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Hormone Series Part 4: Plant Based Promotes Estrogen Detox

Nutrition

“Many women that I work with in my practice want to lose weight. They come in with this weight loss goal, but when we look deeper, we often discover hormonal imbalances that contribute to weight gain or make it hard to lose weight.”


“There are some delicious foods that we can all include more of in our diets that support healthy estrogen metabolism and balance.”


“Achieving hormone balance is no exception: diet plays a critical role. And when it comes to my diet recommendations, I’m always suggesting adding in more plants.”


“In the nutrition world, with so many experts and options, there isn’t much debate around the idea of adding in more plants – namely whole fruits and vegetables. A plant based diet benefits overall health, longevity and prevention of chronic disease and we have many repeated studies  to show these correlations.”



Why A Plant Based Diet Promotes Estrogen Detoxification And Stubborn Weight Loss


Many women that I work with in my practice want to lose weight. They come in with this weight loss goal, but when we look deeper, we often discover hormonal imbalances that contribute to weight gain or make it hard to lose weight. Instead of white knuckling weight loss with a very restrictive diet, we address the root causes while adding in hormonal support through specific foods and dietary strategies. Often, when we fully address the root, weight normalizes effortlessly. 


As I continue on my hormone series, today I want to offer some strategies to support estrogen detoxification and specifically, what foods to eat. You might be interested in an estrogen detox diet plan as part of a strategy for how to lose stubborn weight.


If you’re just catching up, be sure to go back and read Part 1 where I talk about the stress hormone cortisol and Part 2 where I talk about cortisol and progesterone


In my most recent article, Part 3, I covered estrogen dominance  – how too much estrogen in the system leads to uncomfortable, yet all too common, symptoms including PMS, tender breasts and fibroids. It even contributes to the development of cancer


Excess estrogen or excess estrogen in relation to progesterone, is a common hormone imbalance that I see in women in my practice. Some women produce too much estrogen, others have a hard time clearing it and we are all exposed to extra estrogen, known as xenoestrogens, through the environment around us. 


To recap, here are the reasons behind estrogen dominance: 


  1. Elevated estrogen levels can occur because the body is making too much estrogen
  2. Low progesterone relative to normal estrogen levels can still make you feel estrogen dominant symptoms
  3. Elevated estrogen can occur from environmental xenoestrogens found in cleaning products, personal care products, makeup, plastics, flame retardants, etc. 
  4. Issues with estrogen detoxification pathways, including making unfavorable estrogen metabolites through liver detoxification and trouble clearing estrogen from the body through the digestive system can increase estrogen symptoms


Because we are all so unique, I recommend working with a functional medicine practitioner like myself for personalized guidance. Yet, there are some delicious foods that we can all include more of in our diets that support healthy estrogen metabolism and balance. 


In this article, you will learn more about: 



Let’s dive in to the details!


Plant Based Diet and Estrogen


If you’re a patient or a follower you’ll know that I advocate for personalized and anti-inflammatory diets. In my practice, I recommend functional medicine therapeutic diets to promote healing for a variety of medical conditions and persistent symptoms, including weight loss. Achieving hormone balance is no exception: diet plays a critical role. And when it comes to my diet recommendations, I’m always suggesting adding in more plants


Let’s unpack this connection between a plant based diet and estrogen. 


It’s helpful to understand that to clear estrogen out of the body it goes through two phases of detoxification in the liver and then a final phase in the colon, where it is excreted from the body. These detoxification processes are very nutrient-dependent and many of these nutrients we get through plants! (You can read more about liver detoxification and the specific nutrients needed in my article: How To Detox Your Liver)


I’m going to talk about specific foods in the final section of this article, but first let’s dive into what I mean by a plant based diet. I’m talking about a whole food plant based diet. The whole food piece is key. 


It’s possible to eat all plants (as in a vegan diet) or mostly plants (as in a vegetarian or plant-forward omnivore diet) where the majority of the plants are processed or ultra-processed. These highly palatable and refined foods aren’t doing your hormones any favors. These processed foods – think crackers, pasta, bread, sweets – might be made out of plants, but they are also high in refined carbs and lacking many of the beneficial components that we need from plants to balance our hormones, including vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytonutrients. There is a myth circulating in the health niche, and even in many functional medicine circles that carbs are bad for health or will make you fat. This couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s not that carbohydrates are intrinsically “bad” it’s just that when we refine and process them, we remove most of the medicinal constituents that make plants foods (carbs) the healthiest foods on the planet!


Contrast these processed carbs with a nutrient-dense, whole food diet that is centered around nutrient dense plants which will be more moderate in carbohydrates and even “high” in carbs (don’t be scared!) and packed with micronutrients, fiber and deep nutrition to support estrogen detoxification and hormone metabolism. 


A plant based diet may be vegan, vegetarian, Mediterranean, omnivore, paleo or keto. Whatever category works best for your body and your healing goals is fine to use as a base while starting. And then add in more whole food plants! 


While all of the dietary patterns above will help you lose weight, you want to choose what will help you maintain a healthy weight long-term.  It’s the long-term impact of weight stability that leads to balanced health and chronic disease prevention.  While keto diets are the rage right now, consider if using a diet to achieve quick fat loss is actually helpful if you can’t realistically maintain that fat loss long - term.  If you can, then do what works for you.  Interestingly, I have found in my practice that women especially don’t feel their “hormonal best” on low carb Paleo or Keto diets and I often find that women enjoy eating more carbs. Not only do women require more carbohydrates for hormonal balance, but often after years of being on low carb diets, women’s body’s stall, plateau or gain back weight (and then some).  You may know someone who had success on Paleo or Keto in their younger years and then they hit their late 30’s or 40’s what used to work then, now does not.  This is often a sign that your body needs healthy, wholesome carbohydrates.   It’s a process to work through “carbophobia” and I recommend working with my team to help you lose the fear while you shed the fat!


Plant Based Diet Benefits and Stubborn Weight Loss


In Part 3 of my hormone series, I talked about the relationship between estrogen and weight. When estrogen levels are normal, this helpful hormone supports the maintenance of a healthy weight. But, in excess, estrogen may contribute to weight gain and stubborn weight loss (especially stubborn weight loss after 35). 


When it comes to how to get rid of stubborn weight, a plant based diet has many benefits. Here is how plants help: 





Without the nutrients from plants and when carbohydrate levels are too low, this strains the thyroid and adrenal systems in the body making it harder to lose and maintain a healthy weight. 



In the nutrition world, with so many experts and options, there isn’t much debate around the idea of adding in more plants – namely whole fruits and vegetables. A plant based diet benefits overall health, longevity and prevention of chronic disease and we have many repeated studies  to show these correlations. Plant foods also help to fill in the “phytonutrient gap,” reduce inflammation, protect the body from the damage caused by toxins and even improve psychological well-being and happiness. 


Estrogen Detox and Diet


By now you are thinking, Chyrl, but what do I eat? Here is the food list you’ve been waiting for; the foods to add in for your estrogen detox diet!


  1. Cruciferous vegetables. Broccoli, cauliflower, kale, collard greens, brussels sprouts, turnips, arugula and all the other wonderful, sulfur-rich foods in this plant family contain  3,3’-diindolymethane (DIM). DIM is chemoprotective, helps reduce high estrogen levels and supports phase 1 of estrogen detox in the liver. 


  1. Broccoli sprouts. Broccoli sprouts contain DIM and are in the cruciferous family. These foods also contain a compound, sulforaphane, of which broccoli sprouts contain the highest amounts. Sulforaphane isn’t an antioxidant itself, but it is an activator of antioxidant protection and detoxification enzymes in the body that lasts for days! For estrogen detoxification specifically, sulforaphane helps shuttle estrogen down the protective 2-OH pathway of phase 1 detoxification instead of the pathways more associated with cancer. 


  1. Beets. Beets contain pigments from betalins that have medicinal properties. They support methylation, or phase 2 estrogen detoxification, are antioxidant rich, anti-inflammatory and liver supportive. 


  1. Seeds. Seeds are a good source of minerals and essential fats to support estrogen and progesterone signaling and balance. Minerals in seeds such as zinc in pumpkin seeds, selenium in sunflower seeds and magnesium in sesame seeds are important cofactors to enzymes involved in sex hormone metabolism. They can actually prevent aromatase action, which is an enzyme that turns testosterone into estrogen, that may be an issue for some women.  Besides the seeds mentioned, be sure to include flax, hemp and chia as well. 


  1. Fermented foods. These include sauerkraut, kimchi and other fermented vegetables, coconut yogurt and kefir, miso, kombucha and fermented dairy as tolerated. Fermented foods are a natural and diverse source of beneficial probiotic bacteria that support microbiome balance and a healthy estrobolome, the part of the microbiome associated with estrogen metabolism. 


  1. Prebiotic fiber. Fiber, in general from whole plant foods, is great microbiome support as well. In addition, there are certain fibers, namely inulin and FOS, that directly feed beneficial bacteria. Remember that healthy digestion and probiotics support estrogen clearance. Foods rich in these fibers include: artichoke, asparagus, onions, garlic and sunchokes. 


These foods are really just the tip of the iceberg about what to include in the diet to support estrogen, and overall, hormonal balance. To get more specific, you may want to dive deeper into what your hormone patters actually look like right now with specialized testing such as a DUTCH hormone panel. I am passionate about helping you figure out what testing makes sense for you, put together the pieces of your health puzzle and personalizing your diet, normalizing your relationship to food, modifying your lifestyle an tailoring a supplement plan for hormonal balance. Ready to get started? Reach out today!


References

  1. Guinter, M. A., McLain, A. C., Merchant, A. T., Sandler, D. P., & Steck, S. E. (2018). A dietary pattern based on estrogen metabolism is associated with breast cancer risk in a prospective cohort of postmenopausal women. International journal of cancer, 143(3), 580–590. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6019153/ 
  2. Ferrarese, R., Ceresola, E. R., Preti, A., & Canducci, F. (2018). Probiotics, prebiotics and synbiotics for weight loss and metabolic syndrome in the microbiome era. European review for medical and pharmacological sciences, 22(21), 7588–7605. Full text: https://www.europeanreview.org/article/16301 
  3. Mathieson, R. A., Walberg, J. L., Gwazdauskas, F. C., Hinkle, D. E., & Gregg, J. M. (1986). The effect of varying carbohydrate content of a very-low-caloric diet on resting metabolic rate and thyroid hormones. Metabolism: clinical and experimental, 35(5), 394–398. Abstract: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3702673/ 
  4. Minich, D. (2019). A review of the science of colorful, plant-based food and practical strategies for “eating the rainbow.” Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism. Article ID 2125070, 19 pages. Full text: https://www.hindawi.com/journals/jnme/2019/2125070/ 
  5. Capuano, E., Dekker, M., Verkerk, R., & Oliviero, T. (2017). Food as Pharma? The Case of Glucosinolates. Current pharmaceutical design, 23(19), 2697–2721. Abstract: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28117016/ 
  6. Vanduchova, A., Anzenbacher, P., & Anzenbacherova, E. (2019). Isothiocyanate from Broccoli, Sulforaphane, and Its Properties. Journal of medicinal food, 22(2), 121–126. 
  7. Houghton C. A. (2019). Sulforaphane: Its "Coming of Age" as a Clinically Relevant Nutraceutical in the Prevention and Treatment of Chronic Disease. Oxidative medicine and cellular longevity, 2019, 2716870. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6815645/ 
  8. Clifford, T., Howatson, G., West, D. J., & Stevenson, E. J. (2015). The potential benefits of red beetroot supplementation in health and disease. Nutrients, 7(4), 2801–2822. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4425174/ 
  9. Zhao, H., Zhou, L., Shangguan, A. J., & Bulun, S. E. (2016). Aromatase expression and regulation in breast and endometrial cancer. Journal of molecular endocrinology, 57(1), R19–R33. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5519084/ 
  10. Parida, S., & Sharma, D. (2019). The Microbiome-Estrogen Connection and Breast Cancer Risk. Cells, 8(12), 1642. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6952974/ 
  11. Shoaib, M., Shehzad, A., Omar, M., Rakha, A., Raza, H., Sharif, H. R., Shakeel, A., Ansari, A., & Niazi, S. (2016). Inulin: Properties, health benefits and food applications. Carbohydrate polymers, 147, 444–454. Abstract: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27178951/ 

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The Fork Functional Medicine
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