Dietary estrogen (phytoestrogen) can be found in a variety of foods and herbs, although levels vary according to the source. Studies have shown phytoestrogens have health benefits that include reduced risk for breast cancer, prostate cancer and cardiovascular disease, as well as protection against osteoporosis and relief of menopausal symptoms. Women can eat foods high in estrogen to supply their body with the estrogen it needs to alleviate menopause symptoms. There are five groups of phytoestrogens that can be found naturally in food.
Bioflavonoids are naturally found in a wide variety of plants and are known to help the body to regulate estrogen levels. Resveratrol is a bioflavonoid that occurs naturally in grapes and red wine, and has been classified as a phytoestrogen based on its ability to bind to and activate estrogen receptors. Bioflavanoids are found in vegetables, some herbal teas and spices. They give grapes their purple color, and those found in soy beans have some estrogen-like activity as well. Studies have also shown that bioflavanoids can replace estrogen and relieve hot flashes in menopausal women. Flavonoids may be found in almost all plants, but their concentration varies. Citrus fruits, for example, buckwheat and all white and yellow flowers have very high concentrations.
Flavones are part of the group of phytoestrogens called flavonoids as well. Flavones are present as flavonoid glycosides (sugars) in the flowers, leaves and fruit tissues of living plants . Flavones in some foods have been shown to regulate estrogen levels. These foods include celery seed, parsley, celery, green pepper, thyme, chamomile, carrots, olive oil, peppermint, rosemary and oregano.
Soy is the most common food source of isoflavones, but they can also be found naturally in legumes, alfalfa, clover and licorice. Studies have shown that women given isoflavone supplements and milk for a period of one month experienced longer menstrual cycles, which are beneficial because they result in decreased lifetime exposure to estrogen and lower the risk for breast cancer. Isoflavones are found in high concentration in soy bean and soy bean products, such as tofu, soy flour and soy noodles. Calcium-fortified soy milk is a phytoestrogen rich food source.
Coumestrol, another type of flavonoid, has been shown to mimic the biological activity of estrogen. Coumestrols are found in a variety of plants, and, due to their estrogenic activity, they have been studied to determine how they can be used to naturally treat estrogen levels in women. Coumestrol can be found in several types of legumes, brussel sprouts and spinach, but can be found in higher concentrations in clover and soybeans.
Lignans stimulate the production of sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG), a glycoprotein manufactured in the liver. Lignans have been shown to reduce breast cancer cell production. Women who consume foods with high concentrations of lignans experience increased progesterone-to-estrogen ratios, and fewer anovulatory cycles, which are ovulatory cycle in which ovulation does not occur. This indicates that consumption of lignans results in improved ovarian function. Lignans can be found fiber-rich foods such as flax seed, as well as other oil seeds like sesame. It’s also found in whole grains like barely and wheat, legumes such as kidney beans, lima beans or chickpeas, and vegetables like carrots, eggplant, yams or pumpkin.
Other Estrogen-Rich Foods
There are several other foods that contain phytoestrogens which help regulate estrogen levels naturally. Fruits like apples, dates, plums and cherries, and vegetables such as beets, tomatoes, olives, potatoes, cucumbers, eggplant and broccoli are all sources of natural estrogen. You can also try grains such as oats, hops and rice, or seeds like fennel, sunflower seeds and alfalfa. Beans like split peas, black-eyed peas, lima beans, and navy beans are estrogen-rich foods, and herbs and spices with estrogen-like properties include garlic, ginger, sage tea, turmeric and oregano.