intolerance or estrogen dominance, I invite you to schedule a consultation with us. We can help identify the root cause of your condition and recommend a personalized treatment plan to repair your body and regain your health and well-being. Schedule your consultation here. I also recommend that you check out my Histamine Online Program.
- Medical News Today. What are the symptoms of high estrogen? https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323280.php. Accessed 7/27/19.
- David Jockers. Are You Suffering From Histamine Intolerance? https://drjockers.com/suffering-histamine-intolerance/. Assessed 7/27/19.
3. Dr. David Jockers. Factors Causing Estrogen Dominance. https://drjockers.com/estrogen-dominance/. Accessed 7/27/19.
4. Dr. K News. Hormonal imbalances? Estrogen clearance is vital to healthy hormone function. https://drknews.com/hormonal-imbalances-estrogen-clearance-vital-healthy-hormone-function/. Accessed 7/27/19.
5. Vickery A. Histamine and Estrogen. https://alisonvickery.com.au/estrogen/. Accessed 8/1/19.