Promoting Healthy Estrogen Metabolism

by Laurel Sterling Prisco, M.A., R.D., C.N.

Estrogen imbalance. It is a major contributor to perimenopause, premenstrual syndrome, and unhealthy prostate glands. Yes, imbalanced estrogen levels can negatively affect both women and men.

Medical research shows estrogen effects on these mid-life concerns are not due to estrogen itself, but to problems with estrogen metabolism. Fortunately, leading experts have discovered natural nutrients that help restore estrogen balance. One such nutrient, diindolylmethane (DIM), actually helps promote healthier estrogen metabolism when consumed in a highly absorbable form.


It's an indole plant nutrient found in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower. When chewed, cruciferous vegetables release plant enzymes, and, once exposed to stomach acid, these enzymes form indole-3 carbinol (I3C). I3C is then further broken down into DIM. Unlike other plant nutrients, such as soy isoflavones, DIM has unique and distinct hormonal benefits. It supports the activity of specific enzymes that improve estrogen metabolism. Scientific research shows DIM increases the level of "favorable" estrogens (2-hydroxyestrogen), while reducing the level of "less favorable estrogens (16-hydroxyestrogen).


For women, most of the estrogen is made in the ovaries, and necessary for regulating menstruation from puberty to menopause, as well as for keeping bones strong. In women and men, estrogen increases HDL (good) cholesterol, decreases LDL (bad) cholesterol, reduces overall cholesterol, improves glucose metabolism, decreases circulating insulin levels, and much more.

The body uses estrogen for certain necessary activities, after which it is returned to the bloodstream to be metabolized by the liver into metabolites through specific pathways. Researchers have found two different liver pathways by which estrogen is broken down: The 2-hydroxy pathway results in certain estrogen metabolites, which are then released into the bloodstream and exert numerous health benefits, such as supporting healthy bones; and the 16-hydroxy pathway results in other estrogen metabolites that are conversely linked to various health problems.

Various lifestyle and environmental factors can influence estrogen production, metabolism, and balance. These include poor diet, obesity, excess alcohol consumption, high insulin levels, medications, and overexposure to chemicals. Once chemicals in the environment (i.e., pesticides, plastics, soaps, emulsifiers, household cleaning products, and car exhaust) enter the body, they become xenoestrogens. They look and act like natural estrogens so our bodies accept them as estrogen. But they are not and the misidentification is a big problem! These estrogen mimics attach themselves to estrogen receptors (specialized proteins on the cell's surface that respond only to estrogen and these estrogen mimics) of breast, uterine, cervical, and prostate cells. From these cells, they send false signals, blocking the natural hormone from these binding receptors, and resulting in significantly higher amounts of estrogen circulating in the bloodstream. Add to it all that they accumulate in our bodies over time, these xenoestrogens can ultimately lead to many health-compromising imbalances.

There are several ways imbalances and estrogen dominance can occur; however, the two most common are exposure to estrogen mimics or from slow or sluggish estrogen metabolism. If the rate of estrogen metabolism is too slow, it creates an excess of unmetabolized estrogens circulating in the bloodstream. Recirculating estrogen metabolites resulting from the 16-hydroxy pathway wreak havoc in our bodies.

When taken as part of a healthy diet, DIM can help promote healthy estrogen metabolism. The key is to regularly supplement the diet with DIM in its most bioavailable, "enhanced absorption" delivery form. DIM is normally insoluble in water and fats, making it poorly absorbed in the body. But when microencapsulated with natural vitamin E, phosphatidylcholine, and natural food starch, it becomes bioavailable in the digestive tract. Nature's Way® DIM-plus™ is a unique formulation containing the patented enhanced absorption form of DIM developed by Michael A. Zeligs, M.D.

Some have wondered how DIM is different from I3C. I3C is the unstable and inactive precursor to DIM. I3C must first be converted into DIM while it is in the digestive tract in order to become active. The degree of conversion can vary significantly depending upon each individual's stomach pH level, diet, and other physiological factors. Just how much DIM you're getting from I3C supplements is unpredictable. But with Nature's Way® DIM-plus™, you're assured a consistent dose of DIM with each and every capsule.

Why not just eat more cruciferous vegetables you ask? To get the same health benefit as provided in two capsules of Nature's Way® DIM-plus™, you would have to eat nearly two pounds of raw or lightly cooked broccoli. For many, broccoli may be delicious, but very difficult to eat in that amount every day!

What is the proper dose of DIM-plus™? In his book, All About DIM, Dr. Zeligs recommends women take 100 to 200 mg of "enhanced absorption" DIM daily. A daily dose of 300 mg can be helpful as part of an overall weight management program. Men, however, should take up to 400 mg/day when engaged in exercise training programs. With DIM-plus, it's easy to match these recommended doses because each serving contains 100 mg of enhanced absorption DIM, plus an additional 100 mg of Protectamins® cruciferous vegetable blend.

The suitable dose of DIM, in combination with a healthy diet and lifestyle choices, can keep the amount of estrogen in proper proportions for women and men, improving health and well-being.