Androgen is the name given to any male sex hormone, such as testosterone, so anti-androgen foods are products that help reduce the production of these hormones. Androgens are linked to a variety of diseases, so adopting an anti-androgen diet can provide a variety of health benefits.
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There are several foods that can help to reduce the amount of androgens in the body. An anti-androgen diet may be most appealing to women because of its link with conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which causes a hormone imbalance that makes testosterone levels too high. Anti-androgen foods can reduce this excess testosterone level so symptoms are alleviated.
The following types of food have been shown to reduce the amount of testosterone in the body:
- Soy products: A review published in the December 2018 issue of the Journal of Molecular and Clinical Oncology found that an increase in the consumption of soy foods resulted in reduced levels of testosterone, thanks to the content of phytoestrogen daidzein found in soy. Sources of soy include soy milk, soybeans, tempeh, tofu and soybean burgers.
- Nuts: A study featured in the March 2011 issue of the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that among women with PCOS, those who consumed more walnuts experienced heightened levels of globulin in the body. Globulin is known to bind to several sex hormones, including tesosterone. This binding helps reduces the amount of androgens absorbed by the body.
Omega-3-rich: A study published in the _Iranian Journal of Reproductive Medicin_e in August 2013
examined the effect of a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids on 78 women with PCOS. The researchers did this by separating the women into two groups: One group received the omega-3-rich diet and the other a placebo. The study concluded that eating a diet rich in omega-3 foods led to significantly lower levels of testosterone in the subjects' systems when compared to the placebo group. Foods rich in omega-3 include fish, seafood, vegetable oils (flaxseed, soybean, canola) and fortified foods (such as certain brands of milk, eggs and juices).
Spearmint: A study published in February 2010 in the Journal of Physiotherapy Research tested the effects of peppermint tea and androgen levels in the body. The 42 subjects were split into two groups —
one group was given peppermint tea for a month and the other a placebo. The study ultimately found that peppermint tea had significantly reduced testosterone levels over the month.
The phrase "anti-androgen diet" can seem a little daunting, as androgen hormones in food aren't exactly a common topic of conversation, but luckily there are a variety of foods available that can have a desirable effect on reducing androgens in the body.
What Are Androgens?
While androgen hormones are indeed male sex hormones, they are not only found in men. According to an article published on the website HealthyWomen and reviewed in August 2019 by George Washington University clinical professor James Simon, MD, CCP, NCMP, IF, FACOG, both men and women produce androgens — the only difference usually being the quantity. The abundance of these hormones in the body can have a variety of effects that may need management or treatment, depending on their severity.
In women, androgens are produced in the ovaries and renal glands, and some of the most common hormone disorders in women are from an excess or deficiency of these hormones. Androgens are responsible for hair growth but also play a significant role in maintaining organ and bodily health, benefiting the liver, kidneys, muscles and reproductive tract.
An excess of androgens in the female body can result in a variety of negative symptoms, including acne, inappropriate hair growth (such as on the chin or upper lip, sometimes known as hirsutism) and hair thinning to the point of balding.
MedlinePlus lists the following as symptoms of excess androgens in the body:
- Changes in female body shape
- Decrease in breast size
- Lack of menstruation (also known as amenorrhea)
- Oily skin
And, in more extreme cases:
- Enlarging of the clitoris
- Deepening of the voice
- Increased muscle mass
In addition, it is not just excess androgen hormones that can cause problems. If the body is deficient in androgen hormones, Healthy Women says the following symptoms may occur:
- Reduced libido
- Decreased sense of well-being
- Weakened bone mass
A deficiency in androgens can even lead to bone fragility conditions such as osteoporosis and the increased risk of suffering fractures. While an androgen deficiency can occur in women of any age, it is most commonly found in women just prior to menopause, during the period known as perimenopause that can last for several years. Androgens begin to decline in women starting in their 20s; by their 50s, there can be about a 50 percent decline in androgens compared to the peak.
If you have any concerns regarding the androgens in your body, there are a variety of tests that can be performed to assess this. Contact your health-care professional if you have any concerns regarding symptoms.
About Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
One of the most common conditions related to an excess of androgens in the body is PCOS. According to the Mayo Clinic, PCOS is a common hormonal disorder that occurs among women of reproductive age. Women who live with PCOS either have infrequent menstrual cycles or menstrual cycles that last for an extended period of time. They also usually have an excess of androgens.
The foods in an anti-androgen diet can help alleviate some of the symptoms associated with PCOS. For instance, the Mayo Clinic explains that a proposed theory for what may cause PCOS is an excess of insulin in the body.
Insulin is only released from the pancreas when there is too much glucose in the bloodstream, and glucose is formed from excess sugar. By consuming less sugary foods, you will limit the amount of insulin released. The Mayo Clinic says that heightened levels of insulin have been linked to androgen production, so by cutting down on sugary foods, you can cut down on the amount of androgens in your body.
An anti-androgen diet doesn't just consist of anti-androgen foods, but also of a diet that excludes foods that can increase androgen production. Avoid excessively sugary foods to prevent an excess of insulin leading to increased androgen production.
In addition to an anti-androgen diet, a variety of medications are available to manage excess androgens in the body. If you have concerns regarding PCOS or other conditions, contact your usual health care professional for advice.
- International Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism: "An Update on Plant Derived Anti-Androgens"
- Journal of Molecular and Clinical Oncology: "Androgen Receptor and Soy Isoflavones in Prostate Cancer"
- Young Women's Health: "PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome): General Information"
- MedlinePlus: "Soy"
- European Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Differential Effects of Walnuts vs Almonds on Improving Metabolic and Endocrine Parameters in PCOS"
- Iranian Journal of Reproductive Medicine: "The Effect of Omega-3 Supplementation on Androgen Profile and Menstrual Status in Women With Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: A Randomized Clinical Trial"
- National Institutes of Health: "Omega 3 Fatty Acids"
- Journal of Physiotherapy Research: "Spearmint Herbal Tea Has Significant Anti-Androgen Effects in Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. A Randomized Controlled Trial"
- Healthy Women: "Androgen"
- Mayo Clinic: "Polycystic Ovary Syndrome"
- MedlinePlus: "Ovarian Overproduction of Androgens"
- Hormone Health Network: "Insulin"