Oestrogen is a hormone produced mostly in the ovaries and in the adrenal glands. It circulates throughout the body, binding to oestrogen receptors on cells, signalling these tissues for a number of different roles, including ovulation.
At the end of its life, oestrogen is converted in the liver to via a series of enzymes which prepare it for excretion through the bowel and kidneys. Healthy gut bacteria have also been shown to be beneficial in the elimination of oestrogen.
Some women can suffer from having too much oestrogen in the body. Too much oestrogen can increase cell growth in oestrogen sensitive tissues, such as in the uterus and breast. This can lead to fibroids, endometriosis, heavy periods and fibrocystic breast disease.
Too much oestrogen
Reasons why women may have too much oestrogen may include:
- More exposure to oestrogen throughout the lifespan: unlike our ancestors, women today have a greater number of periods throughout their lives. This occurs as menstruation starts at an earlier age, menopause occurs later, and the number of pregnancies has declined.
- Obesity: this increases oestrogen levels in the body, as fatty tissue converts hormones such as androgens into oestrogen.
- Diet: diets that have high amounts of refined carbohydrates, and saturated fat and are low in fibre have been identified as contributing to oestrogen dependent conditions.
- Environment: environmental oestrogens include some plastics, birth control pills and industrial chemicals.
- Liver and bowel factors
Natural therapists often focus on supporting the liver to assist with adequate detoxification of oestrogen.
The oestrogen detox
An oestrogen detox can be as simple as changing the foods you eat, or as vigorous as eating only raw foods and juices. Naturopath Kathryn Terrill offers some great suggestions on how women can approach a healthy detox:
“Firstly I would recommend cutting out red meat, junk foods and processed foods. Cut out alcohol, coffee and other caffeine containing stimulants. Other things that people don’t think about when detoxifying are airborne pollutants. Even things like getting your nails done, painting the house and using cleaning products can expose you to airborne pollutants which need to be processed by the body and can contribute to a chemical overload.”
When you’re detoxifying, the foods that you eat are just as important as the things that you avoid. Concentrate on fruits and vegetables (the deeper the colour the better in terms of antioxidant content)
What to eat
The top 4 foods to help with your oestrogen detox include:
- Brassica family vegetables: these include broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts. The brassica veggies can activate the rate at which the liver clears excess oestrogen from the liver.
- Dietary fibre, such as psyllium, can help bind up and eliminate oestrogen from the gut.
- Citrus fruits help to increase the liver’s detoxification pathways.
- Probiotics from yoghurt, or fermented foods, have been shown to positively affect bacteria in the colon, which increases the elimination of oestrogen.
“Juicing is a great way to hydrate and feel light and refreshed,” says Terrill. “I love adding spirulina to feel enlivened. For women who are detoxing, I also recommend to add ground flaxseeds to their juice. Flaxseeds are rich in lignans which are compounds that can exert a weak, oestrogenic effect in the body once converted by the bacteria in the bowel. Foods or herbs that have oestrogenic compounds can compete with the body’s own oestrogen for uptake, therefore minimising the stronger effects of too much oestrogen.”
Did you know that a vitamin B complex may help assist with liver detoxification, including an oestrogen detox? Folate, B6 and B12 are needed by the enzymes in the liver to metabolise compounds such as oestrogen and prepare them for elimination from the bowel and in the urine.
References available on request