The Relationship Between Cortisol and Estrogen

The majority of my clients struggle with estrogen dominant symptoms such as acne, hair loss, weight gain/difficulty losing weight, waking at night, low blood sugars, hypothyroidism, heavy, painful periods, bloating, and so much more. It can be hard to decipher where these symptoms come from since they can all seem like they stem from different places, but the one thing they all have in commonis estrogen and cortisol.

Why? Because as estrogen goes up in the body, cortisol goes up. When estrogen increases in the body, there is an increase in cortisol binding proteins. Unfortunately, these also bind to progesterone leading to lower progesterone levels, higher cortisol and high estrogen. This is a recipe for:

  • High insulin–estrogen increases insulin. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing since we need enough estrogen and insulin, but when we have too much, it’s easy to store more fat and lead to more blood sugar swings.
  • High cortisol and low progesterone–leading to bloating, painful, heavy periods, mood changes, sleep issues, headaches, migraines, and more.
  • Difficulty staying asleep–as estrogen goes up, our body has more cortisol and a harder time keeping glucose stored in the liver. When we don’t have enough glucose in the liver, we can’t keep our blood sugar balanced throughout the night. This leads to waking at night and sometimes you think it’s because you have to pee or you may wake with anxiety or hunger.

These all make it harder to go about daily life and feel your best.

What If I Have Low Estrogen?

I commonly see low estrogen blood and urine hormone tests even when my client has all the symptoms of excess estrogen. This often leads to frustration since they clearly have excess estrogen symptoms. What this typically tells us is that there is estrogen stored in the tissues. We store estrogen in our fat cells and muscle cells. While this estrogen isn’t as strong as the type of estrogen we produce in our ovaries, it can still lead to excess estrogen symptoms, especially if our progesterone production is low.

What Leads To An Excess Of Estrogen?

There are a number of areas of life that impact our estrogen levels from the food we eat, mental and emotional stress, and the products we use on our skin. I’m going through a bunch of areas, however, it’s not important to address these all at once, so please don’t get overwhelmed.

  • Nutrition:
    • Not eating enough bio-available proteins that are found in animal foods. Without adequate protein, the liver cannot properly detoxify estrogen leading to excess levels.
    • Low carb diets–increase cortisol, which lowers progesterone and raises estrogen.
    • Vegan diets that lack animal foods and are high in nuts, seeds, grains, and raw veggies. These lack adequate protein and fat soluble vitamins. They are high in difficult to digest foods that we don’t absorb as many nutrients from, and often lead to low stomach acid and digestive distress. We poop out estrogen and need our digestive system to be working properly to do this. They also lack cholesterol, which is the backbone to our hormones.
    • Vegetable oils such as soybean oil, canola oil, and corn oil are all very inflammatory and lead to a sluggish metabolism in excess.
    • Alcohol raises estrogen levels and taxes the liver.
  • Xenoestrogens found in personal care products, pesticides, air pollution, plastics, feminine care products, etc. These act similarly to estrogen in the body and can lead to estrogen excess.
  • Mental and emotional stress–raises cortisol leading to high estrogen. I often assess my social media use, how attached I am to my phone, how much time I’m taking off from work, if I’m sleeping enough, and how my relationships are in order to reduce mental and emotional stress. This is a big area to tackle, but probably the most helpful long term.
  • Excess high intensity exercise also leads to more cortisol, especially when not fueling the body properly, will deplete progesterone and raise estrogen over time. Do you feel awful after an intense workout? That’s a huge sign is probably isn’t what’s best for your body right now.
  • Heavy metal detoxing–this takes a huge toll on the body and it’s detox pathways (kidneys, liver, digestive system). I often see clients that are detoxing heavy metals and have high estrogen symptoms. Supporting the removal using a binder and monitoring with hair mineral testing is the best course of action.

I hope this helps you better understand the connection between estrogen and stress in the body!

Here are a couple podcast episode that are helpful on this topic, A Holistic Approach To Optimizing Cortisol Levels and Estrogen Waves & The Ups and Downs of Healing.

reminder: i’m currently taking on 1:1 clients. if you’d like to explore what it would be like to work together and if we are a good fit, fill out this form to get more details!​

Amanda Montalvo

Amanda Montalvo is a women's health dietitian who helps women find the root cause of hormone imbalances and regain healthy menstrual cycles.

Master Your Minerals

Created by
Hormone Healing RD

what are you waiting for?

Your Health.