One of the best compounds mother nature has given us inside vegetables is called diindolylmethane, and it is a powerhouse of green goodness both men and women should know.
This all-natural plant compound possesses amazing healing capabilities. DIM is found in plants and vegetables that are in the Brassica family. Broccoli, cauliflower, collard greens, cabbage, and kale have some of the highest amounts of DIM. If you don’t care for broccoli, you can reap some of its major benefits if you take a DIM supplement. However, cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli) have other benefits which make eating the whole vegetable worthwhile (more on that later).
DIM has recently become widely consumed as a dietary supplement. You may also have heard of a similar supplement from cruciferous vegetables called I3C which is recommended for similar reasons, and the two compounds are closely linked.
When you eat Brassica vegetables, a built-in process occurs with two complimentary parts of the vegetables. A compound called glucobrassicin and an enzyme called myrosinase work together, as the enzyme myrosinase catalyzes the glucobrassicin. This produces I3C, otherwise known as Indole-3-Carbinol. The I3C is then digested into DIM and is ready for use within the body. Simply put, I3C is the precursor of DIM.
If you take a DIM supplement, you’re bypassing these steps but can still take full advantage of the health benefits of DIM. You can continue to get DIM through eating cruciferous vegetables and letting your body do the natural process to produce DIM; but be careful how you cook these vegetables. It’s best to cook them at a low temperature (preferably steaming) so you can preserve the glucobrassicin and other associated glucosinate compounds. Boiling the vegetables or exposing them to a high-water content causes the glucosinates to leech out into the water and causes a much lower yield of I3C and DIM. (1)
DIM & Estrogen
An overabundance of estrogen isn’t just a female problem—the excess estrogen in our lives is causing men to have too much estrogen, as well. If you’ve done any research on natural products to balance estrogen levels or been trying to correct estrogen dominance, you’ve likely come across research pointing you towards DIM. You should discuss DIM with your healthcare practitioner to see if it's right for you.
Just as DIM is synthesized out of a unique process, the process for how it works with estrogen is equally intriguing. In two ways, DIM reduces systemic estrogen levels without blocking or interfering with your own natural production of estrogen. First, DIM increases beneficial estrogens, and then it helps keep the harmful estrogens in check.
Estrogen has hormone receptors that are waiting to be bound to a substance that fits within its receptor, like a lock and key. Some estrogens can be beneficial, such as a phytoestrogen, or plant-derived estrogen. A familiar example of a phytoestrogen is soy.
Even though the estrogen receptor can couple with beneficial estrogens, there are also harmful estrogens that can be taken up by the receptors and compete to fill these receptors. An example of harmful estrogens are synthetic estrogens known as xenoestrogens. These are compounds that are found in pesticides, plastics, certain medications, cleaners, certain sunscreens, cosmetics, and environmental toxins which fit in the receptor and simulate estrogen. They are considered “strong” estrogens which can overburden the body.
One of the most common ways in which we ingest too many harmful estrogens is through consumption of hormone-laden meat products. For instance, the estrogen in chicken is identical to the estrogen produced by the human body. When these types of xenoestrogens or identical estrogens are ingested, they take the place of the naturally produced estrogen in the receptors. The body then has a surplus of its own estrogen floating freely in the body, and the activation of some of these harmful types of estrogens leads to increased disease risk and risk of hormonal imbalances. Choosing organic vegetables, dairy, eggs, poultry, and high-quality organic, grass-fed beef is an instrumental way to reduce extra estrogens in your diet.
DIM causes the body to produce a weaker type of estrogen called 2-hydroxyestrone (2). This is a metabolite of estrogen that has protective effects, while other types of estrogen metabolites, [16-alpha-hydroxyestrone] and [4-hydroxyestrone], are considered harmful estrogen metabolites. Both of these metabolites are produced through estrogen processes within the body, so the metabolites are unavoidable. What really matters, however, is that they are in balance with one another. DIM helps the body increase the level of the beneficial estrogen metabolite, 2OHE1 (2).
In cases of breast cancer and other cancers that are associated with a higher level of estrogen, it’s mainly the estrogen metabolites of 16-OHE1 that are the culprit. However, if you have higher levels of the helpful 2-OHE1, you have less of a risk of cancer caused by an excess of estrogen, such as breast cancers and uterine cancers (2)(3).
Aside from increasing the risk of some types of cancer that are “fed,” or made worse, by high levels of estrogen, having an imbalance in the good vs. bad forms of estrogen can have other side effects. The typical list of afflictions we associate with bad or imbalanced estrogen includes inability to concentrate, PMS, low sex drive, water retention, endometriosis, and fibroids.
DIM & Testosterone
DIM also keeps your body from converting testosterone into estrogen. Testosterone may be thought of as a male hormone, but women also produce and use this hormone within their bodies. Some testosterone is converted into estrogen, which makes it even harder for the body to find a balance between its endogenous estrogen levels, xenoestrogens, and phytoestrogens. DIM doesn’t keep testosterone from working within the body, but it can decrease the amounts of testosterone that is converted into estrogen by inhibiting the enzyme needed for the conversion process. This enzyme is called aromatase, and many people are able to find better hormonal balance with DIM's ability to block this enzyme from working.
*It’s important to remember that taking too much DIM at one time can make the same mechanism behind inhibiting the aromatase enzyme to actually do the opposite, and therefore increase estrogen synthesis. Again, it’s recommended that you speak with your healthcare practitioner if you have a history or predisposition to estrogen-sensitive cancers or conditions to make sure that you take a safe but effective dose.*
Why Not Eat the Whole Vegetable?
It’s hard to believe that all of these unique pathways within our bodies can convert such a simple compound found in the humble cruciferous vegetable family into such an amazing tool. If you’re skeptical of DIM’s powers, you can always begin by increasing your intake of broccoli, kale, and cauliflower. You’ll get an added bonus too—all of the extra phytonutrients, antioxidants, and vitamins and minerals contained in the whole food of the cruciferous vegetables will give you even more of an edge to helping you address hormonal balance.
Fiber is key for Estrogen, Too
There’s even one more way that eating more of these vegetables will help, and that’s fiber. Estrogen sits as an unchanged molecule inside your intestines in the waste, waiting to exit the body with bowel movements. There’s just one major downside to this if you aren’t regular: the longer the estrogen sits in the bowels waiting to be excreted, the more time it has to be reabsorbed straight back into the intestinal mucosa and back into your body, where it roams free again.
It seems like a mean trick of nature, allowing estrogen to be recycled if it sits too long inside our bowels! I like to think of it as just one more reason to eat the whole vegetable for the extra fiber to help keep things moving along and keep estrogen levels in good balance.
For a deeper read about what the research has found about the effects of DIM on insulin sensitivity and estrogen-sensitive cancers, follow the reference links below.
1. Patel, Kamal. “Diindolylmethane.” 25 July 2019, doi:https://examine.com/supplements/diindolylmethane/.
2. Thomson, Cynthia A, et al. “Chemopreventive Properties of 3,3′-Diindolylmethane in Breast Cancer: Evidence from Experimental and Human Studies.” Nutrition Reviews, Oxford University Press, July 2016, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5059820/.
3. Rajoria, Shilpi et al. “3,3′-diindolylmethane modulates estrogen metabolism in patients with thyroid proliferative disease: a pilot study.” Thyroid : official journal of the American Thyroid Association vol. 21,3 (2011): 299-304. doi:10.1089/thy.2010.0245
4. Schulster, Michael et al. “The role of estradiol in male reproductive function.” Asian journal of andrology vol. 18,3 (2016): 435-40. doi:10.4103/1008-682X.173932
5. Swerdloff RS, Ng CM. Gynecomastia: Etiology, Diagnosis, and Treatment. [Updated 2019 Jul 7]. In: Feingold KR, Anawalt B, Boyce A, et al., editors. Endotext [Internet]. South Dartmouth (MA): MDText.com, Inc.; 2000-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279105/
6. Yerushalmi R, Bargil S, Bar Y, Ozlavo R, Tuval S, Rapson Y, Pomerantz A, Zoref D, Sharon E, Caspi O, Grubsrein A, Margel D. 3,3-Diindolylmethane (DIM): A nutritional intervention and its impact on breast density in healthy BRCA carriers. A prospective clinical trial. Carcinogenesis. 2020 May 27:bgaa050. doi: 10.1093/carcin/bgaa050. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 32458980.
7. Thomson CA, Chow HHS, Wertheim BC, Roe DJ, Stopeck A, Maskarinec G, Altbach M, Chalasani P, Huang C, Strom MB, Galons JP, Thompson PA. A randomized, placebo-controlled trial of diindolylmethane for breast cancer biomarker modulation in patients taking tamoxifen. Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2017 Aug;165(1):97-107. doi: 10.1007/s10549-017-4292-7. Epub 2017 May 30. PMID: 28560655; PMCID: PMC557183
8. Zou M, Xu C, Li H, Zhang X, Fan W. 3,3′-Diindolylmethane suppresses ovarian cancer cell viability and metastasis and enhances chemotherapy sensitivity via STAT3 and Akt signaling in vitro and in vivo. Arch Biochem Biophys. 2018 Jul 21:S0003-9861(18)30087-0. doi: 10.1016/j.abb.2018.07.002. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 30040917.
9. Zhang, William Weiben et al. “Multiple therapeutic and preventive effects of 3,3′-diindolylmethane on cancers including prostate cancer and high grade prostatic intraepithelial neoplasia.” Journal of biomedical research vol. 28,5 (2014): 339-48. doi:10.7555/JBR.28.20140008
10. Sepkovic, Daniel W et al. “Diindolylmethane inhibits cervical dysplasia, alters estrogen metabolism, and enhances immune response in the K14-HPV16 transgenic mouse model.” Cancer epidemiology, biomarkers & prevention : a publication of the American Association for Cancer Research, cosponsored by the American Society of Preventive Oncology vol. 18,11 (2009): 2957-64. doi:10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-09-0698
11. Choi KM, Yoo HS. 3,3′-Diindolylmethane Enhances Glucose Uptake Through Activation of Insulin Signaling in 3T3-L1 Adipocytes. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2018 Jul;26(7):1153-1160. doi: 10.1002/oby.22145. Epub 2018 May 3. PMID: 29722480.
12. Chang HP, Wang ML, Chan MH, Chiu YS, Chen YH. Antiobesity activities of indole-3-carbinol in high-fat-diet-induced obese mice. Nutrition. 2011 Apr;27(4):463-70. doi: 10.1016/j.nut.2010.09.006. PMID: 21392705.
13. Elsaie, Mohamed L. “Hormonal treatment of acne vulgaris: an update.” Clinical, cosmetic and investigational dermatology vol. 9 241-8. 2 Sep. 2016, doi:10.2147/CCID.S114830
14. Castañon A, Tristram A, Mesher D, Powell N, Beer H, Ashman S, Rieck G, Fielder H, Fiander A, Sasieni P. Effect of diindolylmethane supplementation on low-grade cervical cytological abnormalities: double-blind, randomised, controlled trial. Br J Cancer. 2012 Jan 3;106(1):45-52. doi: 10.1038/bjc.2011.496. Epub 2011 Nov 10. PMID: 22075942; PMCID: PMC3251847