When it comes to sexual and reproductive health, estrogen is one of the main characters. It also plays an important role in maintaining bone health, libido, cardiovascular health, mood, energy and skin. Estrogen is made in the ovaries in females and testosterone can be converted to estrogen in males. Estrogen levels will naturally fluctuate but low estrogen can wreak havoc on your body. This article will explore vitamins and minerals, herbal remedies and foods that may naturally increase estrogen in your body.
Being that estrogen is one of the dominant hormones, low estrogen levels can lead to health complications and can negatively impact an individual’s quality of life. There are several factors that may be causing low estrogen levels, some of which include age, hormonal changes related to menopause, thyroid function, recent birth delivery, and breastfeeding.
Symptoms of low estrogen levels include irregular menstrual cycles, changes in libido, tender breasts, hot flashes, and decreased bone mineral density.
Phytoestrogens are compounds found in plants that have a similar structure to a form of estrogen and can mimic the effects of estrogen in the body. Although they are not pure estrogen, phytoestrogens can promote estrogen synthesis and metabolism to help body function when estrogen is low. Phytoestrogens can produce estrogenic, anti-estrogenic or no activity depending on the tissue.
The two main classes of phytoestrogens are isoflavones and lignans. Isoflavones are polyphenols with estrogenic properties. They are primarily found in foods such as soy, legumes, alfalfa, clover, licorice root, and kudzu root. Diets higher in isoflavones, such as traditional Japanese diets, have been linked to lower rates of hormone-dependent health issues. Lignans are found in fiber rich foods such as flaxseeds, other oil seeds, whole grains, legumes, and vegetables. Lignans help with balancing the effects of estrogen in the body by connecting to estrogen receptors and reducing free estrogen in circulation.
B vitamins are water soluble vitamins that help enzymes function and are needed for a variety of cellular functions. B6, B12, and folate are particularly involved in the production and activation of estrogen in the body. Therefore, low levels of these vitamins can interfere with the body's ability to maintain healthy estrogen levels.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that the body needs to build and maintain healthy bones, regulate calcium, and provide immune support. The sun is probably the most notable source of vitamin D and while there is an abundance of that source, almost half of the American population is deficient in this vitamin due to not being able to get enough daily sunlight exposure to absorb an adequate amount.
It may be less well known that vitamin D has also been shown to play a role in reproductive health. This study from 2000 investigated the role of the active form of vitamin D in estrogen synthesis in both female and male gonads. The results from this study indicated that vitamin D supports estrogen synthesis partially by maintaining calcium balance.
Boron is a mineral found naturally in many foods and in small amounts in the body. While it’s not an essential nutrient for humans, it may be beneficial for many biological functions, such as reproduction, bone health, brain health, immunity, metabolism, and hormonal health. This mineral also plays a role in how the body controls other minerals like calcium and magnesium.
A diet low in boron has been associated with lower concentrations of estrogen, particularly in postmenopausal women. This study examined the effects of different minerals on 12 women between the ages of 48-82 (post-menopausal). The findings indicated that supplementing with 3 mg/day of boron resulted in increased estrogen levels for more than half of the women in the study, particularly when their magnesium level was low.
DHEA is a hormone that is found naturally in your body. It is made by the adrenal glands and helps produce other hormones like estrogen and testosterone. A 2021 randomized control trial evaluated the influence of DHEA on estrogen levels in over 1,200 women. The results indicated that DHEA supplementation significantly increased estradiol levels, and elevated concentrations were most notable in women over the age of 60.
Garlic is packed with many vitamins, including vitamin A, C, and E, as well as riboflavin, thiamine, and nicotinic acid (B vitamins), making it a rich source of phytoestrogens. Research has found garlic oil to help increase estrogen levels in ovariectomy-induced subjects and help preserve bone mineral content. This, however, has mainly been studied in mice; therefore, the influence of garlic oil on estrogen levels needs further exploration in human subjects.
Black cohosh or Cimicifuga racemosa is a traditional Native American herbal remedy that is known to act as a phytoestrogen, which we now know mimics the effects of estrogen. It is most commonly used to help alleviate menstrual discomfort and postmenopausal symptoms like hot flashes, cramps, irritability, and vaginal dryness. Multiple studies found that doses of 80-160 mg/day have a beneficial effect on menopausal women.
Chasteberry or Vitex agnus-castus, has been used as an herbal remedy for women dating back to the 4th century B.C. It contains a variety of active compounds that are beneficial to the reproductive system as it regulates the production of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH), which are the hormones involved in balancing estrogen and progesterone levels. Several studies have found that women receiving chasteberry demonstrated improvements in PMS symptoms.
Evening primrose oil is another herb with phytoestrogenic properties that can provide stronger estrogenic effects when estrogen is low. Although research is limited, a randomized controlled study from 2021 found that postmenopausal women taking 1,000 mg of primrose oil twice per day showed improvements in reducing night sweats, which is a common symptom during menopause.
Red clover is one of the major sources of isoflavones. The isoflavones extracted from red clover help regulate estrogen in the body and have been used to help alleviate symptoms associated with low estrogen levels.
Soybeans and soy products are a rich source of isoflavones, one of the main classes of phytoestrogens and have been found to increase estrogen levels due to their high isoflavone content. Isoflavones have the ability to interact with estrogen receptors as they have similar structures to estradiol and therefore mimic estrogen in the body.
Flaxseeds have both estrogenic and anti-estrogenic properties. They are one of the richest sources of lignans, a type of phytoestrogen making them useful for when estrogen levels are low. They are also rich in insoluble dietary fiber called lignin that can bind to excess estrogen in the digestive tract and remove it through feces.
Sesame seeds are made up of 1.5% lignans, making them a rich source of phytoestrogens compared to other sources of lignans. They have strong antioxidant properties and a study from 2006 that investigated the effects of sesame ingestion on sex hormones found sesame lignans to be beneficial for postmenopausal women.
Chocolate is classified as a phytoestrogen and can help boost estrogen levels. It also is packed with antioxidants. Plus it is enjoyable to some, therefore, it can help with reducing stress, which is known to negatively impact our hormones.
Estrogen is an important hormone responsible for many functions regarding sexual and reproductive health. While estrogen levels will fluctuate throughout life when the body naturally experiences hormonal changes, low estrogen levels can negatively affect the body. Again, estrogen levels will vary among individuals, which is why you should consult a healthcare professional before taking any supplements or medications.