Are you struggling with depression, mood swings, or headaches? Perhaps you’re feeling tired and sluggish despite getting adequate sleep? These symptoms may indicate a hormonal imbalance, such as low estrogen levels.
Estrogen, the primary female sex hormone, supports mental and physical well-being. It plays a key role in bone health, fertility, metabolism, brain function, and more. Certain factors, such as aging and thyroid disease, can affect your body’s ability to produce this hormone.
Holistic medicine, which uses a whole-body approach to wellness, can balance your estrogen levels and improve overall health. Plus, it’s less invasive than hormone replacement therapy.
A good starting point is to change your diet. Soybeans, flaxseeds, legumes, and other whole foods contain phytoestrogens. These naturally occurring chemicals have estrogen-like effects and can improve your hormone levels.
Interested to find out more? Here’s what you should know about phytoestrogens and how to incorporate them into your diet.
Phytoestrogens and Women’s Health
Estrogen levels fluctuate throughout life. Generally, women experience a decrease in estrogen production during and after menopause. While this is natural for this stage of life, it can possibly increase their risk of heart disease, weight gain, osteoporosis, and other conditions.
However, menopause isn’t the only factor affecting estrogen levels. Strenuous exercise, extreme dieting, high stress, and eating disorders can throw your hormones out of balance, too. Your genes play a role as well.
One way to counteract the effects of low estrogen is to tweak your diet. Certain foods contain natural compounds that mimic estrogen in the body. These compounds are called phytoestrogens and can bring your hormones back to normal levels.
Lignans, isoflavones, and other phytoestrogens may help ease menopausal symptoms. These phytonutrients also fight oxidative stress and support immune function.
Over time, they may protect against heart disease due to their antioxidant and cholesterol-lowering effects.
In one study, postmenopausal women who took a daily isoflavone extract had lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels than the control group. Moreover, they experienced an increase in good cholesterol.
These naturally occurring compounds may also improve bone health and lower your risk of fractures. For example, a 2012 study indicates that soy isoflavones can increase bone density by over 50%.
Given these aspects, it makes sense to fill up on phytoestrogens—especially if you’re dealing with hormonal imbalances. For starters, include these estrogen-rich foods in your diet.
1. Soy Products
Soybeans, tofu, edamame, and other soy products contain isoflavones. These compounds can naturally modify your estrogen levels and protect against certain diseases. However, their effects depend on your current hormone levels.
The experts at Harvard say that isoflavones have estrogenic effects on premenopausal women and anti-estrogenic activity in postmenopausal women. The type of soy consumed matters, too.
Note that soy products are also rich in potassium, magnesium, fiber, protein, and other key nutrients.
For example, cooked soybeans deliver over 15 grams of plant-based protein per half-cup, according to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Fermented soy foods, such as natto and tempeh, are just as nutritious as their traditional counterparts.
Note that soy is a common allergen. Plus, many soy products are genetically modified and may contain the toxic metal cadmium. So, you should only consume it if you’re not allergic to it.
Ideally, you opt for non-GMO organic brands.
2. Dried Fruits
When was the last time you ate figs, dried apricots, or apple chips? If you can’t remember, it’s time to do it more often.
Dried apricots, prunes, and dates contain large amounts of lignans and taste simply delicious. Enjoy them as a snack, mix them into smoothies, or add them to baked goods to reap the benefits.
Lignans exhibit antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory properties. In clinical trials, these compounds reduced inflammation and oxidative stress. Some studies suggest that lignan-rich foods may protect against breast cancer and reduce overall mortality.
Just make sure you enjoy these treats in moderation. Dried fruits are high in fructose, a natural sugar metabolized by your liver. When consumed in excess, fructose can lead to weight gain, liver problems, and cardiometabolic disorders.
3. Flax Seeds
Holistic medicine puts a lot of emphasis on whole foods, such as nuts, seeds, and fruits.
Flax seeds, for instance, contain large doses of fiber, lignans, omega-3s, and minerals. Just one ounce provides nearly 8 grams of fiber, 5 grams of protein, and 27% of the recommended daily magnesium intake. They are also a good source of thiamin.
When consumed as part of a balanced diet, flax seeds may improve blood sugar and blood lipids. Over time, they can lower your risk of heart disease and reduce inflammation. The lignans in flax seeds appear to have beneficial effects on estrogen levels.
Due to their high fiber content, these tiny seeds can cause bloating and digestive distress.
To stay on the safe side, watch your portions, drink plenty of water after eating flax seeds, and use them finely ground. Add them to smoothies, homemade desserts, salads, or cooked meals.
4. Chickpeas and other legumes
Chickpeas are rich in biochanin A, an isoflavone with anti-cancer activity. This bioactive compound can improve hormonal health and suppress cancer cell growth.
Protein, fiber, phosphorus, and other nutrients in chickpeas support overall health.
Fiber, for example, inhibits hunger and keeps your digestive system running smoothly. Magnesium, zinc, and copper play a key role in brain function, cardiovascular health, and energy metabolism. Protein increases satiety and helps preserve lean mass, among other benefits.
5. Sesame Seeds
Last but not least, make sure your diet includes sesame seeds. They’re higher in phytoestrogens than soy milk, hummus, garlic, dried apricots, and other whole foods and can be used in a multitude of recipes.
Sesame seeds may improve antioxidant status, sex hormone status, and blood lipids. Plus, they are rich in calcium, zinc, and other minerals that promote bone health. Their anti-inflammatory effects shouldn’t be overlooked either.
Follow the Best Holistic Medicine Practices for Optimum Health
Now that you know what to eat to balance your hormones, it’s time to change your diet one step at a time. Better yet, discuss your needs with a holistic medicine practitioner.
Dr. Karen Threlkel has years of experience in naturopathic medicine. Contact her to book an appointment and take the first steps to optimal health!