Hormones are the body's chemical messengers. They play essential roles in libido, mood, health, fertility, and many other functions.
Some people think of estrogen as a "female hormone," but male and female bodies produce it. If a man's estrogen levels are too high, health problems can result.
In this article, we look at foods that may raise or lower levels of estrogen in the body and explore the evidence behind these claims.
Dispelling hormone myths
Both women and men need estrogen for various bodily functions.
Testosterone levels tend to decrease with age.
A 2016 study reports that levels of this hormone decline by 0.4–2.0 percent each year after the age of 30.
Some people worry that too much estrogen is the cause of low testosterone. This is a myth. Estrogen and testosterone do not oppose each other.
Estrogen is vital for men's health. It supports the functioning of almost every area of the body, including the brain, heart, bones, muscles, and the immune system.
However, if a man's estrogen levels are too high, this can cause a number of health problems, including obesity and depression.
Can men reduce their estrogen levels?
Many websites and natural health gurus say that certain diets can lower estrogen levels, but there has been little research into these claims.
A handful of studies have suggested that specific foods can raise or lower estrogen levels. However, scant evidence suggests that these foods can address the health effects of high estrogen.
Some research suggests that the naturally occurring estrogens in plants, for example, do not affect levels of the hormone in male bodies.
Speak with a doctor before making dietary changes to reduce estrogen. The most healthful diet varies from person to person.
Foods that may lower estrogen
Some research suggests that certain foods may be able to diminish the level of estrogen in the body. However, this research is often low-quality or has involved animals rather than humans.
According to the conclusions of these studies, the following foods may lower levels of estrogen:
Soy products, such as tofu, contain phytoestrogens.
Soy-based products, including edamame and some meat substitutes, are especially rich in plant estrogens. Estrogens that occur in plants are called phytoestrogens.
Early research raised concerns that phytoestrogens could raise estrogen levels in the body. However, they may have the opposite effect.
Phytoestrogens are weaker than estrogens that the body produces. When plant estrogens enter the body's cells, they push out the body's own estrogens.
In this way, consuming more phytoestrogens could lower a person's estrogen level. Plant estrogens may also reduce the risk of diseases related to estrogen levels, including prostate cancer.
Cruciferous vegetables also contain high levels of phytoestrogens. This group of vegetables includes:
- bok choy
Cruciferous vegetables also contain high levels of isoflavones, which are a type of estrogen. Results of several studies suggest that isoflavones may prevent the body from converting testosterone to estrogen.
Certain varieties of mushrooms, including white button and portobello, could raise a person's testosterone levels and lower their estrogen levels.
Curcumin and turmeric
Turmeric contains a chemical called curcumin.
A 2013 study found that curcumin may reduce estrogen levels. However, the researchers noted this result in cells outside the body, so they are unsure whether curcumin has the same effect in people.
A 2014 study found that large doses of curcumin increased levels of testosterone in rats.
Foods to avoid
According to some research, the following foods may increase people's estrogen levels:
Dairy and meat
Milk contains estrogen and other hormones.
All animal products contain traces of estrogen because even male animals produce the hormone.
Many farms give female animals, especially cows, high doses of estrogen to increase the amount of milk they produce. Eating these products may increase a person's estrogen levels.
A person may wish to switch to alternate milks and sources of protein, or buy meat and dairy products from farms that do not give animals estrogen.
Alcohol may also heighten some effects of low testosterone. For example, alcohol is high in calories, and it can lead to weight gain.
Some grains contain a fungus called zearalenone, which can increase the production of estrogen. Researchers in Europe, where the fungus is common, found that 32 percent of more than 5,000 mixed-cereal samples were contaminated.
At the moment there is no way to ensure that a product is free from zearalenone. A person looking to avoid it should limit their intake of grains, including barley, wheat, rice, and maize.
Legumes, such as lentils, peanuts, and chickpeas, benefit the health in many ways. For example, they contain relatively high amounts of protein, making them a popular meat alternative.
Legumes also contain phytoestrogens. Particularly in high doses, these foods could increase people's estrogen levels.
Legumes may support heart health and reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome. Rather than removing them from the diet, consider eating small servings a few times a week.
Other ways to reduce estrogen levels
Anyone concerned about their levels of testosterone or estrogen should see a doctor before trying to augment these levels.
Some people benefit from hormone injections. Testosterone therapy can be especially beneficial.
Few researchers have looked into natural ways to reduce estrogen. However, results of some studies suggest that exercise may lower levels of estrogen in some women.
Also, certain human-made products contain chemical compounds called xenoestrogens, which imitate estrogen in the body. Exposure to these chemicals may also increase the risk of cancer and endocrine disorders.
Many plastics contain xenoestrogens. Anyone wishing to lower their exposure to these chemicals may prefer to avoid plastic products, including bottles and food storage containers, when possible.
Men who are concerned about the effects of high estrogen may benefit from making healthful lifestyle changes, such as:
- reducing the number of calories in the diet
- getting more sleep
- seeing a therapist for help managing symptoms of depression or anxiety
- going to couples counseling
Many myths surround the balance of estrogen and testosterone, especially in alternative health and bodybuilding communities.
Several diets promise to lower levels of estrogen, but these claims often lack scientific evidence.
Men concerned about changes in hormones or symptoms related to aging should not necessarily assume that high estrogen levels are to blame. See a doctor, who can test for a range of causes.
If a person has a hormone imbalance, treatment is often quick and safe. A doctor can also provide personalized diet and lifestyle recommendations.