Image of cruciferous vegetables on a light background with the wording do cruciferous vegetables improve estrogen balance? by The Healthy RD

Can cruciferous vegetables help neutralize estrogen in the body?

Cruciferous vegetables and estrogen are tightly linked. By eating more cruciferous vegetables, you can help improve estrogen conditions.

While estrogen plays a valuable role in the body, too much estrogen can worsen many symptoms. These symptoms include PMS, cause bloating, decrease libido and even cause breast cancer over time. 

Many women have slight estrogen dominance caused by chronic stress, liver detoxification dysfunction, constipation, and BPA.

Good news: the effects of high estrogen can be combated by eating cruciferous vegetables. Cruciferous vegetables were also first studied as a chemotherapeutic in the 1990s (R).

Eating indoles and isothiocyanates from broccoli (more on this later) is very beneficial in improving hormone regulation and helping with the elimination of cancer.

This post is written as a guest post by Brooke Foth, RDN.

What are cruciferous vegetables​?

Cruciferous vegetables are vegetables that belong to the Brassicaceae family. 

While these vegetables come in a variety of shapes and sizes they all share similar nutritional benefits. Not only are they full of estrogen balancing properties, but they also contain high levels of folate, and vitamin A, C, and K!

List of cruciferous vegetables on a background of colorful cruciferous vegetables with cauliflower, arugula, broccoli, bok choy, Brussels sprouts, collard greens, cabbage, kale, Kohlrabi, wasabi, and watercress by The Healthy RD
  • Broccoli  
  • Bok choy
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Rutabaga
  • Cauliflower
  • Collard Greens
  • Kale
  • Kohlrabi
  • Arugula
  • Horseradish
  • Wasabi
  • Watercress

Glucosinolates in cruciferous vegetables + role of estrogen

Have you noticed the spicy and sometimes bitter taste that comes with cruciferous vegetables? This comes from a compound called glucosinolate. Glucosinolates are phytochemicals produced by the plant for defensive purposes (R).

Glucosinolates may restore enzymes that shut off carcinogens and decrease cancer cells’ capacity to metastasize (R).

Cruciferous Vegetable Glucosinolate content (mg / 100 g raw) Glucosinolate content (mg / 100 g cooked)
Brussels Sprouts 236.6 135.9
Broccoli 61.7 37.2
Cabbage58.678.6
Cauliflower 43.242
Kale 89.4 69.1

The Indole-3-carbinol in cruciferous vegetables can balance estrogen

When chopping and chewing these vegetables, the plant cell’s walls are disrupted and the enzyme myrosinase converts glucosinolates to indole-3-carbinol. You may have heard the active form of indoles called  3.3′-diindolylmethane (DIM).

Research shows that indole-3-carbinol supports the liver detoxification process by removing excess hormones in the body.

Indole binds to estrogen receptors and may shift active estrogen into a weaker form(R). Another reason to eat your greens.


How does Indole work with estrogen?

High levels of estrogen called 16-aOHE-1 Estone are linked to cancers, specifically breast cancer. 

In contrast, a healthier form of estrogen called 2-OHE1 is considered “good” and associated with reduced cancer growth.

A study reveals indole as an inhibitor of mammary gland tumor formation. This is because broccoli helps to shift estrogen metabolism away from 16-aOHE-1 and instead to  2-OHE1(R).

Other studies have shown sulforaphane to have similar effects (R). (More on this in a bit).

With this in mind let’s look at the current rates of breast cancer.


The relationship between breast cancer and Indole

According to the National Cancer Institute, the estimated number of breast cancer cases in the United States for 2021 is 281,550 in women and 2,650 cases in men (R). Eating brassica vegetables may help battle the estrogen imbalance and decreases cancer risk in both women and men.

Indole and DIM both have opposite effects on estrogen cell activity.

Estrogen promotes cancer growth whereas Indole suppresses it (R).

Crazy right? Food is medicine and literally may stop cancer in its tracks. 

A study with over 800 women found that eating cruciferous vegetables, particularly broccoli, reduced breast cancer risk in premenopausal women (R).

Ultimately, food is powerful and can save thousands of lives from cancer. Let’s continue on with the science and look at the connection of the brain.

Indole and gut-brain connection

Indole is produced by the gut bacteria from tryptophan with the help of an enzyme known as tryptophanase.

Tryptophan, by the way, is an essential amino acid precursor of the serotonin neurotransmitter, a key hormone that stabilizes mood and happiness (R). 

Indole also acts on the gut lining by promoting tight junctions. This helpful compound also reduces inflammation too.

In summary, not only will cruciferous vegetables save your hormones but also your intestine wall lining (R).

Sulforaphane

Isothiocyanate, a sulfur-containing compound found in cruciferous vegetables, is made from glucosinolates.

One dietary isothiocyanate studied in abundance is sulforaphane. 

All cruciferous vegetables contain sulforaphane but the most prevalent is in broccoli sprouts (R).

Check out my post on broccoli sprouts benefits to learn more.

Sulforaphane’s phytochemical properties reduce excess estrogen and boost antioxidants in the body.

Also, sulforaphane is an effective preventive agent because it has anti-inflammatory, anti-proliferative, and antioxidant effects (R).

Sulforaphane fights free radicals produced by UV rays, food additives, and preservatives. This helps neutralize toxins and fight cancer. 

The highest level of sulforaphane is in raw vegetables, so keep munching on the raw broccoli and cauliflower.

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More on DIM and estrogen

Cruciferous vegetables produce a beneficial compound in the body called Diindolylmethane (DIM). By increasing DIM, our bodies make a healthier form of estrogen known as 2-OHE1 (R).  

DIM also aids in the detoxification process by eliminating estrogen metabolites. This also helps you to maintain a healthy balance of estrogen and progesterone.

The potent DIM does another powerful thing: it inhibits an enzyme called aromatase which converts testosterone to estrogen (R). Excess aromatase leads to excess estrogen, also known as estrogen dominance.

And estrogen dominance can lead to a cascade of unwanted hormonal symptoms (R).


Aromatase is also known as CYP19A1, a liver enzyme in a family of CYP450 enzymes. This enzyme helps to metabolize estrogen in the liver.

An increase in CYP enzyme activity by cruciferous vegetables is thought to help metabolize excess estrogen.

DIM from broccoli increases the activity of CYP1A1 and by doing so, helps you to metabolize excess estrogen.

Along with CYP19A1 (aromatase), broccoli decreases the production of estrogen in the first place (R).

Review of estrogen

Women have two main sex hormones: estrogen and progesterone. 

Estrogen has many functions in the body: helps control the menstrual cycle, keeps cholesterol in control, protects your bones, regulates energy levels and mood.

  • Estradiol (E2):  forms in childbearing age
  • Estriol (E3): forms during pregnancy
  • Estrone (E1):  only estrogen produced during menopause  

In premenopausal women, estrogen is made in the ovaries and placenta with a small amount formed in the brain, liver, heart, and skin (R).

Excessive Estrogen

Women

  • Weight gain
  • Menstrual problems
  • Fibroids
  • Fatigue
  • Low libido

Men

  • Enlarged breasts
  • Poor erections
  • Infertility

Undoubtedly, too low or too high of estrogen levels reduces the ability of both men and women to feel their best!

Low Estrogen

Women

  • Weight gain
  • Hot flashes
  • Dry skin
  • Mood swings
  • Insomnia

Men

  • Weight gain around stomach
  • Low libido

Gut Dysbiosis and Estrogen Link

Have you heard of the estrobolome? This is a collection of bacteria in the gut that metabolizes and regulates the body’s estrogen.

Optimizing our gut health is key to keeping our hormones in balance and keeping a normal estrobolome.

A healthy estrobolome in the gut helps to produce an enzyme called beta-glucuronidase. This enzyme helps estrogens to become active, which is a good thing for hormone balance. 

When there is a gut dysbiosis there’s too little or too much beta-glucuronidase. These imbalances can lead to an excess or deficiency of estrogen in the body (R).

To help maintain gut balance:

  • Choose whole foods grown in the dirt: 
    • This is because healthy bacteria feed on certain foods we eat and grow in term tell us to eat more, causing cravings and potential overgrowth (for example sugar or gluten)  Our gut epithelial cells change every 5 days! So it is never too late to turn your eating habits around. 
  • Try a broad-spectrum probiotic
  • Decrease intake of alcohol and caffeine:
    • We live in a society where a cup of coffee seems to be a must, but our hormones can pay the price. Try a cup of green tea in the morning instead of coffee. It is full of antioxidants, small amounts of caffeine, and estrogen balancing effects.
  • Avoid antibiotics when possible:
    • Antibiotics alter the gut microbiome and destroy bad and good bacteria.
  •  Eat foods high in fiber – AKA cruciferous vegetables!

To reap the estrogen balancing benefits of cruciferous vegetables: food comes first

The best form of indole and sulforaphane is the plant form. This is because nutrients work best in the body in their natural form and in synergy with other compounds. 

Vegetables are also high in fiber. Remember our gut bugs love fiber!

Our gut also loves diversity so more color means different phytochemicals and antioxidants.

Have broccoli with lunch and try purple cabbage with dinner.  

Not a broccoli fan? That’s okay you can reap the benefits of this estrogenic neutralizer by supplementing with broccoli extract. Read more on broccoli and the benefits for brain health in my previous post.

Broccoli sprout extract can be taken as a supplement or is available as seeds to be eaten similar to alfalfa sprouts. Learn more about the content of indoles in foods below.

Indole Content of Foods

  • Brussel Sprouts, at 104mg per 44g (half cup)
  • Garden Cress, 98mg at 25g (half cup)
  • Mustard Greens, 79mg at 28g (half cup, chopped)
  • Turnip, 60mg at 65g (half cup, cubes)
  • Kale, 67mg per 67g (1 cup, chopped)
  • Kohlrabi, 31mg per 67g (half cup, chopped)
  • Red Cabbage, 29mg per 45g (half cup, chopped)
  • Broccoli, 27mg per 44g (half cup, chopped)
  • Horseradish, 24mg per 15g (tablespoon)
  • Cauliflower, 22mg per 50g (half-cup chopped)
  • Choy, 19mg per 35g (half cup, chopped)

While Brussels sprouts lead the pack for indoles, almost all cruciferous vegetables will give your body an indole boost.

How to add more cruciferous vegetables into your life:

If you aren’t sure how to increase these hormone-healing foods into your diet, here are some easy ways to get started:

Broccoli:

  • Lightly steam or use a pressure cooker instead of microwaving or baking to maintain nutrients. Always keep and re-use the cooking liquid for your next soup or bone broth recipe. 
  • Snack on raw broccoli – try dipping in humus for extra fiber! 
  • Add chopped broccoli to salad, soups, or stews. 

Cauliflower: 

  • Chop cauliflower in a food processor to make riced cauliflower or buy  pre chopped frozen packets found at most groceries stores. 
  • Try  mixing half mash potatoes with riced cauliflower or use as a rice substitute in stir fry. 
  • Roast florets or “steaks” or substitute for pizza crust. 

Kale:

  • The secret to kale is citrus! Kale is a wonderful addition to any salad. Remove the stems and slice into thin ribbons. 
  • Kale Chips – Bake kale with olive oil, salt and pepper at 350 F degrees for 10 minutes. 
  • Add kale into your next smoothie to add an extra punch of nutrients. 

Brussels Sprouts: 

  • Chop brussel sprouts in half and place in tin foil on  the grill. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper.
  • Bake brussel sprouts in the oven with olive oil, honey and salt. Place on a baking sheet and cook until soft and crispy. 

Arugula:

  • This spicy green is the perfect kick to add to any tossed salad with feta and balsamic dressing. 
  • Try planting arugula in the herb garden for extra soft leaves.
  • Add arugula into homemade pesto.

As you can see, there are so many delicious ways to add cruciferous vegetables to your diet. Your body will thank you.

Tips for using cruciferous vegetables in the cruciferous vegetables and estrogen  post on a colorful vegetable background by The Healthy RD

Final thoughts about cruciferous vegetables and estrogen

Cruciferous vegetables are natural estrogen stabilizers and cancer-fighting foods. Multiple studies support their preventive effects. As a rule, try to remember to include a variety of colors and cooking methods to receive the full advantage of cruciferous vegetables.   

Whether you want the hormonal bonus or not, cruciferous vegetables are always a good idea for fiber, vitamins, and essential minerals.

Disclaimer – The information contained on this blog, website, and related content is of a general nature and not regulated by the FDA. They are not intended to treat, diagnose, or give specific medical advice. While all content is written by a registered dietitian and strives to provide only accurate, scientific-based information, your specific health needs may or may not apply to the content contained on this website and related content. It is not intended to diagnose or treat any specific medical condition.   All content is copyrighted and must be used only with permission and citation to thehealthyrd.com.

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