Aug 13, 2023

7 Foods With Estrogen: How to Balance Your Levels

Carrie Madormo, RN, MPH, is a freelance health writer with over a decade of experience working as a registered nurse in a variety of clinical settings.

Ashley Baumohl, MPH, RD, CDN, CNSC is a surgical dietitian. She provides medical nutrition therapy at Lenox Hill Hospital and is based in New York, New York.

Estrogen is a group of hormones produced by the ovaries, adrenal glands, and fat cells. It regulates the menstrual cycle and affects the reproductive system, urinary tract, heart, blood vessels, bones, skin, hair, and brain.

It is possible to raise or lower your estrogen level through food. Phytoestrogens are plant compounds that mimic estrogen in the body. They bind to estrogen receptors in the cells and can have estrogen-raising (estrogenic) and estrogen-lowering (antiestrogenic) effects.

This article discusses foods with phytoestrogens and how to use them to improve your health.

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Phytoestrogens are plant compounds that produce a weak estrogen response in the body. Four phytoestrogens are found in plants: isoflavones, stilbene, coumestan, and lignans. They can be found in fruits, vegetables, soy, seeds, nuts, legumes, and whole grains.

Certain fruits contain resveratrol, a stilbene linked to several possible health benefits. One study found that eating foods with resveratrol may protect against certain cancers, inflammation, and heart disease.

Fruits that contain phytoestrogens include:

Vegetables are also a stilbene and contain resveratrol. Vegetables rich in phytoestrogens include:

Seeds and nuts are a great way to consume phytoestrogens. Nuts are rich in resveratrol, and flaxseed contains lignans. Seeds and nuts that contain phytoestrogens include:

Soy is known for its high levels of phytoestrogens. They contain isoflavones, which can lower estrogen in people with high levels and raise it in people who have gone through menopause. Soy is protein-rich in B vitamins, fiber, potassium, and magnesium.

Soy products to consider include:

Soy is in the legume family. Other types of legumes also contain phytoestrogens. Soy and red clover are rich in isoflavones. Peanuts contain resveratrol. Legumes that provide phytoestrogens include:

Whole grains contain lignans, a type of phytoestrogen that can lower the risk of heart disease and osteoporosis in people who have gone through menopause. Whole grains to consider adding to your diet include:

Beverages like tea and coffee also contain small amounts of lignans. Consuming these drinks alone (without other phytoestrogens) will likely not affect your body's estrogen levels.

You may have read that it's best to limit your intake of phytoestrogens because of potential risks. More research is needed to determine how effective they are and if they are safe at high levels. One study on postmenopausal women concluded that the beneficial effects of phytoestrogens are probably small.

Phytoestrogens may be an alternative to hormone therapy for people going through menopause. A study found that taking 100 milligrams of isoflavones daily can reduce menopause symptoms without increasing the risk of blood clotting. This amount of isoflavones is significantly more than most Americans get per day.

They are also linked with lower cholesterol levels, blood pressure, blood sugar, and triglycerides. These plant compounds may lower inflammation and reduce the risk of certain cancers.

As with any natural treatment, it's best to talk with your healthcare provider before starting a new regimen. We still do not understand the long-term risks or benefits of taking higher amounts of phytoestrogens daily.

People who are pregnant, nursing, or hope to become pregnant should not take phytoestrogens.

Estrogen imbalances do not only affect women. Men can also experience high or low hormone levels.

Men with low estrogen levels may be at an increased risk of heart disease. Low estrogen levels in men can be caused by hypogonadism, a condition that causes a decrease in the amount of sex hormones.

Men with high levels of estrogen can experience several symptoms, including:

Several factors, including diabetes, tumors, hyperthyroidism, and cirrhosis, may cause high estrogen levels in men. A study found that reducing alcohol use can lower high estrogen levels in men.

If your estrogen levels are too high or too low, your healthcare provider can recommend treatments to address the issue. To increase your estrogen level, such as after menopause, your provider may advise hormone therapy. This involves taking estrogen pills or injections to raise your levels and prevent or treat menopause symptoms.

If your estrogen level is too high, the treatment will depend on the underlying cause. Treatment may include medication, surgery, radiation therapy, or other options.

Phytoestrogens are plant compounds that bind to estrogen receptors in the body's cells. They can raise or lower estrogen levels, though the effect is modest. Foods that contain phytoestrogens include fruits, vegetables, soy products, seeds, nuts, legumes, and whole grains.

If you are concerned that your estrogen level is too high or low, talk with your healthcare provider about being tested. Other ways to regulate estrogen levels include hormone replacement therapy, medications, surgery, and radiation.

If you are experiencing menopausal symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats, or mood changes, you may have researched natural ways to raise your estrogen level. Phytoestrogens may be a good fit if you want to increase your level without hormone therapy. However, the effect may be small. Talk with your healthcare provider about your options.

Soy products are rich in phytoestrogens and can raise your estrogen levels if low. Soy products include tofu, edamame, soy milk, and fermented foods like tempeh, miso, and soy sauce.

The only way to know for sure if your estrogen levels are low is to have a blood test. Possible symptoms of low estrogen may include irregular or absent menstrual periods, trouble sleeping, fatigue, dry skin, hot flashes, breast tenderness, and depression.

B vitamins may help your body produce more estrogen naturally. They are necessary for estrogen production in the body, so low levels can lead to low estrogen.

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By Carrie Madormo, RN, MPHCarrie Madormo, RN, MPH, is a health writer with over a decade of experience working as a registered nurse. She has practiced in a variety of settings including pediatrics, oncology, chronic pain, and public health.