The high-fat fad can be just as concerning as the low-fat fad. No diet should be a fad. A diet should be a prescription that seeks the highest health for the person across our desk, not something that satisfies some popular Internet food trend.
Dietary fats are a tremendous source of energy, and a potential source of anti-inflammatory factors that can have a positive impact on mental health, cardiovascular disease and autoimmunity. However, when it comes to choosing the right amount of fat to eat, women and men alike should be basing the fat in their diet on their sex hormones – particularly estrogen.
Estrogen, in excess, creates multiple health imbalances related to weight, fluid retention and mood (more so in women), and leaves a relative difficulty in building and maintain muscle. Elevated estrogen is almost never from frank overproduction of hormone.
So where does it come from?
Estrogen can be made in the ‘periphery’ (meaning fat cells), from other essential hormones such as progesterone and testosterone. As estrogen increases, it encourages more fat accumulation, and as you accumulate more fat you produce more estrogen (and so on). Men and women carrying extra weight often struggle with elevated estrogens (which can be assessed on lab work), which put them in a position of a vicious-cycle of weight gain, and increased hormone production.
Research has looked at how to influence estrogen with diet, and repeatedly the results show the trend that higher fiber (>20 grams per day) and lower fat (10-25% of calories) lowers serum estrogen in both men and women (1–5). This lowering of estrogen is important in men or women who have tested high for estrogen, which can be done by working with one of our Naturopathic Doctors. Long-term elevations in estrogen can influence prostate, breast and uterine growth and may be a risk factor for hormonal cancers.
When our doctors prescribe a low-fat diet, we work with patients to encourage the maintenance of healthy fats such as olive oil and avocado, at the expense of inflammatory and less healthy fats found in meats and dairy.
If you feel that your symptoms are related to elevated estrogen, your first step is to have a simple and inexpensive blood test. Knowing your hormone numbers can help build a diet around your current metabolism and hormone-obstacles, and can get you feeling better and managing your muscle and weight in a way that works best for you.
- Boyd NF, McGuire V, Shannon P, Cousins M, Kriukov V, Mahoney L, et al. Effect of a low-fat high-carbohydrate diet on symptoms of cyclical mastopathy. Lancet Lond Engl. 1988 Jul 16;2(8603):128–32.
- Bagga D, Ashley JM, Geffrey SP, Wang HJ, Barnard RJ, Korenman S, et al. Effects of a very low fat, high fiber diet on serum hormones and menstrual function. Implications for breast cancer prevention. Cancer. 1995 Dec 15;76(12):2491–6.
- Ingram DM, Bennett FC, Willcox D, de Klerk N. Effect of low-fat diet on female sex hormone levels. J Natl Cancer Inst. 1987 Dec;79(6):1225–9.
- Rock CL, Flatt SW, Thomson CA, Stefanick ML, Newman VA, Jones LA, et al. Effects of a high-fiber, low-fat diet intervention on serum concentrations of reproductive steroid hormones in women with a history of breast cancer. J Clin Oncol Off J Am Soc Clin Oncol. 2004 Jun 15;22(12):2379–87.
- Rosenthal MB, Barnard RJ, Rose DP, Inkeles S, Hall J, Pritikin N. Effects of a high-complex-carbohydrate, low-fat, low-cholesterol diet on levels of serum lipids and estradiol. Am J Med. 1985 Jan;78(1):23–7.