Commonly referred to as the ‘female sex hormone’, estrogen is one of the most vital chemical messengers (52) present in both men and women. While the hormone has many pivotal functions, predominantly in the female reproductive system, it also has its shortcomings when it is found in excess.
As with any kind of imbalance in the human body, disrupted estrogen levels in our bodies can cause adverse reactions, including irregular menstruation and mood changes in women and infertility and erectile dysfunction in men. If you have been diagnosed with high estrogen (the keyword here being ‘diagnosed’), then you’re undoubtedly looking for ways to lower the levels of this hormone in your body. One major way of doing so is determining which foods to avoid if you have high estrogen. So, which estrogen foods should you avoid, and how else can you get your estrogen levels balanced?
You may have studied this at high school but let’s recap. Estrogen is essentially the hormone that is responsible for the development and maintenance of the female reproductive system. But did you know that the chemical can also be lauded for its role in regulating sex drive among men?
Truth be told, the chemical has some desirable properties that remain unmatched, but the fact still remains that too much of anything can be poisonous. This is why people with high estrogen levels are constantly looking to educate themselves on estrogen-dominant foods they need to avoid and lifestyle changes that can deal with the imbalance of this particular hormone. It’s important to note that estrogen-rich foods alone may not be the sole cause of estrogen dominance. Genetics, lifestyle, and overall diet also play a crucial role in hormonal imbalance.
But first, what is estrogen?
What Is Estrogen?
Estrogen is the main female sex hormone, but this description may be misleading to a certain extent, as men also have estrogen in their bodies, just in lower quantities than testosterone, the primary male sex hormone (23).
Both estrogen and testosterone occur naturally in males and females, but men have more of the latter and less of the former, while the opposite is true for women.
In males, estrogen is responsible for modulating sex drive, erectile dysfunction, sperm production, and for keeping bones healthy and strong. At the same time, testosterone regulates fertility, muscle mass, fat distribution, and blood cell production.
In women, estrogen is responsible for the development and maintenance of the female reproductive system and female characteristics such as breasts and pubic hair. The chemical is produced by the ovaries, adrenal glands, and fat tissues.
As with any chemical in the human body, this essential hormone must be carefully balanced to maintain optimal health for both men and women. It’s important to understand the significance of estrogen in our bodies and how it functions, starting with its types.
There are three types of estrogen our bodies produce:
This type of estrogen is present during menopause. It is a weaker form of estrogen that the body can convert to other types if necessary.
This type is present in both men and women and is the most common during a female’s reproductive years. Too much estradiol can lead to skin breakouts, loss of sex drive, depression, and osteoporosis. While high amounts of it have been linked to uterine and breast cancer, low levels of estradiol can lead to weight gain and cardiovascular disease.
Estriol levels in the body tend to increase during pregnancy – estriol helps the uterus grow and prepares the body for childbirth.
Now that you know what estrogen is, what the different types of estrogen and their functions are, let’s get down to business – which estrogen-producing foods should you avoid?
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Estrogen Foods to Avoid for Females
High estrogen levels in females can lead to issues such as irregular periods and mood swings. Below is a non-exhaustive list of foods to avoid that are high in estrogen.
Dried fruits such as dates, prunes, and dried apricots contain high amounts of phytoestrogens (chemicals that are similar to estrogen that may have estrogen-like effects in the body), which makes them some of the foods to avoid due to high estrogen levels (3, 49).
Dairy and meat
Some animal products, particularly dairy and red or processed meats, contain traces of estrogen that you may want to avoid. Cow milk, in particular, contains phytoestrogens, substances that mimic the effects of the hormone.
The consumption of red and processed meat has been found to be linked to a high risk of breast cancer. Scientists believe that this is due to the estrogen build-up caused by high estrogen levels in meat (39).
However, it is important to note that further research on the effects of the estrogen levels of dairy and meat on the body is required, in addition to the potential impact they have on cancer.
However, a 2018 review also concluded that estrogen levels in milk are not high enough to affect human health, which makes the discussion highly debatable (37).
So you shouldn’t rush to throw away all the milk and meat in your fridge just yet. However, better safe than sorry, right?
Sesame seeds also contain large amounts of phytoestrogens. One study has examined how their consumption by menopausal women affected their estrogen levels (42).
Alcohol may also amplify the effects of low testosterone, such as weight gain. Moderation is key in such a situation.
Some grains contain zearalenone, a fungus that may disrupt the balance of estrogen in the body. This is because zearalenone has a similar structure to estrogen.
Several studies have found that the consumption of garlic may increase estrogen levels in the blood. However, these studies were animal-based, and the effect it has on human health still requires further research (19, 40, 41).
Legumes such as chickpeas, peanuts, and lentils contain phytoestrogens that are known as isoflavones. The effect of isoflavones can vary as those in soy may actually help lower estrogen levels in the body. However, it’s important to be cautious if you’re trying to control estrogen dominance.
Peaches are rich in lignans, a group of chemical compounds that function as phytoestrogens (22).
Although tempeh is an excellent source of protein, vitamins, minerals, and prebiotics, it also contains isoflavones, which you may want to avoid if you are struggling with high estrogen levels in your body (48).
Similar to flax seeds and peaches, wheat bran also contains lignans, which act as phytoestrogens.
Tofu contains phytoestrogens, especially isoflavones (31). While tofu is a valuable source of protein, particularly for vegetarians and vegans, mindful intake is the key to combating high estrogen levels.
Estrogen Foods to Avoid for Males
Men can also experience an estrogen imbalance, which can cause issues such as infertility, erectile dysfunction, depression, and gynecomastia (enlarged breast tissue) (53). Lower hormone levels are also not ideal, as this has been linked to excess belly fat and low libido.
Lower testosterone levels together with higher estrogen levels in men have also been proven to increase erectile dysfunction.
For both men and women, avoiding the foods listed above will go a long way to significantly controlling estrogen levels in their blood.
How Can You Avoid Foods That Increase Estrogen?
There are specific diets that have been linked to high estrogen levels. Such diets include Western-pattern diets, which are characterized by the consumption of red meat, processed foods, dairy, candy and sweets, and refined grains (1, 47).
One way of avoiding foods that increase estrogen is by staying away from such diets and adopting a mindful one full of whole, nutrient-rich plant-based foods such as fruits and vegetables.
The Mediterranean diet is an excellent example of a diet that may promote healthy estrogen levels in the body. The diet is rich in vegetables, fruits, legumes, and fish and it limits foods that are associated with increased estrogen levels such as red meat and highly processed foods (2, 5).
Whole grains that contain massive amounts of fiber may help reduce the absorption of cholesterol, which helps lower the circulating levels of estrogen in the blood.
Plant-based diets are also good for those who are struggling with high estrogen levels. Avoiding animal products such as dairy and red meat goes a long way to keeping your estrogen levels in check. The key is consuming more plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, and legumes, which lowers saturated fat levels in the body (4, 24, 29, 34, 35).
Low Estrogen Foods to Eat
Although further research is required on the issue, many foods can help reduce estrogen levels in the body. Low estrogen foods include:
Various soy products such as edamame contain phytoestrogens (45). Soy isoflavones, a type of phytoestrogen, are known to have weak estrogenic or hormone-like activity. This means that isoflavones may either have a pro-estrogen, anti-estrogen, or neutral effect, depending on how the estrogen receptor complex interacts with DNA to change the expression of estrogen-responsive genes (54).
Different levels of isoflavones in the body can either increase or decrease estrogen levels in the blood. If you’re looking for a moderate source of protein, you should opt for non-genetically modified soy products and consume them mindfully.
Research has found that phytoestrogens that are present in soy and legumes can reduce the risk of prostate cancer in men (33).
Furthermore, a 2015 research review revealed that soybeans can also lower the risk of colorectal cancer by reducing estrogen levels in the blood (13).
Aromatase is an enzyme that converts testosterone to estrogen. High levels of aromatase lead to the over-conversion of the male sex hormone to its female counterpart, which results in increased estrogen levels and reduced testosterone levels in the blood.
Oyster mushrooms may help counter this. This is because they contain compounds that can block aromatase, which helps reduce estrogen in the body.
Hispolon, a micronutrient that is found in some medicinal mushrooms, can also block aromatase. However, the micronutrient also increases estradiol levels (a type of estrogen mentioned earlier) (17).
Further research needs to be conducted on this.
Cruciferous vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and bok choy contain indole-3-carbinol, a chemical with anti-estrogen effects. These vegetables contain compounds that support estrogen metabolism and balance hormone levels. This may help lower the risk of prostate cancer. However, more research on the matter is required (38).
However, coupling bone-healthy foods such as those listed above with estrogen-rich foods is great for menopause. As estrogen levels continuously fluctuate during this stage, balancing your diet with estrogen-rich foods for menopause can counter the negative effects of low estrogen. In such cases, you should opt for sesame seeds, tofu, dried fruits, pulses, lean beef, or beans (57).
Fibrous plant foods
As a rule of thumb, healthy eating starts with adding more fiber to your plate and fibrous plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, and beans have been linked to healthy estrogen levels. Fiber is the key as it helps reduce cholesterol, a precursor to estrogen, and also maintains healthy gut bacteria that reduces estrogen reabsorption in your gastrointestinal tract (55). The more fiber you eat, the more estrogen you can get rid of through defecation.
Plant-based diets are generally lower in fat than Western-pattern diets. A small study (56) concluded that low-fat diets decrease estrogen levels, while a 2013 (24) study suggested that women who follow vegetarian diets tend to have lower estrogen levels than women who eat a lot of meat. Furthermore, meat-rich diets are also associated with an increased risk of estrogen-dependent conditions such as endometriosis.
Curcumin and turmeric
Turmeric contains a chemical called curcumin. A 2013 study concluded that curcumin can reduce estrogen levels in the blood. However, the study was conducted in cells outside the body, and further research needs to be conducted in order to ascertain if the same effects would be present in humans (10).
However, a 2014 study also noted that large doses of curcumin increased testosterone levels in lab rats. More research is required to determine if the same effects would be experienced in humans (7).
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Other Ways of Reducing Estrogen Levels
As well as avoiding foods that are high in estrogen and consuming those that may lower the chemical levels in the body, there are other things you can do to get rid of estrogen dominance, including:
Lifestyle modifications (16)
Excess body fat, particularly around the abdomen, can lead to high estrogen production. Exercising regularly and following a balanced and mindful diet can help you manage your weight.
Reducing the number of calories consumed in a single day
Start by reducing your intake of processed and high-sugar foods as they often contain chemicals that can disrupt the hormone balance. Whole, unprocessed foods will give your body the nutrients it needs while also supporting hormonal health.
Having more and better quality sleep
Quality sleep is essential for hormonal balance. 7-9 hours should be your benchmark for restful sleep each night.
Chronic stress is a leading cause of hormonal imbalance. Engage in stress-reduction activities such as meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises to manage your cortisol levels, which in turn will affect estrogen balance.
Medication and hormone therapy
If a healthcare provider advises that you require medication or hormone therapy, then and only then should you opt for it.
Limiting alcohol intake
As previously mentioned, excessive alcohol can lead to elevated estrogen levels. Limit your alcohol consumption in general to live a healthier lifestyle.
Finally, ensure that you schedule regular check-ups with your healthcare provider. This helps keep track of your hormone levels and overall health.
Factors That Affect Estrogen Levels in the Blood
As with every other hormone in the body, many things can affect the level of estrogen in the blood. Furthermore, estrogen levels fluctuate over time, causing mood swings during menstruation and hot flashes or night sweats during menopause.
So, what actually affects estrogen levels? This can include:
- Pregnancy – including the end of pregnancy and breastfeeding.
- Medical conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
- Age can impact estrogen levels, depending on puberty, menopause, and more.
- Weight, as in being overweight or obese.
- Consumption of medications such as steroids and ampicillin.
- Strenuous exercise can influence hormonal levels.
- Over-dieting/anorexia nervosa can disrupt the hormones.
- Primary ovarian insufficiency.
- Congenital conditions such as Turner’s syndrome.
- An underactive pituitary gland.
- Ovarian tumors or tumors in the renal glands.
Effects of Estrogen Imbalance
High or low levels of estrogen may cause:
- Depression and anxiety
- Mood changes
- Irregular menstruation – longer or shorter cycles, or missing periods altogether
- Low sex drive
- Light/heavy bleeding during menstruation
- Dry skin
- Weight gain
- Hot flashes or night sweats (particularly for menopausal women)
- Mood swings
- Sleeping problems, such as insomnia
- Vaginal dryness
- Vaginal atrophy
- Non-cancerous lumps in the breast and uterus
- In males, an estrogen imbalance can cause infertility, erectile dysfunction, larger breasts, excess belly fat, and low sex drive
What is estrogen?
Estrogen is the main female sex hormone that is responsible for the development and maintenance of the female reproductive system.
How many types of estrogen are there?
There are three types of estrogen: estrone, estradiol, and estriol.
Do men have estrogen?
Yes, men have both estrogen and testosterone. Estrogen and testosterone occur naturally in males and females, but men have more of the latter and less of the former, while the reverse is true for women.
What is the difference between estrogen and testosterone?
Estrogen is the main female sex hormone, while testosterone is the main male sex hormone.
What are some common food sources of estrogen?
Estrogen-rich food sources include soy, cruciferous vegetables, berries, seeds and grains, nuts, fruits, and wine.
What is estrogen dominance?
It is a condition that is characterized by high levels of estrogen in the blood.
What causes estrogen imbalance?
It may be caused by pregnancy, medical conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes, menopause, puberty, PCOS, age, weight, consumption of medications such as steroids and ampicillin, strenuous exercise, over-dieting/anorexia nervosa, primary ovarian insufficiency, congenital conditions such as Turner’s syndrome, an underactive pituitary gland, and ovarian tumors or tumors in the renal glands.
What are the effects of estrogen imbalance?
Estrogen imbalance may cause depression and anxiety, mood changes/mood swings, irregular menstrual cycle, fatigue, low sex drive, light/heavy bleeding during menstruation, dry skin, weight gain, hot flashes and night sweats (particularly for menopausal women), sleeping problems, vaginal dryness, vaginal atrophy, or non-cancerous lumps in the breast and uterus.
An estrogen imbalance can cause infertility, erectile dysfunction, larger breasts, excess belly fat, and low libido in males.
What estrogen foods should females avoid?
The foods females need to avoid include flax seeds, dried fruits, sesame seeds, garlic, peaches, berries, wheat bran, tofu, tempeh, dairy products, meat, alcohol, grains, and legumes.
What estrogen foods should males avoid?
Males should avoid foods that contain or promote estrogen-like compounds, such as soy-based products, excessive alcohol, and processed foods.
Which diets can help reduce estrogen levels?
Mediterranean diets, fiber-rich diets, and plant-based diets may help keep your estrogen levels in check.
What are some estrogen-rich foods for menopause?
You should focus on building a balanced plate with sources of vitamins, fiber, and protein. Therefore, opt for sesame seeds, soybeans and edamame, tofu, dried fruits, whole grains, peaches, and plums.
What can you do to keep your estrogen levels in check?
- Exercise regularly to get rid of excess fat
- Consume a fiber-rich diet
- Consider switching to a Mediterranean diet
- Limit your consumption of animal products
- Avoid refined carbs and processed foods
- Drink alcohol in moderation
The Bottom Line
Estrogen is undeniably one of the most essential hormones in the human body. As a sex hormone, the role it plays in maintaining the female reproductive organs cannot be overlooked. The chemical also plays a role in males, affecting fertility and libido in men.
As with any other hormone, estrogen needs to be maintained at a certain balance. Too much or too little estrogen may have adverse consequences – some as simple as mood changes and some as extreme as infertility, depression, and anxiety. Therefore, it is essential to keep the hormone in check, ensuring that you do not have too much of it and that you are not in a deficiency of the hormone. Relying on your symptoms alone may not be the perfect indicator of your estrogen levels. Therefore, it is advised that you visit your physician for conclusive tests to prove whether your estrogen levels are too low and need to be increased, or if they are too high and need to be reduced.
If you have too much estrogen, one way of remedying the situation is through diet by finding out which estrogen foods to avoid and which lower the blood’s hormone levels. By doing so, you will be a step closer to regaining your life, as estrogen dominance can have life-changing consequences that no one should suffer.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
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