Originally published: 5.NOV.2019
Last updated: 21.SEP.2023
Estrogen is one of the most important female sex hormones. It's responsible for physical and emotional development and management which is why if levels shift, it can impact how we look and feel on a day-to-day basis.
Many factors can impact hormone levels, and while there are mixed thoughts on the connection between foods and estrogen levels, there are still a small number of claims that certain foods can increase estrogen levels. Let’s discuss the foods that reportedly increase and lower estrogen levels plus how you can keep your estrogen levels at a healthy level.
- What Foods Cause High Estrogen?
- What Foods Cause Low Estrogen?
- How Can I Keep My Estrogen Levels Healthy?
What Foods Cause High Estrogen?
Before we speak on the foods that reportedly increase estrogen, it’s important to understand phytoestrogens and lignans.
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 can bind to the same receptors that estrogen does.
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 that naturally occur in the body convert lignans to estrogen-like substances.
There are claims that the below foods increase estrogen levels.
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 that are thought to prevent breast cancer and reduce cancer risk. However, there are speculated concerns surrounding the consumption of flaxseed in those who have lived or are living with hormone linked cancers, and more research is needed.
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 and have a number of health benefits. Again, there are no concrete conclusions on the estrogenic effects of soybean products and often it depends on the woman's individual circumstances.
Plant-based products containing soybean include:
- Soy milk
- Meat alternatives
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.
Fruits and vegetables
The plants we consume, such as fruits and vegetables contain phytoestrogens, one of the major classes of phytoestrogens are lignans, which make up plant cell walls. Dried fruits such as dried apricots, dates, and prunes are also a good source of phytoestrogens.
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 are said to contain isoflavonoids (biologically active phenolic compounds) or isoflavones, which are thought to act on the estrogen receptor. Examples of legumes include beans, lentils, and peanuts
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.”
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.
See also: Estrogen Dominance: Signs and Symptoms
What Foods Cause Low Estrogen?
Again, before speaking on the foods that reportedly lower estrogen levels, we need to look at aromatase and aromatase inhibitors.
Aromatase is involved in a process called aromatization in which androgens (such as testosterone) are converted into estrogens.
Aromatase inhibitors are a class of drugs that reduce the production of estrogen in the body by blocking aromatase. This class of drugs is often used in the treatment of breast cancer in post-menopausal women. Numerous studies suggest high levels of circulating estrogen in women may have an impact on the risk of developing breast cancer.
Foods that reportedly decrease estrogen include rye, red wine, and cruciferous vegetables.
Rye contains fiber and bioactive compounds. Fiber is said to reduce the circulation of estrogen between the digestive system and the liver and may cause lower levels of estrogen circulating in the blood. This fiber contains bioactive compounds including lignans and alkylresorcinolsalkylresorcinols, which are thought to act as antioxidants.
Red wine is said to contain aromatase inhibitors, which can reduce the number 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 are a good source of 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.
Cruciferous vegetables include:
- Brussels sprouts
- Green and red cabbage
How Can I Keep My Estrogen Levels Healthy?
There are certain factors surrounding hormonal balance that are beyond our control, such as aging, 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 also bring with them many important health benefits.
Follow a balanced diet: Cut down on refined sugars and carbohydrates and 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.
Get adequate sleep: Aim to get the recommended amount of sleep every single night to promote hormonal balance as well as improve all aspects of your physical health, mood, concentration levels, and overall feeling of well-being.
Exercise regularly: Exercise releases feel-good hormones such as dopamine. Exercise also stimulates the production of the neurotransmitter serotonin, a chemical that 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 menopause as estrogen begins to decline.
See also: Signs of High Estrogen in Women
Estrogen carries out several essential functions in women, these include:
- Regulate the development of secondary sexual characteristics in women
- Stimulate 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.
- Aid bone formation involved in the maintenance of strong healthy bones.
- Promote the production of “good” cholesterol, known as high-density lipoprotein or HDL cholesterol
- Maintain the thickness and quality of the skin via collagen production.
- Stimulate and maintain “feel good” endorphins released by the brain.
- Control hair growth and prevent hair thinning and loss.
The only sure way to have a better understanding of your hormone and estrogen levels is to begin regular testing.
The LetsGetChecked range of Female Hormone Testing options can offer a broad picture of a woman’s hormonal health. Whether you are concerned or curious that you may be experiencing estrogen dominance symptoms or signs of a hormonal imbalance, it’s important to find out more.
Here's how it works
- The test is shipped directly to you
- Activate your test and answer a few health-related questions
- Your health record will be reviewed by a medical team member and should you need any support services, they will be provided
- Collect your sample at a time that suits you
- Send your sample back to our laboratory using the pre-paid shipping label provided
- Your sample will be processed in an anonymous and timely manner
- Your results will be reviewed by our team of doctors. A member of our nursing team will contact you to offer guidance on the best next steps for you.