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Guys: Is Your Estrogen High, or Is It Just Phytoestrogen?

Despite estrogen being known as the female sex hormone, even men require a small amount of this hormone. However, problems can arise if your estrogen levels rise too high, and since men only need a little estrogen, it doesn’t take much for that to occur. The repercussions? Gynecomastia (man boobs), erectile dysfunction, and a loss of muscle mass, to name a few

Sometimes, though, these symptoms of high estrogen appear because phytoestrogens are tricking your body into producing more estrogen.

These plant compounds that mimic estrogen can be found in many of the foods we consume, but they may not always need to be avoided. Within this article, we discuss the phytoestrogens that are best to avoid, what they can do to a male body, and other tips for keeping your hormones in balance.

What Are Phytoestrogens?

Phytoestrogens are natural compounds in plants and plant-based food that are estrogen-like, meaning they have a chemical structure that is very similar to estrogen, which is why they are also called dietary estrogens.

When you consume phytoestrogens through certain foods and beverages, and they enter the body, your estrogen receptors mistake them for estrogen and bind them. Your body then reacts to phytoestrogens like they are true estrogen, producing an estrogen-like effect. This binding of phytoestrogens—and subsequent activation of estrogen receptors—disrupts your normal hormonal function, making phytoestrogens endocrine disruptors.

Phytoestrogens do not bind to estrogen receptors as firmly as true estrogen, so they may produce weaker effects than estrogen. For men, though, who already need only a small amount of estrogen, consuming a lot of foods with phytoestrogens may produce more pronounced effects.

Some foods high in phytoestrogens include:

  • Flaxseeds
  • Almonds
  • Walnuts
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Pomegranates
  • Apples
  • Cranberries
  • Carrots
  • Lentils
  • Yams
  • Sprouts
  • Soy products
  • Licorice root
  • Oats
  • Barley

Other plants, often found in their essential oil form, can also contain phytoestrogens, such as lavender and tea tree.

Not all foods with phytoestrogens have them in the same amount, though. For instance, flaxseeds are particularly rich in lignans, one type of phytoestrogen found in fibre-packed foods. The concentration of phytoestrogens in a food can influence whether or not the food should be avoided—we’ll talk more about that in a bit.

Do Men Use Estrogen?

Estrogen is the female sex hormone responsible for regulating a woman’s menstrual cycle and producing the signs of female development, such as breasts. Yet while estrogen is higher in women, men also have this hormone circulating through their body, just at a much lower concentration.

Rather than regulating menstrual cycles, in men estrogen is vital for the male reproductive system to keep up your sex drive, produce sperm, achieve erections, and maintain testicular function. There are also general tasks in the body that are controlled by estrogen, such as maintaining bone and heart health and keeping cholesterol levels normal.

Normally, the male body converts testosterone into estradiol, a form of estrogen. Estrone, another form of estrogen, will also circulate through the male body. These concentrations in men are small, though, with the Endocrine Society placing average estradiol levels at 10–40 picograms per milliliter (pg/mL) and estrone at 10–50 pg/mL. For reference, these same ranges in women can span 15–350 pg/mL for estradiol and 17–200 pg/mL for estrone.

Estrogen is important for men, and having too little estrogen can produce symptoms such as:

  • Excess fat around the belly
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Osteoporosis
  • Bone loss

Additionally, research has found that cardiovascular disease in men occurs in those with lower levels of testosterone and estrogen, showing that the proper amount of both hormones is crucial for whole-body health.

Conversely, too much estrogen can also cause problems.

How Do Phytoestrogens Affect Men?

While a certain amount of estrogen is important for the male body to function correctly, too much can cause health problems.

These symptoms of high estrogen in men include:

  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Gynecomastia (male boobs)
  • Depression
  • Infertility
  • Weight gain
  • Decrease in muscle mass

According to research, high estrogen may contribute to erectile dysfunction just as much as low testosterone can. This is likely because a balance between estrogen and testosterone is important for your hormonal health—if either hormone is too high or too small, there can be significant repercussions.

While phytoestrogens are not true estrogen, they stimulate the body just as estrogen does, which can produce these symptoms of high estrogen and may even raise your estrogen levels.

In some cases, phytoestrogens may affect you without you consuming them. For example, lavender and tea tree oils are commonly found in various body products such as soaps, lotions, shampoos, cologne, and laundry detergent. Despite these products not being ingested, estrogen-like responses in the body have still been reported just from their topical use.

In March 2018, the Endocrine Society released a report stating that the topical use of products containing lavender and tea tree oil has been linked to male gynecomastia (the growth of male breasts) in young men, a condition which is otherwise very rare. In good news, the condition went away after exposure to the lavender and tea tree oil-containing products stopped, showing how phytoestrogens can affect men.

How Men Can Lower Estrogen Levels

If you’re experiencing symptoms of high estrogen levels, such as gynecomastia (male breasts), the following tips may help you reduce the effects of high estrogen by regulating phytoestrogens and estrogens in your body.

Reduce Phytoestrogen Consumption

With phytoestrogens being a natural compound resembling estrogen that is found in certain plant-based foods, the most logical way to reduce the estrogenic impact of phytoestrogens is to lower your consumption of them. 

However, rather than cut out all foods with phytoestrogens, which would result in a highly unbalanced diet given most plant-based foods content contain phytoestrogens, it may instead be best to avoid or reduce your consumption of foods with a high phytoestrogen content.

Some foods to limit to lessen phytoestrogen consumption include:

  • Alcohol. Research suggests that chronic alcohol misuse can increase estrogen levels while also decreasing testosterone.
  • Flaxseeds. Flaxseeds contain a particularly high amount of phytoestrogens compared to other nuts and seeds and are the richest source of lignan phytoestrogens.
  • Yam beans. Research has shown that yam beans contain genistein and daidzein, two phytoestrogens that may increase estrogen production.

However, it’s important to note that not all phytoestrogens will increase your estrogen levels. Some isoflavones, which are a type of phytoestrogen, may lower estrogen levels. Research has shown that the isoflavones in soy products, specifically, may produce this effect, but it can depend on the person.

Since the type and amount of phytoestrogens can change a food’s impact on estrogen levels, it is important to research each specific food to see if avoidance is necessary. In many cases, it isn’t, and avoiding them would be more damaging to your body because of the nutrients they provide. However, the three foods/beverages listed above have been shown to increase estrogen, making them a great starting point.

Avoid Products with Lavender and Tea Tree Oil

We previously discussed how the estrogenic effects of lavender and tea tree oil on men caused pre-pubescent boys to develop male breasts. While no studies have yet been completed on adult men, this evidence suggests that it may be best for men to avoid these phytoestrogens, especially since the research shows that these compounds can be absorbed even when applied topically.

So, take a look at your shampoos, lotions, and soaps—if they contain lavender or tea tree oil, avoid them.


While the existing research primarily involves women, it has been found that a higher amount of aerobic exercise can reduce estrogen levels. If you’re worried about the effects of high estrogen levels, such as weight gain and a loss of muscle mass, aerobic exercise can also help address these areas of concern.

Aerobic exercise involves any physical activity that increases your breathing rate and gets your heart pumping.

Some examples of aerobic exercise include:

  • Walking
  • Jogging
  • Running
  • Bicycling
  • Hiking
  • Dancing
  • Swimming
  • Rowing
  • Playing sports

Research has recently shown that regular aerobic exercise can reduce the ratio of circulating estradiol to testosterone in men. Whether it accomplishes this by decreasing estradiol amounts or increasing testosterone is not known, but a decline in this rate is beneficial for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Phytoestrogens: A Sneaky Source of Estrogen

While men require a small amount of estrogen to complete certain functions within their body, having too much estrogen can produce unpleasant physical changes, such as gynecomastia (male breasts), weight gain, and a loss of muscle mass. Internally, high estrogen levels in men can lead to infertility, low libido, and erectile dysfunction.

If you have symptoms of high estrogen, it may have to do with the foods you eat and the products you put on your skin or hair.

Phytoestrogens are plant compounds that resemble estrogen and act similarly when in the body. When men consume a lot of foods with high amounts of phytoestrogens, such as flaxseeds, they may see the effects of high estrogen due to these endocrine disruptors. Additionally, phytoestrogens can be found in your shampoo, conditioner, soap, and deodorant, with lavender and tea tree oil common culprits.

To reduce your estrogen-linked symptoms, lessen your consumption of foods high in phytoestrogen, reduce your use of lavender and tea tree oil products, and get in some aerobic exercise.

It can be overwhelming to look through the toiletry aisle at your grocery store for shampoo, conditioner, soap, or deodorant that doesn’t contain tea tree oil, lavender, or other phytoestrogens. If you’re looking for a simple solution, check out What I Buy, where I offer options that have already been vetted to avoid disrupting hormones in men and women.

If you’re exhibiting signs of high estrogen, you might not need hormone therapy to replace the imbalance; you may only need to look for phytoestrogens.


Bajelan, M., Etehad Roodi, N., Hasanzadeh Daloee, M., Farhangnia, M., & Samadi Kuchaksaraei, A. (2019). The Effect of Low Testosterone and Estrogen Levels on Progressive Coronary Artery Disease in Men. Reports of biochemistry & molecular biology, 8(2), 168–171.

Schulster, M., Bernie, A. M., & Ramasamy, R. (2016). The role of estradiol in male reproductive function. Asian journal of andrology, 18(3), 435–440.

Kajla, P., Sharma, A., & Sood, D. R. (2015). Flaxseed-a potential functional food source. Journal of food science and technology, 52(4), 1857–1871.

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Cicilia Novi Primiani. (2015). The Phytoestrogenic Potential of Yam Bean (Pachyrhizus erosus) on Ovarian and Uterine Tissue Structure of Premenopausal Mice. Biology, Medicine, & Natural Product Chemistry, 4(1), 5–9.

Qin, W., Zhu, W., Shi, H., Hewett, J. E., Ruhlen, R. L., MacDonald, R. S., Rottinghaus, G. E., Chen, Y. C., & Sauter, E. R. (2009). Soy isoflavones have an antiestrogenic effect and alter mammary promoter hypermethylation in healthy premenopausal women. Nutrition and cancer, 61(2), 238–244.

Andres, S., Hansen, U., Niemann, B., Palavinskas, R., & Lampen, A. (2015). Determination of the isoflavone composition and estrogenic activity of commercial dietary supplements based on soy or red clover. Food & function, 6(6), 2017–2025.

Kaneko, T., Kumagai, H., Yoshikawa, T., Tsujimoto, T., Miyauchi, T., Tanaka, K., & Maeda, S. (2023). Regular aerobic exercise decreases circulating estradiol/testosterone ratio in overweight and obese men. Journal of Physical Fitness and Sports Medicine, 12(4), 101–106.


  • Jessica Guht

    Jessica is a medical writer with an unquenched thirst to discover something new. She believes that medical content should be universally accessible and strives to write content that everyone, no matter their background, can understand. Credentials: - Masters of Engineering (ME) in Biomedical Engineering from Rutgers University - Bachelor of Science (BS) in Biomedical Engineering from Rutgers University

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Jessica Guht
Jessica is a medical writer with an unquenched thirst to discover something new. She believes that medical content should be universally accessible and strives to write content that everyone, no matter their background, can understand. Credentials: - Masters of Engineering (ME) in Biomedical Engineering from Rutgers University - Bachelor of Science (BS) in Biomedical Engineering from Rutgers University

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