You may have been told that estrogen is *the* female hormone, and that women can always use more of it.
“Drink more soy milk, eat flax cereal and herbs to increase your levels of estrogen.”
“Estrogen protects you from cancer and uterine diseases – get on an estrogen supplement or birth control to *balance* your hormones.”
But if you have hair loss, consider the possibility that adding estrogen could do more harm than good.
What is Estrogen Dominance?
Estrogen dominance can happen when the total estrogen in the body becomes too high relative to our progesterone levels. These two reproductive hormones balance each other out and are complementary to each other to guide our menstrual cycle. It is important that the two remain in a balance.
Progesterone is a hormone that is made primarily during ovulation, as discussed in Part 3. Progesterone promotes healthy pregnancies, and balances both estrogen and excess androgens. Estrogen is a necessary hormone, but in excess, it can run rampant and affect all of your other body systems.
Hair loss, premature aging, autoimmune disorders, sub-functional thyroid, excessive fat gain on abdomen and hips, dry eye, memory loss, depression, cold hands and feet, irregular menstrual periods, fatigue, PCOS, endometriosis, water retention, deficiency of Magnesium or Zinc, Copper excess, headaches, brain fog, difficulty losing weight, and more signs in the graphic below.
Is Estrogen Good or Bad for Your Hair?
There is some confusion about estrogen’s direct effect on the hair follicle. On the one hand, the enzyme P450 aromatase (which converts androgens into estrogens) is located in the follicles on the scalp. Women have far more aromatase than men do, especially in the front hair line and back of the scalp. Medical opinion states that the presence of estrogen is why women with alopecia usually retain their frontal hair line and the hair in the back of the scalp.
But estrogens seem to also have anti-hair properties. The discovery that “17-β-estradiol indeed exert hair growth inhibitory properties in female organ-cultured occipital scalp hair follicles role that for other authors may even exceed that of androgens.” It seems like estrogens balance out androgenic effects in certain parts of the scalp, but cause hair loss in other parts of it. New discoveries are always proving known facts wrong, aren’t they? If estrogens might be a direct cause of hair loss in women, that forces us to adjust our beliefs about it.
Estrogen and Stress Hormones
I credit Danny Roddy’s health research for spreading the word about estrogen and its connection to hair loss. In his book, Hair Like a Fox, he explains some little known facts about estrogen, discovered by pioneers in the field of endocrinology. For instance, the endocrinologist Hans Selye called estrogen the “shock hormone” for its tendency to mimic actual shock (the most severe state of stress) in humans.
Roddy also shows that estrogen has the ability to decrease the metabolic rate and stimulate the release of prolactin “the molting hormone.” Prolactin leaches calcium from the bones after pregnancy in order to mineralize breast milk to feed the newborn.
Estrogen in excess causes extreme stress to the body. Dr. Ray Peat has stated that cortisol, in the case of high stress, can “dissolve” some of the body’s tissues. Excess estrogen, cortisol and prolactin all have a negative compound effect together – stealing nutrients away from the skin and hair, and further suppressing progesterone production.
A state of estrogen dominance allows cortisol to roam free in the body, because estrogen is less effective than progesterone at counteracting high cortisol. The estrogens in oral contraceptives can increase levels of cortisol-binding globulin. The pituitary gland senses a reduction in free cortisol and then stimulates the adrenals with more adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), forcing a rise in total cortisol, even if some of it is bound. High cortisol leads back to problems of weight gain, hair loss, and premature aging, like that seen in Cushing’s syndrome patients.
4 Major Reasons Why We Become Estrogen Dominant
1. Excess Body Fat
Insulin levels rise when we become overweight as a means of compensating for lazy insulin receptors. These higher levels of insulin in your body increase the action of the enzyme aromatase in your fat cells. This enzyme creates estrogens out of androgens. Insulin stimulates the ovaries to produce extra androgens. In the case of obesity, where there is an abundance of aromatase as well as androgens, it is easy to become estrogen dominant.
2. Failure to Ovulate
Genetic and lifestyle factors affect your chances of becoming dominant in estrogen. The tendency to have ovulation problems may be a genetic defect that can be worsened by lifestyle factors such as obesity, sedentism, and high stress. Monthly ovulation is necessary for the creation of progesterone and hormonal balance. The end result of not ovulating is a failure to create high enough amounts of progesterone. When your ovaries fail to ovulate due to either a genetic problem, stress-induced anovulation, or birth control, this causes excess estrogen to accumulate.
3. Low Metabolic Rate or Hypothyroidism
If you have a low metabolic rate, your liver will not be able to efficiently clear out excess estrogen. Breaking down hormones is one of the liver’s primary tasks, but it can become sluggish in the case of low metabolism or true hypothyroidism. This is due to an overburdening of the liver, with its enzymes slowed down due to a lower temperature and lower cellular energy.
4. Exogenous Estrogens
Estrogens are everywhere you turn. They are in birth control, plastics, chemicals, herbs and some foods. The word exogenous means that they don’t originate within your body. Whether you take them in knowingly or unknowingly, you should be aware that these substances contribute to real hormonal imbalance. But many of them can be removed from your life and body over time.
Birth control contains forms of estrogen. Even in a natural form, taking in estrogen is usually harmful for your fertility, and has been linked to unexplainable weight gain in birth control users. Since birth control prevents you from ovulating, there is no way for you to make nearly as much progesterone as your body needs to oppose the estrogen overload.
In America at least, the water you drink can contain small amounts of hormones from birth control and other estrogenic pollutants that have leaked into the water supply. And these estrogenic hormones are still very potent, as evidenced by their effect on the animals in the water (e.g., male fish growing ovaries and amphibians becoming feminized).
Most plastics have estrogenic compounds that can leach into the foods or liquids that they contain. Bisphenol-A has been highlighted in recent years, but it is not the only estrogenic by-product of plastics. Many others can be found in things such as food packaging, and the insides of cans.
Plant estrogens, called phytoestrogens, have a similar structure to the hormone estradiol, and can have one of two effects on the estrogen receptor. Since they fit into the receptor, they can either stimulate an estrogenic effect, or neutralize the receptor, blocking internal estrogen from having an effect. Most often, these plant estrogens from foods like soy end up having a mild estrogenic effect that is enough to affect the natural hormonal balance.
In my experience, no doctor who has recommended that I get on an estrogen birth control (for my hair loss) has actually measured my estrogen and progesterone levels firsthand. My hair loss has increased in the past with various hormonal birth control, and this may be true in your case too. If hair regrowth is your main goal, it is wise to get your estrogen-to-progesterone ratio measured before you accept any hormonal interventions.
If your estrogen is elevated out of balance, your doctor might recommend that you work to remove it from your diet and environment as much as possible.
 Handbook of Hair in Health and Disease. Ed. Victor R. Preedy http://books.google.com/books?id=pjTujN2DXAgC&pg=PA76&lpg=PA76&dq=what+is+involutive+alopecia&source=bl&ots=XU0XS4NcP3&sig=QNRvUfLq5x3K2iQwAzXSlwR78ng&hl=en&sa=X&ei=pxWyUsfGKtXqoASzy4LwCg&ved=0CD0Q6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=what%20is%20involutive%20alopecia&f=false