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A common issue for many women (and some men) is hormone imbalance, where hormones like estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone are too high, too low, or simply out of balance. Because of various dietary habits, medications, and environmental stressors, a common problem is for estrogen to be too high, which can lead to weight gain, acne, depression, decreased sex drive, and other undesirable side effects. Fortunately, there are some easy dietary strategies that can help get your estrogen levels back into balance.
First I’d like to talk about some of the basic physiology behind estrogen regulation. The liver metabolizes and excretes into bile many compounds and toxins in order to eliminate them from the body. This includes the steroid hormones estrogen and testosterone. First the liver conjugates these hormones using detoxification enzymes, and then secretes them with the bile into the small intestine through the gallbladder. These compounds are mostly reabsorbed in the small intestine and ultimately eliminated by the kidney. Some of the compounds are excreted in the stool, depending on how well they are reabsorbed in the small intestine. The less hormones that get reabsorbed, the more that will be excreted in the stool, and thus eliminated from the body.
A high fiber diet may help lower estrogen and testosterone because excess cholesterol-based hormones like estrogen and testosterone are secreted with the bile produced by the liver, which can then be bound to soluble fiber in the gut and excreted in the stool. There is controversy about how much of these bile contents can bind with fiber, but there is likely some amount of binding which prevents some of the reabsorption of cholesterol-based compounds back into the blood. Therefore, increasing your fiber intake may be helpful for reducing excess estrogen.
Soluble fiber specifically binds with cholesterol excreted in the bile, so that’s the type of fiber you should focus on increasing in your diet, and fruits and vegetables are the best Paleo-friendly way to increase your soluble fiber intake. Citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruit have some of the highest levels of soluble fiber, along with berries, apples, apricots, dates, prunes, mango, and pears. Starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes, white potatoes, carrots, turnips, and other root vegetables are also high in soluble fiber.
Non-starchy vegetables with a high amount of soluble fiber include asparagus, brussels sprouts, squash, zucchini, and broccoli. If you eat legumes or peas, lentils, chickpeas, and pinto beans also have a high amount of soluble fiber. Aim for about 25 grams per day of soluble and insoluble fiber as tolerated (Note: if you have a digestive condition, you may need to eat less fiber.)
Supplemental soluble fiber like oat bran, flaxseeds, psyllium husks, and methylcellulose are commonly used as easy ways to greatly increase fiber intake, but overdoing fiber supplementation can cause gas or stomach cramping, and can also bind to nutrients and prevent absorption of vitamins or minerals in your food, including iron, zinc, calcium, and magnesium. I would suggest that fiber supplements be a last resort, and that you should try to get your fiber from plant foods in your diet.
If you want to try using soluble fiber supplements, make sure you start slow and choose supplements that are gluten-free. I would also recommend taking them first thing in the morning and on an empty stomach, so you’re not binding up nutrients from your food. Fiber supplements can also affect the action of certain medications, so check with your doctor if you’re taking any prescription drugs. If you plan to take any of these supplements, it’s crucial that you significantly increase your fluid intake, since these high-fiber containing supplements absorb a great deal of water in your gut.
Since the liver is the main organ that deals with regulating the amount of hormones in the body, supporting the liver is very important for managing hormonal issues. The liver uses methylation and sulfation to conjugate excess estrogens for excretion, so eating foods that supply methyl and sulfur groups can help with estrogen regulation. Vitamin B6, folate, and vitamin B12 supply methyl groups, and sulfur-containing foods include egg yolks, garlic, onions, brussels sprouts, and cabbage.
Diindolymethane (DIM) is a supplement that is often used to help the liver detoxify excess estrogen, but if you prefer not to take supplements, you can get DIM in your diet by eating cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and kale. Be sure to cook these crucifers thoroughly, especially if you have hypothyroidism. Calcium-D-glucarate is another supplement that supports liver detoxification pathways, and is also found in a variety of fruits and vegetables.
Another recommendation is to use foods that stimulate bile production, which can help increase the excretion of excess cholesterol-based hormones. Olive oil is one of the best oils for stimulating bile production, so add it to salads and cooked vegetables. Drinking warm water with fresh lemon in the morning can help stimulate bile production, and works best on an empty stomach. Artichokes, beet greens, and bitter lettuces are choleretics, which means they stimulate bile production.
Sauerkraut and sauerkraut juice helps stimulate bile production as well, and also contains sulfur, DIM and soluble fiber, so these are some of the best foods to eat if trying to reduce estrogen levels. There are a few choleretic herbs used to support liver function and increase bile production, such as green tea, milk thistle, artichoke extract, and turmeric, though I recommend working with an experienced practitioner before experimenting with supplements or herbs.
Lastly, avoiding xenoestrogens, or chemical estrogen-like compounds found in the environment, is crucial. These include non-organic fruits and vegetables (particularly those on the Dirty Dozen list), conventional meat and dairy products, cosmetic chemicals including parabens and phthalates, plastics containing BPA, teflon-coated pans, cleaning products that use petrochemicals, and chemical deodorizers like dryer sheets and air fresheners. Never microwave your food in plastic – always use glass or ceramic if you choose to use a microwave. Store leftovers in glass containers and avoid direct contact of food with plastic wrap. I know this sounds like a lot, and it’s difficult to 100% avoid these in our modern environment, but every change counts! Perhaps you just change to a BPA-free water bottle and throw out your teflon-coated pans, or you change to a chemical-free beauty routine. Every little bit helps, so make one change at a time if you’re overwhelmed.
So those are my top tips for reducing estrogen levels using a healthy diet! Have you had any success with changing your diet and reducing excess estrogen? Please share your story in the comments below!
- Paleo for Women: The Estrogen Dominance Post: Where Its Coming From, and What to Do About It
- RobbWolf.com: Testimonial – Female Hormones: Finding Balance
- Rock Your Hormones: What Are Hormones, Anyway?
- Live to 110: Estrogen Dominance Syndrome
- The Bulletproof Executive: 4 Reasons Bulletproof (and Paleo) People Should Take Calcium-D-Glucarate