Estrogenic Foods to Avoid

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.

Many foods have a surprising amount of estrogen in them. (Image: d3sign/Moment/GettyImages)

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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