One of the growing concerns over our hormonal health in recent years has come from the many conditions that are all closely related to oestrogen dominance in both sexes, leaving us immunologically susceptible to such conditions as Syndrome X, diabetes and cancer as we age. Oestrogen dominance has a detrimental effect on levels of thyroid hormone, progesterone, vitamin D3, testosterone and DHEA in both men and women.
Our sex hormones are fundamentally signallers, and whilst a surge of oestradiol is appropriate in girls of age 14, it is definitely not desirable at the age of 65, since at this life-stage it would drive the development of abnormal cells in breast tissue. Conversely, progesterone signalling improves immunity, is anti-ageing, improves lean muscle mass and reduces fat storage, which is a far more desirable outcome.
Birth control pills cause oestrogen dominance, which is a huge concern given how widespread their use is. I know of very few women aside from myself who have never taken such prescriptions, and I always think how sad that is, to have so many people not knowing the compounding harm they are causing themselves in the long term. In addition to certain foods being oestrogenic, such as soya, most of the commonly used pesticides also act as oestrogen mimickers. This is a bad thing if you happen to live near a large scale commercial farm that is liberally spraying pesticides on crops, and also a very good reason to eat organic food. Since artificial hormones are pumped into animals to improve growth rates, the likelihood of hormonal imbalance can be reduced by adopting a plant-based diet (vegetarian is not enough, since hormones and drugs are secreted into milk).
We may have heard about xenoestrogens – oestrogen-mimicking hormones that come from leached plastics and cause mayhem, disrupting our delicate balance of natural oestrogens. You can read more about xenoestrogens in chapter 9 of my book The Whole Body Solution (I have also devoted a section of my book Love Your Bones to the pros and cons of HRT).
The so-called “bad oestrogens” have a chemical structure that is described as non-methylated. By using foods that are “methyl group donors”, we can detoxify these dangerous compounds more readily so that they don’t wreak havoc in the body. Methyl group donors are useful in other respects: homocysteine, which together with CRP (C-reactive protein) is strongly implicated in heart disease, ageing and the risk of stroke, is an amino acid which is non-methylated and therefore detoxified more readily in the presence of methyl group donors.
The best foods and compounds that act as methyl group donors are as follows:
• Beetroot (both raw and fermented)
• Broccoli and broccoli sprouts (the sprouts are particularly powerful)
• MSM (methyl-sulphonyl methane, available in tablet and dissolvable crystal form)
• SAMe (S-adenosyl methionine, a food supplement used for liver support)
• Vitamins B6, B9 and B12.
Many of the side effects from HRT in women come from adding yet more oestrogen to a body whose oestrogen levels, whilst in decline, are not matched by progesterone, the levels of which are falling faster than oestrogen. High oestrogen levels in men contribute to prostate cancer and heart disease as well as gynecomastia (enlarged breasts). Testosterone is transformed into oestrogen and the resultant low levels of testosterone can cause many unpleasant symptoms including loss of muscle mass, fatigue, low libido, erectile dysfunction and increased storage of fat as you age. Block that oestrogen!