Estrogen is deemed as strictly the female hormone. In one sense, it is true that it is the predominantly female hormone. However, males carry a small amount of estrogen as well.
Over the years, this hormone has gotten a lot of attention. But more recently, it has actually caused concern among many in the medical community.
Estrogen dominance is quickly becoming a major health threat, which we will discuss briefly below. Although estrogen levels vary from person to person, they are affected by a host of factors — one of which is dietary.
Estrogen, Progesterone, and Estrogen Dominance
Before we explore the foods that are known for being high in estrogen, it is important to first look at the hormone itself.
There are two main sex hormones within the body: testosterone and estrogen.
They are both present in the male and female body, though typically testosterone is predominant in males while estrogen is predominant in females. Estrogen is produced mainly through reproductive glands -- ovaries in women and testicles in men.
Estrogen and Its Effects
Estrogen is most responsible for female physiological characteristics and reproduction. The changes wrought by estrogen normally occur during puberty.
The adrenal gland also promotes some hormone production.
Three main types of estrogen are produced in the body: Estrone (E1), Estradiol (E2), and Estriol (E3).
- For females, it has a vital role to play in controlling the menstrual cycle and reproduction.
- For males, the estrogen hormone, estradiol, plays a role in male sexuality and reproduction.
Estrogen also has other functions, including helping to control cholesterol levels, mood regulation, and bone health.
Progesterone is another important steroidal hormone produced by both sexes. However, it is most predominant in females. Its biggest role is in the female reproductive cycle and pregnancy as a progestational hormone.
Synthetic forms are used in hormone therapy, birth control, and menstrual disorders.
In males, small amounts of progesterone produced by the testes and adrenal gland aids in testosterone production. However, low levels can promote the rise of estrogen, leading to:
- Low libido (sex drive)
- Weight gain
- Hair loss
- Gynecomastia (breast development in men)
- Bone and muscle loss
In males, progesterone also acts as a balance to decrease estrogen levels. The changes occur when testosterone levels decline, progesterone levels fall, and estrogen levels rise.
This leads to estrogen dominance in males.
Estrogen Dominance, a Real Issue
Estrogen dominance can occur in both men and women who have estrogen imbalances. Generally, when levels are in excess. One key indicator of estrogen dominance is below normal progesterone levels.
The lack of progesterone can affect estrogen levels in the body, driving levels up and bringing a host of potential health issues.
Effects of Estrogen Dominance
High estrogen levels affect men and women differently, but it can bring medical concerns in both. For females, symptoms of high estrogen levels may include:
- Decreased sex drive
- Increased premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms
- Mood swings
- Weight gain
- Fatigue, memory problems, and anxiety
For males, symptoms of low progesterone and high estrogen levels may include:
- Gynecomastia (breast tissue growth)
- Erectile dysfunction
- Decreased sexual functions
To date, it is believed that they are generally three major factors that contribute to estrogen dominance among the population: xenoestrogens, diet, and obesity.
Xenoestrogens are a type of xenohormone (foreign hormone) that actually mimics and imitates the naturally occurring hormone estrogen. These pseudo-hormones are often synthetic and chemical compounds.
Some of the most common xenoestrogen culprits include:
- BPA – Bisphenol A is an industrial chemical used to make plastics (cups, bottles, food containers). They have long been known as having endocrine-disrupting properties.
- Phthalates – These chemicals are known as plasticizers and they help dissolve other materials. They are found in many PVC products, lubricating oils, personal care products (soaps and shampoos), and various types of packaging.
Xenoestrogens are also found in some pesticides, herbicides, and DDT residue. When exposed to or consumed, these fat-soluble chemicals are typically hard for the body to break down and get stored in fat cells.
The potency of these estrogen-mimicking compounds is extremely troubling. Their exposure has been linked to puberty onset in prepubescent girls.
Obesity and dietary concerns
Simply put, the more fat you have in your body, the higher the levels of estrogen you will have. Obesity is one of the main contributing factors to a rise in estrogen dominance among the population.
Excess fat disrupts some of the hormone production systems in the body. In this case, the more fat you have, the more estrogen your body produces. An enzyme known as aromatase converts testosterone into estrogen.
Diet is also a contributing factor to estrogen dominance as some foods influence estrogen levels.
High Estrogen Foods
Let’s take a look at some foods that are known for being high in estrogen.
High in estrogen typically speaks to their estrogenic effects. Some of which come through natural means, like phytoestrogen in many plants and estrogen-inducing effects, such as isoflavones and flavonoids.
Soy (bean) products went through quite a wild ride in popularity over the recent decades, especially as a source of plant-based protein. However, the popularity has waned as many are discovering their estrogenic effects.
In general, soybeans are considered healthy. However, soy contains isoflavones, which is a type of plant-based estrogen-mimicking compound known as a phytoestrogen. These isoflavones are known to disrupt hormone balances in men and women.
Thousands of food and drinks are filled with refined sugars. This excess can cause a spike in insulin levels and disrupt metabolic function.
Furthermore, it can also reduce a hormone known as globulin, which is critical for sexual hormone balance. For males, low globulin can lead to increased estrogen levels.
Avoid sugary drinks and high-fructose corn syrup. There are better ways to get your sweet fix.
Seeds and Dried Fruit
Believe it or not, sesame seeds and flaxseeds also have estrogenic effects. Flaxseed also contains high amounts of estrogen compared to other foods.
Of course, its phytoestrogens can be great for estrogen metabolism in postmenopausal women, but these estrogenic effects don’t hold the same value for males.
Dried fruits are another delectable treat, but they also yield higher amounts of estrogen due to their estrogen-mimicking phytoestrogens.
Conventional milk also boasts estrogenic effects. This is due to the excess of pro-estrogen hormones used in dairy cow farming. This is a conventional practice among many dairy farms to keep pregnant cows producing milk.
Unfortunately, many of these estrogen-injected hormones are passed along and make their way into dairy products, leading to exogenous estrogen exposure.
To make matters even more problematic, many dairy cows are fed soybeans, some of which have been treated by xenoestrogen-type pesticides.
High fatty foods and those loaded with refined carbohydrates can contribute to many health issues, some of which being metabolic issues, inflammation, and oxidative stressors.
Furthermore, research has shown a connection between inflammatory activation and estrogen signaling.
Other High Estrogen Foods
At a glance, other foods considered to be high in estrogen or estrogenic effects, such as:
- Sesame seeds
- Red wines
- Cruciferous vegetables
The Bottom Line on Estroge
Estrogen is a hormone that has its place, and its importance cannot be overstated. However, if progesterone production gets too low, things can quickly get out of balance — leading to estrogen dominance.
Estrogen affects men and women differently, but estrogen dominance is a friend to neither. For men, it drives down testosterone production, which is essential for normal sexual function. If falling testosterone levels are a concern, there are natural ways to boost testosterone.
One way is avoiding estrogen-rich and estrogenic type foods. Poor diet is a corollary to estrogen dominance. Eliminating processed foods and those laden with estrogenic effects is one way to combat it.
High estrogen foods have their place, but it depends on the health needs of each person as to their potential benefits and effects.