Estrogen is a hormone that is present in both men and women. It is responsible for regulating many of the body’s systems. In women, it helps to regulate the menstrual cycle and reproductive process. It also plays a role in urinary tract regulation.
Additionally, it’s involved in building and maintaining bone tissue. Estrogen is also produced in men, but at lower levels than in women. It plays an important role in regulating metabolic processes like fat storage and muscle mass.
During menopause women’s estrogen levels decline, which can lead to symptoms such as hot flashes. It would be wonderful if simply eating certain foods could help alleviate these symptoms naturally. Foods that contain estrogen may naturally increase your body’s levels of this hormone. Some foods also have phytoestrogens which might help by mimicking the effects of estrogen in the body.
What Are The Three Main Sources Of Estrogen?
In the body, estrogen is secreted by the ovaries (22). When it comes to diet, you can find estrogen in three types of sources:
Phytoestrogens From Plants
Phytoestrogens are a type of estrogen found in plants. They have a chemical structure that functions similarly to estrogen but aren’t exactly the same. They may help to lower cholesterol and blood pressure while helping reduce hot flashes for menopausal women.
Animal meat has estrogen in it, this is because animals have an endocrine system just like humans. This type of estrogen is referred to as conjugated estrogen because it changes form once inside the body to become more usable for metabolic purposes.
Hormone replacement therapy uses man-made forms of estrogen. These are not found in nature at all.
Read More: Low Estrogen Diet: Balance Your Hormones Through Your Meal Plan
List Of High Estrogen Foods
Below are some of the foods you can add to your diet to potentially boost your estrogen levels:
Flaxseeds are a powerful source of phytoestrogens. They contain lignans, which mimic the effects of estrogen in the body when our own estrogen levels are low (8). One study showed that menopausal women who consumed flaxseed also had reduced hot flashes (6).
One of the most common ways to consume flaxseeds is by grinding them into a powder and mixing with food or drinks, or added to baking mixtures. If you don’t like this method, they’re available at most grocery stores already ground up in containers.
Soy contains two types of natural estrogens, genistein and daidzein, both of which may bind estrogen receptors in the body and exert weak estrogen-like or anti-estrogen effects (13). Soybeans are available in many forms, including edamame which can be steamed and sprinkled with salt.
Soy flour is also a great way to consume more soybeans without eating too much of the same thing. You can add it to smoothies or use it as an ingredient in baking recipes for breads, muffins, etc.
Cruciferous vegetables are another source of phytoestrogens which may mimic the effects of estrogen in the body (16). They include broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and kale.
These veggies are also rich in many other nutrients that can help improve your health so it’s a good idea to eat them regularly regardless of estrogen.
Red wines contain high levels of plant-based estrogens which might have estrogen-like effects in the body (1). However, drinking too much alcohol in general can decrease testosterone and sperm production in men so it’s best to consume in moderation.
Garlic also contains phytoestrogens (17). These are just some of the many benefits garlic has on overall health, so it’s always worth consuming regularly.
When you eat peaches, you’re getting more than water and fiber like most fruits provide; you’re also getting natural phytoestrogen that could have estrogen-like effects in the body when eaten regularly (7). They’re great when eaten alone or added to other dishes and drinks.
Sesame seeds contain high levels of lignans which may mimic estrogen in the body and help to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol when consumed regularly (20). They’re also part of many traditional recipes in Middle Eastern and Asian cuisine.
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Many nuts are high in phytoestrogens including, but not limited to: almonds, peanuts, sunflower seeds, cashews, brazil nuts and flaxseeds (14).
Dried fruits that are high in phytoestrogens include: dried prunes, dried dates and apricots (25). These fruits contain all the nutrients of fresh versions with some additional benefits including more concentrated phytoestrogen levels.
All berries contain high levels of antioxidants as well as phytoestrogens (18). If you don’t like eating these by themselves, they can be added to cereal or yogurt for breakfast or used as a topping for other dishes and baked goods during the day.
As one of many whole grains containing phytoestrogens, wheat bran contains lignans that mimic human estrogen in the body, possibly also reducing blood pressure and cholesterol when consumed regularly (15).
Fennel is not only a great digestive aid but it’s also high in plant-based estrogens that may mimic estrogen in the body when eaten regularly (9). This vegetable is often used as an ingredient in many dishes so you’ll be getting this nutrient whether you realize it or not.
What Are The Health Benefits Of High Estrogen Foods?
Appropriate levels of estrogen in the body have been known to help with symptoms related to menopause, improve bone health, and lower risk for heart disease and certain cancers.
Decreased Symptoms Of Menopause
When estrogen is taken as hormone replacement therapy, it has been known to help with symptoms related to menopause such as hot flashes and night sweats (12). The reason these symptoms may improve is that the increased amount of estrogen binds to receptors in the brain that were previously affected by low levels of estrogen. This results in lowered symptoms compared to what one would normally experience. There is not enough scientific evidence to know whether eating foods with phytoestrogens could have the same effect, but it is an easy thing to give a try first if you are hesitant to take medication. Have a conversation with your doctor to help determine the best course of action for you.
Read More: Estrogen Dominance Foods To Avoid: Here’s How You Can Balance Out Your Hormonal Levels By Adjusting Your Diet
Improved Bone Health
Appropriate levels of estrogen have been known to help improve bone health (23). It is believed that estrogen may work by reducing calcium loss by the body and helping with calcium absorption. As women get older they are more at risk for developing osteoporosis, a disease that causes bones to become weak and brittle. Research has shown that hormone replacement therapy can be beneficial in preventing this from happening to an individual. Once again, it is not known whether eating foods with phytoestrogens can have the same effect, but it is an easy place to start or can be an adjunct to your prescribed treatment. Talk to your doctor about it.
Estrogen has some protective effects on heart health due to its impact on cholesterol levels in the bloodstream. Appropriate levels of estrogen may help decrease LDL (bad) cholesterol and increase HDL (good) cholesterol (3). These changes protect against heart disease by reducing the risk of developing atherosclerosis or hardening of the blood vessels. Generally speaking, foods that are high in phytoestrogens also tend to have other nutrients that promote heart health, such as fiber and other phytonutrients.
Tips For Balancing Your Hormones Naturally
Too low or too high estrogen levels can affect fertility, metabolism, and contribute to disease. Here are some tips to balance your hormones:
Reduce Your Sugar Intake
Sugar causes the body’s insulin levels to rise. Insulin is a hormone that signals cells to absorb blood sugar for energy.
Excess sugar that is not needed immediately for energy accumulates as fat in fat cells resulting in weight gain and obesity, especially around the waistline. Having excess adipose (fat) tissue can affect your hormone levels, because some hormones (including estrogen) are also produced by fat cells.
Manage Stress Levels
Chronic stress causes the body’s fight or flight response (sympathetic nervous system) which increases cortisol levels that are responsible for mobilizing glucose into the bloodstream when needed. Although short-term stress that produces cortisol is beneficial to our bodies, chronic exposure causes elevated levels of cortisol all throughout the day making it difficult for other hormones to perform their functions. Cortisol also causes metabolic dysfunction by inhibiting thyroid hormone production (23).
Cortisol has a reciprocal relationship with DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) levels in the blood. Cortisol is produced from pregnenolone which is converted into progesterone then to DHEA; both are precursors to testosterone and estrogen production (5).
Excessive cortisol levels deplete progesterone, DHEA, and testosterone causing fatigue, low libido, bone loss, weight gain around the waistline, sleep problems including insomnia. Stress relief techniques such as meditation, yoga, tai chi, and massage therapy may lower cortisol levels.
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Deal With Inflammation
Inflammation is a normal bodily response to harm or stressors within the body, but chronic inflammation disrupts hormone levels because it interferes with insulin production, and inhibits normal cellular function (4).
If you have a chronic health condition, consider consulting a health professional to determine which foods cause inflammation for you or if your symptoms are triggered by stress, infection, or some other chronic condition.
Inflammation can be resolved by addressing its cause. It’s possible that anti-inflammatory foods might help, such as turmeric, kale, and berries, or drinking herbal teas such as ginger and chamomile to reduce nausea during flare-ups.
Eat More Fiber
A high fiber diet can help you maintain a healthy body weight, which will help balance your hormones naturally.. Consume 25 or more grams of fiber per day such as cruciferous vegetables, flax seeds, berries, and beans to normalize bowel function (11).
Balance Hormones With Exercise
Exercise can help balance hormones by increasing the release of feel-good endorphins that reduce pain and depression while improving blood flow and reducing inflammation.
Women who exercise regularly have higher levels of estrogen and progesterone, lower cortisol levels, and maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
Exercise may include walking briskly for 20-30 minutes a day or engaging in high-intensity interval training 3 times per week (HIIT) to increase endorphins and reduce stress hormone secretion.
Practice Better Sleep Hygiene
Poor sleep hygiene can contribute to hormone imbalance that leads to fatigue, sugar cravings, metabolic dysfunction, poor immunity, mood swings, weight gain around the abdomen or difficulty losing weight (21).
Establish a regular sleep routine by going to bed and waking up at the same time each day (even on weekends) and avoid exposure to light 2 hours before sleep.
Relax before going to sleep by meditating or practicing yoga for 20-30 minutes to reduce cortisol levels, lower blood pressure, and strengthen immunity.
The liver detoxifies harmful substances from plants and man-made chemicals that enter your bloodstream from food, household cleaners, soaps, perfumes, and products you put on your skin. If the liver is not able to keep up with detoxification it might result in accumulation of harmful chemicals/toxins which can affect hormone balance.
Hormone balance can also be affected by estrogen dominance due to exposure of xenoestrogens (synthetic estrogens found in man-made products like birth control pills that get into our waterways). They and other chemicals are considered endocrine disruptors because of their potential to affect our hormone balance (19).
For this reason, try to avoid plastics, non-stick cookware, pesticides, herbicides (found in weed killers), and harsh chemicals in cleaning products. Instead use glass for storage, stainless steel water bottles, natural ingredients like baking soda or lemons to clean surfaces, etc.
The Bottom Line
Hormonal imbalance is involved in a variety of health conditions including PCOS, thyroid disease, diabetes, infertility, and blood sugar disorders. A diet high in processed foods and foods with additives can cause inflammation which may affect hormone levels while a whole food diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats helps reduce chronic inflammation.
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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- Thyroid Hormone Regulation of Metabolism 2013, journals.physiology.org)
- Vascular Effects of Phytoestrogens and Alternative Menopausal Hormone Therapy in Cardiovascular Disease (2012, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)