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High Oestrogen Foods: Good or Bad?

High oestrogen could be a good thing or a bad thing. Read on to learn how much oestrogen you need, and how to balance its levels through food.

A middle-aged Asian woman eating a salad with chicken breast

We know oestrogen is critical to the workings of the human endocrine system. But good health is more complex than simply striving for high levels. What levels of this hormone are optimal, and at what stages of life?  

Here’s what the view on high oestrogen is and how hormonal balance and health can be achieved through high-oestrogen foods. 

What Is Oestrogen and Who Needs It? 

Oestrogen is a key sex hormone commonly associated with females but it’s also needed by men. For example, it is important for bone development and health, both in males and females. 

The nuance lies in the differences that arise between different biological needs. In humans that have uteruses (females), oestrogen is heavily involved in the reproductive cycle. Levels begin to rise in puberty with the onset of the menstrual cycle. The hormone is critical to the development of reproductive characteristics such as breasts and the ability to conceive.

What Level of the Hormone Is “Normal”? 

Oestrogen levels naturally change throughout our lifetime to suit the different phases of life. In a fertile female, levels fluctuate monthly in specific ways to ensure a properly functioning menstrual cycle.

When this hormone’s levels are too high, this leads to a condition called unopposed oestrogen or oestrogen dominance. This hormonal imbalance is associated with an increased risk or worsening of certain health conditions such as: 

Similarly, low oestrogen levels can also lead to health risks and uncomfortable symptoms. In males and females, oestrogen levels decrease with age. Certain health conditions can also contribute to abnormally low oestrogen. In either case, symptoms of low oestrogen include: 

Low oestrogen in menopausal females has been associated with increased cholesterol levels. In both females and males, it decreases bone strength and density, putting them in danger of developing osteoporosis

Improving Hormonal Balance with High Oestrogen Foods

Various high-oestrogen plant-based sources of healthy foods in bowls on a grey marble surface.
High-oestrogen foods include soy products, alliums like garlic, cruciferous vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds.

Some experts are concerned that foods high in oestrogen can worsen the condition in individuals with oestrogen dominance. 

However, research has shown that phytoestrogens, oestrogenic compounds found in plants, are rather complex. Sometimes, they do mimic and therefore support the critical functions of oestrogen. In other cases, they inhibit the action of oestrogen. In the main, phytoestrogens can support good health.

Plant-based foods high in phytoestrogens and oestrogen-supporting compounds include: 

Soy  

Soy and other legumes are among the best sources of phytoestrogens and have been linked to positive health outcomes. A meta-analytical study published in 2014 found that the isoflavones in soy reduce the risk of breast cancer in women. Interestingly, this holds true for Asian populations where soy is a staple food, versus in Western populations.

Vegetables and fruits 

Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, brussels sprouts, and leafy greens are great for oestrogen metabolism. Meanwhile, fruits like red grapes, strawberries, blueberries, dried apricots, and dates are also great sources of phytoestrogens. 

Nuts and seeds 

In the nuts and seeds category, flaxseeds are higher in phytoestrogens than even soy. TCM Physician Tjai Kang Jie says that other great sources include cashews, pistachios, chestnuts, walnuts, and hazelnuts. 

TCM’s Perspective on High Oestrogen

Prepared rehmannia root in wooden bowl next to wooden spoon, all on a wooden table.
Prepared rehmannia root is a TCM herb known to promote hormonal balance.

Medical practitioners have used Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) modalities with positive outcomes for hormonal imbalance. TCM’s focus is on imbalances within the organ systems.

Physician Tjai suggests taking herbs such as Rehmannia root (shu di huang, 熟地黄), dogwood (shan zhu yu, 山茱萸), Chinese privet (nu zhen zi, 女贞子), and Eclipta prostrata (han lian cao, 旱莲草). Meanwhile, the formulas Liu Wei Di Huang Wan (六味地黄丸) and Zhi Bai Di Huang Wan (知柏地黄丸) can help maintain healthy oestrogen levels. 

TCM physician Jill Blakeway at the Pacific College of Health and Science echoes this. She cites the importance of Liver and Spleen qi (vital life force), Kidney yang (warming energy), and nourishment of yin (cooling energy). Imbalances in these areas lead to poor metabolism of oestrogen and other hormones. She recommends Stagnation-relieving acupuncture and Deficiency-correcting herbs as the line of treatment. 

In a meta-analysis published in 2019, 19 random clinical trials across 2,469 participants demonstrated that TCM herbs were effective in treating hot flushes in menopausal females. The study indicated that TCM herbs such as Rehmannia root, white peony root (bai shao, 白芍), and Chinese Angelica root (dang gui, 当归) alleviate the symptoms via their hormone-balancing properties. 

TCM also supports a balanced diet that includes phytoestrogens.

“TCM views estrogen-rich foods as yin-nourishing in nature. Women in perimenopausal states or experiencing menopause can consume slightly higher amounts of such food.”

TCM Physician Tjai Kang Jie

So, are high oestrogen foods good or bad for you? Well, it depends. We need the hormone. But more importantly, it is the balance that is critical to good health, throughout all phases of life. The task of healthcare and medicine is to support our body in doing what it already knows how to do. This includes optimising the functioning of our complex hormonal system, in which oestrogen is a key player. 

Share this article with your friends and family if you think they can benefit from this information.

References

  1. HealthDirect.gov.au. 2022. Oestrogen. [online] Available at: <https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/oestrogen> [Accessed 19 October 2022]
  2. Cleveland Clinic. 2022. Estrogen. [online] Available at: <https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/body/22353-estrogen> [Accessed 19 October 2022]
  3. Cleveland Clinic. 2022. High Estrogen. [online] Available at: <https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/22363-high-estrogen> [Accessed 19 October 2022]
  4. Cleveland Clinic. 2022. Low Estrogen. [online] Available at: <https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/22354-low-estrogen> [Accessed 19 October 2022]
  5. Flo.Health. 2020. Estrogen-Rich Foods: Five Foods High in Estrogen. [online] Available at: <https://flo.health/menstrual-cycle/menopause/symptoms/estrogen-rich-foods> [Accessed 19 October 2022]
  6. Pacific College of Health and Science. 2016. Addressing Estrogen Dominance In Perimenopausal Women Using TCM. [online] Available at: <https://www.pacificcollege.edu/news/blog/2016/01/14/addressing-estrogen-dominance-in-perimenopausal-women-using-tcm> [Accessed 19 October 2022]
  7. Food Revolution Network. 2022. Are Phytoestrogens in Food Bad for You? [online] Available at: <https://foodrevolution.org/blog/phytoestrogen-foods-good-or-bad/> [Accessed 19 October 2022]
  8. PLoS One. 2019. Chinese herbal formulae for the treatment of menopausal hot flushes: A systematic review and meta-analysis. [online] Available at: <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6752783/> [Accessed 19 October 2022]
  9. PLos One. 2014. Association between Soy Isoflavone Intake and Breast Cancer Risk for Pre- and Post-Menopausal Women: A Meta-Analysis of Epidemiological Studies. [online] Available at: <https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0089288> [Accessed 19 October 2022]

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