How Your Diet Can Affect Estrogen Levels
May 1, 2021
Estrogen dominance is a condition in which people have high levels of the sex hormone estrogen.
This condition has been linked to a variety of health issues, including certain types of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
Research shows that some dietary patterns are associated with higher levels of estrogen in the body, while other dietary patterns and specific foods may help decrease estrogen levels.
This article explains how the foods you eat affect your estrogen levels, including what foods are associated with higher levels, and what foods and health habits may encourage optimal estrogen levels.
Estrogen levels and health
Estrogen is a hormone that plays a critical role in both female and male sexual functions.
In addition to being essential to reproductive health, estrogen is involved in many other systems in the body, including the immune, vascular, neuroendocrine, and skeletal systems.
The three main types of estrogen are estrone (E1), estradiol (E2), and estriol (E3). Estradiol is the most abundant and biologically active type of estrogen in women of reproductive age. The ovaries are the main producer of estradiol in the body.
Estradiol is found in both women and men, although women usually have much higher levels.
Although estrogen is an essential hormone, having too much estrogen can increase the risk of certain chronic diseases, including breast and ovarian cancer. This condition is formally known as estrogen dominance.
Low estrogen can negatively affect health as well, but this article will mainly focus on estrogen dominance.
Interestingly, research has shown that your diet and lifestyle can influence your estrogen levels.
Some diets have been linked to healthy estrogen levels and a decreased risk of diseases associated with estrogen dominance. Meanwhile, others may increase estrogen levels.
This is because diet can influence estrogen metabolism and excretion in the body.
What’s more, certain dietary patterns are linked to obesity, which can affect estrogen levels.
Having excess body fat can increase estrogen levels and disease risk, as fat tissue produces estrogen. Obesity is associated with increased levels of aromatase, an enzyme that contributes to estrogen production.
Diets associated with high estrogen
Studies have shown that some dietary patterns may promote estrogen dominance and the risk of medical conditions associated with this imbalance.
For example, many studies have found that Western-type dietary patterns characterized by high intakes of red meat, processed foods, sweets, dairy, and refined grains are consistently associated with higher estrogen levels.
Likewise, these dietary patterns have been associated with increased risks of breast cancer and obesity.
For example, a review of 32 studies found that a Western dietary pattern high in red and processed meat and sweets was associated with a 14% increased risk of breast cancer.
Meanwhile, a dietary pattern high in fruits and vegetables was associated with an 18% reduced risk.
The review noted that the increased risk was likely due to elevated estrogen levels and increased levels of body fat associated with Western-type diets.
It’s important to note that after menopause, when the ovaries stop producing estrogen, fat tissue becomes the major source of estrogen in women.
This is why postmenopausal women with obesity have high estrogen levels and are at an increased risk of breast cancer.
For this reason, postmenopausal women who follow dietary patterns that promote weight gain and estrogen dominance may be at a higher risk of developing breast cancer and other chronic diseases.
Diets that promote healthy estrogen levels
Certain diets have been shown to promote healthy estrogen levels and body weight while significantly reducing disease risk.
Studies show that diets that focus on whole, nutrient-dense foods, especially vegetables and fruits, help encourage healthy levels of estrogen, as well as other hormones.
Studies have found the Mediterranean diet is associated with healthy estrogen levels.
It’s rich in fish, vegetables, fruits, and legumes and restricts or limits foods associated with elevated estrogen, including processed and red meats and high fat processed foods.
An older study followed 115 women on a Mediterranean-style diet for 6 months. The diet was rich in plant protein and plant fats and low in animal proteins and animal fats.
The women following the diet experienced a 40% decrease in total estrogen levels compared with women who made no dietary changes.
Fiber-rich diets like the Mediterranean diet tend to be high in phytoestrogens. These are molecules with estrogen-like activity found in certain foods like soy, legumes, nuts, grains, fruits, vegetables, and seeds.
Phytoestrogens bind to estrogen receptors in cells and can have either antiestrogenic or estrogenic effects. For example, certain phytoestrogens compete with estrogen because they bind to estrogen receptors, blocking estrogen absorption.
For this reason, studies have shown that dietary patterns high in certain phytoestrogens may protect against hormone-sensitive cancers like certain breast cancers.
Keep in mind that although phytoestrogens have been linked to some benefits, studies have associated them with adverse effects as well. For example, studies have shown that soy phytoestrogens may harm endocrine health in some people.
Research in this area is ongoing.
It’s important to note that, like most things in nutrition, the relationship between phytoestrogens and health is not black and white. It depends on many factors, including your age and health status.
Research shows that fiber-rich diets, such as those high in whole grains, may help reduce estrogen levels and protect against certain cancers associated with estrogen dominance.
Whole grains are packed with fiber, which may reduce the absorption of cholesterol. Given that cholesterol is a precursor to estrogen, this may reduce circulating levels of estrogen in the blood.
High fiber intake also leads to reduced estrogen absorption in the colon and increased fecal estrogen excretion.
This may be why studies have shown that higher fiber diets are associated with lower estrogen levels and reduced breast cancer risk.
Vegetarian and plant-centric diets may also help promote healthy estrogen levels.
Some studies have shown that people who follow vegetarian or semi-vegetarian diets have lower estrogen levels and a reduced risk of certain cancers associated with elevated estrogen.
Plant-based diets tend to be high in plant foods like fruits, vegetables, and legumes, all of which may help promote healthy estrogen levels.
Plus, vegetarian and plant-based diets are typically lower in saturated fat than traditional Western diets. Studies have associated diets high in saturated fat with elevated estrogen levels.
Tips for reducing estrogen levels
It’s important to note that many factors beyond your diet, including your age and health status, can affect your body’s hormone levels.
This is why it’s important to speak with your healthcare provider if you’re concerned about estrogen dominance.
In general, the following tips may help promote healthy estrogen levels.
- Follow a fiber-rich diet. Studies have shown high fiber diets promote healthy estrogen levels. For example, increasing dietary fiber can help increase fecal excretion of estrogen, which may help control levels in the body.
- Limit certain animal products. Some studies have shown that red and processed meats may increase estrogen in the body, so limiting these foods may support estrogen regulation.
- Follow a Mediterranean-style diet. The Mediterranean diet, which is high in vegetables, whole grains, fruits, and legumes, has been associated with healthy estrogen levels and may help promote estrogen regulation.
- Lose excess body fat. Losing excess body fat is an excellent way to reduce circulating estrogen. Plus, weight loss can help protect against many chronic diseases, including hormone-sensitive breast cancer.
- Limit refined carbs and processed foods. Studies have associated Western dietary patterns rich in refined carbs and processed foods with elevated estrogen levels.
- Exercise. According to research studies, exercise may help reduce circulating estrogen levels, promote healthy estrogen regulation, and protect against chronic diseases like breast cancer.
- Limit alcohol intake. Some research shows that alcohol consumption can negatively affect hormones and may increase estrogen levels in some people.
The bottom line
Certain dietary patterns may help promote the healthy regulation of hormones, including estrogen.
Some research has shown that diets rich in fiber and whole foods, such as the Mediterranean diet, are associated with optimal estrogen levels, while Western dietary patterns high in red and processed meats, sweets, and refined grains are associated with elevated estrogen levels.
Following a healthy diet and lifestyle is essential for hormonal health. However, many other factors can affect hormone levels, including age, medication use, and certain medical conditions.
This is why it’s important to talk with your healthcare provider if you have questions related to hormone imbalance.
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