Chickpeas and Hormones

chickpeas on a metal spoon
Chickpeas contain phytoestrogens. (Image: Szakaly/iStock/Getty Images)

Hormone imbalance leads to a variety of health conditions, including increased risk for certain cancers. Estrogen and progesterone are sex hormones present in both genders, although fluctuations in hormone levels are experienced more acutely by women around the time of menopause, which is usually between the ages of 35 and 50. An imbalance of estrogen, often called estrogen dominance, is linked to a variety of symptoms and diseases. Some foods, such as chickpeas and many other legumes, contain compounds called phytoestrogens that mimic estrogen activity. Consult with your doctor about estrogen imbalance and which foods to reduce or avoid.

Estrogen Dominance

Estrogen dominance occurs when the ratio of estrogen to progesterone becomes unbalanced. Typically, progesterone decreases rapidly as women reach middle age, which results in a relative excess of circulating estrogen, according to “Human Biochemistry.” Estrogen dominance often occurs during menopause, but excessive stress, impaired immune function, liver disease and exposure to too many estrogenic compounds from dietary or environmental sources can cause an imbalance of estrogen levels in both females and males of virtually any age. Common symptoms of estrogen dominance include significantly reduced libido, breast enlargement and tenderness, headache, fatigue, depression, weight gain, mood swings and insomnia. In severe cases, too much estrogen in women promotes premenstrual syndrome and increases the risk of infertility, endometriosis, fibroids, ovarian cysts and breast cancer.

Chickpeas and Estrogen

Chickpeas don’t contain estrogen, but they are a fairly rich source of phytoestrogens, which are plant compounds that weakly mimic the roles or properties of estrogen. There is some evidence that phytoestrogens help balance estrogen levels in mammals, but there is also concern that consuming too much leads to an imbalance of estrogen, according to “Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine.” Consequently, people experiencing estrogen dominance or those on hormone replacement therapy are often told to reduce their consumption of foods that are rich in phytoestrogens. However, phytoestrogens may offer some health benefits because they display antimicrobial, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Other Sources of Phytoestrogens

Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, are classified as legumes, which is a food group known for its phytoestrogen content. Other legumes rich in phytoestrogens include red beans, black-eyed peas, green peas, split peas and soybeans. Other foods that contain some phytoestrogens include whole-wheat breads and pastas, olives and olive oil, apples, pomegranates, cherries, carrots, eggplant, potatoes and alfalfa. In contrast, some foods are known to be anti-estrogenic, including cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, most citrus fruits, berries, some raw nuts and seeds, and fresh dairy products, according to “Public Health Nutrition: From Principles to Practice.”

Other Effects of Chickpeas

Chickpeas and many other legumes also contain soluble fiber. Consumption of soluble fiber is linked to reduced blood cholesterol levels and increased satiation, or a sensation of fullness after a meal, according to “Contemporary Nutrition: Functional Approach.” Furthermore, regular consumption of insoluble fiber appears to balance or regulate insulin secretion and blood sugar levels.

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