Birth Control Pills and Flax Seed Phytoestrogens

Flax Seed Phytoestrogens and Birth Control Pills Q: I take birth control pills and I eat 3 Tablespoons of flax seeds in my morning smoothie every day.  I’m wondering it this is helping or could be an area to be concerned about with my estrogen levels?

A: Yes, there can be many benefits to eating flax seeds.  Are you eating them after they have been ground?  This does make a difference in releasing the lignans, nutrients, fiber and essential fatty acids.  Eating 3 TBSP / day can be a lot of extra phytoestrogens you are getting, and an alarm went off in my mind about eating this much on top of taking birth control pills (which contain estrogen).

I think the jury is still out about whether consuming high amounts of phytoestrogens when taking birth control pills is a good thing to do or not, in terms of cancer risk.  I went to PubMed.gov, which is a research database, and I could not find one single study about birth control pill use and flax seed intake.

However, there are positive studies on flax seed lignans having a protective effect with breast cancer development.  This study (on rats) did find a protective effect of the flax seed lignans with breast cancer tumors, but not when estrogen levels were already high.  Here is a link to the study abstract:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22136581

This link offers some good information on this topic of phytoestrogens, but they stopped adding to it in 2010, unfortunately:

http://envirocancer.cornell.edu/factsheet/diet/fs1.phyto.cfm – this is from Cornell University.

Working as estrogen mimics, phytoestrogens may either have the same effects as estrogen or block estrogen’s effects. Which effect the phytoestrogen produces can depend on the dose of the phytoestrogen. The phytoestrogen can act like estrogen at low doses but block estrogen at high doses. Estrogen activates a family of proteins called estrogen receptors. Recent studies have shown that phytoestrogens interact more with some members of the estrogen receptor family, but more information is needed about how these receptors work, especially in breast cancer. Finally, phytoestrogens acting as estrogen mimics may affect the production and/or the breakdown of estrogen by the body, as well as the levels of estrogen carried in the bloodstream.

Phytoestrogens – acting differently from estrogen – may affect communication pathways between cells, prevent the formation of blood vessels to tumors or alter processes involved in the processing of DNA for cell multiplication. Which of these effects occur is unknown. It is very possible that more than one of them may be working. Also, the effects in various parts of the body may be different.

I wish more were known about how these phytoestrogens can interfere or interact with estrogen from birth control pills.  Perhaps more will be known in the future with further research.  One thing I can say, is since you likely have a high level of estrogen in your body for your age, and use of birth control pills and flax seeds, you may want to consider doing this Estronex Lab test at some point to determine how well your body is converting the estrogens in your body that are known to be risk factors for estrogen sensitive cancers:

Estronex Profile Urine Test by Metametrix – Assess Risk for Estrogen Sensitive Cancers

There is also the genetic test called BRCA which can look to see if you carry these genes.  Knowing this information can be helpful to determine if you are at increased risk and should not be using birth control.  Most doctor offices offer this test now.