Estrogen foods (phytoestrogens) and the diet for endometriosis – why there is confusion

Phytoestrogens and the endometriosis diet

The question is often asked  by women who are confused about the subject of oestrogen foods in their diet. They are concerned that eating foods that contain oestrogen compounds will make their endometriosis worse. On doing their own research some are finding that even foods listed as a recommendation for the endometriosis diet contain estrogenic properties. Therefore it is understandable that it would cause confusion. 

It is known that there are various foods that contain natural oestrogens (called phytoestrogens) – but these are different oestrogens from those found in the body. Phytoestrogens are much less potent than the bodies own oestrogens and are also excreted from the body much easier. It is thought that they actually block the body's oestrogen receptor sites, thereby reducing the effect of a woman's own hormones. 

Therefore it is beneficial to have some phytoestrogenic foods in your diet because the estrogenic compounds they contain will also block additional oestrogens entering your system (those that can be found in the environment, toiletries etc., and help reduce oestrogen dominance). BUT you do need to keep the consumption of these phytoestrogens in balance and not over do it. 

The soy supporters promote soybeans because they are high in two oestrogen-like plant compounds, genistein and daidzein. Both of these phytoestrogens prevent your body from taking up the more harmful forms of oestrogen circulating in your blood. 

But there are various reasons it is not advisable to include soy beans in the diet for endometriosis:

  • Soy usually comes from a crop that is intensively produced and contains high levels of chemicals
  • Soy phytoestrogens are endocrine distruptors with a potential to cause infertility
  • Soy has very high levels of phytoestrogens and as such the levels would be too high for women who have endometriosis or who suffer from oestrogen dominance

* Read the full article of soy HERE

Foods and phytoestrogens

The active compounds in our foods are very complex. The key to the diet for endometriosis and phytoestrogens is to keep things in balance. If you were to look closely at the list of estrogenic foods it would become clear that you are not going to consume these foods day in day out.

Your diet should be balanced and foods should be rotated. To give you some idea the foods that are most commonly listed as containing estrogenic compound (phytoestrogens) are: 

  • Alfalfa – high phytoestrogens
  • Animal flesh *
  • Anise seed
  • Apples
  • Baker's yeast
  • Barley
  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Cherries
  • Chickpeas (garbanzo beans) - relatively high phytoestrogens
  • Cowpeas (black- eyed peas)
  • Cucumbers
  • Dairy Foods *
  • Dates
  • Eggs *
  • Eggplant
  • Fennel
  • Flaxseeds
  • Garlic
  • Hops
  • Oats
  • Olive oil
  • Olives
  • Papaya
  • Parsley
  • Peas
  • Peppers
  • Plums
  • Pomegranates
  • Potatoes
  • Pumpkin
  • Red beans
  • Rhubarb
  • Rice
  • Sesame seeds
  • Soybean sprouts
  • Soybeans *
  • Split peas
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Tomatoes
  • Wheat *
  • Yam

*Foods that should be avoided on the endometriosis diet 

If you were to avoid the above foods in combination with the key foods to avoid on the endometriosis diet, then there would not be much left for women with endometriosis to eat. Food rotation and balance is the way to eat sensibly. 

Herbs and phytoestrogens

There are various herbs that contain phytoestrogens and the levels of phytoestrogens in herbs are higher than in foods. These include: 

  • Clover
  • Red Clover tea
  • Liquorice
  • Motherwort
  • Anise
  • Hops
  • Fennel
  • Black cohosh
  • Milk thistle
  • Don Quai
  • Ginseng
  • Royal jelly
  • Peony
  • Nettle
  • Sage

As you can see, these are not the most common herbs for every day culinary uses. 

Excerpt from Recipes & Diet Advice for Endometriosis

'Phytoestrogens - are plant based compounds that act like oestrogen in the body and are found in many foods we eat. 

Many different plants produce compounds that may mimic or interact with oestrogen hormones. At least 20 compounds have been identified in at least 300 plants from more than 16 different plant families. Referred to as phytoestrogens, these compounds are weaker than natural oestrogens and are found in herbs and seasonings (garlic, parsley), grains (soybeans, wheat, and rice), vegetables (beans, carrots, and potatoes), fruits (dates, pomegranates, cherries, apples) and drink (coffee). 

Most of us are exposed to many of these natural compounds through food (fruits, vegetables, meat). The two most studied groups of phytoestrogens are the lignans (compounds found in whole grains, fibres, flax seeds, and many fruit and vegetables) and the isoflavones (found in soybeans and other legumes). Because scientists have found phytoestrogens in human urine and blood samples, we know that these compounds can be absorbed into our bodies. 

Phytoestrogens differ a great deal from synthetic environmental oestrogens in that they are easily broken down, are not stored in tissue and spend very little time in the body. 

There are differing opinions about phytoestrogens’ role in health. When consumed as part of an ordinary diet, phytoestrogens are probably safe and may even be beneficial. In fact, some studies on cancer incidences in different countries suggest that phytoestrogens may help to protect against certain cancers (breast, uterus, and prostate) in humans. 

On the other hand, eating very high levels of some phytoestrogens may pose some health risks. Reproductive problems have been documented in laboratory animals; farm animals and wildlife that ate very high (up to 100% of their diet) amounts of phytoestrogen-rich plants. 

Even though humans almost never eat an exclusive diet of phytoestrogen-rich foods (even vegetarians), those who consume a diet that does contain a lot of soy are exposing themselves to health risks. There is a great deal of soy products added to every-day convenience foods. Some of these sources are quite surprising including cakes, cereals, biscuits, sauces. So we are eating a lot more soy than we think we are. 

Phytoestrogens behave like hormones, and like hormones, too much or too little can alter hormone-dependent tissue function. For this reason, women with Endometriosis need to adjust their diet so as not to include too many phytoestrogen rich foods but a regulated amount is beneficial in helping to balance the system as a whole.' 

› Phytoestrogens