Estrogen is the primary female sex hormone, playing an important role in reproductive health. As women mature beyond the childbearing years, a drop in estrogen correlates with the onset of menopause and its many symptoms such as mood swings and hot flashes. While scientists have attempted to intervene with hormone replacement therapy, HRT's negative side effects have caused women to look elsewhere to boost estrogen levels. Consuming a natural whole foods diet may be the best way for women to regulate estrogen at any age.
Estrogen and Women's Health
Estrogen is a steroid hormone produced primarily in the female ovaries, but also produced in the adrenal cortex, in the placenta during pregnancy and in adipose, or fat tissue. According to Springfield Technical Community College professor Dawn Tamarkin, Ph.D., estrogen production in the ovaries of premenopausal women is cyclical, producing the most estrogen right before ovulation. While estrogen production is a naturally occurring process in women, certain foods contain high levels of estrogen that can support women's health.
Soy and Estrogen
Soybeans are a subtropical member of the pea family, cultivated and consumed in Southeast Asian countries for centuries before being introduced to the United States in the 1800s. According to MayoClinic.com, soy is a good source of protein, fiber and isoflavones, organic compounds that are sometimes called phytoestrogens because they mimic the effects of estrogen in the human body. Soybeans and products made from them like tofu and soy nut butter are good sources of phytoestrogens. The Clinic notes that while processed products containing soy such as veggie burgers and energy bars have high amounts of protein, they tend to have lower levels of phytoestrogens. Information published by the University of Minnesota notes that soy sauce is not a good source of phytoestrogens.
Flaxseed and Estrogen
Flaxseed is another natural plant food high in phytoestrogens. A 2004 study conducted by researchers at the University of Toronto of postmenopausal women with an average age of 48 compared the dietary impact of soy flour to ground flaxseed. The study's findings revealed that flaxseed produced even higher levels of estrogen than soy. MayoClinic.com nutritionist Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., notes that flaxseed is a good source of dietary fiber, and useful as a natural laxative. Zeratsky recommends grinding flaxseed in a coffee grinder and ingesting immediately to promote digestibility. Ground flaxseed can be sprinkled on cereal and added to many foods and baked goods.
Other Dietary Sources of Estrogen
Many other plant foods have fairly high amounts of phytoestrogens. The University of Minnesota lists citrus fruits, wheat, licorice, alfalfa, fennel and celery as foods containing large amounts of natural estrogens. Many legumes, grains and seeds contain lower amounts including peas, barley, pumpkin seeds, chickpeas, black-eyed peas, fennel, hops, sesame seeds and sunflower seeds. Eggs and meats are on the the UMN's list, along with apples, beets, carrots, cherries, rhubarb, cucumbers, pomegranates and tomatoes.
- MayoClinic.com: Soy (Glycine max)
- "The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition"; Supplement with Flaxseed Alters Estrogen Metabolism: J. D. Brooks, et.al., February, 2004
- Springfield Technical Community College: Female Sex Hormones: Dawn A. Tamarkin, PhD, 2011
- University of Minnesota: Foods that Contain Natural Estrogen
- MayoClinic.com; Nutrition and Healthy Eating: Does Ground Flaxseed Have More Health Benefits than Whole Flaxseed?; Katherine Zeratsky, RD, LD