Estrogen is a hormone that wears many hats. It affects everything from your menstrual cycle, fertility, breasts, bones, heart, and even your mood!
It’s normal for estrogen levels to fluctuate during the month and at different stages in life. But when estrogen levels get too low, your body may send some alarm bells.
This could show up as weight gain, trouble sleeping, or not feeling ‘in the mood.’
Luckily, some foods can help increase estrogen naturally. These are known as phytoestrogens. Eating more of these foods may support healthy estrogen levels and ease symptoms.
So read on to learn the best foods to boost your estrogen naturally and how they work. We’ll also explore supplements and lifestyle habits that may improve low estrogen levels.
But first, let’s cover the warning signs of low estrogen and its common causes.
Signs of Low Estrogen
Since estrogen is involved in many bodily functions, when it gets low it can bring on a slew of symptoms.
Low estrogen symptoms include:
- Trouble sleeping
- Irregular periods
- Low libido
- Tender breasts
- Vaginal dryness
- Weight gain (especially around the belly)
- Dry skin
- Mood changes
- Brittle bones
- Trouble concentrating
- Hot flashes or night sweats
If you have any of the symptoms above, it’s best to consult your OB-GYN.
What Causes Low Estrogen?
Estrogen levels vary depending on your stage of life. But low estrogen can also be caused by certain health conditions.
Causes of low estrogen include:
- Breastfeeding can also keep estrogen low. This is because estrogen needs to stay low so your both can make prolactin, the milk-producing hormone.
- Childbirth causes your estrogen and progesterone to plummet.
- Menopause is by far the most common cause of low estrogen. This is when your menstrual cycle stops – along with your ovaries’ estrogen production.
- Perimenopause may also lead to low estrogen levels as your body prepares for menopause. This can happen as early as your 30s or as late as your mid-50s.
- Eating disorders can alter hormone production and can lead to low estrogen.
- Autoimmune conditions are linked with low estrogen. Some believe this is because estrogen plays a role in the immune system’s inflammatory process.
- Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy may lower estrogen levels.
- Genetic disorders such as Turner Syndrome and Fragile X syndrome can lead to low estrogen.
- Primary ovarian insufficiency can result in low estrogen levels. This is when a woman’s ovaries stop functioning normally before age 40.
- Problems with the pituitary gland can disrupt hormone levels and may lead to low estrogen.
- Many post-menopausal women use hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to boost estrogen. While effective, HRT increases the risk of blood clots and certain cancers.
That’s why many women with low estrogen try the natural route first.
If you’re wondering how to increase estrogen naturally, one of the easiest places to start is with your diet.
Eating more phytoestrogen-rich foods may support your body’s natural estrogen production.
What are Phytoestrogens?
Phytoestrogens are plant compounds with a structure similar to estrogen. Also known as dietary estrogens, they mimic estrogen’s effects on the body.
Phytoestrogens bind to estrogen receptors, influencing estrogen’s activity. That said, they bind weaker compared to estrogen, so their effects are milder.
How do Phytoestrogens Affect the Body?
It’s complicated. Some phytoestrogens have estrogen-like effects and may boost estrogen levels. Others have anti-estrogen effects and may lower estrogen.
For example, after menopause estrogen crashes. This can trigger a bevy of symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats.
Research suggests that phytoestrogen intake can ease menopausal symptoms. They’re even shown to improve heart health and reduce the risk of osteoporosis and some hormone-related cancers.
Food Sources of Phytoestrogens
If you’re struggling with symptoms of low estrogen, shifting your diet may help. Eating more phytoestrogen-rich foods may support healthy estrogen levels in your body.
Here are seven foods high in phytoestrogens:
Soy foods such as edamame, tofu, tempeh, and miso are all rich in phytoestrogens known as soy isoflavones. This is a type of phytoestrogen that can have estrogenic or anti-estrogenic effects.
While their effects are complex, research shows many benefits of soy isoflavones. In one study of 5,042 women with breast cancer, women with higher soy intake were more likely to survive and had less chance of cancer returning.
Flax seeds are high in lignans, a type of phytoestrogen that helps with estrogen metabolism.
Research shows eating flax seeds can reduce the risk of breast cancer, especially in postmenopausal women.
One study also found that eating flaxseed daily may improve menopause symptoms and quality of life.
Like flax seeds, sesame seeds are high in lignans. Packed with fiber and rich in antioxidants, these tiny seeds offer many benefits.
For example, in one study women consumed sesame seed powder every day for 5 weeks. This increased their estrogen, eased menopausal symptoms, and improved cholesterol.
Chickpeas are also good sources of isoflavones. For a delicious, phytoestrogen-rich snack, try hummus. Made with a combo of chickpeas and sesame paste, each 100g serving delivers 993 mcg of phytoestrogens.
Dried fruits are not just a tasty on-the-go snack. They’re also rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytoestrogens. Dates, dried apricots, and prunes are all high in lignans, one of the main phytoestrogens.
Berries are a nutritional powerhouse. They’re nutrient-dense and packed with antioxidants, fiber, and phytoestrogens. Blackberries, cranberries, and raspberries are all good sources of phytoestrogens.
Risks vs. Benefits
While phytoestrogens offer many benefits, they’re controversial. Because they alter hormone activity, they’re considered endocrine disruptors.
That said, most research suggests that consuming a moderate amount of phytoestrogens is safe and beneficial.
Benefits of phytoestrogens include:
- Reducing the risk of breast cancer
- Easing menopausal symptoms
- Lowering cholesterol
- Improving heart health
- Promoting weight loss
- Reducing the risk of osteoporosis
- Improving skin health
However, there are concerns that phytoestrogens may have some risks.
Some say that consuming too many phytoestrogens could lead to estrogen dominance. As mentioned, this is when your body doesn’t have enough progesterone to balance estrogen’s effects.
And since high estrogen is linked with breast cancer, some worry that phytoestrogens may increase breast cancer risk. Yet, most studies have shown they have a protective effect.
In general, the evidence suggests that the health benefits of phytoestrogens outweigh the risks. Just don’t go overboard and include them as part of a balanced, healthy diet.
Can Supplements Help Increase Estrogen?
Yep! Like food, some herbal supplements and nutrients may support estrogen balance in the body.
Here are some supplements that may help boost estrogen naturally:
Red clover is an herb that belongs to the legume family. Like other legumes, it contains isoflavones, the same phytoestrogens found in soy. Research shows red clover may help increase estrogen and relieve menopause symptoms.
Vitamin D plays an important role in bone health, heart health, immunity, and estrogen metabolism. Yet around 50% of the population is low on vitamin D.
Research shows vitamin D deficiency is linked with low estrogen. You can take a vitamin D supplement to support estrogen synthesis. Or you can get a free dose with daily sun exposure.
Your body needs B vitamins to create estrogen, especially vitamins B2, and B6. So if you’re running low on B vitamins, your estrogen could be too.
One study found that having higher levels of vitamin B2 and B6 lowers the risk of breast cancer. Some believe this link is due to B-vitamins’ positive effect on estrogen.
Chasteberry, also known as Vitex, is an herb that’s often used to treat PMS symptoms naturally. It contains apigenin, a phytoestrogen that has anti-inflammatory properties.
Research shows chasteberry can reduce menopausal symptoms including hot flashes, depression, and anxiety.
DHEA is a hormone made by your adrenal glands. It helps produce other hormones, including estrogen. But it can be taken in supplement form too.
There is evidence that supplementing with DHEA can help raise estrogen levels.
Yet, because it’s a hormone, it does come with some risks. If you’re someone with an increased risk of cancer, talk with your doctor before taking this supplement.
Can Lifestyle Boost Estrogen Naturally?
Yes, again. Lifestyle habits affect everything from your energy, mood, and yes – your hormones.
Here are three ways to increase estrogen levels naturally:
Reduce stress: When you’re stressed out, your body amps up cortisol production, also known as the ‘stress hormone.’ This can throw off other hormones, including estrogen.
So do what you can to manage your stress. Meditate, get out in nature, and learn to say ‘no’ when needed.
Maintain a healthy weight: Your ovaries produce estrogen, but so does your body fat. This means if you’re underweight, your body may struggle in the estrogen department.
On the flip side, if you’re overweight, your body may make too much estrogen.
Exercise: Being active helps boost your mood and your estrogen. One study had postmenopausal women take part in a 12-week exercise program. Some did aerobic exercise and others did anaerobic (e.g. weight lifting). They found that all exercise improved estrogen levels. But anaerobic exercise delivered the most benefits.
What About HRT?
Treating things naturally is always a good place to start. But if you need some extra support to boost your estrogen, talk with your doctor. They may recommend hormone replacement therapy (HRT) such as topical estrogen creams or medications.
While HRT is effective, it does have risks. This includes an increased risk of blood clots and breast cancer. Speak with your healthcare provider to determine if it’s the right fit for you.
How Can I Test My Estrogen Levels?
When it comes to balancing hormones, it’s always good to have a baseline. If you’re wondering how to test your estrogen levels, you have two options.
The first option is to visit your doctor for an estrogen test. These are usually done via a blood test or a 24-hour urine sample.
But since hormones fluctuate day to day, one test won’t give you a complete picture. That’s why many opt for at-home tests.
Testing your estrogen regularly helps you track your progress. That way you know if your diet and lifestyle changes are improving your body’s estrogen levels.
While your body needs estrogen, too much can cause problems as well. This can lead to estrogen dominance – an imbalance where there’s not enough progesterone to offset estrogen’s effects.
Checking your estrogen and progesterone ratio helps you know whether your estrogen and progesterone are in balance. This supports your fertility and helps keep your cycles regular.
- Symptoms of low estrogen include weight gain, vaginal dryness, low libido, and irregular cycles.
- Low estrogen may be caused by breastfeeding, childbirth, autoimmune issues, or eating disorders.
- Phytoestrogens are plant compounds that mimic estrogen’s activity in the body.
- Eating more foods with phytoestrogens may support healthy estrogen levels.
- Phytoestrogen-rich foods include soy, sesame seeds, flaxseed, chickpeas, berries, and dried fruit.
- Certain herbal supplements may also help increase estrogen naturally. These include B vitamins, vitamin D, chasteberry, red clover, and DHEA.
- Reducing stress, maintaining a healthy weight, and exercising also support healthy estrogen levels.
- Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can help increase estrogen. But it’s linked with an increased risk of blood clots and breast cancer.
- Your doctor can order an estrogen test to check your levels. You can also test your estrogen at home with the Inito Fertility Monitor.