If you’re concerned that you have low estrogen levels, the only way to know for sure is to get a doctor’s diagnosis. But even if you haven’t gotten to that step yet, you may want to know how to increase estrogen naturally while remaining on the keto diet.
This guide may be able to point you in the right direction.
But first, it’s essential to understand why estrogen — and having the right levels — is vital for your health at every age.
When it comes to female hormones, estrogen is the most popular and most talked about, yet very few women understand its primary functions.
Because it’s essential to your health, it’s vital to get a firm grasp on what estrogen is, how it changes over time, and what you can do to keep your estrogen levels in a healthy range. Below are estrogen’s main functions.
#1: Reproductive Health
Estrogen is part of a group of sex hormones produced in the ovaries and adrenal glands[*].
It stimulates the growth of the vagina and fallopian tubes during puberty, and is responsible for the development of your breasts and wider-than-male pelvis[*].
Estrogen also regulates your menstrual cycle and your entire reproductive system[*].
One of its primary roles is to trigger the release of an egg each month, then its levels quickly drop after ovulation.
Throughout a woman’s monthly cycle, estrogen also causes the uterus and cervix to grow and thicken, as well as produce mucous secretions for proper reproductive functioning.
But ovulation isn’t the only fluctuation in estrogen levels women will experience.
In fact, estrogen levels constantly change during a woman’s lifetime and drop drastically after menopause, which you’ll learn more about later on.
#2: Heart Health
Estrogen also plays a key role in heart health. Estrogen does the following, according to research[*]:
- Promotes the survival of stem cells
- May reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by improving your lipid profile (cholesterol levels) and vascular effects
- Aids in cardiac repair
- Increases the survival of heart cells (cardiomyocytes) after a heart attack
Low estrogen can put your cardiovascular function at risk.
Studies show the risk of heart disease dramatically increases in postmenopausal women (who have low estrogen) compared to premenopausal women[*].
Outside of your heart, estrogen also benefits your metabolism.
#3: Metabolic Health
In the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) — one of the largest prospective studies ever conducted — healthy estrogen levels were shown to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and improve insulin sensitivity[*].
A moderate or severe decrease in estrogen levels can create insulin resistance, which opens the way for other metabolic diseases.
Research finds that while healthy premenopausal women have adequate estrogen levels that protect them against metabolic diseases, even a slight dip in estrogen levels can cause insulin resistance. It also increases the risk of cancers, particularly in organs with high estrogen demand (i.e., breasts, endometrium, and ovaries).
Postmenopausal women with a profound estrogen deficiency can have an even higher risk of ovary and breast cancer[*].
There are three types of estrogen in your body, depending on which stage of life you’re in[*]:
- Estrone (E1): This is a weaker form of estrogen in women who are past the point of childbearing and are in menopause.
- Estradiol (E2): Produced in the ovaries, this is the most common form of estrogen in non-pregnant women. This form peaks just before ovulation and drops right after it.
- Estriol (E3): Created by a woman’s placenta during pregnancy, this is a weaker form of estrogen that becomes more dominant when a woman is pregnant since her body is no longer stimulating the release of an egg each month.
Even though women past childbearing years are more likely to experience drops in estrogen, it’s possible for this to happen a few years before menopause hits (aka perimenopause).
It’s also possible for women who are still ovulating to experience low estrogen levels too.
Because of this, women of all ages must recognize the red flags signaling something may not be right with their hormone levels.
There are several medical reasons why your estrogen levels may be low.
- You’re in menopause
- You have not yet reached puberty
- You have a thyroid disorder or a congenital condition
- You’re undergoing chemotherapy
- Your pituitary gland is not functioning properly
Over-exercising, not eating enough calories, and being underweight can also cause your estrogen to drop significantly.
But what if you don’t fall in any of those buckets?
- Missing your period, or it’s irregular when you do get it (and you’re not pregnant)
- Having trouble sleeping
- Mood swings
- Fatigue and trouble concentrating
- Hot flashes
- A change in sex drive
- An increase in UTIs (urinary tract infections)
- Painful intercourse and vaginal dryness
- Breast tenderness
Now, before you try to use these to self-diagnose the cause of your symptoms, it’s important to understand that this is not a wise idea.
Since these symptoms can overlap with many other issues, including severe medical conditions, it’s best to double-check with your doctor before you consider treating low estrogen on your own.
If you try to increase your estrogen levels when they’re already where they should be, you’ll end up with too much in your system, which can lead to a hormonal imbalance and these symptoms[*]:
- Irregular periods
- Breast swelling
- Decreased libido
- More PMS symptoms
- Weight gain
- Hair loss
- Cold feet or hands
- Lumps in your breasts
Get tested if you suspect something is wrong, so both you and your doctor have an updated picture of where your estrogen levels currently stand before you start any treatment.
And for those of you who have a confirmed low estrogen diagnosis from your doctor, these next tips may be the ideal supplement to your doctor’s plan (read: not a replacement).
In addition to the treatment options your doctor has planned, you can also consider these tips to boost your estrogen levels.
#1: Eat More Foods Rich in Soy
Soy products contain phytoestrogens or isoflavones.
Phytoestrogens mirror estrogen in your body, which means they activate the same receptors and can trigger almost the same changes[*].
To be clear, these foods will not increase your estrogen levels. That’s where your doctor’s plan comes in.
These foods are here to help you get back on track in the meantime.
Here are some of the richest sources of soy, which are also keto-friendly:
- Organic tempeh
- Silken tofu
- Soy sauce
- Miso and natto
As for soybeans and soy milk, these are high in carbs, which is why they didn’t make the list.
#2: Reach for These 5 Foods
While you can’t get estrogen straight from the foods you eat, you can load up on foods packed with phytoestrogens, such as:
- Flaxseeds (some of the highest concentrations)
- Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale)
- Sesame seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Nuts such as hazelnuts, walnuts, chestnuts, and pistachios
Since these foods are healthy and keto-friendly, you should have no trouble including them in your diet.
The quality of your food is also crucial for healthy estrogen levels.
Avoiding processed foods and sugar helps ensure your body functions optimally and has everything it needs to produce enough estrogen.
#3: Cut Down Your Sugar Intake
In one study on mice and human cell cultures, researchers discovered sugar had enough power to shut down estrogen production[*]. That’s the exact opposite of what someone with low estrogen wants.
The research showed both glucose and fructose (the kind found in fruits and veggies as well as processed foods) had this estrogen-lowering effect.
Sugar is also bad for anyone following a ketogenic diet, as too much sugar will kick you out of ketosis. On the other hand, you may be happy to learn your coffee-a-day habit is a good thing — but only in some instances.
#4: Increase Your Caffeine
Researchers discovered an interesting connection between caffeine intake and estrogen levels in women.
When participants drank 200mg of coffee, or about two cups per day,[*]:
- Asian women increased their estrogen levels.
- White women decreased their estrogen levels.
- Black women increased their estrogen levels, but it wasn’t enough to be considered significant.
Keep in mind, this study was done on women in their baby-making years (i.e., between the ages of 18-44).
So what about for women in menopause? Is caffeine an issue?
One connection scientists found is that caffeine may exacerbate menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, irritability, and night sweats[*].
Too much caffeine can also put your body in a state of stress where it releases more cortisol, a stress hormone, which can further disrupt your overall hormonal balance.
Drinking too much caffeine may also lead to an earlier onset of menopause[*].
So what’s the verdict here?
If you’re already low on estrogen and you’re Caucasian, going beyond the 200mg caffeine point each day may not be a good idea.
Instead, limit yourself to drinking one boosted coffee per day.
Also, pt for organic coffee to avoid commercial pesticides that can throw off your hormones even more.
#5: Don’t Over Exercise (But Do Make Exercise a Priority)
Working out too much or too intensely can cause your body to secrete more stress hormones like cortisol.
When this happens, your entire hormonal balance may be thrown off, including your estrogen levels.
But that doesn’t mean you should forgo exercise all together. Working out should still be a top priority, but you’ll want to keep your intensity at a moderate level for as many as 3-5 days per week.
One of the reasons why exercise is beneficial is that it can prevent the accumulation of fat that tends to happen in women during menopause due to the drop in estrogen levels[*].
#6: Quit Smoking Already (Including Being Around Secondhand Smoke)
You already know that smoking (and secondhand smoke) is bad for your health.
In both men and women, studies have shown smoking and secondhand smoke lowers estrogen levels, among many other health markers[*].
And because estrogen helps keep calcium where it belongs in your bones, people who smoke also have an increased risk for osteoporosis, especially women in menopause[*].
The choice is clear: Ditch smoking, including secondhand smoke, and focus on your health.
#7: Try One or More of These Teas
While these herbal teas may not be as common as others on the market, it’s worth making the extra effort to track them down to help fight the side effects and symptoms of low estrogen.
#1: Chasteberry Tea
Chasteberry is a tea commonly found in Central Asia and the Mediterranean that may reduce breast tenderness, pain, and other premenstrual symptoms[*].
And for women in menopause, one study found chasteberry tea may be able to increase sexual libido, although more research is needed to confirm this[*].
#2: Dong Quai Tea
Dong Quai, a traditional tea from China, has been used for centuries as a way to reduce hot flashes, ease the transition to menopause, and reduce PMS symptoms[*] .
#3: Red Clover Tea
Red clover is packed with phytoestrogens, which means it may be able to raise and balance low levels of estrogen when consumed as a tea[*].
How to Increase Estrogen Naturally
If you think you may have symptoms of low estrogen, get your hormones checked by your doctor. After all, you don’t want to follow these tips on how to increase estrogen if your levels are normal.
If you have already been diagnosed with low estrogen levels, it’s still a good idea to touch base with your doctor to determine if the strategies in today’s guide can be part of your treatment plan.
Once your doctor gives you the green light, you’ll be able to safely practice these tips to increase your estrogen on a keto diet.