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Estrogenic Foods: What to Eat and Not to Reduce Symptoms gives you insight into why certain foods cause you cramps, period pain, fibrocystic breast tissue and other symptoms. You’ll find out which foods are best to avoid, and which ones may help to detox excess estrogen.
The cause of menstrual pain
Menstrual pain is caused by prostaglandins, fatty acid compounds found in cells throughout our body — and specifically found in the epithelial layer of the uterus. Prostaglandins play many roles in the body. Among these, they cause uterine contractions and inflammation. When the uterine lining is shed starting a woman’s cycle each month, prostaglandins are released, thus contractions ensue — what we know as cramps.
How certain foods increase estrogen
What’s less discussed, but very powerful, is which foods increase estrogen in our bodies. Estrogen is the hormone responsible for creating a thick uterine lining to support a healthy pregnancy. But too much estrogen means more prostaglandins in our uterine lining, and thus more period pain each month! So what do we do? We reduce estrogenic foods and increase foods that balance our hormones! Pretty exciting, right?
What are xenoestrogens? Xenoestrogens are natural or synthetic compounds, often found in our environment, that mimic estrogen, also creating hormonal imbalance within our bodies. Phytoestrogens are specifically disruptive estrogenic compounds found in plants.
Most of us witnessed the health epidemic of the early 2000s that ensued from too much soy. That was estrogen, specifically phytoestrogens. Soy is an estrogenic food. Men who drank soy lattes everyday were suddenly diagnosed with cancer. They created a hormone imbalance within their bodies through regular soy consumption.
Did you know there are other estrogenic foods that also wreak havoc and cause period pain?
As we’ve seen, these lists have ramifications beyond menstrual pain. Estrogenic foods and xenoestrogens also cause insomnia, cystic breast tissue, acne, fetal development dysfunction (lasting demasculinization in the male reproductive system), prepubescent development, female characteristics in boys and men, and certainly cancer.
This post breaks it down into two simple lists: estrogenic foods to avoid, or to consume only occasionally, and foods (and a couple of supplements) that promote hormone balance, helping the body to metabolize or detoxify excess estrogen.
It’s important to note that not all estrogenic foods have the same effect.
Some foods, for example, are mildly estrogenic and may have no noticeable or little effect on the body, even when eaten regularly. Sensitive individuals should still watch the effect these foods have upon them. These foods include herbs like thyme and healing foods like garlic.
Other foods with mildly estrogenic effects include all beans (legumes), chestnuts, pumpkin seeds, most nuts, dried apricots, dates and prunes, olive oil, winter squash, green beans, collard greens, peaches and strawberries. Herbs and spices to be aware of include red clover, marijuana, parsley, turmeric, licorice, verbena, cinnamon, alfalfa and alfalfa sprouts. (source and source)
Again, these (above foods) are not foods or herbs to necessarily avoid. Simply be aware of these ingredients if you are suffering from estrogenic symptoms. Large or regular doses of these foods may have an impact. (For example, garlic must be eaten in unlikely amounts to have any effect. However, seeds’ and nuts’ effects can be quite noticeable.)
High estrogen foods
There are other foods that consistently cause lasting and dangerous estrogen levels. These are the foods that regularly cause imbalances in women’s cycles resulting in varying symptoms, including painful menstrual cramps, and can even lead to cancer:
- soy (soy milk, edamame, tofu, soy formula for babies, soy protein isolate, tempeh, miso, soy sauce)
- flax seeds and flax seed meal
- wheat and other grains
- vegetable oils
- processed foods, including chewing gum
- bottled water
- tap water (receives run-off from confined animal feed lots)
- conventional meat and dairy
External exposure to estrogenic compounds also comes into play. Just briefly, use caution with a few essential oils: clary sage, geranium and jasmine (sources 1, 2, 3). Consider irregular use of these oils, instead of daily use. Limit exposure, too, to natural gas and propane (read more here), synthetic cleaners and beauty items, fragranced products including candles, vinyl shower curtains, #3 plastic wrap, #6 and #7 plastics and cash register receipts.
Estrogen detoxing foods
I have found two supplements that help my body usher out excess estrogen. They have reduced the cramps associated with perimenopause. They are DIM + I3C (Diindolylmethane + Indole-3-Carbinol) (find it here) and Calcium D-Glucarate (find it here). Definitely ask your doctor, especially before starting DIM. It may be too strong for some, and it’s best to get a doctor’s insight on your unique body.
There are several foods, too, that assist our body’s ability to metabolize estrogen:
- summer squash
- citrus fruits
- wild salmon and other oily fish, like sardines
- dandelion root (make tea, find it here)
- milk thistle (find it here)
- Chinese herbs (see this beautiful chicken soup recipe)
Which foods may help estrogen detox
Depending on the source, there are other foods that some say improve estrogen detoxification, while others say they are estrogenic.
These include the cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprouts. It’s a safe conclusion for most that these are healthful foods we should not limit in our diets. While they may contain more phytoestrogens than other produce items, they also contain phytonutrients, which help to fight cancer and inflammation.
Certainly someone who is very sensitive can be watchful, but most of us should eat abundantly of these foods, while also eating great variety and in moderation.
As you’ve seen, this post isn’t just for women.
Estrogens adversely affect all of us, and are prevalent in our modern world. While we need estrogen in our bodies, we want to avoid estrogen dominance. Make wise choices in diet and lifestyle to balance hormones, reduce pain and prevent disease.
Period pain can also be caused by low progesterone. Read more here.
Which foods affect your period pain most?
Fetal development- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3196693/ and https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12629420
Lindsey Dietz says
Thank you SO much for starting this discussion! I wish more women knew how profoundly their diets can affect their cycles! I definitely notice that dairy of any kind is a bad idea for me before my cycle begins.
This is such an important topic and one that’s way under discussed. Women suffer greatly every month physically and emotionally. This is super informative.
Megan Stevens says
Thank you, I’m so glad it’s helpful. I agree. We can blindly eat otherwise healthy foods without realizing we’re building more estrogens in our body for another uncomfortable cycle!
Francois Bossier says
No bottled or tap water? What is the best water source?
Faustine Hutt says
Thank you so much for sharing this !! But if my estrogen level is too low do I have to eat more of the estrogenic foods ? Does it work this way ?
Megan Stevens says
There are different variables that contribute to low estrogen levels. In some cases eating more flax or fermented soy (no unfermented soy) can be helpful; but it depends on the cause of your low estrogen levels. It is best to consult a functional practitioner or wonderful women’s health doctor to assess the cause for your unique body. There are often times balancing herbs that can be used, as well as foods and supplements for supporting general wellness.
Marcie Spivey says
How often and how much DIM and Calcium D-Glucarate do you take?
Megan Stevens says
Hi Marcie, I used to take one of each morning and night. I really noticed a difference in taking 2 of each daily, vs. one of each. Over time, I have actually gone off of DIM and now use only one Calcium D-Glucarate nightly. It’s definitely advisable to have a doctor help you determine which of these is right for you and dosage.
Dawn @Oh Sweet Mercy says
This is great information, especially for my daughter. She suffers more than I do, sadly. I know her diet could be better, I’m sharing this with her, thank you!
Megan Stevens says
Wonderful, so glad! 🙂
linda spiker says
Love this! I have found the same applies for menopausal symptoms!
Megan Stevens says
SO true! Thanks, Linda.
Melissa @RealNutritiousLiving says
Love this list! I learned some new good foods to add in- Thank you Megan!
Raia Torn says
So helpful! Thank you for sharing, Megan!