Estrogen…it’s a matter of balance.
There are many factors that influence the body’s production and metabolism of estrogen. Environmental estrogens (such as BPA, pesticides, cleaning products and cosmetics) as well as the natural estrogen compounds we encounter on a daily basis need to be addressed. We can’t avoid all the triggers, but it’s important to consider lifestyle changes that reduce exposure and can help balance our estrogen.
Obesity increases estrogen (and limits the effectiveness of aromatase inhibitors). If you are overweight, lose it as fat cells increase estrogen production. Over-consumption of calories also leads to increased metabolic activity in the body. This in turn leads to excessive free radical formation. Free radicals damage cells and cause genetic mutations, which ultimately can lead to cancer. Studies have also shown that calorie restriction inhibits tumor growth.
Exercise can help balance hormones through the pre-menopausal years and beyond, and can help maintain a healthy weight. Those who exercise regularly are usually happier, less depressed, and have a more optimistic outlook on life. This results in increased life expectancy; statistically, life expectancy increases by two hours for every hour spent exercising. Exercise with a friend; double the pleasure!
Alcohol consumption increases estrogen levels, especially if taken along with estrogen replacement therapy. Also, alcohol and drugs can damage the liver which will lead to an increase in estrogen due to the lack of estrogen breakdown; alcohol cconverts into DNA-destroying acetaldehyde, a carcinogen. Dr Keith Block likes to say he is a vegan with a heart…I guess I am an educator with compassion; for suggestions to mitigate the risks of alcohol, please read: http://elynjacobs.wordpress.com/2012/10/27/wine-cheese-and-chocolate-anti-cancer-party/
Caffeine intake from all sources is linked with higher estrogen levels regardless of age, body mass index, smoking, and caloric and alcohol intake. Green tea has some caffeine (decaf is not recommended as the process compromises the activity and can be carcinogenic), but its redeeming qualities make it well worth consuming a few cups a day. If you drink coffee…know that it too has some redeeming qualities (not nearly that of green tea), so enjoy a cup, but don’t overdo it. Those who consumed a t least 500mg of caffeine daily, the equivalent of four or five cups of coffee had nearly 70% more estrogen than women who consumed less than 100mg of caffeine daily.
What about that magic pill….
And no, I am not talking about Tamoxifen.
About twenty years ago, scientists discovered that when broccoli was added to the diets of animals, it could prevent certain forms of cancer. Since then, numerous studies have shown the efficacy of crucifers as a cancer-crusher. Cruciferous vegetables (and their ability to produce sulforaphane) slow the development of cancer by detoxifying carcinogenic substances, preventing pre-cancerous cells from developing into malignant tumors, promoting the suicide of cancer cells (apoptosis), and starving tumors of their blood supply (angiogenesis.) And, you guessed it, they also help balance our estrogens, the good and the bad.
Yes, there’s “bad” and “good” estrogen! And, they’ve got to be balanced, just like good and bad cholesterol because estrogen can be metabolized in two different pathways in the liver, which results in two different kinds of estrogen, “good” and “bad”. “Good” estrogen metabolites are released into the bloodstream where they provide benefits, such as prevention of heart disease, and the creation of strong, healthy bones. “Bad” estrogen, in large quantities, can result in many health problems including breast, ovarian, prostate, and uterine cancer. It’s a big reason why some women are more prone to cancer than others. It’s the type of estrogen in your body that makes the difference.
13C—no, it’s not my apartment number. 13C is a natural compound the body produces when you eat cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and Brussels sprouts. It is the 13C that blocks the pathways of cancer and stops cancer cells from proliferating—and it helps metabolize and breakdown estrogen in the body balancing hormone levels. Yes, we can get this nutrient in crucifers, but we would need to eat a lot–and I mean a lot, to influence the ratio of good to bad estrogen; you would have to eat about two pounds of raw or lightly cooked crucifers almost daily. Here is when a good supplement becomes ideal. 13C is the natural precursor to DIM (diindolylmethane); if considering a supplement, DIM would be preferable over 13C as it is more readily available to the body, and 13C is more irritating to the stomach; I3C has also been shown to be a tumor promoter in chronic use studies of thyroid, colon, and liver health, something not found with DIM. However, since crucifers contain a whole family of protective phytochemicals in addition to DIM, the best approach is to eat plenty of crucifers and take a supplement. And, as always, brands matter when it comes to supplements; please do your research or consult with a trusted pharmacist, doctor or advocate.
The supplemental use of phytonutrients from cruciferous vegetables has great potential for the prevention of cancer; specifically the discovery that cruciferous indole — diindolylmethane and indole-3-carbinol (I3C) – may just be the magic pill to promote the healthy metabolism of estrogen.
Is DIM the only story in town; is it really the magic pill? No, while it is big, there are a few other notable mentions. Key players are Vitamins E and C, B vitamins, such as B6, B12 and folate (B9), NAC, selenium, curcumin, green tea, D-Limonene, magnesium, flaxseed, pomegranate, probiotics, sufficient protein intake, complex carbs instead of simple sugars, and consuming only healthy fats.
Food matters; the concept of how what we eat strongly effects how our genes behave is firmly established; but, although it was discovered more than ten years ago, the connection between dietary ingredients and metabolism of estrogen is only recently recognized as important. The consumption of specific phytochemicals can improve the adaptive responses that regulate hormonal metabolism.
I talk about DIM and foods supportive of estrogen balance in following posts:
Give some DIM to your man too…. Estrogen metabolism slows as men age, especially when coupled with obesity and regular alcohol use. Too much estrogen plays havoc with a man’s sex life. Avoiding overactive testosterone metabolism and reducing the conversion of testosterone into estrogen are goals of nutritional support in middle-aged and older men.
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Elyn Jacobs is a breast cancer survivor, professional cancer coach, radio talk show host, speaker, and the Executive Director for the Emerald Heart Cancer Foundation. Elyn is on the peer review board of the Natural Standard Database. Elyn empowers women to choose the path for treatment that best fits their own individual needs. She is passionate about helping others move forward into a life of health and wellbeing. Elyn lives in New York with her husband and two young boys.