Estrogen and testosterone are hormones that occur naturally in male and female bodies. Some research suggests that certain foods can influence the levels of these hormones.
Hormones are the body’s chemical messengers. They play essential roles in libido, mood, health, fertility, and many other functions.
Some people think of estrogen as a “female hormone,” but male and female bodies produce it. High estrogen levels are associated with some health problems in males.
In this article, we look at foods that may raise or lower levels of estrogen in the body and explore the evidence behind these claims.
Estrogen is a main female sex hormone, while testosterone is a main male sex hormone. Males have estrogen too, but in smaller amounts.
Estrogen plays a key role in male sexual health. It helps modulate sex drive, erectile function, and sperm production. It also helps keep the bones healthy.
However, too much estrogen in males may cause problems. Symptoms of high estrogen in males include:
- breast enlargement, known as gynecomastia
- difficulty with erections
According to 2016 research, low testosterone and high estrogen can both increase erectile dysfunction independently of one another. Some research has also linked high estrogen with depression in males.
The balance between estrogen and testosterone is important for a person’s overall health. Too much or little of either hormone can cause health concerns.
Low testosterone levels, or hypogonadism, is a common age-related health concern among males. Its symptoms include a reduced sex drive, erection problems, and a low sperm count.
Some people worry that too much estrogen is the cause of low testosterone, but this is a myth. Estrogen and testosterone do not oppose each other.
Many websites and natural health gurus say that certain diets can lower estrogen levels, but there has been little research into these claims.
Some studies have suggested that specific foods may raise or lower estrogen levels. However, it is unclear whether these foods can address the health effects of high estrogen.
Speak with a doctor before making dietary changes to reduce estrogen. The most healthful diet varies from person to person.
Some research suggests that certain foods may reduce the level of estrogen in the body. However, this research is often low quality or has involved animals rather than humans, and more research is needed.
The following foods may lower levels of estrogen:
Products made from soy are uniquely rich in compounds called phytoestrogens. These chemicals have a similar chemical structure to estrogen and may have estrogen-like effects in the body.
Soy products include edamame and some meat substitutes.
Some studies report that soy products can increase estrogen levels in the body, while others suggest they have the opposite effect. Paradoxically, both are true.
Soy contains isoflavones (a type of phytoestrogen), which are considered selective estrogen receptor modulators. This means that they can cause a variety of effects — they may have a pro-estrogen, anti-estrogen, or neutral effect when they bind to estrogen receptors.
This means that different types of isoflavones may increase or decrease the levels of estrogen in the human body.
These variations can make it difficult to draw broad conclusions about the health impacts of foods that contain phytoestrogens.
While soy has many health benefits, more research is needed on the effects of soy and phytoestrogens in humans.
For example, research indicates that phytoestrogens, particularly in soy and legumes, may lower the risk of prostate cancer. Estrogen likely plays a role in the development of prostate cancer, though more studies are needed.
Soybeans may also reduce colorectal cancer risk by lowering estrogen levels, according to a 2015 research review.
Cruciferous vegetables contain a chemical called indole-3-carbinol, a chemical that may have anti-estrogen effects. This means that they could reduce estrogen levels in men.
However, research has not directly shown that eating cruciferous vegetables reduces the levels of estrogen in the human body.
This group of vegetables includes:
- bok choy
- Brussels sprouts
Studies indicate that eating cruciferous vegetables may lower the risk of prostate cancer.
Oyster mushrooms contain compounds that may block aromatase, an enzyme that converts testosterone to estrogen. In doing so, they may reduce estrogen in the body.
Hispolon, a micronutrient found in some medicinal mushrooms, may also block aromatase. At the same time, it may increase estradiol, a type of estrogen. Further research is needed on mushrooms and estrogen levels.
Curcumin and turmeric
Turmeric contains a chemical called curcumin.
A 2013 study indicated that curcumin may reduce estrogen levels. However, the researchers noted this result in cells outside the body, so it is unclear whether curcumin has the same effect in people.
A study from 2014 found that large doses of curcumin increased levels of testosterone in rats.
More research is needed on the effects of curcumin in humans.
According to some research, the following foods may increase people’s estrogen levels:
Dairy and meat
All animal products contain traces of estrogen because even male animals produce the hormone. Cow milk may also contain phytoestrogens.
Some research has linked eating red and processed meat with increased breast cancer risk in females. A possible reason is estrogen buildup from high estrogen levels in meat. There is no research to show similar effects in males.
However, studies are inconclusive about the effect of meat and dairy on estrogen levels and cancer risk. A 2018 review suggested that estrogen levels in milk are not high enough to affect human health.
More research is needed on meat, dairy, and estrogen levels.
Research suggests that chronic alcohol misuse can lead to low testosterone and increased estrogen. Both of these hormonal states can contribute to erectile dysfunction.
Alcohol may also heighten some effects of low testosterone. For example, alcohol is high in calories, and can lead to weight gain.
Some grains contain a fungus called zearalenone that may disrupt the balance of estrogen due to its similarity to estrogens that occur naturally in the body.
Researchers in Europe, where the fungus is common, found that 32% of more than 5,000 mixed-cereal samples contained the fungus.
Studies have mainly focused on the effects of zearalenone in animals and molecular pathways. Some scientists suggest that it could have similar effects in humans, though there is no evidence that the fungus harms human health.
Grains, such as barley, wheat, rice, and maize, are part of a healthful diet.
Legumes, such as lentils, peanuts, and chickpeas, have many health benefits. For example, they contain relatively high amounts of protein, making them a popular meat alternative.
Legumes also contain phytoestrogens, particularly in the form of isoflavones.
Research indicates that two isoflavones in yam beans, genistein and daidzein, may increase the production of estrogen in mice.
Notably, some isoflavones, particularly in soy, may lower estrogen levels. The type and amount of isoflavones likely change their impact on estrogen levels, suggesting the need for further research in this area.
Legumes also may support heart health and reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome. Rather than removing them from the diet, consider eating small servings a few times a week.
If someone is concerned about their levels of testosterone or estrogen, it is best to discuss this with a doctor before attempting to change these hormone levels at home.
Some people benefit from hormone injections. Testosterone therapy may be helpful, but more research is needed on the risks for older males.
Some research has looked into natural ways to reduce estrogen. Several studies suggest that exercise may lower estrogen levels in some females.
A study from 2015, for example, found that higher amounts of aerobic exercise reduced levels of estrogen in women with a greater risk of developing breast cancer. However, little research exists in males.
Certain human-made products contain chemical compounds called xenoestrogens, which imitate estrogen in the body.
Some cell research suggests that exposure to these chemicals may increase the risk of cancer and endocrine disorders, though more research is needed in humans.
Many plastics contain xenoestrogens. Anyone wishing to lower their exposure to these chemicals may prefer to avoid plastic products, including bottles and food storage containers, when possible.
Males who are concerned about the effects of high estrogen also may benefit from making healthful lifestyle changes, such as:
- reducing the number of calories in their diet
- getting more sleep
- exercising regularly
Estrogen is an important hormone in males, but high levels can cause certain health problems.
Some foods can affect a person’s hormone levels, but there is relatively little quality research into the effects of various diets on hormone levels.
If a person is concerned about age-related changes, or suspects a hormone imbalance, a doctor can test for a range of causes. Various treatments are available. A doctor can also provide personalized diet and lifestyle recommendations.