top of page

Balancing Estrogen and Cortisol for Better Sleep and Hormone Balance

Our bodies rely on our hormones to help communicate with our brain and nervous system and maintain a state of homeostasis. They play important roles in hunger, sleep, mood, maintaining or losing weight, energy levels, menstrual cycles, and much more.

In this article, we are going to review two important hormones: Cortisol & Estrogen. We will discuss the signs and symptoms of their imbalance, and where to start creating balance for more harmony in life holistically.

Cortisol-the belly fat hormone

Cortisol is classified best as our stress hormone, especially when in "fight, flight, and survival" mode. Cortisol is the culprit for belly fat and not being able to sleep at night. But don't get upset at cortisol and google how to decrease it. Cortisol is a "survival" hormone and its primary purpose is to protect you. Unfortunately, it most commonly results in belly fat when stress is high and chronic because cortisol triggers the body to hold onto more fat, just in case of a rainy day. When Cortisol levels are out of whack, you may notice that you are "tired but wired", have trouble staying asleep, and become moody when hungry (because you guessed it, cortisol levels influence your blood sugar as well).

In fact, a study documented in the Whitehall II study from 2011 says that a bad cortisol slope is more dangerous than smoking. It can be this dangerous because it is a catabolic chemical, meaning it causes wear and tear if it is too high which equals weight gain and sugar cravings. (2) Cortisols' natural rhythm is to be higher in the morning and lower at night. Melatonin takes the night shift to ensure we get deep quality sleep, but this doesn't happen if cortisol can seem to "punch out" of work. Taking care to nourish the adrenals and provide them with a balance is key to getting your cortisol levels regulated.

Signs and Symptoms of Cortisol Imbalance

Here are a few symptoms that can be indicative of too much cortisol: (1,3,5)

Headaches and muscle aches

Feeling wired and tired Belly fat and Inability to lose weight Frequently catching colds Sugar and salt cravings Heartburn Low libido Insomnia Painful periods Anxiety and/or Depression Feeling “wired but tired” Here are a few symptoms that can be indicative of too little cortisol:

Feeling stressed over the little things, feeling overwhelmed by day-to-day activities, Waking feeling tired, difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, Low libido, Menstrual irregularities, PMS, Feeling lightheaded when you go from lying down or seated to a standing position (Low blood pressure) , Blood sugar irregularities, Anxiety, Difficulty concentrating, Exercise intolerance or difficulty recovering. (1,2)


It is most common for women to have estrogen dominance, so that is what we will cover in this particular article. Estrogen (produced by the ovaries) is the hormone that basically gives us our curves and plays a major role in reproduction. It controls the menstrual cycle, manages cholesterol levels, protects our bone health, and plays a role in our mood, affects the brain, heart, skin, and other tissues. Hence, why women are more prone to osteoporosis as menopause sets in. Estrogen also plays a role in our thyroid health, and when in excess, can lead to decreased amounts of thyroid hormone. Our wonderful bodies make 3 types of estrogen in different phases of our lives (estradiol, estriol, and estrone). (5)

As you are probably already aware, our estrogen levels change throughout the month. They are highest during the menstrual cycle, and lowest during our period, and drop throughout menopause (which is why some physicians may prescribe estrogen, despite this being the body's natural rhythm).

When there is excess estrogen, just know that there are other hormones that are involved as well, and it usually isn't in excess or out of balance alone. Excess estrogen or estrogen dominance can develop from excess belly fat (thanks to cortisol & stress), environmental estrogens (found in plastics, skin products, cleaning products, and fragrances), poor digestion & elimination (constipation), stress, adrenal issues, birth control, and even autoimmune disease. (3,5)

Common Signs of Excess Estrogen Include:

Here are a few symptoms that can be indicative of too much estrogen: (1,3,5)

  • Irregular or heavy periods

  • Worsening of PMS

  • Water retention

  • Breast swelling and tenderness

  • Headaches

  • Loss of Sex drive

  • Fatigue

  • Fibrocystic breast changes

  • Weight gain -mainly in the waist, hips, and thighs

  • Mood swings- feeling depressed and anxious

  • Hair loss

Let's Start Balancing these Hormones out...

1. Address the Stress

You can eat as healthy as you want, and take as many supplements as you want, but if you don't address your stress, your efforts will be in vain. Stress comes in multiple forms. While there are beneficial forms of stress, the chronic stress that we are living in, not only leaves us exhausted but more susceptible to a wide variety of common conditions. Research and multiple studies show that stress has the ability to trigger severe asthma attacks, increase the risk for diabetes, lead to weight gain or loss, and it alters the acid concentration in the stomach, which can lead to digestive discomforts.

One major cause of stress is giving ourselves a hard time, feeling the need to be the perfect woman, wife, mother, grandmother, businesswoman. And at the root of that is the feeling of not being good enough or low self-esteem. This leaves us operating from a cup that's half full.

Cultivating self-love and acceptance counters habits of self-criticism (and criticizing others), blame, and self-doubt. Loving ourselves means we are more able to love others. Dig deep into your major stressors and work toward a game plan. After you come up with a game plan, connect a gentle stress reliever that feels good such as walking, yoga, or meditation. Also, a stronger Circadian rhythm will give you a stronger nervous system.

Clinical + Lifestyle Tip: You can also increase your cortisol awakening response by getting sunlight in the morning with your decaf green tea (not caffeinated coffee).

2. Incorporate 2 new eating habits to begin a rhythm reset.

In the morning, swap your bagel, pancakes, and high carb breakfast for a lower carb one, with a plant-protein smoothie, with spinach, flax or hemp, a cup of frozen berries, and unsweetened almond milk. For dinner, try incorporating what we call "slow carbs".

These carbs burn slower, have more fiber, and shut off cortisol to encourage more balance in blood sugar and help with getting more rest. Keeping meet proteins the size of your palm for lunch and dinner is key, and keeping your fats to the size of a golf ball will help balance your plate (no calorie counting here) (2). Yams (minus the marshmallows and cinnamon sugar) are a great example of "slow carbs".

3. Nourish your Liver & Your Gut

Excess hormones will only get reabsorbed and circulated back into the bloodstream. We definitely don't want that. Our major detox organ, the liver gets estrogen ready to be moved out of the body (you can read more about nourishing your liver in this community) and our gut is responsible for moving it out for elimination. The liver does its work while the body is in deep sleep. This is also when the liver is able to convert your food into energy for your muscles.

Chances are that if you experience constipation, you have some estrogen that needs to be eliminated. Implementing an easy fiber through flaxseed in the smoothies or cruciferous veggies such as broccoli 2-3 times weekly is a great start. If you have trouble with digesting foods and bloating, looking into adding a clinically-researched and quality digestive enzyme before eating may be helpful for breaking down fats, proteins, and carbohydrates.

When the body is full of toxins, hormones, and pollutants, the liver never gets to rest and it ends up sending both calories and toxins to your belly fat instead. (2)

It's so important to be on the same page with your primary physician about what may be going on with your lab values. You can order an At Home Saliva Test to see if your cortisol rhythms are throwing off your metabolism and sleep cycle or ask your doctor to run a blood test expressing to them the above signs/symptoms (print this article if you need to) you may be experiencing and help you narrow down which hormone is most out of balance.


1. Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine

2. Christianson, A. The Adrenal Reset Diet

19 views0 comments


bottom of page