How food affects our hormones | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

A physician warns that drinking caffeine and alcohol and eating dairy, lots of fat and cholesterol promote excess estrogen
Caffeine should be taken in moderation—two cups of coffee a day is still healthy, and ideally, should be free of dairy and sugar.
A physician warns that drinking caffeine and alcohol and eating dairy, lots of fat and cholesterol promote excess estrogen
Caffeine should be taken in moderation—two cups of coffee a day is still healthy, and ideally, should be free of dairy and sugar.

The first time my husband Jason quit coffee, he lasted long enough for the coffeemaker to lose its place on our kitchen counter. He dealt with a weekend of headaches, which resolved soon after. He was less cranky and demanding, but I had to ply him with a steady stream of decaf tea like ginger, mint and those Korean citron spoonable jam-like thingies.

However, work stress prevailed, and Jason resumed his reliance on java. He bought an even heftier coffee machine to mirror his intense load. Now on sabbatical, in a new attempt to quit caffeine, he’s mellowed out again, but the new machine remains on the counter.

Studies show mixed results regarding the pros and cons of ingesting caffeine. In Jason’s case, he’s decided to avoid it to manage his blood pressure and kidney function. His diet has also become more plant-strong.

Dana Lizen, a health and lifestyle coach specializing in hormone health, said that coffee, tea and chocolate are good sources of antioxidants, depending on one’s lifestyle. “I recommend them for hormonal balance. But like most treats, caffeine should be taken in moderation, and as much as possible, free of dairy and sugar,” she said. “Two cups of coffee or caffeinated tea a day is a healthy amount.”

It’s common knowledge to avoid caffeine during pregnancy, but does it affect fertility? Said Lizen, “With a good diet and lifestyle, I don’t think caffeine negatively affects fertility.”

Delaying conception

In the 2021 Plant Fit Summit online, lifestyle medicine physician Linda Carney shared a 1997 study across several countries revealing that caffeine intake may delay conception among fertile women and decrease men’s fertility. Drinking three or more caffeinated drinks a day increased the risk of miscarriages by 74 percent, whether women drank before or after conception.

Researchers analyzed data from the Longitudinal Investigation of Fertility and the Environment study to find relationships between fertility, lifestyle and environmental chemical exposure.

I react terribly to coffee; I get palpitations, headaches, diarrhea and stomach cramps. But I do well on tea and my daily hot chocolate. So, is there such a thing as “better caffeine”?

Green tea is from the bud and the top two leaves of tea plants, which contain the most health benefits. It turns into black tea when we add bacteria to ferment it. The bacteria eat most of the nutrients from the green plant, but the caffeine remains.

Compared to nontea enthusiasts, Carney noted that green tea drinkers in studies are more likely to be premenopausal, have higher income, higher educational attainment and have a higher daily dietary intake of fruits, vegetables and soy. No wonder their health appeared better than nontea drinkers.

As for cacao, Carney said it contains 55 percent fat. To make chocolate less bitter, we add sugar. To make it less gritty, we add fat, which is usually saturated. It gets even more addictive in milk chocolate, so dark chocolate has more benefits.

Back in the day, I would plop a tablea (unsweetened chocolate tablet) in a cup of dairy milk and add a spoonful of peanut butter. These days, I take my tablea in soy milk and add cocoa powder, coconut sugar, a dash of cinnamon and vanilla.

Excess estrogen

Carney warned that drinking caffeine and alcohol and eating dairy, lots of fat and cholesterol promote excess estrogen. A lack of dietary fiber and “wearing too much fat” creates even more estrogen; so does eating meat, as animal feed contains hormones and antibiotics. Diets low in fiber increase the risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, dental caries, various vascular disorders and large bowel conditions like cancer, appendicitis and diverticulosis.

In females, high estrogen levels can lead to fibroids, weight gain, weariness and heavy or irregular periods. They can result in infertility, erectile dysfunction and breast tissue growth in men.

What about fish? Isn’t it supposed to be healthy with its omega-3 fatty acids? Unknown to many, omega-3s aren’t inherent in fish; they get it from seaweed (just like animals get their protein from plants they eat). So, for omega-3s, take algae-based supplements instead of fish oil or eating fish. Carney shared a 2009 study where subjects over years of follow-up showed a 22-percent higher risk for diabetes with increasing fish intake (over five servings a week vs. less than a serving monthly).

So if caffeine, dairy and fish harm our health, what should we eat for better hormone health? Fiber seems to be the key, and it’s not from animal sources.

In 2013, a multicenter randomized controlled trial of a plant-based nutrition program to reduce body weight and cardiovascular risk in the corporate setting was rolled out across the United States (the Geico study). Overweight, diabetic employees were encouraged to follow a whole-food, plant-based diet with no portion control, no calorie-counting, and no carb-tracking without changing their exercise habits. Meals were not provided, but the office cafeteria started offering bean burritos and veggie minestrone. A control group of employees didn’t get any dietary advice.

After five months, subjects had better body weight and blood sugar levels, improved cholesterol and emotional states (less depression, anxiety and fatigue), and greater well-being and daily functioning.So, for optimum hormone health? Eat plants. —CONTRIBUTED INQ

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