Estrogen plays many roles in the bodies of both women and men. Yet having too much estrogen can cause side effects. Surprisingly, certain foods can increase your estrogen to dangerous levels. Staying aware of the phytoestrogen content of common foods can help keep your estrogen levels normal.
Read more: How is Estrogen Produced?
Know the Phytoestrogen Debate
Controversy exists about the possible impact of phytoestrogens on the human body. A convincing argument appears possible for both the benefits and dangers of these plant hormones. Phytoestrogens do have weak estrogenic activity, but eating them in moderation is unlikely to cause you harm. Nonetheless, some people may want to limit their phytoestrogen intake.
Maintain Adequate Estrogen Levels
Scientists use estradiol as a marker for circulating estrogen. A typical estradiol test produces results ranging from zero to 400 pg/mL (picograms per milliliter), according to the University of Rochester Medical Center.
Your gender and age nicely predict your personal score. Within normal levels, premenopausal women range from 30 to 400 pg/mL, postmenopausal women range from zero to 30 pg/mL, and men range from 10 to 50 pg/mL.
Read more: What Is a Healthy Estrogen Level?
Avoid Excessive Estrogen Levels
An estradiol level greater than 400 pg/mL triggers symptoms of estrogen dominance. This medical condition damages your body and may cause cancer. A 2017 thesis from Trinity College showed that estrogen dominance can also damage any children you may have.
Read more: Abnormal Estrogen Levels
Stay Aware of Your Risks
Estradiol levels often spike during the transition to menopause. This age-related increase causes complications like eating disorders. In fact, the authors of a 2018 paper in Biomedicine and Pharmacotherapy argued that estrogen dominance plays a role in all age-related pathologies, including autoimmune disease.
Read more: Vitamins for Perimenopause Symptoms
Avoid Environmental Estrogens
A cause for concern that's recently sparked investigation and activism involves exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals that affect estrogen. This exposure comes from many sources, including contaminated meat and food packaging. It has a broad range of negative effects on your health. For example, a 2018 report in Environmental Pollution showed that exogenous estrogens may even play a role in drug addiction.
Despite these concerns, your greatest exposure to estrogen likely comes from your diet. The authors of a 2018 paper in Molecules stated that eating a balanced diet gives you abundant phytoestrogen content. Thus, avoiding estrogen-rich foods remains the easiest way to decrease your circulating estrogen.
Read more: The Signs of Toxins in Your Body
Avoid Soy Products
Soy-based meat substitutes have become increasingly popular. Unfortunately, these products appear to be rich in phytoestrogens. A 2018 article in the Journal of Mass Spectrometry found high concentrations of two endocrine disruptors — daidzein and genistein — in this type of meat substitute. These isoflavones increase estradiol in men.
Genistein, in particular, has controversial effects on human health. A 2016 review in Food Chemistry described a cancer-destroying property of genistein at low doses. However, the opposite, a cancer-promoting effect, may occur at high doses. The latter finding shows the value of keeping your phytoestrogen intake low.
Read more: Soy Milk Advantages and Disadvantages
Avoid Certain Legumes
Red clover has an even greater phytoestrogen content than soy. Yet the active ingredients differ. The main isoflavones in red clover are formononetin and biochanin A. Red clover increases estradiol in women, according to a 2015 article in the Avicenna Journal of Phytomedicine.
Low doses of formononetin don't affect offspring in animal models. High doses, however, have negative effects on fertilization and development, according to a 2018 paper in Reproduction, Fertility and Development. This surprising result again shows the importance of managing the phytoestrogen content of your diet.
Exposure to biochanin A appears problematic as well. A 2015 thesis from the Thapar Institute describes the many damaging effects of this endocrine disruptor. These effects include uterine bleeding, miscarriages and a reduction in fertility.
Read more: Red Clover Vs. White Clover
Avoid Certain Seeds
Flaxseed also gives you a large dose of phytoestrogens. In this case, lignans are the active ingredient. These chemicals alter reproductive hormones in postmenopausal women, according to a 2018 report in Nutrition and Cancer.
Lignan-induced changes in reproductive hormones may alter your sexuality. A 2018 paper in Domestic Animal Endocrinology showed that a high-lignan diet significantly lowered the libidos of male rabbits. However, this finding appears gender specific — flaxseed powder increases libido in some women.
Read more: What Is Flax Meal?
Avoid Certain Nuts
Pistachios have the greatest phytoestrogen content of the nut products tested in one study, states a 2015 report in the British Journal of Nutrition. These tree nuts contain naringenin. This flavonoid occupies estrogen receptors in the mammary glands and ovaries. For unknown reasons, this blocking causes unwanted weight gain.
A 2018 paper in Metabolism showed that being overweight elevates your estrogen levels. This effect increases your risk of chronic disease. Obesity also increases levels of sex hormone-binding globulin, which further increases estrogen.
Read more: Are There Nuts That Increase Estrogen?
Avoid Some Fresh Fruits
Tomatoes and papayas contain abundant phytoestrogens. When consumed, these fruits have estrogen-like effects. For example, a 2018 report in the Indonesian Journal of Cancer Chemoprevention showed that papaya peels increased mammary gland size and uterine weight in an animal model.
Grapefruits and oranges also have high phytoestrogen content. Like pistachios, the naringenin in these citrus fruits affects your estrogen system. The presence of naringenin may also explain the drug interactions and toxic effects associated with drinking grapefruit juice.
Avoid Some Dried Fruits
Dried apricots and dates, along with raisins and prunes, have a great deal of phytoestrogen content, according to 2016 paper in the Journal of Functional Foods. Grapes test positive for estrogenic activity, although their high pesticide content may play a role in this finding. Scientists have recognized the endocrine-disrupting effects of common herbicides and pesticides for many years. Yet some dried fruit appears to increase estrogen independently of pesticides.
Read more: Is Dried Fruit Good for You?
Avoid Dairy Products
Commercially available milk comes from pregnant cows. As noted, estrogen increases dramatically during pregnancy. Thus, there's the assumption that drinking milk elevates your circulating estrogen.
A 2010 article in Pediatrics International tested this hypothesis in children, women and men. Results indicated that drinking milk increased estrogen in all participants. It also decreased testosterone in men.
Read more: Should You Cut Dairy from Your Diet
Avoid Red Meat
Red meat appears to be the most obvious food for you to avoid if you want to keep your estrogen low. A 2015 report in the International Journal of Cancer compared several dietary patterns. Women eating the most red meat had the highest estrogen levels. They also had the greatest risk of getting cancer.
Read more: Why Is Red Meat Bad for You?
- University of Rochester Medical Center: Estradiol (Blood)
- Trinity College: Maternal Estrogen Exposure May Be Linked to an Increased Risk of Autism Spectrum Disorder
- Biomedicine and Pharmacotherapy: Estrogen: The Necessary Evil for Human Health and Ways to Tame It
- Environmental Pollution: Effects of Exposure to Polychlorinated Biphenyls During Different Periods of Development on Ethanol Consumption by Male and Female Rats
- Molecules: Dietary Phytoestrogen Intake Is Inversely Associated With Hypertension in a Cohort of Adults Living in the Mediterranean Area
- Journal of Mass Spectrometry: Phytoestrogens in Soy‐Based Meat Substitutes
- Food Chemistry: Understanding Genistein in Cancer
- Avicenna Journal of Phytomedicine: Effects of Red Clover on Hot Flash and Circulating Hormone Concentrations in Menopausal Women
- Reproduction, Fertility and Development: Phyto-oestrogens Affect Fertilisation and Embryo Development In Vitro in Sheep
- Thepar Institute: Adsorptive Removal and Regeneration Study of Biochanin A: An Endocrine Disruptor
- Nutrition and Cancer: Effect of Dietary Flaxseed Intake on Circulating Sex Hormone Levels Among Postmenopausal Women
- Domestic Animal Endocrinology: Prolonged Exposure of Dietary Phytoestrogens on Semen Characteristics and Reproductive Performance Of Rabbit Bucks
- British Journal of Nutrition: Review of Nut Phytochemicals, Fat-Soluble Bioactives, Antioxidant Components and Health Effects
- Metabolism: Effects of Diet Composition on Weight Loss, Metabolic Factors and Biomarkers in a 1-Year Weight Loss Intervention in Obese Women Examined by Baseline Insulin Resistance Status
- Indonesian Journal of Cancer Chemoprevention: Estrogenic Activity of Ethanolic Extract of Papaya Peels (Carica Papaya L.) on Uterine Weight and Mammary Gland Proliferation on Ovariectomy Rats
- Journal of Functional Foods: Review of Dried Fruits
- Pediatrics International: Exposure to Exogenous Estrogen Through Intake of Commercial Milk Produced From Pregnant Cows
- International Journal of Cancer: An Estrogen-Associated Dietary Pattern and Breast Cancer Risk in the Swedish Mammography Cohort