Foods that increase estrogen, do they actually exist?

Today, there is more awareness than ever around hormones and the strength that these “chemical messengers” really have on how we look and feel on a day-to-day basis.

In this article, we will define estrogen and talk you through the foods that are said to lead to an increase or decrease in estrogen levels in the blood. We will also talk you through a condition called estrogen dominance and the steps you can take to balance estrogen levels naturally, should you face hormonal imbalance.


Frequently Asked Questions


What Is Estrogen?
Foods That Increase Estrogen | Do They Actually Exist?
Foods That Decrease Estrogen | Do They Actually Exist?
What Happens When Estrogen Levels Are High?
How Can I Promote Hormone Balance?


What Is Estrogen?


Estrogen is one of the most important sex hormones involved in female physical and emotional development.

Estrogen is produced in the ovaries, two grape-shaped glands that make up part of the endocrine system. Estrogen is also produced by the adrenal glands (located above both kidneys) and in fat cells which are distributed throughout the body.

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While estrogen is also found in men, it is present in relatively smaller volumes, and generally has a significantly lower impact on physical function.

  • Estrogen is responsible for a number of distinguishing physical and emotional factors that differentiate males from females. When compared to males, females tend to have shorter and smaller bones, a smaller voice box (and often, a higher voice), higher fat distribution around the hips and thighs and slight differences in cognition and emotional regulation.

  • Estrogen carries out a number of essential functions. Some of the primary functions of estrogen in women include:

  • Regulating the devopment of secondary sex characteristics. Secondary sex characteristics are defined as physical traits that develop during puberty. These traits generally distinguish one gender from the other. Examples of secondary sex characteristics in women include breast development, widening of the pelvic area, the growth of pubic hair and the onset of the menstrual cycle.

  • Estrogen stimulates the thickening of the endometrium (lining of the womb) during the menstrual cycle, encourages vaginal lubrication and helps to keep the vaginal wall thick during pregnancy.

  • Estrogen aids bone formation and is involved in the maintenance of strong healthy bones.

  • Estrogen promotes the production of “good” cholesterol, known as high-density lipoprotein or HDL cholesterol. HDL cholesterol returns excess “bad” fats, such as low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol to the liver, to be broken down and removed from the body.

  • Estrogen maintains the thickness and quality of the skin via collagen production.

  • Estrogen may stimulate and maintain “feel good” endorphins released by the brain.

  • Estrogen plays a role in controlling hair growth and prevents hair thinning and loss.

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Hormone Imbalance Defined


Hormonal imbalances may have an impact on how you look and feel.

Hormonal imbalances are most common during periods of transition, such as puberty, pregnancy and perimenopause (around menopause).

The exact mechanisms of hormonal imbalance vary from person to person, but are often significantly impacted by age.

Other factors that may lead to hormonal imbalance are often external and may include variables such as nutrition, day to day stress, other health conditions, and certain medications.

It is important to note that in most cases the body cannot simply produce a high or low volume of a particular hormone. The production of different hormones is interconnected, with one often relying on the other. If the body is producing a low volume of estrogen, it can mean that the body is producing high levels of progesterone or testosterone. On the other hand, if the body is producing a high volume of estrogen, it means that it is simply producing a higher volume of estrogen (“estrogen dominance”), than it is other hormones such as testosterone and progesterone.


Some of the most common causes of low estrogen include:


  • Family history of low estrogen
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Excessive exercise
  • Being underweight
  • Ovarian failure
  • Turner syndrome
  • Chemotherapy
  • An underfunctioning pituitary gland

Some of the most common causes of high estrogen include:


  • Family history of high estrogen
  • Being overweight
  • Hormonal contraceptives
  • Certain antibiotics
  • Ovarian tumours
  • Liver disease

Foods That Increase Estrogen | Do They Actually Exist?


Foods that reportedly increase estrogen include flax seeds, soybean products, chocolate, fruit, nuts, chickpeas, and legumes.

Before we delve into why these foods are said to increase estrogen, we need to look at two important definitions; phytoestrogens and lignans.


Phytoestrogens
Phytoestrogens refer to estrogens that occur in foods. Phytoestrogens are substances that occur naturally in plants, they have a similar structure to estrogen, and also have the ability to bind to the same receptors that estrogen do.

Lignans
Lignans are a type of phytoestrogen found in grains, nuts, seeds, plants, wine and tea. Lignans are said to have an antioxidant effect when bacteria which naturally occurr in the body convert lignans to estrogen-like substances.


So, what evidence is there to show that flax seeds, soybean products, chocolate, fruit, nuts, chickpeas, and legumes may increase estrogen?


Flaxseed
Flaxseed is said to be the richest source of dietary lignans. Research into breast cancer prevention has shown that flaxseed consumption may improve the levels of hormones which are thought to prevent breast cancer. However, there are speculated concerns surrounding the consumption of flaxseed in those who have lived, or are living with hormone linked cancers.

Soybean Products
Soybean products are said to contain “plant estrogens” known as isoflavones. There are claims that eating a certain amount of soybean products can produce volumes of isoflavones which are greater than or equal to the amount of estrogen circulating in the body. Again, there are no concrete conclusions on the estrogenic effects of soybean products and often it depends on the woman's individual circumstances.

Chocolate
Chocolate belongs to a group of phenolic compounds known as catechins. This group includes cocoa, tea and berries. Chocolate is classified as a phytoestrogen, which as we know holds a similar structure to estrogen compounds that circulate in the blood.

Fruit & Vegetables
The plants we consume, such as fruit and vegetables contain phytoestrogens,one of the major classes of phytoestrogens are lignans, which make up plant cell walls.

Chickpeas
Chickpeas also contain phytoestrogens. There are few human studies, one animal study found that the consumption of chickpeas may lead to moderate estrogenic activities in the treatment of estrogen deficiency.

Legumes
Legumes are said to contain isoflavonoids (biologically active phenolic compounds) or isoflavones, which as we know are thought to act on the estrogen receptor. Recent studies state that for those who are trying to increase estrogen levels: “Current data are insufficient to draw definitive conclusions regarding the use of isoflavones as an alternative to estrogen for hormone replacement in postmenopausal women.”

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We want to ask the question, do foods that increase estrogen actually exist? In our article “Foods That Kill Testosterone”, we at LetsGetChecked take the stance that, eating a certain food group will not be the singular cause of a health condition.

Dr. Robert Mordkin says:

“There is no single food that has been linked definitely to affecting hormone levels, either up or down.”

Let’s call this example 1: if you are vegan and find that you eat a large volume of soy products, you might have a very marginally higher volume of isoflavones, which can have estrogen like activity, circulating in the blood.

Let’s call this example 2: if you are vegan and find that you eat a large volume of soy products, you have a family history of high estrogen levels, you are taking an estrogen dominant contraceptive and you are overweight, you are more likely to have a higher volume of estrogen in the blood.


What Foods Decrease Estrogen | Do They Actually Exist?


Foods that reportedly decrease estrogen include rye, red wine and cruciferous vegetables.

Before we delve into why these foods are said to decrease estrogen, we need to look at two important definitions; aromatase and aromatase inhibitors.


Aromatase
Aromatase is involved in a process called aromatization in which androgens (such as testosterone) are converted into estrogens.

Aromatase Inhibitors
Aromatase inhibitors are a class of drugs that reduce the production of estrogen in the body by blocking aromatase. This class of drug is often used in the treatment of breast cancer in post menopausal women. There are numerous studies that suggest high levels of circulating estrogen in women may have an impact on the risk of developing breast cancer.


Rye Bread
Rye contains fiber and bioactive compounds. Fiber is said to reduce the circulation of oestrogen between the digestive system and the liver, leading to lower levels of oestrogen circulating in the blood. This fiber contains bioactive compounds including lignans and alkylresorcinolsalkylresorcinols, which are thought to act as antioxidants.

Red Wine
Red wine is said to contain aromatase inhibitors, these can reduce the amount of androgens that are converted to estrogen in the body. In a study that tested the hormonal effects of red and white wine on premenopausal women, it was found that red wine may have anti-estrogenic effects, whereas white wine is unlikely to have a significant impact on estrogen levels.

Cruciferous Vegetables
Cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and green and red cabbage. Cruciferous vegetables are high in fiber and contain phytochemicals (biologically active compounds) and phytoestrogens. Studies have shown that the consumption of cruciferous vegetables, which contain isoflavones, may reduce the amount of estrogen produced in the body.


What Happens When Estrogen Levels Are High?


Many symptoms may arise in women when estrogen levels are high. It’s important to remember that an isolated increase in the level of one hormone does not usually occur. It is generally an overall hormonal imbalance that leads to one hormone being more dominant than the other.

As mentioned, high estrogen, which is often called estrogen dominance may occur when the level of circulating estrogen outweighs that of other hormones in the blood, most notably progesterone.

Women are most likely to experience hormonal imbalance after 35 years of age.

Some of the physical symptoms of high estrogen in women include:

  • Headaches
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Breast tenderness
  • Weight gain
  • Irregular periods
  • More severe symptoms of PMS (premenstrual syndrome)
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Lowered sex drive/libido
  • Hot flashes
  • Bloating

Some of the emotional symptoms of high estrogen in women include:

  • Mood swings
  • Depression

How Can I Promote Hormone Balance?


There are certain factors surrounding hormonal balance that are beyond our control, such as ageing, prescription medications and certain health conditions.

Outside of the factors that are beyond our control, some of the steps that you can follow to promote hormonal balance are also steps you can take to promote good overall health.

When it comes to promoting hormonal balance, Dr. Mordkin says: “The best recommendation would be balance in your diet, limiting processed foods, particularly refined carbohydrates like sugar and get adequate sleep.”

Follow A Balanced Diet
Cut down on refined sugars and carbohydrates and instead ensure that you are getting an adequate amount of protein, fruit and vegetables. Incorporate healthy fats into your diet and aim to have three meals a day, including healthy snacks if you become hungry. Balancing your hormones also depends on balancing your portion sizes. Try not to let yourself get too hungry throughout the day, as this may promote overeating following the release of a “hunger hormone” called ghrelin

Get Adequate Sleep
Sleep deprivation is now classified as a public health epidemic. Aim to get the recommended amount of sleep every single night to promote hormonal balance as well as improving all aspects of your physical health, your mood, concentration levels and overall feeling of well-being.

Exercise On A Regular Basis
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Adequate exercise is one of the best health investments you can put in the bank of you. Exercise releases feel-good hormones such as dopamine. Exercise also stimulates the production of the neurotransmitter serotonin, a chemical which is often targeted by antidepressants in the form of SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors).

When it comes to hormonal balance, exercise is particularly important during the years leading up to the menopause as estrogen begins to decline. Estrogen decline may mean weaker bones which is why weight bearing exercises are particularly important later in life.

Take A Test
The only sure way to have a better understanding of your hormone levels is to begin regular testing. LetsGetChecked offer female fertility and hormone testing to offer women the best insights.
The Progesterone Ovulation Test measures your progesterone levels and ovulation function. The Ovarian Reserve Test measures anti-mullerian hormone which offers insight into how many eggs you have left “in reserve.” Finally the Female Hormone Test measures follicle stimulating hormone, luteinizing hormone, prolactin and oestradiol (estrogen) to offer women a fully comprehensive view of their fertility status.


If you are experiencing symptoms of hormonal imbalance, you’re thinking about taking a test, or you simply want to find out more, contact us directly via live chat. We will tell you everything you need to know about our testing service, as well as our on-going clinical support.


Read: Do You Know The Signs and Symptoms Of Estrogen Dominance?


Written by Hannah Kingston | Medically Reviewed by Dr. Susan O’ Sullivan