Estrogen is an important hormone for both women and men, but the former need it more as the hormone is required in many important female physiological functions. Many factors decrease the levels of estrogen in the body, ranging from an unhealthy lifestyle to the inevitable menopause.
There are many ways to bring back lost estrogen levels. Also known as estrogen replacement therapy, these methods include taking pills, applying patches, creams, and sprays, and using vaginal rings and suppositories. Effective as they may be, they are not without side effects. From minor headaches and breast pains, to more serious increased risks in stroke and blood clots, some professionals even discourage the long-term reliance on these therapies as they could increase the chance of developing endometrial cancer.
Fortunately there are natural alternatives that can help alleviate the problems associated with low estrogen levels, thanks to phytoestrogens. These are chemicals found in plant sources that act like estrogen, they may be inferior compared to the ones naturally produced by the body but still they get the job done. You can obtain phytoestrogens from different food sources as described below. There are also lifestyle changes you must commit to in order to maintain your estrogen and overall health.
Remember that these alternatives work on a case to case basis, some may work while some may not, and that is why it is always important to seek the advice of a medical professional regarding what alternative you should take:
1. Chickpeas: Archaeological findings reveal that chickpeas have been consumed since the Mesolithic era. Also known as garbanzo beans, chickpeas contain high amounts of vitamins and minerals that give way to health benefits such as lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, better bone strength, and improved digestion. Phytoestrogenic isoflavones, and all four types of it (biochanin A, formononetin, daidzein, and genistein), are available in chickpeas which makes it a great source of phytoestrogens. Regular consumption of chickpeas minimize the risk of certain cancers, cardiovascular diseases, and relieve menopausal symptoms. Chickpeas are usually found in the form of hummus or falafel, and it is also viable to eat cooked chickpeas directly or adding them to other dishes. Always choose organic, and avoid processed chickpeas that are already mixed with possibly harmful chemicals. Other kinds of pulses like beans, lentils, and peas also contain some amounts of isoflavones and other phytoestrogens namely coumestans and lignans.
2. Flaxseed: Used as a food source dating back to three millennia, flaxseed also has many medicinal benefits and is also a rich source of nutrients. Among its components are omega-3 fatty acids for cardiovascular health, insoluble and soluble fiber for the digestive system, and lignans with antioxidant and phytoestrogenic properties. Flaxseed is reputed to contain 75 to 800 times more lignans compared to other plant food sources. Its relief of hot flashes, irritability, night sweating, and other symptoms of menopause are known to be quite effective, not to mention its other benefits like boosting the immune system and estrogen levels, reducing cholesterol and blood sugar levels, improving bowel movement, and even promoting proper brain development. Flaxseed is widely available in the market in whole, ground, and liquid forms. Sprinkle them in dishes, salads, soups, and smoothies, bake muffins with them, and there are also flaxseed supplements in many health stores if you prefer taking them this way. Avoid eating flaxseed that is unripe or raw as it is not safe.
3. Sesame Seed: Another seed whose usefulness traces back to the ancient times, sesame seeds are packed with minerals (calcium, copper, iron, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, thiamine, and zinc), and exhibit cholesterol-lowering, antioxidant, and estrogen-like properties. A study published in May 2006 at The Journal of Nutrition revealed that sesame seed consumption is highly beneficial in improving the antioxidant status and blood lipids of women, leading to better sex hormones. Lignans found in sesame, also called sesamin, are converted by gut flora into the phytoestrogenic compound enterolactone. The seed also exhibits phytoestrogenic enterometabolite activity, just like how lignans in flaxseed work. Sesame seeds are sold in many different colors and sizes, with the Asian black variant having the most potent flavor. Beige and white colored seeds are the most common ones in Western markets. Tahini, or butter made from sesame seeds, is popular in Middle Eastern cuisine and is a viable option in obtaining the seed’s many benefits. Similar to flaxseed, sesame seeds can just be sprinkled on meals, cooked and eaten as is, or taken in oil or supplement forms.
4. Soy Products: These products contain the most number of two isoflavones types, daidzein and genistein. These are known to minimize the risks of cardiovascular diseases by inhibiting the accumulation of arterial plaque, prevent breast and prostate cancer by blocking the human estrogen’s cancer-triggering effects and the growth of cancer cells, and reduce symptoms of menopause such as hot flushes. The 2011 report published by The North American Menopause Society attests that these isoflavones in soy show promising results in alleviating the conditions previously mentioned, and that consumption of soy foods work as estrogen alternatives which is good news for women who are deficient with the said hormone. Its positive effects on bone health are not yet finalized, but existing studies so far have shown positive outcomes. Soy supplements that contain isoflavones are available, but food sources are the best choices to obtain the best amount and quality of the phytoestrogen. Tempeh, a fermented soy product from Indonesia, is believed to have the most levels of isoflavones, followed by edamame, soynuts, soymilk, textured soy protein, and tofu. The versatility of soy products provide many different ways in utilizing them for cooking, like:
- Use soymilk for smoothies and for creaming soups. Gulp the milk down as well, instead of drinking cow’s milk.
- Cut tempeh into small slices, add soy sauce, then sandwich it between two slices of bread.
- Use a food processor to turn soy into a healthy and tasty snack dip.
- Toss in textured soy protein instead of ground beef when cooking spaghetti sauce.
- Dine in a Japanese restaurant, as many of their dishes are based on soy products.
5. Dried Fruit: Fruits are a rich source of vitamins and minerals that are crucial in maintaining good health. Dried apricots, dates, and prunes have the most content of phytoestrogens, and since they are dried that makes their nutrient content a lot richer than their fresh counterparts. Snack on these fruits regularly to reap their phytoestrogen content, along with other health benefits that come along with it. Try to hunt down dried fruit that is devoid of preservatives, sweeteners, or any other artificial additions that can make it a little less healthy.
6. Red Clover: Native in Asia and Europe, red clovers have been grown in North America as well. The herb’s flowers are used primarily for therapeutic purposes. Based on a study published in November 2005 at the journal Gynecological Endocrinology, the isoflavones found in red clover effectively reduced the menopausal symptoms on postmenopausal women. The herb is renowned for containing a rich amount of isoflavones, and it also has vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, chromium, niacin, and thiamine. Red clover also relieves respiratory problems, skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis, and the herb cleanses the liver and purifies the blood as a diuretic. The isoflavones in red clover can displace the estrogens that naturally occur in the body, resulting to a decreased risk of cancers that are dependent on estrogen like endometrial cancer. Red clover is available in dried, powdered, tincture, and supplement forms in many health stores.
7. Black Cohosh: Used by the Native Americans for medicinal purposes 200 years ago, the herb is now utilized for treating problems associated with menstruation and menopause. Black cohosh relieves hot flushes, night sweating, vaginal dryness, menstrual pain, and anxiety. A clinical study also unraveled the herb’s protective properties against breast cancer. It has other benefits namely arthritis relief, boosting bone strength, and reducing inflammation, but these claims are only supported by a few studies. Black cohosh provides the same benefits as phytoestrogens, without increasing the levels of estrogen in the body. The herb can be purchased in capsule, dried, and extract forms. To make an extract of black cohosh, boil the dried leaves for up to 30 minutes then strain the liquid, pour in a different container, and refrigerate. Sip a cup of the brew three times a day. This method is regarded as the best way to derive the most potent effects of the herb. Pregnant women are not allowed to take the herb, and the same goes for people who have a history of liver damage or are alcoholic.
8. Lifestyle Changes: There are some things that you can do to ensure that your endocrine system is in top shape and to not hinder its estrogen production:
- Stop smoking. Aside from a wide number of negative health effects associated with this vice, the 2005 study in Environmental Health Perspectives also showed that smoking can trigger early menopause in women and jeopardize hormonal function and production.
- Regular exercise is undoubtedly beneficial, and you should commit to it if you happen to spend many hours being stagnant. However, avoid engaging in excessive exercising, as lower body fat is linked to lower levels of estrogen. Maintain those levels by following a regular exercise routine, or seek the help of a trained professional who can map out a regime for you.
- Eat healthily and avoid processed, sugary, and salty foods. It is no secret that what we eat directly affects how our body functions, so if you choose to eat junk then it will no doubt do your body more harm than good. Hormonal imbalance is among the problems that may arise with consumption of unhealthy food. Choose organic fruits and vegetables, steer clear from canned goods chock full of preservatives, and try to drink water (or soy milk) instead of soda.