Here’s what you need to know
1. You shouldn’t give up a food unless you have a good reason to do so (and you’ve backed up your decision with some solid research and personal experimentation).
2. If you have a condition that could be caused by estrogen dominance, then it makes sense to limit your exposure to estrogen from food and the environment.
3. Dairy has been identified as a major dietary source of estrogen. Your protein powder may not be an issue but you may want to limit other sources like milk and cheese.
Don’t give up dairy – unless you need to
I’ve recently quit dairy. Well, mostly – I don’t worry about the occasional latte or bit of cheese here and there.
The point of this article isn’t to scare you into giving up dairy.
I don’t believe anyone should give up a certain food or food group unless they have made a well-informed decision and concluded that based on their unique situation and goals it is better to remove that food.
A “well-informed” decision would NOT be based on a google search and reading forums. It would NOT be based on the success your friend has had or the fact that the latest diet trend recommends giving up that food. It might involve reading some books or articles based on the latest research. Or you can conduct your own searches through databases like Google Scholar and PubMed.
I like drinking milk and eating cheese so I didn’t want to give them up without some solid evidence that it was warranted. I spent many hours reading journal articles and in this post I will summarize my findings to help you make your own decision.
Whether or not dairy is a healthy option is controversial. That’s because there are some benefits to consuming dairy, particularly organic, grass-fed, raw milk. However, dairy may not be a good option for everyone.
Dairy and female hormone problems
Dairy has been shown to be a major source of the estrogens we consume through our diet. This could be problematic for women who suffer from estrogen-dependent conditions and diseases such as:
- period pain
- heavy menstrual bleeding
- abnormal smears
- endometriosis; and
- cancers such as breast, ovarian and cervical.
You can find out more about how estrogen contributes to these conditions in this article.
Research as to dairy’s impact on female hormonal conditions is mixed and the exact amount of estrogen we are exposed to from consuming dairy products is still uncertain. However, if you have a condition that could be caused by estrogen dominance, then it makes sense to limit your exposure to estrogen from food and the environment.
If you suffer from PMS, symptomatic fibroids, endometriosis, or another hormonal condition the best way to decide whether dairy is a problem for you is to eliminate it from your diet and observe your symptoms.
Many women report their symptoms get much better after removing dairy from their diet. I would recommend removing it for at least 3 months so you can observe the changes in your monthly cycles over time.
More about dairy and hormones
- Some studies have linked hormonal cancers and food consumption, in particular, that of meat and dairy products. For example, dairy intake has been associated with ovarian and endometrial cancer in women (and prostate cancer in men).
- Milk contains hormones that stimulate the growth of the calf. One of the most concerning of these for our health is insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1). When people consume milk, their IGF-1 levels also increase. IGF-1 is a concern because as a growth promoter, it can also promote undesirable growth, like cancer and premature aging.
- Some researchers argue that the hormone content of milk is very low compared to what the human body makes and that pasteurization and ultrahigh-temperature processing to create long-life milk removes even more. However, some research has suggested that estrogen levels rise significantly after consumption of as little as 500mL of milk daily.
- There is no consensus as to how much estrogen you get from drinking milk because when researchers measure estrogen content of milk their results vary based on many factors including the stage of the cow’s pregnancy, the variety of cow, the season and how the milk is processed.
Are there hormones in your protein powder?
Because estrogen tends to be found in the fat portion of dairy products, it has been suggested that lower fat dairy may be a good alternative (not all studies agree with this though as some have found elevated estrogen after consuming skim milk). Whey protein, especially whey isolate, has almost no fat so exposure to estrogen from whey protein may be a non-issue.
As for IGF-1, there are very small amounts of it in whey protein. It has been suggested that the amounts are so miniscule that they don’t warrant concern. You can read a great review of whey protein and hormones here. You actually need some IGF-1 especially if you are trying to gain muscle.
If you consume a good quality whey protein you likely get some health benefits from it, like boosting gut health, immunity and the ability of your body to fight cancer. Whey also offers a convenient and affordable option for hitting your daily protein targets which is usually a challenge for women. For women who aren’t consuming milk, whey can provide some calcium.
So, while I won’t be giving up my protein powder completely, I like to use vegetarian protein powders, including pea, rice and hemp to mix it up.
What this means for you
For most people, dairy – especially full-fat, organic, grass-fed dairy – is probably a nutritious option.
Overall more research needs to be done before we can say for certain how dairy impacts on female hormonal conditions. Based on my research, if you are suffering from an estrogen dominant condition it seems prudent to limit dairy consumption.
As discussed in this article, one option is to give it up for a while and see if your symptoms improve. Just don’t give up dairy simply because everyone else is doing it.
See the list of references for this article.