Let’s talk about the top foods to avoid that are highest in estrogen. High-estrogen foods to avoid could be quietyly destroying your hormone balance. A lot of foods with too much estrogen can lead to health issues like hypothyroidism, immune dysfunction, male infertility, chronic fatigue and even certain cancers. (1, 2)
Estrogen dominance is a bodily imbalance that occurs when estrogen levels are too high and progesterone levels are too low. This promotes the growth of fibroids, cysts, cervical dysplasia and tumors. And it’s estimated that half of American women over the age of 35 are estrogen dominant. (3)
So what’s happening? Xenoestrogens — synthetic or natural substances that mimic estrogen — are all around us in ways never before experienced in human civilization. These “environmental estrogens” can even interfere with certain cancer treatments, rendering them less effective. (More on that later).
High-Estrogen Foods to Avoid
1. Wheat & Other Grains
In 2018, Scripps Research Institute scientists published a study showing that two common estrogen-mimicking compounds in foods may actually shut down the benefits of a popular drug combination used to treat metastatic, estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer in postmenopausal women.
The study, published in Cell Chemical Biology, found that zearalenone, estrogen-like fungi that colonize on corn, barley, wheat and other grains, reduce the anti-estrogen effectiveness of the palbociclib/letrozole drug combo. “Breast cancer patients taking palbociclib/letrozole should consider limiting their exposure to foods that contain xenoestrogens,” says Gary Siuzdak, PhD, senior study author and senior director of Scripps Center for Metabolomicsk.
Interestingly, zearalenone is also blamed for abnormal sexual development and birth defects in grain-fed farm animals, along with a breakout of early breast development in girls. (4)
Phytoestrogens can be tricky to ID as healthy or unhealthy because many offer health benefits and threats. Aside from that, we also know that not all soy is created equally. When people ask me if “is soy bad for you?” the answer is often yes. But it’s complicated. As researchers from North Carolina State University and the National Institutes of Health point out: “The answer is undoubtedly complex and may ultimately depend on age, health status, level of consumption and even the composition of an individual’s intestinal microflora.” (5)
Here’s an example suggesting soy creates an overload of estrogen in the body. That same Scripps study referenced above also found genistein in soy almost completely reverses the anti-estrogen benefits of the popular breast cancer drug combo.
Perhaps most alarming is that xenoestrogens can throw off hormonal harmony even in tiny, real-life doses. This includes amounts we may eat or absorb.
The study researchers stress that other xenoestrogens could also impact cancer treatments and our health in general, noting that it’s an understudied issue that needs more attention. (6)
Some soy facts to consider:
- The United Kingdom, Australian and New Zealand advise against the indiscriminate use of soy infant formula; other countries require a prescription. (7)
- Most soy grown in the U.S. is genetically engineered to endure herbicide applications that would normally kill the plant.
- Norwegian researchers found “extreme” levels of glyphosate in U.S. soy. (8)
- Glyphosate causes estrogenic activity that fuels certain hormone-dependent breast cancers. (9)
- Glyphosate is also commonly used on nonorganic corn, canola and cotton. Farmers also use it to “burn down” wheat prior to harvest, meaning it remains in the finished food product. (10)
3. Food Additives
In 2009, Italian researchers screened hundreds of food additives to uncover ones with estrogen-like effects. Turns out, 4-hexylresorcinol, an additive used to prevent discoloration and increase the shelf life of shrimp and other shellfish, possesses estrogenic effects. (That’s just one of the reasons shrimp is on my list of fish you should never eat.) (11)
Propyl gallate is on the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s “Do Not Eat” list. It most commonly hides on in the following places:
- Vegetable oil
- Meat products
- Potato sticks
- Chicken soup base
- Chewing gum
Studies indicate it may be not only an endocrine disruptor but a carcinogen, too. Government funded studies found low doses caused cancer in rates at higher rates compared to zero or high exposures. (14)
4. Conventional Meat & Dairy
The average U.S. citizen consumed 647 pounds of dairy. (15) And anywhere from 60 to 80 percent of estrogens in the typical Western diet comes from milk and other dairy products. (16) This is linked to a higher rate of testicular and prostate cancers. (17)
Hormones and antibiotics used in the meat and dairy industry are well publicized, but what about naturally occurring steroid hormones that act like estrogen?
Iranian researchers published a review study pointing out that virtually all food from animals contains 17β-estradiol and its metabolites, to some extent. So exposures to estrogens are unavoidable in a non-vegetarian human diet. The scientists point out some important facts:
- Naturally occurring hormones in dairy milk pass the blood-milk barrier.
- Soybean use is commonplace in dairy and meat animal production.
- Soy is and other legumes are phytoestrogen-rich and “converted by intestinal bacteria to hormone-like compounds with estrogenic activity.”
- Phytoestrogens do seem to transfer and have been identified in both cow’s milk and breast milk.
- 17-β-oestradiol is also found in the meat of pigs, cows and chickens. (18)
While it is true that low-to-moderate alcohol consumption may lower the risk of heart disease, it’s a little more complicated when it comes to cancer risk. Common plants to used to create alcohol contain estrogen-like substances. In fact, researchers discovered “symptoms of feminization” and testicular failure in men who drink heavily. Beer, wine and bourbon consumption led to heightened estrogen activity in both animal and human studies. (19)
We know that alcohol changes the metabolization of estrogen in the female body. Alcohol triggers estrogen levels to increase. Higher estrogen levels can fuel breast cancer risk.
Some other important facts:
- Looking at 53 studies, researchers discovered that each drink a day increases breast cancer risk by 7 percent.
- Drinking two to three alcoholic drinks daily result in a 20 percent higher breast cancer risk compared to non-drinking women. (20)
6. Tap & Bottled Water
While it may be tempting to reach for bottled water, just know what’s inside may be actually worse than tap water. Bottled water risks include exposure to estrogenic compounds. Let’s take a look at the data:
- 61 percent of bottled water samples induce “significant estrogenic response” when tested on a human cancer cell line.
- Estrogen activity is three times higher when the water is packaged in PET plastic bottles compared to glass. (21)
- The largest source of xenoestrogens in the environment may come from animal manure (up to 90 percent); if 1 percent of estrogens from farm animal waste reached waterways, it would add up to 15 percent of all estrogens found in global water supplies. (22)
Other Estrogenic Exposures
Animal studies show evidence that “environmental estrogens” can act in unpredictable and even more potent ways when they are mixed together. That’s pretty alarming, considering the mix of chemicals we inhale, absorb and ingest on a daily basis. How is that all playing out in our bodies? (23)
Two common household chemicals with estrogen-like effects include plasticizers like BPA and BPA-free relatives like BPS, have the ability to act like estrogen in the body. BPA toxic effects include an estrogen overload that can turn breast cells into cancerous ones. (24) It’s also linked to prostate cancer, vitamin D deficiency and other ills.
BPA hiding spots:
- Cash register receipts
- Canned foods and drinks
- Keg liners
- Polycarbonate water bottles
And don’t trust “BPA-free” labels, either. Many contain estrogenic cousins of BPA, like BPS. A 2013 found even less than one part per trillion of BPS disrupts normal estrogenic receptor cell function, potentially triggering obesity and type 2 diabetes, asthma, birth defects or even cancer. (25)
Phthalates are linked to all sorts of health issues, but one I’d like to point out is prostate cancer. In an animal study, scientists found phthalates may interfere with healthy “crosstalk” between estrogen receptors and transforming growth factor-β signaling pathways. (26)
These plasticizing chemicals also lurk in:
- Synthetic scents, including candles and personal care products
- Makeup (to keep lotions and makeup to stick to your face longer)
- Vinyl shower curtains, flooring and other products
- Laundry products
- Nail polish
- #3 plastic cling wrap
3. Oil & Gas Chemicals
Health dangers of fracking are expansive. And one of the main areas of concern in oil and gas development involves not only the endocrine-disrupting chemicals used, but how they interact with each other to become even more dangerous. Fracking involves the use of about 1,000 different chemicals throughout the process, including at least 100 identified as hormone disruptors.
Although natural gas burns cleaner than coal, when scientists tabulated the “cradle to grave” impacts, hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” promotes climate change as much or more than burning coal. (29)
4. Birth Control Pills
Birth control pills contain high levels of estrogen. And while that works to prevent pregnancy, ethinyl estradiol winds up in wastewater after women flush the toilet. The results are worrisome, as estrogen-like compounds wind up in surface water.
Ethinyl estradiol causes a biological effect even at really low levels, which is why we’re starting to see the feminization of fish and amphibians in tainted waterbodies. It can demasculinize males and lead to intersex fish. (These males-turned-intersex fish produce eggs in their testes. Not normal!) (30)
5. Certain Essential Oils
Not all essential oils are appropriate for everyone, thanks to their ability to impact hormones. In 2007, researchers published a study showing weak estrogenic activity in tea tree and lavender oils seemed to spur breast growth in pre-pubescent boys. (31) Some can even accelerate contractions during pregnancy, so aren’t appropriate when a woman is carrying a child. Some essential oils with estrogenic effects include:
This is why, when seeking to buy essential oils, you look for Certified USDA Organic, 100 percent “pure,” indigenously sourced and therapeutic grade.
How to Avoid Xenoestrogens
The good news is there are powerful ways to drastically reduce the amount of estrogen-like compounds you eat and absorb. To start to balance hormones naturally, here are some of my most important tips to reduce xenoestrogen exposure:
- According to KeepaBreast.org, diiodolylmethane, or DIM, improves healthy estrogen metabolism and is present in Brassica or cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, mustard greens and Brussels sprouts. Calcium D-Glucarate reduces total estrogen levels and is found in brassica veggies, citrus fruits and cucurbitacease vegetables that like cucumbers, pumpkins, cantaloupe and squashes.
- Milk thistle and dandelion supplements are great to support your body in the detox from estrogen.
- Exercise and avoid processed foods and sugars to lower your body fat to a healthy level. Excess visceral fat manufactures more estrogen in your body.
- Choose filtered water over bottled water. Environmental Working Group’s Water Filter Guide is a great place to start.
- Avoid plastic use as much as possible. Particularly estrogenic plastics are #3, #6 and some #7s.
- Choose a food-grade stainless or glass water bottle.
- Avoid nonstick cookware and use the best nontoxic cookware. It’s what I use in my home!
- Avoid heating reusable plastics that come into contact with food in the dishwasher or microwave.
- Avoid vinyl whenever possible. Choose hemp or natural material shower curtains and avoid vinyl flooring.
- Choose fresh or frozen foods versus canned foods and drinks.
- Say no to trivial cash register receipts. Choose email receipts whenever possible. And don’t store receipts in the bottom of your purse or bag.
- Opt for organic or non-GMO foods as often as possible, especially when it comes to corn- and soy-containing foods.
- Say no to fragranced products, including air fresheners, plug-ins, wax melts, personal care products and dryer sheets.
- Instead of scented laundry products, use a quarter cup of white vinegar in the rinse cycle for natural fabric softening.
- Use coconut, olive or avocado oil instead of vegetable oil. Vegetable oils often contain high-estrogen food additives.
- Choose fatty fish like Pacific sardines or wild-caught Alaskan tuna instead of shellfish.
- Avoid dairy or use organic, grass-fed, cultured dairy. I prefer goat milk.
- If you live near fracking sites, get independent water testing; many fracking chemicals act like estrogen in the body and can cause health problems. Promote clean energy like solar or wind instead of chemically-intensive oil or gas.
- Consider using a combination of natural birth control methods.
- I know avoiding high-estrogen foods and other everyday exposures may seem frustrating. Why is in our hands? It’s a sign that our food safety and chemical laws in this country are outdated and ineffective. We need laws that keep harmful products off of store shelves before entire generations are exposed. Why should we be the guinea pigs while industry profits while making us sick?
- Xenoestrogens are “environmental estrogens” that may be natural or synthetic. They tinker with our bodies’ natural estrogen levels, promoting certain health problems.
- Phytoestrogens naturally occurring in some foods and drinks have been shown to be harmful and helpful in certain situations.
- Avoiding fake fragrances, bottled water and conventional meat and dairy is a huge way to reduce xenoestrogen exposure.
- Instead of buying bottled water, look at your local municipal/city water testing and choose a filter that best removes most contaminates. If you live on well water, get a test and filter accordingly rather than relying on bottled water. (I know some people contaminated by fracking practices may have no other choice than move or use bottled water. That is an exception and we need to hold these polluting corporations accountable.)