Estrogen is responsible for strong bones in women, and may also affect the heart health of females over 50. Women may sometimes become deficient in estrogen due to a hormonal imbalance or after menopause, in which case increasing levels becomes especially important.
Certain foods known as phytoestrogens increase estrogen levels, making it possible to achieve near-normal amounts without the need for supplements.
What are Phytoestrogens?
Phytoestrogens are plant-based foods that mimic estrogen, and attach to estrogen receptors in the body. There are two basic types of phytoestrogens: lignans and isoflavones. Lignans are present in fruits, nuts, vegetables, and seeds, while isoflavones are primarily found in soy. Both of these phytoestrogens are converted by beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract into compounds that that behave much like the body’s own natural estrogen.
Phytoestrogens are often referred to as dietary estrogens because they cannot be created in the body and must therefore be consumed through the diet. The University of Minnesota recommends certain phytoestrogen-rich foods to help boost levels naturally, including:
- Sunflower seed
Effects of Soy
Soy is a major source of phytoestrogens, but that does not mean all soy is good for you. Experts estimate that as much as 93 percent of all soy grown in the United States is genetically modified, and may therefore cause the body more harm than good. Dr. Josh Axe also recommends avoiding unfermented soy, which is prevalent in soy milk, soy protein, and other similar products, and opting for fermented soy instead. He also recommends soy lecithin, a type of fermented soy used as an additive in a number of food items.
Benefits of Phytoestrogens
Women of childbearing age and males generally do not require more estrogen than what their body produces. However, women who have reached menopause or been diagnosed with low estrogen could notice some amazing benefits from adding more phytoestrogens to their diet:
- Decrease in menopausal symptoms: Research shows that women who consume more phytoestrogens experience fewer menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, and are also less likely to experience bone loss.
- Maintain a healthy heart: A Russian study showed that regulating certain hormones and chemical levels within the body helps alleviate arteriosclerosis, a disease associated with a build-up of fat within the arteries.
- Reducing the risk of cancer: A study published in the Journal of Epidemiology revealed that women who consumed lots of phytoestrogens had a 54 percent reduction in endometrial cancer. Another study performed on 5,000 women with breast cancer showed a significant decrease in recurrence of the disease and/or death among patients who consumed lignan phytoestrogens.
- Maintain healthy weight: Scientists have discovered that phytoestrogens may help regulate obesity and reduce weight gain in post-menopausal women.
When you have low levels of estrogen, this puts you at an increased risk of developing other health conditions. If you are concerned about the effects of artificial hormones, try adding more foods rich in phytoestrogens to your diet to see if you notice a difference. Many times, women who do can avoid the need for artificial hormones altogether.