by Charles Poliquin
Eleven Practical Tips For Optimal Estrogen Metabolism: Lose Fat, Sleep Better, Live LongerWouldn’t it be great if you could lose body fat and improve your physique without too much struggle? The idea that you could adopt a lifestyle that makes you feel good, sleep better, and lays the foundation for disease prevention in 20 or 30 years is attractive, right?
One way to fulfill these desires is to develop habits that improve estrogen metabolism. By improving estrogen metabolism, you can begin to fix imbalanced hormones.
Here are some things you might not know about estrogen:
• The brain is a critical site of estrogenic action in both men and women, regulating both energy expenditure and appetite. Animal studies show that lack of estrogen in either sex leads to obesity because the animals are eating more and moving less.
• Men require a small amount of estrogen for optimal reproductive health because estrogen keeps sperms cells from dying (called apoptosis).
• Estrogen increases insulin sensitivity and is protective against diabetes. It is also growth promoting and can help women maintain muscle mass.
• For women, having the right amount of estrogen actually improves fat loss because it decreases fat storage in the cells and can suppress appetite. Estrogen also stimulates the production of growth hormone, which is involved in the burning of fat for energy.
• Higher estrogen is usually associated with increased body fat. This is because fat cells actually produce estrogen. So, if you’re overweight, you’ll likely have too much estrogen. Then, elevated estrogen alters thyroid function, slowing metabolism.
• Too little estrogen and women tend to preferentially store fat in the abdominal area as men do. This is unhealthy and significantly increases disease risk. It’s one reason that women tend to gain belly fat when they go through menopause.
Fortunately, even though estrogen and overall hormone balance is different for men and women, you can optimize it in both genders with similar practical steps. Therefore, unless otherwise stated, the information in this article applies to both men and women.
Here are 11 practical things you can do to improve your estrogen metabolism.
#1: Limit Chemical Estrogen Exposure
Chemical estrogens are man-made compounds that act like estrogen if they get in your body. They aren’t estrogen per se, but they mimic it. They appear in all of the following:
-Animal growth hormones
-Cleaning products like sprays, soap, and degreasers
-Personal care products like shampoo, conditioner, and lotion
-Scented candles and air fresheners
-The coating on aluminum cans
-Plastic bottles and food containers
-Drinking water and food
The number one most important thing for you to do in order to improve estrogen metabolism is to avoid these compounds. Why? Simply, by avoiding them you have less “estrogen” in the body, which means there’s less you need to get rid of.
In fact, scientists call chemical estrogens “a global health threat” because they cause disease and increase obesity rates. In a series of surveys of people of all ages and races, the level of the chemical estrogen BPA in urine was significantly related to body fat—the more BPA, the more body fat people had.
Apparently, BPA now has a well-known reputation for making people fat in the scientific community. One research group that conducted trials on BPA exposure in humans wrote that BPA’s ability to increase body fat was “as expected.”
Take Action: Decreasing your chemical estrogen load is the easiest way to improve estrogen metabolism because it means your body will have fewer toxins to deal with.
This article will give you ten things you can do to limit chemical estrogen exposure.
This article will provide tips for sourcing “good meat” (hormone and antibiotic free) to avoid consuming chemical estrogens.
#2: Reduce Body Fat To Improve Testosterone and Lower Estrogen
For men, reducing body fat is critical because fat tissue increases the level of an enzyme called aromatase, which turns testosterone to estrogen. Too much body fat means you’ll be aromatizing testosterone so that you have elevated estrogen.
Aromatization actually applies to women as well, but it’s worth emphasizing its role in male hormone imbalance because it is one of the primary causes of elevated natural estrogen (compared to chemical estrogens) that men face.
Take Action: The tried and true way to effectively reduce body fat is to de-emphasize carbs in favor of protein and fat in a whole foods diet. Do strength training and sprint workouts to aid fat loss.
#3: Gain Muscle To Improve Estrogen Metabolism
Noteworthy research shows that the more muscle mass you have, the more favorably you will metabolize estrogen. Estrogen metabolism works like this:
There are three pathways through which estrogen can be metabolized. The 16- hydroxyestrone pathway is a “toxic” route that is linked to cancer development, the 4-hydroxyestrone pathway is unfavorable for health, and the third route, the 2-hydroxyestone pathway, is more benign and preferable.
A more favorable estrogen metabolism is extremely important because the magnitude of cumulative lifetime exposure to estrogens that a person experiences increases their cancer risk. For men this means prostate cancer and for women it means breast. For instance, we know that women whose bodies favor the 2-hydroxyestone pathway over the 16 hydroxyestrone pathway will have a much lower cancer risk.
Fortunately, a recent study found that women who gained the most muscle from an exercise program experienced a favorable shift in the ratio between the 2-hydroxyestone and 16-hydroxyestrone pathways, with the most favorable ratio seen in women who had the least body fat.
Take Action: Strength train to build muscle. Not only will you have a better body composition, muscle is ammunition against poor estrogen metabolism and fat gain. This lowers your cancer risk and improves your overall health.
#4: Keep Your Liver Clean For Better Estrogen Metabolism & Fat Loss
The liver plays a principal role in fat and estrogen metabolism. It converts excess estrogen (both natural and chemical) into compounds that can be excreted by the body. The liver does this efficiently as long as you don’t overload it with toxins.
Chemical estrogens are just the tip of the toxin iceberg that you are exposed to on a daily basis: alcohol, artificial sweeteners, NSAIDs, prescription drugs, and other chemicals like automobile exhaust and cigarette smoke all have to pass through the liver.
Besides avoiding exposure to all these toxins, you can promote liver health by eating a lot of protein. First, protein is a necessary component of the whole detoxification process because every toxin must bind with an amino acid.
Second, two amino acids, lysine and threonine, have been shown to support liver function and since estrogen is metabolized by the liver, it is thought that these proteins can help get rid of estrogen from the body. Lysine and threonine are found in meat, fish, beans, eggs, and some seeds (sesame, fenugreek).
Third, supporting your body’s pH will improve liver health. Improve pH toward alkaline status by drinking water with lemon or lime and eat sulfur containing green vegetables. Broccoli, cabbage, collards, and kale all help the liver to break down and remove fat from the body. Egg yolks also provide choline, which helps the liver metabolize fat for weight loss.
Take Action: Eat a boatload of protein and green vegetables to support liver health. A huge side benefit of a diet that is centered on protein and green plants is that it also helps control appetite and reduce overall energy intake for leanness. Take it to the next level by eliminating alcohol, artificial chemicals, and NSAIDs as well.
#5: Eliminate Added Sugar & Restrict Carb Intake
Eating too much sugar has been found to turn off the genes that regulate testosterone and estrogen. The reason is that both the glucose and fructose forms of sugar are metabolized in the liver. Eating too much of these forms of sugars causes liver to turn them into fat, which has been found to shut down the release of sex hormone binding globulin (SHGB).
SHGB binds to estrogen, making it unavailable to have its estrogenic impact. Lack of SHGB leads to unchecked estrogen circulation and also causes unfavorable imbalances between testosterone and estrogen.
Now, the smart way to restrict carb intake (ideally below 150 grams a day) is to get the majority of your cabs from vegetables and some fruit. This will provide a lot of fiber, which is critical for estrogen metabolism.
Lack of fiber reduces the amount of an enzyme (called B-glucouronidase) that uncouples or breaks apart bound estrogen that is on its way out of the body. When the estrogen breaks free in the large intestine, it re-enters circulation and is not removed from the body. This is a bad situation because the body has missed its chance to get the estrogen out, and the form that re-enters circulation is toxic and associated with increased cancer risk.
Take Action: Optimize carb intake by eliminating added sugar and getting the majority of your carbs from a variety of vegetables and some fruits. Favor cruciferous veggies such as broccoli and cauliflower because they contain a compound called DIM that promotes estrogen metabolism down the 2-hydroxyestrone pathway.
#6: Eat A Higher Fat Diet, Making Sure You Get Adequate Omega-3 Fats
Very low fat, low-cholesterol diets lead to low hormone levels because the building blocks to make hormones are provided by dietary fat.
Focus on getting a lot of omega-3 fats as part of your diet because they have been shown to promote the 2-hydroxyestrone pathway of estrogen metabolism. Another benefit is that omega-3 fats decrease aromatase activity so that less testosterone is converted to estrogen.
Take Action: Eat foods containing omega-3 fats daily focusing on fish, pasture-raised meats, and omega-3 eggs. Include small quantities ground flax seeds with the hull in your diet because they contain the omega-3 fat ALA, which is another aromatase inhibitor.
#7: Eliminate Alcohol Other Than Red Wine To Reduce Aromatase
There are two benefits to eliminating alcohol other than red wine from your diet: First, alcohol is detoxified in the liver just like estrogen. Alcohol detoxification causes oxidative stress, compromising liver functioning in the long-term. Second, alcohol increases aromatase.
The exception is that red wines, including pinot noir, have been found to inhibit aromatase action due to the phytochemicals they contain. Grapes and grape seed extract were found to have the same effect.
Take Action: Avoid beer, liquor, and white wine. Unless you’re on a time-restricted fat loss program, enjoying small amounts of red wine with food may improve your estrogen metabolism.
#8: Solve Nutrient Deficiencies To Reduce Aromatase
Nutrient deficiencies are a principal culprit in the aromatization to estrogen. Low selenium, melatonin, and zinc are the primary culprits.
In addition, certain nutrients will inhibit aromatization just as the antioxidants in red wine do. Tested aromatase blockers include fenugreek, carnitine, green tea and citrus flavonones—substances found in orange and grapefruit rinds along with tomato skins.
Take Action: The richest foods in selenium are fish and shellfish. Depending on how often you eat fish, you may want to supplement.
For zinc, you MUST be careful because zinc is toxic at high levels. Studies show you can raise zinc levels from deficient to normal by taking 20 mg/day for five days.
Melatonin is the hormone of sleep, however, it is generally not recommended that you supplement unless you are working with a doctor because supplementation can negatively affect the body’s ability to produce it. One solution is to drink tart cherry juice daily because it will naturally raise melatonin in the body and improve sleep.
All the aromatase inhibitors can be supplemented. Food sources are as follows:
Fenugreek—use it as a spice
Citrus flavonones—eat tomatoes and citrus
Green tea—drink it
#9: Get Adequate Vitamin D
Vitamin D is another aromatase inhibitor and studies show it’s very effective at optimizing estrogen metabolism. For example, in a study of young women, those who had higher levels of vitamin D had lower estrogen levels. For every 4 ng/ml increase in vitamin D, a 3 percent decrease in estrogen was observed.
Studies in men show that increasing vitamin D level leads to an increase in testosterone due to less aromatization. There may be other unidentified benefits of vitamin D on estrogen-testosterone balance because this nutrient enhances the health of every cell in the body and is directly linked with metabolic rate.
Take Action: Get your vitamin D level checked and supplement in order to achieve a minimal blood level of 40 ng/ml. In Northern latitudes, 2,000 to 5,000 IUs a day or 15,000 to 35,000 IUs taken once a week is indicated.
#10: Get Adequate Magnesium
Having adequate magnesium helps ensure complete elimination of estrogen once it is being metabolized and heading down the 2-hydroxyestrone pathway. If you don’t have enough magnesium and the nutrient SAMe (which is produced in the body from ATP and amino acid methionine), estrogen can be turned into quinones, which are highly damaging to DNA and can cause cancer.
Take Action: Surveys indicate that athletes tend to be deficient in magnesium because magnesium plays a role in muscle contractions. Consider supplementing with 500 mg of elemental magnesium a day such as magnesium glycinate.
#11: Optimize Your Circadian Rhythms
Your circadian rhythm is basically your sleep-wake cycle and it is affected by when you eat, hormone balance, and your natural chronotype, or tendency to be a morning or evening person.
Many hormones including melatonin, cortisol, and the androgens, estrogen and testosterone influence circadian rhythms. For instance, studies show that animals that don’t produce aromatase and are estrogen deficient have different sleep-wake cycles than those with normal estrogen.
This indicates that taking action to optimize your circadian rhythm can improve estrogen metabolism because doing so will help balance the entire hormonal cascade. For example, men who sleep based on their natural chronotype have higher testosterone than those who don’t time their sleep based on natural tendency.
Take Action: The simplest way to optimize your circadian rhythm is to sleep based on your chronotype and avoid waking up to an alarm. In addition, optimizing your meal frequency will improve your sleep wake cycle.
Other things that may help are suggested by the following research observations:
• Studies show that having warmer temperatures during the day and colder temperatures at night can support circadian rhythms (which is the opposite of what most modern humans are doing).
• Exposure to bright lights will wake you up in the morning, and amber or yellow lights are recommended in the evening.
• Having social interactions and viewing human faces in the evening (such as on TV) increases wakefulness and inhibits sleep.
• Moderate exercise of an hour or less enhances circadian rhythms, whereas very intense and long-duration exercise appears to inhibit them.
• Camping may be the best way to reset your circadian clock if it’s off because it provides ideal light and temperature exposure as well as social interaction with no TV.
Eng, E., et al. Suppression of aromatase (estrogen synthetase) by red wine phytochemicals. Breast Cancer Research and Treatment. 2001. 67(2),133-46.
Finkelstein, J., et al. Gonadal steroids and body composition, strength, and sexual function in men. New England Journal of Medicine. 2013. 369(11):1011-22.
Barba, M., et al. Urinary estrogen metabolites and prostate cancer: a case-control study and meta-analysis. Journal of Experimental and Clinical Cancer Research. 2009. 28:135.
Campbell, K., et al. Effects of Aerobic Exercise Training on Estrogen Metabolism in Premenopausal Women. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. 2007. 16, 731-739.
El-Deen, N., Eid, M. Efficacy of Curcumin to Reduce Hepatic Damage Induced by Alcohol and Thermally Treated Oil in Rats. Veterinaria Italiana. 2010. 46(1), 83-90.
Hia, H., et al. Oxidative Stress and Antioxidants in Hepatic Pathogenesis. World Journal of Gastroenterology. 2010. 16(48), 6035-6042.
Mauras, N., et al. Estrogen suppression in males: metabolic effects. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. 2000. 85(7): 2370-7.
Clegg, D., et al. Gonadal hormones determine sensitivity to central leptin and insulin. Diabetes. 2006. 55(4), 978-87.
Cakir, E., et al. Medical hypothesis: can gonadotropins influence thyroid volume in women with PCOS?
Thyroid Research. 2012. 5(1), 17.
Howatson, G., et al. Influence of Tart Cherry Juice on Indices of Recovery following Marathon Running. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports. 2010. 20(6), 843-852.
Connolly, D., et al. Efficacy of Tart Cherry Juice Blend in Preventing the Symptoms of Muscle Damage. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2006. 40(8), 679-683.
Balunas, M., et al. Natural Products as Aromatase Inhibitors. Anti-cancer agents in medicinal chemistry. 2008. 8(8), 646-682.
Knight, J., et al. Vitamin D Association with Estradiol and Progesterone in Young women. Cancer Causes Control. 2010. 21(3), 479-483.
Lee, D, Tajar, A., et al. Association of Hypogonadism with Vitamin D Status: The European Male Ageing Study. European Journal of Endocrinology. January 2012. 166, 75-85.
Pilz, S., Frisch, S., et al. Effect of Vitamin D Supplementation on Testosterone Levels in Men. Hormone and Metabolic Research. 2011. 43, 223-225.
Fabian, C., Kimler, B. Marine-Derived Omega-3 Fatty Acids. American Society of Clinical Oncology. 2013. 97-101.
Wright, K., et al. Entrainment of the Human Circadian Clock to the Natural Light-Dark Cycle. Current Biology. 2013. 23(16), 1554-1558.