Hormone imbalance increases the risk of breast cancer, and estrogen dominance is one of the most common hormonal imbalance conditions in women. Learning about natural hormone balance and healthy estrogen levels now is paramount to maintaining the health of your body and breasts during and after your reproductive years.
Read more about the beneficial type of estrogen, the modern factors that contribute to breast cancer risk, and how you can spot estrogen dominance.
What is Estrogen Dominance?
Estrogen in a hormone naturally present in both males and females that supports cardiovascular, reproductive, and skeletal health. It plays dozens of roles in the body, but most often it’s talked about as the primary hormone opposite progesterone in the female reproductive health.
Estrogens can come from two places: produced endogenously (inside the body) and exogenously (from outside the body). Estrogens you encounter in the environment are known as xenoestrogens, and in fact aren’t true estrogen, but chemicals that mimic estrogen function.
These xenoestrogens, in combination with the estrogen produced in your body can lead to a buildup of estrogen hormones which cause unpleasant symptoms like PMS, hormone imbalance, and mood disorders.
This buildup of estrogen is referred to as estrogen dominance, and is also a risk for more serious diseases like breast cancer and other types of cancers. Achieving a natural hormone balance in the event of estrogen dominance is made easier through functional medicine.
Estrogen Dominance and Breast Cancer Risk and Natural Hormone Balance
Without natural hormone balance, estrogen dominance increases risk for problems including:
- Uterine fibroids
- Fibrocystic breasts
- Ovarian cysts
Some types of breast cancer are affected by hormones like estrogen. These cancer cells have receptors on their surface that allow them to “catch” hormones circulating in your body. And, knowing how breast cancer is sensitive to hormones allows doctors to better provide treatment and prevent breast cancer from recurring.
About 80% of breast cancers are “ER-positive” which means they use estrogen to grow (1).
The way your body metabolizes (or uses) estrogen affects how beneficial or how harmful estrogen becomes when it impacts your cells. Certain by-products, called estrogen metabolites, let doctors know how your cells interact with your body’s estrogen and offer guidance on how to achieve natural hormone balance.
Good Estrogen Vs. Bad Estrogen
In your liver, estrogen is broken down into different metabolites (2-, 4-, and 16- hydroxyestrone). These metabolites are basically a measure of how estrogen interacts with your cells. Diet, lifestyle, and genetics play a role in healthy estrogen metabolism and tendencies for natural hormone balance and imbalances.
2-hydroxyestrone is best, and 4 and 16 are less favorable. The latter two can stimulate estrogen-sensitive breast cancer cells (2).
Foods for Breast Cancer Prevention
Nutrients from foods and supplements can help support healthy levels of estrogen and optimal estrogen metabolism.
- Broccoli supports the production of indole-3-carbinol, which helps manufacture the favorable kind of estrogen in your liver.
- N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) helps estrogen detox within the liver (and may even improve symptoms of PMS).
- DIM supports liver enzymes which help make 2-hydroxyestrone.
- Myo-inositol promotes healthy levels of testosterone and estrogen especially in those with PCOS who are frequently estrogen dominant (5).
There are also elements of modern life that can increase breast cancer risk by changing our body’s estrogen metabolism and production.
Birth Control Pills and Breast Cancer
Hormonal birth control, including the pill, patch, implant, and others contain forms of estrogen or progesterone that can have an impact on breast cancer risk.
A study examining 1.8 million women in Denmark ages 15-49 found that hormonal birth control was associated with an increased risk for breast cancer, and that risk was higher the longer a woman had used hormonal birth control (3).
The same study also found that progestin-only forms of contraceptives were also associated with increased risk for breast cancer. Progestin, unlike progesterone, is the synthetic form of progesterone used in non-estrogen birth control.
Natural Hormone Balance is Key to Reducing Breast Cancer Risk
An overall healthy natural hormone balance is one pillar essential for health and minimizing breast cancer risk. Hormones naturally fluctuate throughout a woman’s life cycle, and even week to week, but healthy detox function, digestive health, and lifestyle play a significant impact on the natural hormone balance required to maintain optimal health.
For example, there is evidence healthy testosterone levels may help prevent the proliferation of breast cancer cells in postmenopausal women. However, it’s important to note that even excess testosterone can negatively impact hormone health in the presence of poor metabolic health, and unhealthy lifestyle factors (4).
Learn to identify the 5 signs of hormone imbalance and begin your journey toward naturally balanced hormones.
Reversing Estrogen Dominance Naturally
The best way to prevent estrogen dominance is to first reduce your exposure to xenoestrogens in your environment, the second is to promote healthy estrogen metabolism and elimination in your body.
You can read more about the causes of estrogen dominance and how to balance hormones naturally.
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