Is there any truth to the idea that eating estrogen-rich foods for menopause can impact your symptoms? Here’s what to know about phytoestrogens.
Many of the symptoms of perimenopause are connected to the fact that your body makes less of the hormone estrogen as you get older.
So if you could eat something that replaced that missing estrogen, it would make your menopause symptoms easier to deal with, right?
Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple, and the science on estrogen-rich foods for menopause is still up in the air.
But since most of the potential food sources of estrogen are so nutritious in their own right, you may just want to add them to your shopping cart anyway.
In this article: 📝
- How can I increase estrogen in menopause?
- Foods with estrogen: the lowdown
- What happens when estrogen levels are low?
- What happens when estrogen levels are high?
- What foods have the most estrogen?
- What foods decrease estrogen levels? And what foods increase them?
- Foods rich in estrogen for menopause: the bottom line
How can I increase estrogen in menopause?
The only guaranteed way to increase your estrogen levels during menopause is with menopausal hormone therapy (aka hormone replacement therapy, or HRT).
But, because of its risks and side effects, HRT isn’t a road that everyone can — or wants to — go down.
So it’s worth exploring whether the food you put in your body can influence your hormone levels too.
Enter phytoestrogens — compounds that exist naturally in plants in different concentrations.
The theory is that when your gut breaks down phytoestrogens, they attach to the same receptors in your cells as the estrogen produced by your body.
Some experts hope phytoestrogens might operate in a similar way to the hormones produced in your body.
Eating them regularly would mean that your body would be better able to regulate your temperature, keep your hair and skin healthy, stabilize your mood and sleeping patterns, and even keep your bones strong.
But the story is complicated.
Phytoestrogens are both estrogen receptor agonists and antagonists.
Basically, this means that they can increase estrogen action in your body — or they can block it.
And while that may sound like bad news, it may not be.
There has been some concern that a diet high in soy might be linked to certain cancers because of the bean’s high phytoestrogen content.
(Estrogen and breast cancer, for example, have a significant link.)
But it’s complicated.
In fact, according to the American Cancer Society, consuming soy may actually decrease your risk of breast and endometrial cancer.
And that’s because phytoestrogens have anti-estrogen properties too.
So, yep, it’s confusing.
And there’s still a lot we don’t know about this subject.
As the research continues, we’ll hopefully be able to harness the power of these promising compounds.
For now, we’ll take you through the options that make the phytoestrogen-rich list.
Foods with estrogen: the lowdown
Estrogen (AKA the female sex hormone) plays a key role in your reproductive health.
When you go through puberty, estrogen helps kick your period into gear and project-manages the growth of hair in some interesting new places.
It then continues to support your reproductive system for years to come.
Estrogen also helps in other areas, such as cholesterol control and bone health.
When your estrogen levels are too high or too low, your health and wellbeing can be affected.
What happens when estrogen levels are low?
There are several reasons your estrogen levels can take a dip.
Health conditions that impact your thyroid, ovaries, or pituitary gland can all be responsible for low levels of estrogen.
But the most common reason for decreasing levels?
Simply getting older.
During perimenopause—the time around when your period takes its final bow—your estrogen levels fluctuate, ultimately dropping very low.
This change can affect your body in various ways, often causing a range of symptoms—the most notorious of which is the ‘hot flash’.
Low levels can also impact your mood, sleep, and sex drive.
If you’re experiencing these symptoms, getting those estrogen levels up can feel like a serious priority.
That’s why Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) is appropriate for some people.
What happens when estrogen levels are high?
There are also some cases where your estrogen levels may be too high.
High estrogen levels are linked to several health concerns, including polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), uterine and breast cancer, and heart disease.
So that brings us to the question of the moment.
Can you either increase or decrease your estrogen levels by eating foods that are high in estrogen?
Well, the truth is, it’s complicated.
What foods have the most estrogen?
Some foods contain a compound called phytoestrogen (basically plant estrogen).
These foods have the capacity to mimic the estrogen produced by your body.
Seems like an interesting option if you’re looking to impact your estrogen supplies.
The first thing to know is that phytoestrogen can have both estrogenic and anti-estrogenic effects on your body.
That means that there are foods that could increase estrogen and foods that could decrease it.
The problem is, there is a lot of contradictory evidence on how much of an impact phytoestrogen actually has on your estrogen levels.
Claims made that phytoestrogen can help out with bone health by balancing your estrogen levels are also not conclusive.
With all that contention in mind, let’s take a look at what we know about foods that contain phytoestrogen—as well as what kind of impact they might have.
What foods decrease estrogen levels? And what foods increase them?
(Actually, some foods can do both.)
According to this study, these are the foods highest in phytoestrogens.
When it comes to linking diet and menopause symptoms, a lot of research focuses on soy.
There are some promising results too.
Eating soy as part of a low-fat, plant-based diet seems to reduce night sweats and hot flashes, which puts foods like soybeans, edamame, tofu, and miso firmly in the top 10 estrogen-rich foods for menopause.
A protein staple for many on a vegetarian or vegan diet, soy products contain compounds called isoflavone.
These may act as phytoestrogen and could have both estrogenic and anti-estrogenic effects.
But this topic is not without its controversy.
Some claim that soy helps with menopause symptoms, while others say it may be linked to breast cancer, thyroid problems, and dementia.
This Harvard review explains that it’s likely that soy may have different effects on your body depending on how much estrogen is already present, meaning it could have an anti-estrogenic effect in perimenopausal women and estrogenic effect in postmenopausal women.
According to the American Cancer Society, it’s safe to consume.
If you’re a fan of soy products, you can safely ‘add to cart’.
Flaxseed contains what is known as lignans.
By possibly “acting like” estrogen when eaten, lignans may decrease breast cancer risk, particularly in postmenopausal women.
Flax seeds have sky-scraping levels of antioxidants, fatty acids, and protein.
They also have one of the highest phytoestrogen counts of any food.
So adding a spoon to your cereal or smoothie can be a great addition to your menopause breakfast routine.
This legume is sold as a natural supplement for menopause symptoms.
The jury is out on how effective it is at this job.
Some reports claim it can influence estrogen levels and help with hot flashes.
Others, like this one, say that the effect appears to be weak.
This study reported that it had no effect on postmenopausal women. More research is needed here for us to know for sure.
Many dried fruits are high in phytoestrogens — especially apricots, prunes, dates, and figs.
Broccoli and brussels sprouts are a brilliant place to begin.
And, if you’re into winter vegetables, the levels of phytoestrogens in cabbage are also comparatively high.
Sweet potato, pumpkin, and carrots are the big hitters here.
If you’re into soups and salads, a sprinkle of beansprouts or broccoli shoots can boost the phytoestrogen content of an already healthy plate of food.
Not all fruits are high in phytoestrogens, but the ones that are can really pack a punch.
Look out for pomegranates, blackberries, blackcurrants, kiwi, and watermelon.
Are eggs high in estrogen?
But what about protein to round out your menopause meals?
Eggs and milk contain iron, calcium, vitamin D, and protein, which are especially helpful during menopause when many women start to lose some bone density.
But when it comes to the phytoestrogens that seem to keep some hormonal symptoms under control, there’s no competition between eggs and the other foods on this list.
The level of phytoestrogens in a free-range egg is 11 micrograms per 100g, compared to 6028 micrograms in the same weight of soy milk.
U.S. Pharmacist also includes these in their list of foods containing phytoestrogen:
- Sesame seeds
- Dried beans
- Wheat germ
Foods rich in estrogen for menopause: the bottom line
While it’s fantastic news that such a wide range of common ingredients might help to make menopause easier to navigate, the science really isn’t conclusive.
That being said, the foods on this list are healthy, versatile, and delicious.
So they can still be a great foundation for healthy eating during perimenopause and beyond.
While phytoestrogen may help with hormonal balance, more research is needed for us to know for sure.
If you’re struggling with menopause symptoms, know that you’re not alone.
We’re having the conversation on Peanut. Join us.