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  • Top 10 foods high in oestrogen

Top 10 foods high in oestrogen

Oestrogen is essential for reproductive health, bone density and cardiovascular health. An imbalance of this hormone can significantly affect your general well-being. One way you can stabilise oestrogen levels is through your diet. Keep reading to learn more about oestrogen-rich foods and their benefits.

Medically reviewed by Dr. Caroline Fontana Written by our editorial team Last reviewed 18-01-2024

What are oestrogen-rich foods?

Certain foods contain compounds that are structurally similar to the oestrogen that your body makes.

These compounds are known as phytoestrogens. Research suggests that they can bind to estrogen receptors in the body. When this happens, they either increase (estrogenic) or decrease (anti-estrogenic) oestrogen levels.

‘Phytoestrogens’ spelt on pink wooden letters.

Several types of phytoestrogen can be found in many different foods. Legumes like soybeans are particularly rich in phytoestrogens.

Types of phytoestrogens

There are several key types of phytoestrogens:

Isoflavones

  • The most widely studied and most important source of phytoestrogens.
  • They are found in legumes like soybean or red clover.

Stilbenes

  • The most common stilbene is resveratrol which is found in grapes and peanuts.
  • Known for their antioxidant properties and cardiovascular benefits.

Coumestans

  • Regarded as mild phytoestrogens.
  • Found in alfalfa, clover and some leafy greens.

Lignans

  • Known to increase and decrease oestrogen levels.
  • Mainly found in flaxseeds, wheat flour, peanuts, fruits and berries.

What are the benefits of oestrogen-rich foods?

There is some evidence that consuming more phytoestrogens can have some health benefits. Below are some of the most recognised and researched benefits of phytoestrogens.

Reproductive health

The majority of research on phytoestrogen has focussed on postmenopausal women. This is because their oestrogen levels drop dramatically which causes a myriad of symptoms.

Close-up of female hands holding a cartoon uterus diagram.

Some research Trusted source PubMed Government Source Database of Biomedical Research Go to source has found that phytoestrogens can reduce certain symptoms of menopause. This includes hot flashes, vaginal dryness, sleep problems and brain fog.

Bone health

Another health problem that postmenopausal women struggle with is osteoporosis. Oestrogen is essential for bone health, and when oestrogen levels drop, it causes weak bones and makes them more likely to break.

Research Trusted source Lippincott Williams & Wilkins (LWW) Peer-reviewed Journals Multidisciplinary Health Care Go to source has shown that phytoestrogens can increase bone density. This could mean postmenopausal women are less likely to have bone fractures. However, more research is needed to investigate the direct link between phytoestrogens and osteoporosis.

Cardiovascular health

There is also evidence that phytoestrogens can improve cardiovascular health. In particular, studies have found that they can improve cholesterol levels.

One meta-analysis Trusted source PubMed Government Source Database of Biomedical Research Go to source of 38 clinical trials found that daily consumption of soy protein significantly reduced triglyceride and bad cholesterol levels. Reducing cholesterol levels will reduce your risk of heart disease.

Cancer

Phytoestrogens have also been linked to a reduction in certain hormone-related cancers. One in particular is breast cancer.

Close-up of woman holding pink breast cancer ribbon to her chest.

One Chinese study Trusted source ScienceDirect Peer-reviewed Journals Multidisciplinary Research Go to source of over 70,000 women found that consumption of phytoestrogens reduced the risk of breast cancer. Research also suggests that eating more phytoestrogens as a child can reduce this risk.

However, it by no means prevents cancer. More research is needed to understand the relationship between phytoestrogens and cancers.

Should men eat these foods?

A myth about phytoestrogens and soy products in particular is that they decrease testosterone levels in men, which feminises them.

Close-up of male patient having consultation with a doctor.

This is not the case and men can benefit from phytoestrogens as part of a balanced diet. One 2021 meta-analysis Trusted source ScienceDirect Peer-reviewed Journals Multidisciplinary Research Go to source found that soy and other isoflavones did not decrease testosterone levels or increase oestrogen levels.

Other research Trusted source National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) Government Source Biomedical Research and Literature Go to source has found there are health benefits for men, such as a reduced risk of prostate cancer.

How do I consume more phytoestrogens?

Phytoestrogens are an important part of a balanced and healthy diet. However, it might not be clear how to incorporate them into your lifestyle.

Array of soy products on a wooden background.

This is especially true in the Western world. Research Trusted source National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) Government Source Biomedical Research and Literature Go to source shows on average that people in Western countries consume only 2mg of isoflavones. This was compared to 15-50mg in some Asian countries.

Top 10 oestrogen foods

The easiest way to increase your phytoestrogen intake is through your diet. Below are the top 10 sources of phytoestrogens.

  1. Soy (e.g. tofu or soy milk)
  2. Legumes (e.g. lentils, beans and chickpeas)
  3. Nuts and seeds (e.g. flaxseed, peanuts or sesame seeds)
  4. Fruits (e.g. grapes, cherries and dried fruits)
  5. Vegetables (e.g. carrots, spinach or cabbage)
  6. Vegetable oils (e.g. olive oil)
  7. Wheat (e.g. in bread or cereals)
  8. Coffee
  9. Onions
  10. Garlic

There are a variety of foods that can boost phytoestrogens. That means it is very simple to incorporate to find foods you like and eat a balanced diet.

Can I take herbal supplements?

As well as food, several herbal supplements are good sources of phytoestrogens.

Some include:

  • red clover
  • black cohosh
  • dong quai
  • liquorice
  • ginseng
  • soy isoflavones

These supplements are available at most pharmacies or health stores, especially marketed for menopause. Always check with a healthcare professional before trying any herbal supplements, especially if you take any other medications.

Conclusion

Despite the myths surrounding high-oestrogen foods, there are a plethora of health benefits from consuming foods containing phytoestrogens. In particular, it can help reduce symptoms and health risks in postmenopausal women.

These foods can be incorporated easily into a healthy diet. Some may benefit from supplements but you should always seek medical advice if you have a health condition.

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