Commonly referred to as the ‘female sex hormone’, estrogen is one of the most essential chemicals in every person’s body, men included. While the hormone has many uses, predominantly in the female reproductive system, it also has its shortcomings when in excess. Like any kind of imbalance in the human body, an imbalance in estrogen levels in our bodies can cause adverse reactions, such as irregular menstruation and mood changes in women and infertility and erectile dysfunction in men. Which foods to avoid due to their estrogen content?
If you have been diagnosed with high estrogen (note that the keyword here is ‘diagnosed’), then you have undoubtedly been thinking of ways of lowering the levels of this hormone in your body. And one major way of doing this is by finding out what foods to avoid if you have high estrogen. So, which are these estrogen foods to avoid, and how else can you get your estrogen levels back on track?
You might have guessed it by now, but did you know that estrogen is the hormone responsible for developing and maintaining the female reproductive system? And that the chemical can be lauded for its role in modulating 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 is poisonous. This is why people with high estrogen levels are constantly looking for information on estrogen dominance foods to avoid and how else they could change their lifestyle to deal with the imbalance of the hormone in their bodies.
But first, what is estrogen, really?
Estrogen is the main female sex hormone, but that description may be misleading to some extent, because 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, and vice versa 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, the chemical is responsible for developing and maintaining both 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 well.
There are three types of estrogen produced by our bodies:
This type is present during menopause. It is a weaker form of estrogen that the body can convert to other types if needs be.
This type is present in both men and women, and it is the most common type of estrogen during a female’s reproductive years. Too much estradiol causes skin breakouts, loss of sex drive, depression, and osteoporosis. Very high amounts of it have been linked to uterine and breast cancer. Low levels of estradiol, on the other hand, cause weight gain and cardiovascular disease.
The estriol levels in the body tend to rise during pregnancy; estriol helps the uterus grow and prepares the body for childbirth.
Now that you know what estrogen is, how it works, and all, let’s get into the nitty-gritty of it all – which are the estrogen-producing foods to avoid?
Here is a non-exhaustive list of foods high in estrogen to avoid:
Dried fruits such as dates, prunes, and dried apricots contain high amounts of phytoestrogens (chemicals similar to estrogen that may have estrogen-like effects in the body), making them some of the foods to avoid with high estrogen levels (3, 49).
Animal products such as dairy and meat contain traces of estrogen that you may want to avoid if you want to reduce estrogen levels in your body. Cow milk, in particular, contains phytoestrogens, substances that resemble estrogen.
Consumption of red and processed meat has been 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 needs to be done on the effects of dairy and meat on estrogen levels in the body, on top of their potential impact on cancer.
As such, you may want to slow down before throwing away all the milk and meat in your fridge. However, better safe than sorry, right?
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Sesame seeds also contain large amounts of phytoestrogens. One study even looked at how sesame seeds’ consumption in menopausal women affected their estrogen levels (42).
Alcohol may also amplify the effects of low testosterone, such as weight gain.
Some grains contain zearalenone, a fungus that may disrupt the balance of estrogen in the body. This is because zearalenone is quite similar to estrogen itself.
Several studies have revealed that consumption of garlic may increase the levels of estrogen in the blood. However, these studies were animal-based, and hence there needs to be more research done on the effect of human consumption of garlic on estrogen levels (19, 40, 41).
Legumes such as chickpeas, peanuts, and lentils contain phytoestrogens known as isoflavones. These isoflavones may increase estrogen levels in the body.
However, it is also important to note that some isoflavones, particularly those found in soy, may actually help to lower the levels of estrogen in the body.
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, the food also contains isoflavones, which you may want to avoid if you are struggling with high estrogen levels in your body (48).
Berries such as strawberries, raspberries, and cranberries contain phytoestrogens (15, 45). A 2018 study titled Effect of Resveratrol, a Dietary-Derived Polyphenol, on the Oxidative Stress and Polyol Pathway in the Lens of Rats with Streptozotocin-Induced Diabetes concluded that that the administration of resveratrol to diabetic rats showed antioxidative properties (18).
Wheat bran also contains lignans.
Tofu contains phytoestrogens, especially those known as isoflavones (31).
Estrogen imbalance may cause infertility, erectile dysfunction, depression, and larger breasts in men. Lower hormone levels are also not ideal, as it has been linked to excess belly fat and low libido.
Lower testosterone levels coupled with higher estrogen levels in men have also proven to increase erectile dysfunction.
For both men and women, avoiding the foods listed above will go a long way in actually controlling estrogen levels in the blood.
There are specific diets that have been linked to high estrogen levels. Such diets include Western-type diets, which are characterized by the consumption of red meat, processed foods, dairy, sugary stuff, and refined grains (1, 47).
One way to avoid foods that increase estrogen is by staying away from such diets and turning to whole, nutrient-rich 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, which is rich in vegetables, fruits, legumes, and fish, limits foods associated with increased estrogen levels such as red meat and highly processed foods (2, 5).
Whole grains containing huge amounts of fiber may help reduce the absorption of cholesterol, which then helps reduce the circulating levels of estrogen in the blood.
Plant-based diets are also good for people struggling with high estrogen levels. Avoiding animal products goes a long way in keeping estrogen levels in check. The consumption of more plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, and legumes lowers saturated fat levels in the body (4, 24, 29, 34, 35).
Although further research is required on the matter, there are many foods that may help reduce the levels of estrogen in the body. Such foods include:
Various soy products such as edamame contain phytoestrogens (45). In particular, Soy contains isoflavones, a type of phytoestrogen that is known to be selective estrogen receptor modulators. This means that isoflavones may either have a pro-estrogen, anti-estrogen, or neutral effect when they bind to estrogen receptors.
Different levels of isoflavones in the body may either increase or decrease estrogen levels in the blood.
Research has shown that phytoestrogens present in soy and legumes as well have the ability to reduce the risk of prostate cancer in men (33).
Furthermore, a 2015 research review revealed that soybeans also can lower the risk of colorectal cancer by reducing estrogen levels in the blood (13).
Aromatase is an enzyme that converts testosterone to estrogen. As such, high levels of aromatase therefore lead to the over-conversion of the male sex hormone to its female counterpart, leading to increased estrogen levels and reduced testosterone levels in the blood.
Oyster mushrooms may help to counter this. This is because they contain compounds that can block aromatase, inhibiting its ability to convert testosterone to estrogen.
Hispolon, a micronutrient found in some medicinal mushrooms, may also work to block aromatase. However, the micronutrient also increases estradiol levels (a type of estrogen discussed earlier) (17).
Still, further research needs to be conducted on this.
Cruciferous vegetables like Brussel sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, and bok choy contain indole-3-carbinol, a chemical with anti-estrogen effects. This may, in turn, help to lower prostate cancer risk. However, more research needs to be done on the matter (38).
Turmeric contains a chemical known as curcumin. A 2013 study concluded that this curcumin can reduce estrogen levels in the blood. However, the study was conducted in cells outside the body, and as such, further research needs to be conducted to ascertain if the same effects would be present in people (10).
A 2014 study, on the other hand, also noted that large doses of curcumin increased the levels of testosterone in lab rats. More research needs to be conducted to determine if the same effects would be experienced in humans (7).
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Apart from avoiding foods that are high in estrogen and consuming those that may lower the chemical levels in the body, there are other things that you may do to get rid of estrogen dominance. They include:
Like every other hormone in the body, many things may affect the level of estrogen in the blood. Furthermore, estrogen levels keep fluctuating over time, which causes mood swings during menstruation and hot flashes or night sweats during menopause.
So, what actually affects estrogen levels? They include:
High or low levels of estrogen may cause:
Estrogen is the main female sex hormone responsible for the development and maintenance of the female reproductive system.
There are three types of estrogen: Estrone, Estradiol, and Estriol.
Yes, men have both estrogen and testosterone. Both estrogen and testosterone occur naturally in males and females, but men have more of the latter and less of the former, and vice versa for women.
Estrogen is the main female sex hormone, while testosterone is the main male sex hormone.
Estrogen-rich food sources include: soy, cruciferous vegetables, berries, seeds and grains, nuts, fruits, and wine.
It is a condition characterized by high levels of estrogen in the blood.
It may be caused by: pregnancy, medical conditions like 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, having an underactive pituitary gland, and ovarian tumors or tumors in the renal glands.
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 (especially for menopausal women), sleeping problems, vaginal dryness, vaginal atrophy, non-cancerous lumps in the breast and uterus.
An estrogen imbalance could cause infertility, erectile dysfunction, larger breasts, excess belly fat, and low libido in males.
The foods you need to avoid include: flax seeds, dried fruits, sesame seeds, garlic, peaches, berries, wheat bran, tofu, tempeh, dairy products, meat, alcohol, grains, and legumes.
Mediterranean diets, fiber-rich diets, and plant-based diets may help 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 the consumption of animal products
Avoid refined carbs and processed foods
Drink alcohol in moderation
Undeniably, estrogen is one of the most critical hormones in the human body. As a sex hormone, the chemical’s role in maintaining female reproductive organs cannot be overlooked. In the same vein, the chemical also plays a role in males, affecting fertility and libido in men.
All in all, estrogen, just like any other hormone, has to be maintained at a certain balance. Too much estrogen or too little estrogen may have adverse consequences- some as simple as mood changes and some as extreme as infertility, depression, and anxiety. As such, it is vital 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 as well.
Relying on your symptoms alone may not be the perfect indicator of your estrogen levels. As such, it is advised that you visit your physician for conclusive tests that will prove if your estrogen levels are too low and need to be increased, or if they are too high and you need to do something to reduce them.
If you have too much estrogen, one of the ways of remedying the situation is through diet by finding out which estrogen foods to avoid and which ones lower the blood’s hormone levels. By doing this, you will get a step closer to regaining your life back, as estrogen dominance can have life-altering 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!