This article is written for young women of reproductive age, not women in peri menopause. I was in my early 20s when I was struggling with severely low estrogen, the tips in this article do not assist women in the menopausal transition.
I think you can tell by now that the majority of my hormone health articles have been based around personal problems that I have struggled with, however, It’s only in hindsight that I realised that I also struggled with low estrogen levels and quite severely at that. I spent so much of my time worrying about my low progesterone levels that I didn’t think to consider low estrogen. It is totally possible to have low estrogen and low progesterone at the same time, in fact, one can lead into the other. In my case, I don’t think my low estrogen was as much of a problem as my progesterone but looking back, some of my most hated hormonal symptoms were actually estrogen-related and not progesterone related. In my case, my estrogen wasn’t low enough to prevent ovulation (I regained regular periods one-year post-birth control and never lost my period even when they were irregular) but it was low enough to create some pretty horrible symptoms, all of which slowly improved in time as I changed my lifestyle and my hormones started to rise.
Here are some of the symptoms I experienced that I believe were due to low estrogen and symptoms that are common for many women with low estrogen.
- Hot flashes and night sweats
- Cyclical depression/low mood
- Cyclical anxious intrusive thoughts
- Vaginal dryness during the first half of the luteal phase when estrogen drops
- Near constant hormonal headaches, all month long (these may have been due to low progesterone as well)
- Low energy and difficulty exercising
There are many causes of low estrogen but in my case they were most likely a direct result of low body weight, not eating enough calories (Because I struggled with a very low appetite for years post antidepressants) and post-birth control hormone imbalance.
Despite not having an eating disorder, I don’t think my estrogen started to raise properly until I overcame my antidepressant withdrawal reaction and was able to slowly begin eating enough. Read my article on how I learned to eat enough for my hormones here: https://hazelandcacao.com/how-i-learned-to-eat-enough-for-my-hormones-on-a-plant-based-diet/
I would love to say that I raised my estrogen through a special herb or supplement that I took, or that I ate certain foods that did it for me, but the reality is that I didn’t. I didn’t take any supplements at all and raising my levels took a massive lifestyle change that took many years.
Here are the main things I did to help raise my estrogen levels:
Enough calories: Most women need an average of 2000 calories a day (more or less) for adequate hormone levels. Due to my severe food anxiety post antidepressants, it took me about three years to finally be able to eat enough for my body to be happy. Once I reached that level and began to eat an average of 2200 calories a day, I began to see the biggest improvements in my health. This was the most crucial step for me.
Enough fat: our hormones are made from fat and so we need fat in our diet to create our hormones. Studies have shown that women with high estrogen can dramatically drop their levels by eating lower fat, therefore it stands to reason that if you need more estrogen, you should probably eat more healthy fats as well. I made it a point to incorporate lots of nuts, seeds, avocados, and healthy noninflammatory oils into my diet.
Gain weight and body fat: Most women need a bodyweight percentage of 20% for adequate hormone levels. For me, this meant I needed to put on weight. I immediately felt better once I finally managed to gain a few extra kilos. It helped my anxiety calm significantly as well.
Kept exercise to a minimum: Estrogen is very sensitive to energy since my estrogen was low I found it very difficult to exercise so I never pushed it. I worked on the level of exercise I needed to feel good and energized and not exhausted and drained. For a long time, all that I could handle was walking, but over time I was able to increase my exercise level to include some very mild cardio, hiking, and pilates.
Support estrogen with a high mineral whole food diet: Although estrogen is much more sensitive to overall energy than it is to specific nutrients, there is evidence that suggests high mineral wholefood diets are good for fertility and estrogen levels. Estrogen seems to be most dependant on calcium and zinc. At the beginning of my health journey, I was obsessed with cramming in as many micronutrients into my diet as I could this lead to down a path to a predominantly unprocessed plant-based diet with juicing instead of supplements.
Worked on my anxiety and lowered my stress and inflammation: Stress and anxiety have been known to lower hormones. Stress has the ability to prevent ovulation by dropping estrogen when our body feels under threat. Just as progesterone is influenced by stress, so is estrogen. My hormones did not properly balance until I was able to address and overcome my anxiety disorder.
Raising estrogen levels can happen quickly for some women, but for me, it took about seven years to get my estrogen to adequate levels. My symptoms were the worst during the first three years where I was unable to eat properly. I have had many girls reach out to me asking for specific foods to be eaten when struggling with low estrogen, but as much as whole food plant-based foods that are high in certain nutrients can and do help, they are secondary to overall calorie intake and lowering stress and anxiety. In fact, many women can see faster results by eating junk and quitting exercise. That is because our bodies and brain need to feel satiated and safe before they will allow the production of reproductive hormones. Reproduction is not necessary to our survival so our body can and will shut down our hormones to conserve energy and keep us safe. Getting our body and mind out of starvation mode is the most crucial thing we can do for our estrogen levels. Addressing stress is important becuase our hormones and neurotransmitters are linked, so living in a constant state of stress and anxiety can also lower hormone production. Doing the mental work necessary is just as important as changing our diet. There are no easy fixes, but the results are worth the effort.