One of the most pivotal discoveries made in the field of obesity research is the fact that fat actually produces it’s own hormones – at least nineteen of them, including estrogen. That fat can act as an endocrine organ has huge implications for hormonal balance in women, especially when you consider that we have about 45 billion fat cells, each of which are capable of expanding to one thousand times its original size to accommodate extra calories. Because fat cells produce estrogen, obesity is a leading cause of estrogen dominance, a metabolic state characterized by a wide gap between low progesterone levels and consistently high estrogen levels. Therefore, you can probably predict what the first and foremost nutrition tip for estrogen dominance will be:
Reduce calorie intake. After a high-calorie meal, insulin levels skyrocket signaling fat cells to get bigger by absorbing more glucose. As they get larger, a funny thing happens to the hormone precursors in fat cells; The compounds that would have become lean, mean testosterone change into estrone or “bad estrogen” precursors. Less testosterone causes loss of muscle mass while estrone encourages water retention and high blood pressure. Estrone also interferes with the action of the “good estrogen”, estradiol, which helps to regulate appetite. Estrogen metabolism is a really complex but cutting calories is the relatively simple way to control production of estrogen by fat cells. Nutrient-dense foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains are naturally low in calories. Eat these foods more often than processed food products for a foolproof way to fight estrogen dominance.
Eat organic as much as possible. Pesticides disrupt hormone balance – and they don’t wash off fruits and vegetables. The only way to avoid the xenoestrogens (synthetic chemicals that mimic the action of estrogen) is to eat meat, milk, and produce that has been naturally raised without the use of growth hormones, pesticides or herbicides. The most contaminated conventionally grown item, known as “the dirty dozen”, are: apples, peaches, bell peppers, celery, cherries, pears, potatoes, spinach, strawberries, raspberries, nectarines and imported grapes. Avoid the toxins that tinker with your hormone receptors and eat these organically.
Crunch cruciferous vegetables every day. Named for the cross you see when you cut into their stems, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts contain a phytochemical called indole-3-carbinol (I3C). When ingested, I3C turns into a molecule that blocks the production of harmful estrogens and enhances the production of “good” estrogens. Given that we’re exposed to xenoestrogens everyday, above and beyond the estrogen that we produce in out body, it’s very important to eat these sources of I3C every day. Whether you eat them raw, steamed or stir-fried, a serving of cruciferous vegetables everyday will keep “bad” estrogens away!
Get plenty of fibre. Fibre does many things in your body: it lowers your risk of obesity, reduces your risk of heart disease and colon cancer, improves blood sugar control and keeps you regular. Fibre also has surprising hormonal benefits. It plays a critical role in helping your body removal excess “bad” estrone estrogen by locking onto it in your digestive tract so it can’t be absorbed into the bloodstream. Soluble fibre is the most effective at doing this (remember, soluble fibre lowers blood cholesterol in a similar fashion, and estrogen and cholesterol have a similar molecule structure.) The best high fibre foods to reach for are flaxseeds, soybeans and cruciferous vegetables because they promote positive estrogen balance.
Perfect Balance by Robert A. Greene and Leah Feldon. Clarkson Potter Publishers, New York, 2005. Chapter 4, pages 53-63.