Estrogen is one of the primary female sex hormones. Normally, estrogen is in balance with the other primary sex hormone, progesterone. When the body has too much estrogen, from overproduction of estrogen or lack of progesterone, it enters a state referred to as “estrogen dominance.” Estrogen dominance can result from excess estrogen production within the body, HRT (hormone replacement therapy) common in menopause, a drop in progesterone production or intake of excess estrogen from environmental sources, such as meat injected with hormones or man-made chemicals the body confuses with estrogen. Whatever the reason, estrogen dominance can have serious consequences on the body, producing unwanted side effects.
Weight gain is a serious effect of estrogen dominance. Not only does it make us uncomfortable with ourselves physically, excess weight increases the risk for heart disease and diabetes. A study reported in the “Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism” states that fat tissue produces excess hormones such as estrogen, particularly in abdominal tissue. As fatty tissue produces estrogen, estrogen produces more fatty tissue and results in a continuous cycle.
Studies published by the American Cancer Society state that estrogen can raise the risk of developing cancers, such as breast and ovarian cancer, and can actually increase breast tumor growth. These tumors are composed of cells with many estrogen receptors. Their warnings are especially geared to estrogen dominance as a result of estrogen replacement therapy.
Estrogen dominance can cause many conditions that affect fertility. The hormonal imbalance between estrogen and progesterone can create polycystic ovaries. According to Dr. Michael Lam, a specialist in hormone balancing and author of “Estrogen Dominance,” when a follicle releases an egg from the ovary, it causes a surge in progesterone. If the egg is produced but not released, it can become a cyst. Without the surge of progesterone, the brain tells the ovaries to increase estrogen and release more eggs. If these eggs are not released, they too develop into cysts. PCOS (poly-cystic ovarian syndrome) disrupts a woman’s ovulation cycle, decreasing the chances of conception.
Weight gain, increased cancer risk and infertility are just a few side effects of estrogen dominance. Dr. John Lee, who coined the phrase “estrogen dominance,” did extensive study in the field of this hormone imbalance. What he found were numerous health conditions that were a result of excess estrogen. These include allergies, memory loss, early puberty in children, gall bladder disease, irritability and mood swings, headaches, fatigue and osteoporosis. In men, there was an increased risk of prostate cancer. Estrogen dominance is not limited to women. Men can also have an increase of estrogen through environmental sources.
Do Certain Foods Reduce Estrogen Dominance?
Estrogen dominance occurs when estrogen is in the body at a much higher level than other sex hormones, mainly progesterone. The increased level can be the result of excess estrogen production or storage, or a drop in the level of progesterone. Symptoms of estrogen dominance are obesity (with fat accumulating in the mid-section), fibrocystic breasts and ovaries, menstrual irregularity, headaches and often breast cancer. With these unwanted side effects of estrogen dominance, many look for natural ways to combat it. One way to help control the level of estrogen in the body is through the diet.
One of the first nutritional changes you should make to fight estrogen dominance is to up your fiber intake. Dr. Ronald Hoffman of New York states that a high fiber diet will decrease blood estrogen levels. Since excess estrogen leaves the body by way of the bowel, if stool remains in the colon the estrogen will be reabsorbed. Some foods that are high in fiber and make great additions to the diet are celery, apples, berries, oatmeal, nuts and seeds and any kind of bean.
Add flax seed to your diet. Flax seeds contain compounds called “lignans.” According to the Linus Pauling Institute, a health research center at Oregon State University, lignans have an “anti-estrogenic” effect, in which they interfere with the enzymes that are involved with the production of estrogen. While flax seeds have anti-estrogenic properties, they are also very high in phyto-estrogens, which are estrogens from a plant source, so you want to consume them from a food source no more than once a day. The highest food source of lignans is flax seed. Flax seed can be added to baked goods such as breads and muffins, or sprinkled on top of salads or lean stir-fry dishes. It can also be purchased already ground.
The liver works as a filter that cleans harmful substances from the blood stream and sends them for elimination, including excess estrogen. When the liver works too hard and can not function properly, toxins build up in the system, including estrogen says Dr. Hoffman. Eating foods that keep the liver healthy can help the liver reduce the estrogen dominance within the body. Foods such as onions, garlic and egg yolks are good for the liver because they contain sulfur. The George Metaljan Foundation, (“World’s Healthiest Foods”), states that it is sulfur compounds that give the liver the ability to get rid of toxins such as pesticides and liver damaging medications. Other foods that aid in liver detox are lemons, limes, spinach, leafy greens and Brussels sprouts. While the cruciferous vegetables such as Brussels sprouts and broccoli help with liver function, they also contain higher amounts of phyto-estrogens, so vary your vegetable intake and have cruciferous vegetables every other day.
When selecting fruits, vegetables and even lean meats, seek out organic sources. Organic foods are not grown or raised with pesticides or added hormones, so they give the liver a break by not adding extra toxins or estrogens into the system. Xenoestrogens, estrogens from environmental sources, are found in pesticides, plastics, detergents and even perfumes. If you purchase food that you are not certain is organic, be sure to wash it first to rinse any pesticide residue from it. When purchasing meat or milk, make sure it states that it is organic and “hormone free.”
To reduce estrogen levels, certain foods should be limited or omitted altogether. Foods and drinks that contain caffeine should be removed from the diet. Dr. Michael Lam, who specializes in natural healing, reports on a study that involved measuring caffeine consumption and estrogen levels. The result of the study was that even only one cup of coffee per day could increase estrogen levels, and more than four cups of coffee raised the level 70 percent higher than the one cup level. Dr. Lam also states a study that showed a reduction in estrogen levels of women who gave up a diet full of high carb and high fat foods in exchange for a plant centered diet that was low in fat. Avoiding sugars, fatty and processed foods and opting for fresh, whole fruits and vegetables and nuts is one way to reduce estrogen dominance.