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)
What Can We Do About This?
#1) You must adopt a low histamine diet like the one in my book The 4-Phase Histamine Reset Plan
#2) Work on flushing out extra estrogen with foods and supplements that will support healthy liver detoxification, like Optimal Reset Liver Love, Epsom salt baths, infrared saunas, etc.
#3) Work with a practitioner that can help you find the underlying causes of both of these issues and create a detailed plan for YOUR body! I work with many people that deal with this and I dealt with it myself, so trust me when I tell you I feel your pain.
- 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.