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Estrogenic Foods - Not For Real Men?
Articles by ProSource
By Douglas Kalman | Feb 22, 2007
Wow! I just returned from test-driving the Porshe Carerra GT (no, I don't make that kind of money) and the power is just unbelievable. I have to say that if a car had balls and the balls could talk, this car would be screaming; "I have testosterone". The car is sleek, has great take off power and no pulling on the turns, it is simply fantastic. This car certainly does not have any estrogenic compounds coursing through its engine. After scaring the bejesus out of my buddy (my dog, Stain) I decided I was famished and it was time to load up on
. This got me to thinking about is it possible that to be a real man, do we always have to be vigilant about what we eat? Let me explain. We all know there is a difference between how we eat when at a party with good friends and how we eat when we are at a family dinner. But, how about if certain foods that are typically included in the diet can affect our testosterone or estrogen levels?
Can testosterone-like foods affect our results from training?
This is an issue that is at the core of what currently has my curiosity piqued. Before I pour into the medical research surrounding foods and their effects on our hormones, a recent event warrants mentioning. It is amazing, at a recent bachelor party for a friend of mine, the topic of conversation was benching. It sort of seemed wrong to me. Where were the strippers? I caught myself thinking, I don't care what you bench, but then it hit me. I was there with a bunch of cardiologists and surgeons. People who consider themselves, men among men, to borrow a term from the great Alec Baldwin movie "golden gods" if you will. Instead of talking about the latest five star restaurants that the drug reps bribed them with (oops, educational session, not "bribes"), or how endothelial damage is at the core of heart disease, here these fine fellows were talking about working out. I took some time to myself to reflect upon the surging levels of testosterone in the room. The doctors at this time were more concerned with how to
gain strength and size and lose fat
, all while gaining vitality--sounds testosteronish to me! Quietly listening to them, their talk became a game of one-upmanship, reflective of high school years. The message that I took home from what turned out to be a very wild night (don't worry Mitch, I will never tell) is testosterone is very much alive and desired by all walks of life. It is estimated that 80% of the world's population still relies on natural phytotherapy (foods, plants, herbs, etc.) as a major source of medicine. Through the years, certain foods and herbs have been recognized for their use in treating sex hormone related conditions. For some, this may be menopause, while others it is
. Interestingly enough, many of these phytotherapeutic agents are not detected by conventional testing methods. Fortunately, scientists have developed methods for identifying the estrogenic content and bioactivity of foods, herbs and other related agents (1-3). Most research has focused on the
estrogenic and progestogenic activity of foods, herbs and spices
. This may be of greater importance than direct effect of foods, herbs and spices effect on testosterone levels.
Altering the testosterone to estrogen ratio can greatly influence anabolism in man
The present research examined the effects of 150 different foods, herbs and spices on estrogen receptor (ER) and progesterone binding properties. In addition, the effects on alkaline phosphatase (a group of isoenzymes which are involved with generating phosphate-used to produce energy, as in ATP and clinically used to diagnose diseases which impair bile formation, liver disease and certain cancers), as well as the effects on down regulation of estrogen (4). The herbs tested for ER binding activity were also tested for their ability to stimulate cell proliferation in breast cancer cells. Table 1 lists the results regarding ER binding potential. Soy milk and the 11 herbs/spices listed are with the highest activity and are expressed in total estradiol binding equivalents per 200 cc (6 oz.) of soy milk or 2 grams of dried herb.
Herbs and Spices Containing ER Binding Components
Micrograms of Estradiol Equivalents/200 cc or 2 gm Dry Herb
Soy milk 8/200cc
Licorice 4/2 gm
Red Clover 3
Yellow Dock 0.5
Sheep sorrel 0.5
It is important to understand that just because a food, herb or spice has ER binding capability, it does not mean that it inhibits estrogen formation or acts as a natural aromatase inhibitor. In fact, the total opposite is true. In short, Table 1 indicates that the 12 listed agents have estrogenic activity at low physiological doses. If you take at least 2 grams of any of the herbs daily or drink 6 ounces or more of soymilk, your body is getting in touch with its feminine side. It is time to start watching Oprah and Dr. Phil and having long talks on the phone with your friends, pal. If breast cancer runs in your family, especially estrogenic receptor positive breast cancer, that paying attention to what you eat and supplement with becomes of utmost importance (this applies more to women, than men). Now, you may be saying that this doesn't directly affect you. Perhaps, but since breast cancer effects 1 in 9 females over a lifetime, chances are we all know someone who has it or will have it in our lifetime. Therefore, it is my belief that having information that may affect risk of breast cancer, it is important that we all know and share the information. Within the limited scope of this article, the information presented fits into potential supplements and foods or spices to avoid or eat in limited amounts. Table 2 lists the results of the research examining the effects of the herbs on ER (+) breast cancer cells. Any herb or spice with a score above 400 has greater estrogenic activity than estradiol.
Effects of ER binding herbs on ER (+) Breast Cancer Cells
Mandrake < 50
Red Clover 3000
White Clover 500
Dong Quai 200
Black Cohosh 200
Table 2 indicates that coumestrol, red clover, mistletoe, don quai, hops, licorice, white clover, yucca and motherwort are more estrogenic than estradiol! For people at risk for breast cancer and men who want to remain real T men, avoiding the aforementioned herbs and spices seems prudent. Again, occasionally eating foods spiced with these herbs is okay, but if you drink a lot of beer (hops) or like real licorice and other certain items is a sure fire way to negate the hard work that you put into your exercise training.
Typically, when people are trying to
gain muscle size via weight training
, they are also attempting to eat a clean diet, get adequate rest and take appropriate supplements. Most of us incorporate a good
CFM whey isolate protein shake
, a high potency
, and perhaps other supplements that are aimed at bolstering testosterone levels (i.e.
is purported to
raise testosterone levels
via modulating the action of sex hormone binding globulin and LH to further stimulate the Leydig cells to produce more testosterone. As a method of naturally enhancing gonadotropic hormones (i.e., testosterone) many people look to stimulate luteinizing hormone (LH), this is what the ingredients or compounds in Andro-Test are shown to do. Foods, herbals or spices that stimulate progesterone can inhibit the release of new LH and reduce the circulating levels of LH (5). Therefore, while progesterone is not produced in men, certain foods, herbs and spices do have progesterone like activity. Eating these progesteronic foods in appreciable amounts theoretically may reduce testosterone levels.
Table 3 notes the progesterone-like activity of herbs and spices.
Micrograms of Progesterone Equivalents/2 g Dry Herb
According to the researchers, none of the herbs tested are progesterone antagonists (the abortion pill and sometimes used bodybuilding drug, RU486 is a progesterone antagonist). However, red clover, licorice, goldenseal, pennyroyal and nutmeg are progestin (a progesterone-like hormone) antagonists. The herb with the greatest progesterone receptor binding activity was bloodroot. Interestingly enough, in alternative medicine, bloodroot, mandrake, pennyroyal, yucca and mistletoe are all used to bring on menses. These are definitely herbs to be avoided by anyone looking to be all that they can be.
What about Food and Testosterone?
Unfortunately, there is not a plethora of well-conducted studies investigating the potential testosterone raising effects of herbs or spices as there is with estrogen and progesterone. We all know that in order to remain or even attain an anabolic state, you have to include more than enough protein and calories in your diet. If you eat a boatload of protein, but still take in an insufficient amount of calories, your body will preferably use the ingested protein for energy rather than shuttling it toward the muscles for growth and recovery. This does not mean when on a cutting diet, it is worthless to eat high protein, rather research indicates that
the extra protein may help preserve the muscle mass during times of slight (but not starvation) calorie deprivation
. Recent research indicates that
licorice lowers testosterone levels in men
. Logically, this makes sense, since it is such a strong phytoestrogen. Now it is becoming more apparent that
men should avoid the foods, herbs or spices that have estrogen or progesterone-like activity (unless indicated by your physician i.e., prostate cancer) when training to gain strength and/or size
Can Eating Beef or Pork actually Lower Testerone?
Believe it or not, the meat industry in the United States actually uses an abundance of hormones and antibiotics along with other pharmaceuticals in order to breed bigger animals that will yield more meat and a softer cut at that. If you ever want to have a scary read of what goes on in the meat industry, read the book
Fast Food Nation
. If you increase the size of cattle, cow, bull, steer, pig or whatever, the result will be that more meat will be available after the animal is slaughtered. However, there is a potential downside to the increased meat yield -- namely the meat for human consumption may contain a greater amount of hormones than which normally occurs. According to a study in the journal
Human Reproduction Update
, the use of estrogens in animals to yield a heavier more-meaty animal also results in more estrogen than what is normal being passed onto the consumer. In fact, the estrogen and estrogenic metabolites in the meat and dairy (i.e., milk) is estimated to run between four and 20-times the normal levels (6). The animals exposed to estrogens alone (no anabolic hormones used) have been found to contain up to 150-times the amount of estrogen as compared to non-treated animals in their muscles, internal organs and in the fat (7).
So if you like to eat a marbled steak and believe that you are getting "good muscle food", you may in fact be getting a high estrogen load!
According to a more recent review paper in a leading agriculture journal, the fact that we are being exposed to greater amounts of food-related estrogens is a concern and one that may be linked to certain cancers, changes in growth rates of children and other scary items as well (6). Since the majority of us who workout, train, like to have a good time, think about muscle growth as it relates to food and nutrition, we too should be concerned with the amounts of estrogens in the meat and dairy supply. Yes, the normal meats and dairy that you purchase in the supermarket does contain as much as 150-times the amount of estrogenic compounds as compared to their organic, non-hormonally treated bretheren.
A "Bam!" Recap
The work of Zava et al in the hormonal effects of food, herbs and spice is unparalleled. Herbal therapies are gaining daily in popularity (it is a multi-billion dollar business). As people who are into lifting, looking good, staying healthy and every now and then adventurous, making gains and being a strong man is important. Think of it, would you be reading this website if you were not in search for the information to help you attain the athletic look and attitude? Making wise choices with supplements and foods is one key towards success. The following herbs, spices or foods should be avoided in your quest to remain all man soy, soy milk, soy protein powders, licorice, red clover, dong quai, damiana, black cohosh, verbana, motherwort, thyme, oregano, tumeric, hops, (sorry guys,
beer itself lowers testosterone levels in men
, while having the opposite effects in females), bloodroot, mandrake, pennyroyal, yucca and mistletoe. It seems like a no-brainer, if you want to maximize the testosterone and anabolic hormonal response to weight training, avoiding or minimizing the amount of estrogenic herbs, spices and foods that you eat, you eat organically and smartly. If you want to ensure that you are helping tilt your body to fight off estrogenic items in the environment, you consider using dietary supplements such as Andro-Test. Without doubt, a hormonally healthier way to eat for muscle building and perhaps overall health is to only eat meats and dairy items that come from farms or facilities that do not use hormones in their rearing of the animals.
References 1) Zava DT, Duwe G. Estrogenic and antiproliferative properties of genistein and other flavonoids in human breast cancer cells in vitro. Nutr Cancer 1997;27:31-40. 2) McLachlan JA. Functional toxicology: A new approach to detect biologically active xenobiotics. Environ Health Perspect 1993;101:386-387. 3) Soto AM, Lin T, et al. An "in culture" bioassay to assess the estrogenicity of xenobiotics. In: Colburn T, Clement C, Eds. Chemically induced Alterations in Sexual and Functional Development. Princeton Scientific Publishing Co. 1992:295-309. 4) Zava DT, Dollbaum CM, Blen M. Estrogen and progestin bioactivity of foods, herbs, and spices. Proc Soc Exp Biol Med 1998;217:369-378. 5) Marieb EN. Human Anatomy and Physiology. Benjamin Cummings Publishing Co. Inc. 1989. Chapter 28, pp 914-954. 6) Daxenberger A, Ibarreta D, Meyer HH. Possible health impacts of estrogens in food. Hum Reprod Update 2001;7(3):340-55. 7) Henricks DM, Gray SL, Hoover JL. Residue levels of endogenous estrogens in beef tissues. J Anim Sci 1983;57(1):247-55.
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