Last modified on October 20th, 2023
What foods raise estrogen levels? You may wonder about this and experience symptoms of high estrogen. Foods that raise estrogen include:
- Edamame and soybeans
- Meat and dairy products
Here we list key estrogen facts, highlighting seven foods that increase estrogen.
What is Estrogen?
Before answering what foods raise estrogen and highlighting estrogen-rich foods, what is it, and what are the effects on the body?
- Estrogens are a group of hormones
- These hormones play a role in women’s sexual and reproductive development and breast development, so they’re often considered female hormones, even though men have them too.
- They’re sex hormones, and ovaries make the most estrogen naturally, although adrenal glands and fat cells make small amounts
- The hormones contribute to bone, cognitive, and cardiovascular health in the human body.
- Both male and female bodies have estrogen, but females typically have higher estrogen hormone levels.
There are types of estrogen, which include:
- Estrone: This is present after menopause and is a weaker form of estrogen. The body can also convert this type to other forms if needed.
- Estradiol: Males and females produce estradiol. It’s the most common in females during reproductive years. If you have too much estradiol, it can lead to acne, low sex drive, depression, and osteoporosis. High levels can increase the risk of breast and uterine cancers, and low levels can lead to weight gain and cardiovascular disease.
- Estriol: The levels of this type of estrogen go up during pregnancy. Levels peak just before birth in pregnant women.
- Stimulation of the growth of the egg follicle in the ovaries
- Estrogen maintains the thickness of the vaginal wall and promotes lubrication
- In the uterus, estrogen maintains the mucous membrane lining it and regulates the flow and thickness of mucus secretions from the uterus
- The body uses estrogen to form breast tissue, and it helps stop milk flow after weaning
Estrogen levels fluctuate over your lifetime as a female, during your menstrual cycle, and vary between individuals. Fluctuations in estrogen can lead to mood changes before you menstruate or vitex for a woman.
Things that affect levels of estrogen include:
- Pregnancy and breastfeeding
- Being overweight or obese
- Older age
- Extreme dieting
- Consuming the standard diet of western countries, which is often high in processed foods and sugar
- Strenuous exercise
- Some medications, including steroids and drugs with estrogen, tetracyclines, and ampicillin
- High blood pressure
- An underactive pituitary gland
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- Tumors of the adrenal glands or ovaries
- Certain congenital conditions
When the production of estrogen is imbalanced, it can lead to symptoms like:
- Irregular periods or no menstruation
- Light or heavier-than-normal bleeding during your period
- More severe premenstrual or menopausal symptoms
- Night sweats and hot flashes
- Lumps in the breast and uterus that are non-cancerous
- Mood changes
- Sleep problems
- Weight gain primarily in the thighs, hips, and waist
- Low sexual desire
- Vaginal dryness
- Vaginal atrophy
- Depression and anxiety
- Mood swings
- Dry skin
If a male has high estrogen, symptoms can include erectile dysfunction and infertility, larger breasts known as gynecomastia, and excess belly fat. Males with abnormally low estrogen may have low libido and excess abdominal fat.
For women, low estrogen is considered a part of normal aging. If you have low estrogen, you may be experiencing menopause or postmenopausal. You could have had ovaries that were injured or removed as well.
Symptoms of estrogen deficiency can include:
- Tender breasts
- Dry skin
- Problems concentrating
- Weak, brittle bones
- Higher risk of heart disease and cardiovascular health conditions
- Irregular periods or no periods
- Weight gain, particularly in the belly
- Headaches before or during your period
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Decreased sex drive
- Painful intercourse
- Problems sleeping
Causes of low estrogen include:
- Eating disorders
- Genetic conditions like Turner syndrome
- Autoimmune diseases affecting the ovaries
- Premature menopause
- Treatments impacting the ovaries like chemotherapy
- Conditions affecting the pituitary gland
There are treatments for low estrogen, and you can’t avoid drops as you get older. You can work on having a healthy lifestyle overall, which is good for hormone balance, but still, it’s inevitable with aging.
There are natural solutions that can help increase estrogen compared to other hormone levels too.
For example, you can increase your estrogen with:
- Foods containing phytoestrogens: These are plant-based estrogens. Foods with phytoestrogens include legumes, berries, fruits, and seeds.
- Supplements with phytoestrogens like black cohosh and red clover.
In females, high estrogen can cause symptoms including:
- Very heavy or light periods
- Severe PMS
- Shrink fibroids
- Weight gain, especially around the hips and waist
- Low sex drive
- Fibrocystic lumps found in the breasts
- Low mood
- Disruptions in sleep
- Hair loss
In males, too much estrogen can cause infertility, problems getting or maintaining an erection, and enlarged breasts.
Reasons that estrogen levels can get too high involve overproduction, changes in how your body breaks it down, or changes in how it excretes estrogen.
In females, if your estrogen levels are high compared to your progesterone levels, it’s estrogen level. Factors that can play a role in estrogen dominance include:
- Frequent or daily consumption of alcohol
- Dysbiosis occurs when there are too many harmful bacteria species in the large intestine or not enough good ones
- Exposure to xenoestrogen from plastics and some personal care products, which are considered environmental estrogens
- Certain medications
- Chronic diseases like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- Insulin resistance
- Not eating a healthy diet or a soy-rich diet
- Uterine fibroids
Suppose you have high estrogen levels for a long period of time. In that case, it raises the risk of blood clots, high blood pressure, and the risk of breast cancer, as well as cervical cancer and low calcium, according to epidemiological studies.
Lifestyle changes that can help if you have high estrogen or estrogen dominance include:
- An anti-inflammatory diet
- Including more flaxseed, soy, or cruciferous vegetables like kale or broccoli in your diet
- Getting omega-3 fatty acids in your diet or using a supplement
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Limiting or cutting out alcohol
- Avoiding xenoestrogens, like BPA in plastics
- Reducing stress
If a health care provider thinks someone needs medication to lower estrogen levels, potentially to avoid long-term damage, they might prescribe aromatase inhibitors. An enzyme, aromatase, is used by the body to convert androgens into estrogens.
A doctor might also prescribe a synthetic version of luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone or LHRH to stop signaling in the ovaries that starts the production of estrogen.
Foods with Estrogen and Estrogenic Activity
Some people might want more estrogen foods if they go through menopause and their low levels. On the other hand, someone with high estrogen or estrogen dominance might want to avoid foods with estrogen.
Phytoestrogens have a chemical structure similar to estrogen, and the effects of phytoestrogens may replicate the hormonal actions of estrogen. Phytoestrogens can attach to estrogen receptors on your cells. However, some phytoestrogens can lower the activity of estrogen and levels in your body.
A high intake of phytoestrogens can lead to hormonal imbalance, but there is a lot of evidence they are associated with positive health effects. Phytoestrogen effects can be a complex subject for healthy women and human health in general.
Pros and Cons of Foods That Raise Estrogen
Food sources of phytoestrogens that raise estrogen or increase the production of estrogen and amounts of blood estrogen levels may include beneficial effects, including reducing the risk of developing:
- Symptoms of menopause
- Cardiovascular disease and cardiovascular risk factors
- Brain function disorders
- Some types of cancer, according to the American Cancer Society
People who are going through menopause might consider phytoestrogens as an alternative to hormone replacement therapy, according to a 2019 review. A 2020 review found isoflavones can improve bone health and help prevent osteoporosis in postmenopausal women. The same review indicated consuming foods with isoflavones may reduce breast cancer risk and the risk of cancer such as endometrial cancer, but more research is needed.
However, phytoestrogens can also have adverse effects on health.
In a 2019 review, for example, it was found that children are more sensitive to estrogen compounds than adults. Soy milk could lead to exposure to phytoestrogens in babies or children, affecting their immune systems.
Phytoestrogen-rich foods may also be endocrine disruptors. Previous studies, including a review in 2018, found phytoestrogens might negatively affect hormones and the immune system.
What Foods Raise Estrogen?
Seven foods that raise estrogen include:
Flaxseeds are high in lignans. Lignans are polyphenols in plants, and there’s some evidence that they might lower the risk of breast cancer. The lignans function as phytoestrogens.
2. Edamame and Soybeans
Soybeans are used to make many plant-based foods, such as tempeh and tofu. Edamame is an immature, green soybean.
Both soybeans and edamame may have health benefits and are high in protein, vitamins, and minerals. They’re also high in a type of phytoestrogen, isoflavones.
Soy isoflavones can produce estrogen-like activity, and soy isoflavone content mimics natural estrogen’s effects, which may either increase or decrease estrogen levels in the blood. The effects of soy isoflavones are very complex, and more research, including human studies, is needed to understand it fully.
Tofu is made from soy milk that’s used as a dietary source of plant-based protein. Vegans and vegetarians often eat tofu. There are concentrated amounts of phytoestrogens in tofu, primarily isoflavones, and tofu has the highest content of isoflavone of any soy product.
Among foods that raise estrogen, it’s important to include tempeh. Tempeh is made from fermented soy, and it’s often used as a meat replacement by vegans and vegetarians. Tempeh is made from fermented soybeans and compacted into a dense cake.
Hummus is made from chickpeas, and it’s a source of phytoestrogens. Chickpeas are a type of legume, and all legumes are high in amounts of estrogen properties.
Other legumes that can raise estrogen and have estrogen-like properties include black-eyed peas, red beans, split peas, and green peas.
If you’re worried about high estrogen levels or dominance, be mindful of your intake of hummus and other foods that include legumes. For healthy adults not concerned about hormonal imbalance, having hummus occasionally isn’t likely to be a significant enough source of phytoestrogens to have any major effects.
A fungus called zearalenone colonizes on grants, including wheat and barley. The fungus can mimic the effects of estrogen in the body. Farmers will spray plants with herbicides to get rid of zearalenone, so you might be consuming the fungus, which is estrogenic, or the herbicides, which are also estrogenic.
Wheat can also cause gut inflammation, so it’s something people are increasingly opting to skip in their diets not only because it can be a source of phytoestrogens but also because of the inflammatory component. Wheat is a staple in Western diets, but it’s starting to be scrutinized.
7. Meat and Dairy
Estrogenic hormones are used on cow farms. Animals are given synthetic estrogens to help them grow, and the estrogen injected doesn’t go away. You absorb the hormones when you have meat or dairy products. Also, many farms feed livestock soybeans, so you will get the estrogenic effects of those with meat consumption.
Dairy can be particularly high in estrogen, and almost 80% of our dietary estrogen intake is thought to come from cow’s milk. There are so many potentially harmful estrogens in dairy products and other hormones in dairy products. If you feel you’re prone to estrogen dominance or hormonal imbalance, it’s worthwhile to research the compounds in dairy foods and dairy foods’ hormone content.
The above foods can be good or bad, depending on your goals. For example, if you want to lower your estrogen levels, you might want to avoid them. If you’re going through menopause, you might want to add them to your diet. Postmenopausal women might also opt to add isoflavone supplements or sources of phytoestrogens to their daily routine to help raise their blood levels of estrogen and reduce some of the adverse effects caused by the reduced activity of estrogen and lower levels that occur during menopause.
Then, some foods and drinks are considered bad, which can also increase estrogen. These include alcohol, processed foods, and foods high in sugar. These can reduce healthy hormone balance and disrupt your natural hormones.
Overall, having some foods high in estrogen from time to time isn’t going to impact your hormone balance significantly. Still, if you’re experiencing imbalance symptoms, it’s something to be mindful of.