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Chemical Intolerance and Chronic Illness

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    Estrogen and Diet

    iStock-599994758Estrogen, an important hormone usually associated with women, is actually present in both males and females. In women, estrogen is produced by the ovaries and exists in larger quantities. It is responsible for female reproductive function, bone health, and cholesterol management.

    For men, testosterone can be converted into small amounts of estrogen when it is needed. It plays a role in sexual function and bone health as well.

    As with any hormones, estrogen is tightly regulated by the body, as it is required in precise amounts. When estrogen gets out of balance, either too high or too low, this can cause a variety of symptoms and lead to the imbalance of other important hormones. Diet plays a significant role in keeping estrogen in balance.

    Estrogen Imbalance

    Estrogen can either be too high or too low, and neither of these is good. Either of these scenarios can cause disruption in normal reproductive functioning and interfere with the action of other hormones.

    Too much estrogen, referred to as estrogen dominance, is characterized by symptoms such as:

    • Irregular periods
    • Increased PMS symptoms
    • Headaches
    • Weight gain, especially in the abdominal area
    • Insomnia
    • Fatigue
    • Mood swings and irritability
    • Hair loss
    • Decreased sex drive
    • Potential increased risk of cancer

    Too much estrogen can be caused by an overproduction of estrogen or the body’s inability to clear excess estrogen. Estrogen dominance can also occur from an overexposure to too many estrogen-like environmental substances.

    Low estrogen can also be problematic. It is most common in girls before puberty and women approaching menopause. Low estrogen can also be caused by an eating disorder, too much exercise, ovarian failure, or other health conditions that impact estrogen production.

    Symptoms of low estrogen include:

    • Irregular or absent periods
    • Mood swings
    • Hot flashes
    • Depression
    • Painful sex
    • Increase in urinary tract infections
    • Headaches
    • Fatigue
    • Infertility
    • Weight gain

    Estrogen and Diet

    The goal with trying to normalize estrogen is to keep it in balance. This may require different types of strategies to get it back in check. For example, low estrogen often requires hormone replacement, which needs to be prescribed by a doctor.

    Diet is one way to help rebalance estrogen levels, as proper food choices can help the body normalize hormones and mitigate some of the more challenging symptoms of estrogen imbalance.

    Here are a few dietary changes that can help with estrogen dominance:

    • Choose organic meat and dairy without growth hormones, pesticides, or antibiotics.
    • Limit soy and soy products, which have estrogen mimicking properties.
    • Eat foods rich in omega-3s, such as wild-caught fish, walnuts, and flaxseeds.
    • Reduce sugar, sweetened beverages, and refined carbohydrates.
    • Increase fiber intake by eating more fruits and vegetables. 
    • Add cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, that help with estrogen excretion. 
    • Reduce exposure to environmental synthetic estrogens, e.g., BPA and phthalates in personal care products.

    For low estrogen, the recommendations aren’t too different with a few exceptions. To help increase estrogen:

    • Follow a diet low in processed foods and rich in whole plant foods. 
    • Reduce sugar and sweetened beverages to balance all hormones. 
    • Eat soy (preferably organic, unprocessed), which is rich in phytoestrogens
    • Add garlic to meals as it is rich in phytoestrogens. 
    • Focus on B-vitamins, which are needed to balance hormones. 

    For both low and high estrogen, consider eliminating/reducing alcohol and caffeine. Both can throw off hormonal balance.

    Estrogen and Weight

    Imbalanced estrogen, either too high or too low, can contribute to weight gain. When an individual is overweight, fat cells also produce more estrogen, which can make the imbalance worse. Any estrogen-balancing plan should involve moderate weight loss, if that is one of the symptoms the patient is experiencing.

    Weight loss should be tackled in a slow and steady way, as strict dieting or excessive exercise can also throw estrogen off balance.

    To lose weight gradually, the focus should be on a diet high in fiber and healthy protein. This is the best way to suppress appetite and thus avoid overeating. The nutrients in high fiber foods (i.e., fruits and vegetables) will also help regulate hormone levels.

    Unhealthy foods such as sugar, processed foods, and sugar sweetened beverages, which are high in empty calories and don’t support health hormone levels, should be avoided as much as possible.

    Finally, exercise regularly, but not excessively since over-exercising can also throw off hormone levels. As with many things in life, moderation is the key and balance is the goal.

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