Causes of High Testosterone in Women

Causes of High Testosterone in Women

High testosterone in women is one of the most common hormone disorders. Literally tens of millions of women suffer from it in the United States alone.

You may suffer from high testosterone (or other male sex hormone) levels if you have acne, if your menstrual cycles are irregular, if you experience blood sugar swings, if your libido is low, if you have male pattern balding on the top of your head, or if you have male pattern hair growth on your face or elsewhere. These are some of the main symptoms.

There are many different things that can cause high testosterone in women.

The most common causes are:

High testosterone in women 1. Insulin resistance and diabetes

If you have type I or II diabetes or know that you are insulin resistant, high testosterone is quite possibly a problem for you.

Approximately  25% of the testosterone in female bodies comes from the ovaries. This is natural. However, insulin in the bloodstream stimulates the ovaries to produce more testosterone. This can seriously increase the ovaries’ output of testosterone.

Depending on the severity of the dysregulation, insulin can lead to a significant increase in free testosterone in the bloodstream. Sometimes this is as much as 2 or 3 times as much testosterone as is optimal or healthy.

This is very often the case in polycystic ovarian syndrome – more on which below.

High testosterone in women 2. Thyroid disorders

Sex hormone levels and thyroid hormone levels are intimately related in many ways.

One important way is through Sex Hormone Binding Globulin (SHBG). When thyroid function slows — as in hypohyroidism — Sex Hormone Binding Globulin (SHBG) levels fall. SHBG binds excess hormones to it in the blood. It is incredibly important for maintaining healthy hormone balance. When hormones like testosterone threaten to increase, if there is bountiful SHBG then it can bind the testosterone and minimize it’s threat. Without SHBG, excessive hormones can become a real problem.

In healthy women, 80% of testosterone is bound by SHBG in the blood. With decreased SHBG however, significantly more testosterone runs free and causes testosterone-related issues.

High testosterone in women 3. Stress

Stress can have a wide variety of negative impacts on the female body. Many of these have the potential to elevate testosterone levels.

For example, stress can cause hypothyroidism and the concomitant decreases in SHBG.

Stress can also decrease levels of estrogen and progesterone in the blood. Estrogen and progesterone perform a counter-balancing function to testosterone. Without them, testosterone levels can rise to unhealthy levels.

Stress also causes a rise in DHEA-S, which is a male sex hormone produced by the adrenal glands. It is not testosterone – but it is one of testosterone’s closest cousins. It acts in a chemically similar way and will often cause the same hormone disruptions. Read more about this process here, and about how stress negatively impacts hormone production here.

High testosterone in women 4. Fasting after workouts

If you work out frequently and do not eat afterwards, your testosterone levels – as a woman, specifically – can rise unchecked.

After intense exercise, several hormone levels are elevated. Cortisol – the “stress hormone” – and testosterone are two of the strongest.

Cortisol levels fall naturally after a workout. But testosterone levels do not. They remain very high and decrease much more slowly if you do not eat afterward. If you do this on a regular or even daily basis this can cause a chronic problem.

I discuss how precisely to refuel in this post: how fasting after workouts causes high testosterone, acne, and PCOS.

High testosterone in women 5. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)

Finally, the most common cause of high testosterone in women in PCOS.

Now, it is not altogether clear what causes what: does high testosterone cause PCOS, or does PCOS cause high testosterone? No one is quite certain.

But what is certain is that the two are inextricably linked for many women. It may very well be the case that they both cause each other: high testosterone causes PCOS and PCOS causes high testosterone.

PCOS stands for Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome and is the condition of having multiple cysts on one’s ovaries. There are three criteria used in diagnosing PCOS. In order to be diagnosed you must meet two of the three criteria: irregular or absent menstrual cycles, elevated testosterone or other male sex hormone levels, and cysts on the ovaries as demonstrated by an ultrasound.

PCOS affects as many as 15% of in America today, and is actually the leading cause of infertility, by a long shot.

So if you suffer from symptoms of high testosterone, from any of the above conditions such as hypothyroidism, stress, or insulin resistance / diabetes, you may want to investigate PCOS as a potential underlying cause or secondary effect of your condition.

PCOS may be a complex condition but this does not mean that it is insurmountable. I myself overcame my own PCOS (despite receiving terrible medical advice). So many of the women I have worked with on the issue have, too.

To read more of my work on PCOS and find out how its unique from what other people have done, check out any of these posts: What is PCOS? PCOS Treatment Options, The PCOS Diet, or my program on overcoming PCOS, PCOS Unlocked: The Manual.



So that’s it for common causes of high testosterone. Do you have other ones in your own experience? Questions, concerns? I’d love to hear about it – please let me know!


So, just as a heads up - some links above may be my affiliate links, which means I get a small commission if you click on it and make a purchase. Doing so is no additional cost to you, but helps me tremendously. Your support is SO greatly appreciated, so thank you in advance if you choose to do so. Check out my entire disclosure to know exactly how things work.

This Week in Paleo: The Liver and Your Hormones

This Week in Paleo: The Liver and Your Hormones

When we think about our hormonal health, it’s easy to think of it as a factor in and of itself.

But just like every other process in the body, hormonal health is intricately connected with the other processes of the body, and many of the other organs.

The liver in particular plays an important role in the maintenance of hormonal health and to properly balance our hormone’s we can’t neglect this important organ. 

How the Liver Balances Hormones

The liver is where things go to be filtered.  Anything circulating that is in excess (like too much estrogen or testosterone, for example), anything that is toxic, and waste products are processed through the liver and excreted from the body. 

In a healthy liver, this means that the onslaughts of daily life in the form of toxins and old hormones get processed out and everything functions in balance.

But sometimes, other conditions like PCOS mean that for myriad reasons too many hormones are cycling around the body.

If the liver can’t process them because it’s already overwhelmed with toxin load or poor diet, these excess hormones can reak havoc and cause things like estrogen dominance or exacerbate PCOS symptoms.

Other negative things can occur if the liver get overloaded, including the production of free radicals that the liver can’t then contain and excrete.

(See my article on estrogen dominance here.  For help with PCOS, check out my PCOS Unlocked program here.)

That’s why it’s so important to not only think about balancing our hormones, but about supporting our liver.

Supporting the Liver

A properly supported liver can make the difference between chronic hormonal imbalance and the ability to heal.  

The liver goes through 2 stages of detoxification , called Phase I and Phase II which are each equally important.  Several processes happen during these two phases that break down waste products into less harmful or weaker versions of themselves and eventually excrete them through urine or fecal matter.

If any of these processes gets thwarted along the way, it can cause any of the problems mentioned above.

(If digestion is too slow (constipation) or the gut flora balance is off, it’s possible for some hormones to be re-absorbed.  That’s why it’s also important to work to improve our digestion, making sure to drink enough water and eat enough fiber as well as improve gut health.  Fortunately, many of the steps to take to support the liver are also great for digestion!)

The most important thing to do to support the liver is to avoid foods and toxins that burden the liver.

Don’t tax the liver with toxic substances like alcohol.  As much as it’s fun to have a drink now and then, alcohol is a poison which primarily burdens the liver.  Alcohol in particular steals glutathione which increases estrogen levels in the blood.

Other things to avoid include:

To support the liver, several foods should be a major part of the diet. These foods include the following:

  • Leafy greens like spinach and kale
  • Cruciferous and sufur containing vegetables like brocolli and onions
  • Grass-fed organic meats, especially red meat, and eggs
  • Pure, filtered water

If you struggle already with a slugglish liver or have a condition like estrogen dominance or PCOS, the following supplements help support the liver through Phase I and Phase II detoxification and can be really helpful:

  • Methylated forms of B12 (find it here), B6 (find it here), and Folic Acid (find it here): important for the passing of methyl groups which helps with the excretion of hormones like estrogen and is sometimes difficult in women with PCOS.
  • DIM (I like this one): contains the strongest components of cruciferous vegetables known to help break down excess hormones.
  • Calcium D Glucarate (I like this brand) supports the glucuronidation of  the liver and prevents excess estrogen from being re-absorbed in the bowels.
  • Glutathione (find it here): important for the detoxification of alcohol. Smoking, chronic stress, and infections or inflammatory disorders also deplete this important nutrient.

Doing a liver “detox” that you might find on Pinterest of drinking some kind of miserable lemon-water concoction for 3 days with no solid food is not necessary.

If you’re curious how to do a liver detox properly as well as read the more scientific descriptions of Phase I and Phase II liver detox, read my article here. 

How do you like to support the liver?


So, just as a heads up - some links above may be my affiliate links, which means I get a small commission if you click on it and make a purchase. Doing so is no additional cost to you, but helps me tremendously. Your support is SO greatly appreciated, so thank you in advance if you choose to do so. Check out my entire disclosure to know exactly how things work.

Are you estrogen dominant?

Are you estrogen dominant?

Millions of women suffer from estrogen dominance. But most of the time, they don’t even know it.

In this post: The Estrogen Dominance Post: Where its Coming from and What to do About it – I discuss various potential origins of and solutions to estrogen dominance.

Today I want to round out that discussion by talking about indicators that you may suffer from estrogen dominance.

What is Estrogen Dominance?

Estrogen dominance is the condition of having estrogen as the dominant female sex hormone in the body. This means that there is too much estrogen relative to progesterone. 

This can occur as a result of high estrogen – or can occur as a result of low progesterone.

Other hormones that are metabolic or are male sex hormones such as testosterone don’t normally have much of an effect on estrogen dominance. You can have high testosterone (or DHEA-S or cortisol or thyroid hormone) and high estrogen at the same time.

Causes of Estrogen Dominance

In this post I talk at great length about the causes of estrogen dominance. As a quick summary here are the most common causes:

Estrogen-containing birth control pills


Eating processed foods

Consuming high amounts of soy, flax, and other phytoestrogens (or see here for how my thoughts have evolved on the topic)

Sedentariness (see this post on walking)

BPA and other estrogens in the environment (check out my favorite BPA-free products here)

High body fat percentage (check out my program for healthy, sustainable weight loss here)

Signs you may be estrogen dominant

Are you one of the millions of women who suffer from estrogen dominance and simply don’t know it?

It’s possible. I don’t intend to be anything close to scary with this post – I am not here to scare you into thinking you have a problem. But if you do have recurring symptoms and cannot figure out why, maybe this list will help. 

Here are the most common signs of estrogen dominance:

– PMS (more on which here)

Do you suffer from irritability, depression, or mood swings before your period? This often indicates that estrogen and progesterone are not in the best possible balance. Now, even with good balance some women will experience PMS, but being off balance certainly does not help.

– Depression

The brain is full of hormone receptors. Estrogen dominance can be a big problem for keeping neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine in balance.

Low estrogen is often associated with irritability or anxiety, whereas high estrogen is often associated with feelings of depression. I personally experience a significant darkening of my mood whenever I consume a lot of phytoestrogenic foods.

– Breast tenderness

Estrogen plays an important role in the modulation of blood vessels (more on which in this post explaining hot flashes). It can increase blood flow to the breasts and cause them to feel heavy and tender. 

– Thyroid issues

High estrogen levels can interfere with thyroid hormone activity. (See this post for 19 indicators you may be hypothyroid.) This can lead to thyroid issues such as cold hands and feet, brittle hair and nails, constipation, difficulty losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight, and fatigue. 

– Menstrual cramps

If you suffer from menstrual cramping, estrogen dominance may be playing a role (more on cramps here). Estrogen plays a role in stimulating uterine tissue growth throughout the course of a menstrual period, so the higher your estrogen levels are the more tissue your body will have to shed when the time comes.

A more severe version of menstrual cramping occurs when women have endometriosis, which you can learn more about here.

– Heavy menstrual bleeding

As a result of the enhanced tissue development discussed above, the body has more tissue to shed, and therefore more blood, every month. If you have a very heavy flow, elevated estrogen levels may play a role.

– Cysts in the breasts or ovaries or uterine fibroids

If you suffer from fibroids or cysts then estrogen dominance is probably an area you want to look into addressing. Estrogen stimulates cyst, fibroid, and tumor growth. There is a lot of debate in the medical community as to what should be done about this – specifically with respect to soy consumption – but as it stands it’s probably best to really keep an eye on estrogen levels and do what you can if you suffer from any of these issues.

– Low sex drive

Sex drive is complicated. I won’t say that high estrogen necessarily is anyone’s problem. For many women, low estrogen is a problem for sex drive. (See this post on the 10 most common causes of low libido for women)

The key to a robust libido is balance. So if your estrogen levels are too high, then that is a kind of imbalance that could be problematic for your sex drive. 

– “Excess” weight or weight gain, especially in the hips and thighs 

The hips and thighs are “female” fat areas for a reason: estrogen encourages fat to be deposited specifically in these areas.

If you notice your lower body gaining weight relative to the rest of your body, this may be a sign that your estrogen levels are increasing. If, however, this area has always been where you stored your body fat, then it may simply be a genetic issue for you. There is no real way to tell unless there is a marked change in your body’s fat deposition habits.

To learn more about hormones and how the affect weight gain and even weight loss (yes, hormones can help with fat loss), I wrote a program detailing how women can maximize their hormone health and weight status in a healthy and sustainable way. You can read more about it if you like at this link.

Estrogen dominance: what to do about it?

All that being said – if you suspect you have estrogen dominance – what should you do?

First and foremost – consider getting your hormone levels tested.

Estradiol, estrone, and estriol. Estradiol is the most prominent estrogen in the reproductive years as it is the one synthesized by the reproductive system. It is 80 times more potent than the other estrogens. It will often be elevated if you are estrogen dominant.

Estrone is produced by fat cells. If you struggle with significant body fat percentage this could be overly elevated for you.

Estriol is primarily elevated during pregnancy.

You will also want to test progesterone. If your progesterone levels are low, then this needs to be remedied as much as if not more so than estrogen. Read more about progesterone (and why reducing stress is the best way to enhance it) here.

Thyroid hormones may be a concern for you. T3, T4, TSH, and TPO are all crucial for understanding what’s really going on with your thyroid hormones. For the best resource on all kinds of thyroid issues, check out Izabella Wentz’s Root Cause.

Vitamin D is important for healthy estrogen levels so you may want to get that tested too. If low, consider supplementing with a great emulsified D like this one.

If you get your hormones tested and find out that your estrogen levels are low, or progesterone is low, or especially that your testosterone or DHEA-S levels are high, then you may want to look into Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome as a potential underlying problem. Read more about PCOS here: What Is PCOS? And check out my program for overcoming it here.

Secondly, reconsider hormonal birth control. 

Getting off of the pill or getting on a very low-dose pill is critical. You can read about the side effects, risks, and management tricks of birth control in this PDF.

Third, optimize your diet.

Foods that support thyroid health such as seafood and seaweed should be quite helpful for managing your symptoms. (If you do not consume seaweed regularly consider a small dose kelp supplement).

Foods to emphasize for estrogen clearing are those that boost B vitamin levels, omega 3 levels (fermented cod liver oil is an excellent way to meet the body’s need for omega 3 while also getting the rare but crucial vitamins A, D, and K), choline (in supplement form here), zinc (here), magnesium (here), calcium, and vitamin D.

For that reason, eggs (choline), fish (omega 3 fats, iodine, selenium, and vitamin D), liver and other organ meats (vitamin A,  vitamin K, B vitamins, and iron, zinc, manganese, etc), and high quality animal protein are all musts.

Leafy greens are incredibly important for supporting the liver clearing estrogen out of the body. Aim for at least one serving a day, at minimum!

Foods to be avoided are all processed sugars, grains, omega 6 seed oils, phytoestrogens which include soy, flax, legumes, seeds, and some herbs, which I list in great detail here, and alcohol.

Fourth, consider supplementing.

I listed FCLO, choline, zinc, magnesium, calcium, and vitamin D above all as good nutrients to eat plentifully or consider supplementing for estrogen  dominance.

Some herbs have also been rumored to be helpful. Personally, I don’t love to recommend herbs, especially ones that affect hormone balance, such as chasteberry. However, chasteberry has been rumored to be quite effective for estrogen dominance. Herbs that support liver health (and therefore estrogen detox) are milk thistle (here) and a good dandelion root (here). 

Additionally, L-taurine promotes bile circulation, which enhances estrogen’s excretion out of the body.

Fifth, exercise!

Exercise is incredibly important, as it can speed up the liver’s detox processes, sharpen insulin sensitivity, boost weight loss, help mitigate mood swing problems associated with estrogen dominance, and reduce levels of stress hormones in the body. You can read all about my exercise recommendations in this book.

Sixth, reduce stress. 

I cannot emphasize enough how important this is. Stress makes progesterone levels plummet which is terrible for healthy hormone balance.

More estrogen dominance tools and resources

Here are most of the links I have written about above and a few more, all of which can help if you like. Of course, the best way to beat estrogen dominance is with a healthy, paleo-type diet and lifestyle with exercise and stress reduction. But supplements can often help quite a bit.

Desiccated liver (in case you don’t like eating it!)

My favorite fermented foods for gut healing, healing constipation

cod liver oil for reducing inflammation and getting the important but rare A, D, and K vitamins

Milk thistle for liver support

Dandelion root for liver support

Paleo fiber

A great probiotic supplement like this

My favorite magnesium here

A list of my favorite fermented foods here

A good small dose kelp supplement


BPA free coconut milk

BPA free water bottle


Hope that helps — and please keep me posted in the comments on your experiences! Would love to hear about them!


So, just as a heads up - some links above may be my affiliate links, which means I get a small commission if you click on it and make a purchase. Doing so is no additional cost to you, but helps me tremendously. Your support is SO greatly appreciated, so thank you in advance if you choose to do so. Check out my entire disclosure to know exactly how things work.

Vitamin D Deficiency and Low Estrogen: The Link

Vitamin D Deficiency and Low Estrogen: The Link

An estimated 77% of Americans don’t get enough vitamin D.

Vitamin D is one of the most crucial elements for health in the whole human body. It is necessary for moderating and utilizing calcium, which is one of the most important elements in cellular function. It also moderates and utilizes phosphate. It is crucial to immune system function, to reproductive function, to bone health, and to healthy neurotransmitter and mental health.

Of striking importance is it’s role in women’s health.

First, researchers have found that there are specific proteins determined by DNA that control the ability of the body to use and process vitamin D and estrogen at receptor sites at the same time. This suggests that the genetic success of the two molecules is paired. The status of vitamin D or estrogen in any given individual may indicate problems in the other element.

If you are deficient in vitamin D, you may be deficient in estrogen. If you are deficient in estrogen, you may be deficient in vitamin D.

Women’s genes appear to modulate hormones — specifically estrogen — and vitamin D in the same way. Genetically determined receptor sites for estrogen and vitamin D work together to make sure that the body is able to ingest and process the minerals and hormones that it needs for maximum health.

Second, Vitamin D appears to play a critical role in the activity of reproductive hormones, specifically estrogen.  Vitamin D is active at hormone receptor sites, helping estrogen to be able to be activated.

Without sufficient vitamin D, even women with genetically healthy estrogen receptors are at risk of suffering from low estrogen.

Women are constantly asking me what they can do to increase their estrogen levels.

With conditions like hypothalamic amenorrhea, PCOS, female atheltic triad syndrome, or simple stress, it is very common to have low estrogen levels.

If you suffer from any of these conditions, there is a good chance you also have low estrogen (best to get tested to be sure!).

I normally tell women with these conditions that the best thing they can do is:

eat a diet rich in carbohydrate and fat, reduce stress, and perhaps gain some weight. They may also wish to play around with phytoestrogen intake.

What I have been remiss in overlooking is how powerful vitamin D supplementation can be.

Research demonstrates that women who are deficient in estrogen are often deficient in vitamin D.

Since vitamin D helps boost estrogen utilization at receptor sites, as well as increases health and hormone production in general, it may be a significant for boosting estrogen levels.

To that end, I highly recommend either being sure to get at least 20 minutes of SPF-free noontime sun exposure daily, or taking an emulsified vitamin D supplement.

I personally take a vitamin D supplement and it is the most important thing I do all day. It curbs my cravings, helps me sleep better at night, strengthens my immune system, boosts my libido, and helps me be more energetic.

The vitamin D supplement I take is available at Amazon here.

What about menopause?

Is vitamin D effective for raising estrogen levels at menopause?

Even while vitamin D is rumored to help, unfortunately, the reading I have done suggests that it doesn’t make too much of a difference. This is because menopause is marked by a decrease in hormone production. Vitamin D may help estrogen be active at receptor sites, but if the ovaries have stopped making estrogen altogether, then there’s very little vitamin D can do to help.

Fortunately, there is always some estrogen left over being produced by the ovaries, and estrogen is still produced by fat cells. To that end, vitamin D can certainly help in menopause (and will definitely help with problems like insulin resistance, inflammation, a weak immune system, energy, mood, and bone density – all other estrogen remaining issues). I do recommend taking it (again, my favorite supplement here at Amazon) as a menopausal women.

That just should also be complemented by other strategies for increasing estrogen and hormone production in menopause:

plenty of carbs and fats; plenty of sleep; lots of movement and walking; weight-bearing, anaerobic exercises; and phytoestrogen experimentation.

What about estrogen dominance?

What does vitamin D do if you have too much estrogen, however? Does it just make it worse?

Actually, it doesn’t.

Vitamin D has been shown to reduce estrogen and progesterone levels in those who have too much of these hormones. Vitamin D has a significant moderating effect. It makes the receptor sites function properly, such that it boosts utilization if need be or decreases utilization if need be. If you have too much, it can reduce your levels. If you have too little, it can enhance them.

So don’t fear vitamin D if you have high estrogen levels. In fact, you may in all likelihood benefit from supplementation as well.

Here, again, is the vitamin D supplement I personally take.

And even though “adequate” vitamin D levels are around 30 ng/mL, aim for around 50-60 if you’re getting your blood tested, because that’s where you get your best benefits. You can test your levels through your local doctor or an online service like WellnessFX if you’re interested!

Dealing with low estrogen? Find out why Vitamin D supplement may help.


So, just as a heads up - some links above may be my affiliate links, which means I get a small commission if you click on it and make a purchase. Doing so is no additional cost to you, but helps me tremendously. Your support is SO greatly appreciated, so thank you in advance if you choose to do so. Check out my entire disclosure to know exactly how things work.

Is BPA causing you and your children gut damage?

Is BPA causing you and your children gut damage?

Bisphenol A, or BPA, is a chemical estrogen widely used in the food-packaging industry. It is found in virtually all aluminum cans and plastic containers, including water bottles and baby bottles.

In recent years there have thankfully been several awareness campaigns about the dangers of BPA. This is why many people now carry their water in stainless steel canteens instead of the old-style plastic bottles.

(To read more about how to get BPA out of your life, check out this post)

BPA has been shown to be dangerous in many regards; for example, it reduces formation of brain cell connections, which can lead to mental disorders like Schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease. It appears to increase the likelihood of adolescents developing bi-polar disorder and other mood disorders. BPA appears to inhibit sperm development and contribute to male infertility. It also, unsurprisingly, inhibits female fertility. Rats which are exposed to BPA develop PCOS.

Today I am writing to add another problem to the long list of BPA-related concerns:

It can cause leaky gut and inflammation.

Worse of all is that some exposure while an infant can have long-lasting, damaging effects later on in adulthood.

Here’s how:

Estrogen is a potent player in gut health, particularly for women.

There are estrogen receptors all throughout the intestines and the colon. One particular kind of estrogen receptor, ER-beta, is well-known for it’s intestinal barrier modulating effects. Any time ER-beta is knocked out in rats, the intestinal barrier becomes permeable and the colon becomes abnormally shaped. A healthy amount of estrogen receptors along with a healthy amount of the body’s natural estrogen is crucial for keeping the gut healthy and inflammation-free.

This study looked at how BPA may influence three problems that may occur in the gut: permeability, colitis, and visceral sensitivity (or pain/dysfunction). There are a two standard dosages of BPA that have been established for rats: one level at which no adverse effects are witnessed, one at the “tolerable daily intake”. In the study rats were subjected either to a low level, to a “tolerable daily intake” level, or half of the tolerable daily intake of BPA and analyzed for the impact on their gut permeability, colitis, and sensitivity.

There were several interesting outcomes for the rats who had been exposed:

  1. The amount of BPA administered to the rats correlated linearly with permeability: that is, the greater amount of BPA the rats were given, the more the permeability worsened. 
  2. When rats which had had their ovaries removed were fed very low doses of BPA, the severity of their colitis was reduced–suggesting BPA may have had some sort of a protective effect against this condition for rats without any natural estrogen–yet this ‘very low dose’ also increased the amount of pain sensitivity the rats had to colorectal stimuli.

Perhaps more worryingly, there were significant results for rats that had been exposed at birth. The researchers tested rats who had been exposed to BPA perinatally, which means, while in the womb and for the first few weeks as infants. For these rats:

  1. Being exposed to BPA perinatally below the tolerable daily intake led to an increase in intestinal permeability as adults.
  2. Being exposed to BPA perinatally below the tolerable daily intake led to an increase inflammation in the gut as adults.
  3. These effects applied only to the female rats, not the male rats.

It appears as though not just the rats which cconsume the BPA themselves, but also their female offspring, suffer from regular exposure to BPA. This suffering may occur as a mental condition or a fertility condition as I mentioned briefly above, or it may be a gut health issue and inflammation issue like I just laid out, or both.

In fact, the close relationship we often see between gut issues and other health issues leads me to believe that BPA commonly contributes to poor gut health even if we are never aware of its signs or symptoms.

Now you may be wondering: surely this is tragic news for the rats… but I am a human! What about humans?

So far as we can best tell, rats are decent models for human gut health. They function very similarly. Moreover, the few studies I have read on the effects of BPA on humans seem to indicate that there is a very significant similarity between the way rats are affected by BPA and the way humans are affected by BPA. Studies on both species demonstrate mental, hormonal, and gut disturbances both in the individuals which are exposed to the BPA as well as their offspring.

What does this mean for us?

This means that as adults, we may in all likelihood be able to avoid some of the problems associated with BPA, like hormonal disorders, if we have a healthy liver than can dispose of the BPA quickly and effectively.

However, before BPA can even get to the liver it must go through the gut. The impact of BPA on the gut is completely unmediated by other organs and body systems. To that end, gut health is a significant motivation to avoid BPA, at least in my personal estimation. The gut is vulnerable to BPA, and we should protect our guts from BPA if at all possible.

Don’t forget that this is especially important for women, since our digestive tracts are so liberally laced with and protected by estrogen receptors.


I like to use these glass containers when I take my lunch with me to school or work. They are all glass except for the rim which keep food and liquids safe but avoids the BPA. I bought the big set and use it to keep all my leftovers. Find them on Amazon here.

For carrying my water, even “BPA-free” bottles are a no-go, since they contain other estrogenic compounds that simply aren’t BPA.

I prefer these glass water bottles to anything else. They come with a silicon sleeve so they aren’t too slippery and I find that they hold up really nicely. They come in lots of pretty colors. Plus, there’s something satisfying about drinking from glass. You can find them here.

You can read more about avoiding BPA in this post on BPA-free living.

More importantly than ourselves, however, we need to be careful for our offspring. Time spent in the womb is showing itself to be critical to people’s health throughout their lives more and more every day. The importance of avoiding BPA while pregnant cannot be under-stated.

Infancy is also an incredibly important time for physical development. We should be careful to BPA-proof our infant’s lives, too. This means removing plastic bottles from the baby-bag and instead opting for glass or stainless steal options.

Finally, receipts have BPA on them! If you handle receipts on a regular basis, you may wish to begin wearing gloves.


So what do you think? Is your life BPA-proof? I often wonder if BPA has significantly affected my health and life…. do you wonder, too?

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So, just as a heads up - some links above may be my affiliate links, which means I get a small commission if you click on it and make a purchase. Doing so is no additional cost to you, but helps me tremendously. Your support is SO greatly appreciated, so thank you in advance if you choose to do so. Check out my entire disclosure to know exactly how things work.

Why I now believe phytoestrogens may be good for you

Why I now believe phytoestrogens may be good for you

I write and talk about phytoestrogens on this blog a lot.

Phytoestrogens are estrogen-like compounds that come from plants, and are found in particularly high quantities in soy and flax seeds. Lower quantities of phytoestrogens can be found in all legumes and nuts, such that women with sensitive hormonal systems may find themselves reacting to chick peas, black beans, or macadamia nuts (all foods that I personally react to).

Most paleo authors are hard-liners on the issue of whether we should consume phytoestrogenic foods: the answer is “no.”

Why? Their concern is that the hyper-estrogenic character of the phytoestrogens in the Standard American Diet contributes to inflammation, to the feminization of the male body (such as development of breasts, which is true), and to cancer. These are all considerable risks and I take them very seriously.

When I first began writing in the paleo blogosphere I considered it my duty as “the female paleo expert” to get to the bottom of the phytoestrogen issue fairly and come to the right conclusion about them. Yet after diving deep into the literature I found more questions than I did answers.

There are many several different types of phytoestrogens and they all have different chemical characteristics. There are also different types of estrogen receptors in the body. These different phytoestrogens interact with the estrogen receptors in different and complex ways, and different tissues in the body have different kinds of estrogen receptors…

You can see why it’s so complex.

Looking at data from studies on women and from collecting my own data working with women, I developed my own beliefs about phytoestrogens and what to do about them. As far as I could best tell, phytoestrogens would increase estrogenic activity in many respects for women with low estrogen levels but also perhaps decrease it in other respects. As for women who have high estrogen levels, phytoestrogens may help decrease this excess, since they take up space on estrogen receptors but  are not as potent as the body’s own estrogen stores.

Usually, I end up concluding: “you won’t know how phytoestrogens affect you until you try, so eliminate them for a few weeks, then add them for a few weeks, and see what happens.”

That seems to satisfy people well enough, and it really is the most truthful recommendation I can make.

Today I am able to augment that recommendation since I have discovered a bit more clarity about the issue and. Here is, in a nutshell, what I’ve learned:

The body has two types of estrogen receptors

As I have mentioned, the body has two types of estrogen receptors: alpha and beta.

What  I did not know previously, however, is that estrogen receptor beta activity to some extent inhibits estrogen receptor alpha activity.

When estrogen receptor alpha is dominant, estrogenic activities in the body get carried out.

When estrogen receptor beta is dominant, on the other hand, estrogenic activities in the body are suppressed.

Now, as I mentioned before, different tissues in the body have different amounts of the two receptors. And, very importantly, different environmental conditions can contribute to the success of one over the other. Having a robust gut flora population, for example, supports estrogen receptor beta activity. The gut flora have a lot of different impacts on hormone levels (healthy gut flora will help break down old hormones and excrete them, for one, or can selectively reabsorb estrogen back into the bloodstream). In this particular case, they help estrogen receptor beta keep a lid on runaway estrogenic activity in the gut and at the gut-bloodstream barrier.

So then what happens when we consume phytoestrogens?

Phytoestrogens, by and large, enhance estrogen receptor beta

Phytoestrogens are estrogen receptor beta agonists (here). This means that they increase the activity of estrogen receptor beta, which you’ll remember inhibits excessive estrogenic activity.

Now of course, different phytoestrogens will do this to different extents, though lignans, some of the most common phytoestrogens and those found in soy, do have this ER-beta enhancing effect.

As a quick aside and demonstration of how this might work in an individual, some of you may remember that I struggle with acne. I noticed that when I consumed phytoestrogens the quality of my skin got worse, despite the fact that estrogen is supposed to help with skin quality. Skin cells have a plethora of estrogen receptors beta, however. So even while I was consuming a plant-based estrogen and even while some estrogen recpetors alpha were certainly active in other parts of my body, my skin quality suffered because the phytoestrogens actually decreased the estrogenic activity in my skin.

This may also be important for particular cancers, specifically the female cancers like breast and ovarian cancer, and also gastroenterological cancers like colon cancer.  Like this article demonstrates, “the ER alpha/beta balance seems to have a relevant influence on colorectal carcinogenesis and ER beta appears to parallel apoptosis, thus exerting an anti-carcinogenic effect.” Increasing phytoestrogen consumption may promote ER beta activity, which can lower estrogenic potency in the body as a whole, thereby decreasing the risk for certain cancers.

Of course, there are still very many studies to be done for any of this to be certain, though most professionals in the medical field are interested in the possibilities for phytoestrogens to play a (small) role in cancer prevention and remediation.

Estrogen replacement therapy and the birth control pill on the other hand…

Plant estrogens increase the activity of ER beta and can therefore reduce estrogen dominance, risk of certain cancers, leaky gut, inflammation in the gut, and more.

Estrogens that are synthesized in the laboratory, however, have a much more potent estrogenic effect. For what I can tell of perusing the literature, these estrogens do not have the same bias for ER beta. They activate both ER alpha and ER beta, and therefore do not limit estrogenic potency in the body, but instead may simply directly increase it. They also appear to increase inflammation and risk of disease in the gut, as illustrated by this study.

The body has many mechanisms in place to help modulate estrogen levels in the blood: the liver filters out excess, “old” hormones for example, and the pituitary gland produces less estrogen of its own if its detects higher levels of circulating estrogen in the bloodstream.

But those may not be sufficient to handle the extra estrogen load that comes from the birth control pill and high levels of hormone replacement therapy. From what I can tell, any time you signficant reduce pure estrogen levels above what is “normal” or “healthy” you increase your risk for a lot of things, including inflammation, mood swings, ulcerative colotis, colorectal cancer, breast cancer, ovarian cancer and uterine cancer.

What to do about it

First and foremost, I think the best thing to do for  women who eat a paleo diet is “not all that much different.”

I think it may be wise to re-consider our ban against soy and other phytoestrogenic foods, particularly for  women who are estrogen dominant. In fact, I recommend at very least that estrogen dominant women experiment with a very small serving of soy or flax, or a moderate serving of chick peas or other beans, daily for two weeks to see if positive changes happen.

I think women who are going through menopause may wish to seriously consider consuming phytoestrogens to see if it helps alleviate symptoms. This can help with some menopausal symptoms by increasing ER alpha activity to some extent, but will most likely prevent increasing the risk of cancer by the complementary increase in ER beta. There is a chance phytoestrogens will simply make your own symptoms worse, but there is enough evidence out there to suggest  it is worth a shot.

The potential risk of elevated estrogen levels from supplementation does not mean I am necessarily against using pharmacological estrogen for various conditions: sometimes it is entirely appropriate to take estrogen supplements. For example, when going through menopause, small doses of hormones may be more helpful than harmful, as a low dose of estrogen will most likely not overwhelm estrogen receptors alpha and beta. This can be a great way to alleviate symptoms, especially in the short term, though as I mentioned above the phytoestrogenic route may be preferable. For  another example, low dose estrogen therapy may be crucial for women with chronically low estrogen levels to help boost bone health, for example. For a final example, if a low enough dose and in good balance with progesterone, birth control pills may be an acceptable method of family planning.

Nevertheless, most data on the relationship between HRT and cancer seems to indicate that there is something worrying there that needs further investigation. My preference for women who are in menopause or otherwise have low estrogen levels is to try to fix things with a nourishing, relaxing paleo approach first, to try playing with phytoestrogens second, and then as a last resort go on a low dose therapy.

…And this, then, is why I now believe phytoestrogens may help reduce the risk of certain diseases and cancers for women, particularly those of us who are estrogen dominant.

Every body is different, but this may be an important piece of information that helps you figure out what the best path forward is for you! As I always say, I am a big fan of personal experimentation.

If you’ve personally done studies on yourself or noticed effects that different phytoestrogens have, please chime in! This is a hugely complex area of health and research… I need all the help and wisdom I can get!






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