Estrogen is a steroid hormone that’s well known for its role in sexual and reproductive development, but it’s also important to lots of other bodily processes. Your body makes estrogen naturally, adjusting its production with the other hormones in your bod.
If your estrogen levels get unbalanced, it can cause symptoms and even potentially serious health concerns. Some folks claim that certain foods can lower estrogen levels, but is that legit? Here’s what you need to know about how your diet can and can’t affect your estrogen levels.
Estrogen and your health
Estrogen’s a hormone that’s found in everyone’s body, but estrogen levels are much higher in people with ovaries.
When you have too much of this hormone relative to other sex hormones — known as estrogen dominance — it can lead to abnormal menstrual bleeding and pelvic pain. It’s also been linked to medical conditions like ovarian cancer and certain types of breast cancer.
FYI: Any type of hormonal imbalance should be diagnosed and treated by a medical professional.
Estrogen’s involved in human reproduction, immune response, skeletal health, heart health, and more. It exists in a balance with other sex hormones, like progesterone and testosterone.
Diet and lifestyle can impact hormonal health, and studies show that certain dietary patterns are linked with healthy estrogen levels, while others have been linked with elevated estrogen levels. This is because your diet can influence how your body metabolizes and excretes estrogen. Also, certain dietary patterns are linked with higher body fat levels and obesity.
Fat tissue produces estrogen and can contribute to elevated estrogen in the body, so maintaining moderate body fat levels is essential to maintaining healthy levels of estrogen.
Your overall diet can impact your hormone levels. Research shows that Western-type diets high in ultra-processed foods, added sugar, and animal foods (like red meat and eggs) are associated with high estrogen levels.
A small research review of 32 studies found that this type of Western diet was associated with an 18 percent increased risk of estrogen-mediated and/or progesterone-mediated breast cancers.
Scientists believe that one of the reasons Western dietary patterns may cause high estrogen levels is that animal foods like red meat and eggs contain high levels of cholesterol. Cholesterol is a precursor to estrogen, so following a high cholesterol diet may lead to elevated estrogen levels in your body.
A research review found that both diet and body weight play important roles in maintaining healthy estrogen levels. It showed that treatments that helped folks lose body fat through changes in their diet and exercise also successfully reduced estrogen levels.
Overconsuming alcohol is another risk factor of high estrogen levels, which can put you at a higher risk of developing estrogen-related breast cancer.
Following a diet high in processed foods and having high body fat levels could lead to elevated estrogen levels. Changing your diet and lifestyle may help reduce high estrogen levels. The swaps below may improve many other aspects of your health as well.
Eat plenty of fiber
In general, diets rich in fibrous plant foods like fruits, vegetables, and beans and low in ultra-processed foods and red and processed meats have been associated with healthy estrogen levels.
Fiber is super important for maintaining healthy estrogen levels because it helps reduce levels of cholesterol, a precursor to estrogen.
A high fiber diet also alters your gut bacteria and helps decrease estrogen reabsorption in your gastrointestinal tract. It also increases the amount of estrogen you get rid of through your poop.
Prioritize plant-based eats
The added fiber may be why plant-based diets, like vegetarian diets, are linked to a decreased risk of estrogen-related health conditions.
Plant-centric dietary patterns also tend to be lower in fat than Western-type diets, which are rich in animal products like meat and dairy. A small study showed that low fat diets tend to decrease estrogen levels, but a larger study showed that high fat diets, especially those rich in animal fats, tend to increase estrogen levels.
One 2013 study also suggested that women who follow vegetarian-like dietary patterns tend to have lower blood estrogen levels than women who eat lots of meat. Plus, diets high in red meat and animal fat have been associated with an increased risk of estrogen-dependent health conditions like endometriosis.
Keep in mind, we need a lot more research in this area
Even though some dietary patterns have been associated with healthy estrogen levels while others have been linked with elevated estrogen levels, there’s still a lot to learn about how diet impacts estrogen in the bod.
Research on dietary impact on estrogen is pretty limited at this time and researchers are still investigating how food choices influence estrogen levels and the risk of estrogen-dependent health conditions.
Even though certain factors like diet and physical activity can help support healthy estrogen levels, there are certain things that can influence estrogen that are out of your control.
These include your age and certain medical diagnoses. It’s impossible to know whether or not your hormone levels are considered healthy without appropriate testing.
Talk with your doctor if you suspect you have high estrogen levels
You should never self-diagnose a hormone imbalance. Certain symptoms that you may associate with high estrogen levels like pelvic pain or irregular periods may be caused by something completely unrelated. And that something could be serious.
If you suspect you may have high estrogen or another type of hormonal condition, make an appointment with your doctor to discuss your symptoms and concerns.
Create hormone-healthy habits
In addition to getting the right medical care, maintaining a balanced diet and active lifestyle can be a good way to support overall health, including hormonal health.
Here are a few ways you can try to take care of your hormonal health and support healthy estrogen levels.
- Eat plenty of plant foods. Plant-centric diets tend to be high in fiber and low in cholesterol, two dietary factors that have been linked with healthy estrogen levels.
- Consider cutting back on certain animal foods. Diets high in red and processed meats may increase estrogen in the body. If your diet’s currently high in these foods, consider subbing in other protein sources like beans or fish.
- Maintain moderate body fat levels. Because fat tissue produces estrogen, losing excess body fat could help reduce estrogen levels. Plus, having excessive amounts of body fat may put you at risk for a number of health conditions, from heart disease to type 2 diabetes.
- Stay active. Leading an active lifestyle could help support healthy estrogen levels. Engaging in regular physical activity is also important for weight maintenance and the health of your entire body.
- Choose fiber-rich carbs over refined carbs. Fiber-rich carbs like whole grains, fruits, veggies, and beans make a much better choice than refined carbs like white bread. Not only are these foods more nutritious, but they may help support healthy estrogen regulation.
Taking good care of your bod through following a nutritious diet high in plant foods, maintaining moderate body fat levels, and getting plenty of movement daily is the best way to support your hormonal health.
Estrogen has some very important roles to play in your overall health, but if levels get too high, it could negatively impact your bod in the short term and the long term. But maintaining a nutritious diet and active lifestyle helps support healthy hormone levels.
Just remember, the only way to tell if your hormones are off is to undergo appropriate testing. Therefore, it’s important to discuss any hormonal concerns with a trusted healthcare professional.