Mother nature has an amazing ability to provide all the nutrients we need to get us through the day and assist healing when illness strikes.
You're probably familiar with medical advice and campaigns such as '5 a day for better health' to encourage the population to increase their fruit and vegetable intake. However, a growing volume of research tells us that not all fruit and vegetables are equal when it comes to nutritional value and health benefits.
If your parents ever told you to eat up your greens to make you fit and healthy, then they really did have a valid point. That's because those green vegetables result in the release of diindolylmethane (DIM), which is thought to help balance hormone levels in the body via its effects on estrogen.
What Are Cruciferous Vegetables?
We've already mentioned that some vegetables can be a source of DIM but before we go on, let's take a look a closer look at the specific group of vegetables which contain DIM.
Namely : cruciferous vegetables.
These plants' distinctive cross-shaped blossoms resulted in them being named after crucifixum, which is the Latin word for a crucifix. That aside, they have few similarities besides the fact that each has a strong and sometimes bitter flavor, which many people can find unappealing, hence that reluctance as children to eat our greens!
Cruciferous veggies include broccoli arugula, bok choy, Brussels sprouts, collard greens cabbage, and Chinese cabbage. Then there's cauliflower, horseradish, kale kohlrabi, mustard, rutabaga, turnips, radish, wasabi, and watercress.
This whole group of vegetables is a nutrient powerhouse with high folate levels, vitamins C, E, and K, and heaps of fiber. If you're trying to achieve weight loss, then cruciferous vegetables are a perfect choice to pile up on your plate as they're low in calories, and the fiber keeps you full for longer.
It makes sense then, to increase our consumption of cruciferous vegetables. But while we may have good intentions of having a healthy diet and eating more greens, we, unfortunately, don't often follow through. While Americans often get their five a day, it tends to be lettuce, tomatoes, and potatoes that end up on their plate rather than the cruciferous vegetables.
What is DIM?
Before we get to DIM, let's back up a little in the chain of chemical reactions. First of all, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli contain a substance called glucobrassicin. This natural organic compound contains sulfur and nitrogen and is thought to be the cause of the bitter taste of the cruciferous vegetable and may well provide them with some protection against pests and diseases.
Then there is an enzyme called myrosinase that is stored in plant cells away from the glucobrassicin. But once cruciferous vegetables are chopped or chewed, the myrosinase is released so it can react with the glucosinolates, and that's when the magic happens, as a compound called indole-3-carbinol is then formed.
Finally, when the indole-3-carbinol reaches your digestive system, it's broken down by the stomach acid to produce several by-products, including Diindolylmethane (DIM). It is possible to eat your way through vast plates of cruciferous vegetable such as Brussel sprouts to achieve the levels of I3C your body needs; however, for most of us, an I3C or DIM supplement may be a much better choice.
Good Estrogen and DIM
DIM acts directly on the estrogen hormone and how it metabolizes. You may have heard the terms 'good estrogen' and 'bad estrogen', so before we leap into the role of good estrogen and DIM, let's take a broader look at the role of hormones and estrogen in the body.
Hormones are the chemical messengers of our bodies. They act on target tissues and help to ensure essential processes are functioning. The hormone estrogen is responsible for female physical features and also for reproduction. Although estrogen is generally spoken about in relation to females, it is also present in males, though at a much lower level.
There are three types of estrogen:
- Estradiol which is the most common type found in women who are of childbearing age
- Estriol which is the estrogen present during pregnancy
- Estrone which is the only estrogen in the body once a woman reaches menopause.
While estrogen has many beneficial impacts on the human body, excessive and prolonged exposure is also associated with serious health problems such as breast cancer and uterine cancer.
Scientists have, however, discovered that 2-methoxyestrogens, a type of estrogen, can restrict malignant tumors' growth. That then means that if this good estrogen production can be increased, it would be beneficial.
This is where DIM supplementation (and I3C supplementation) enters the picture, and that's because it can successfully increase the ratio of how much estrogen of the 'good' type there is compared to the 'bad' estrogen and so restores a healthy hormonal balance.
So is DIM Just For Women?
With all the discussion so far being around estrogen, it would be easy to see why you might come to the conclusion that DIM may just be for women, but that's really not the case. It's true that estrogen does tend to be thought of as a female hormone, but men produce and do need small amounts of estrogen.
In men, testosterone is converted into estrogen, and for both men and women, estrogen metabolism takes place in the liver, where it produces both the 'good' and the 'bad' types of estrogen. Researchers have identified that harmful alterations in the ratio between 'good estrogen' levels and 'bad estrogen' levels can be responsible for the development of certain cancers in both men and women.
In men, being overweight, drinking too much alcohol, and smoking can all cause an excess of estrogen. Each of these issues can cause chronic inflammation, and as a result, the body increases the conversion of testosterone into estrogen.
It's only the free testosterone that can cross into the brain, muscles, and fat cells. However, free testosterone is only around 2% of all the testosterone in men, and it's an even lower percentage in women. DIM and I3C supports and helps to achieve a healthy level of free testosterone through its impact on estrogen metabolism.
Prostate Cancer and DIM
The most common non-skin cancer for American men is prostate cancer. It's been estimated that there is a lifetime risk factor of around 16% and that approximately 165,000 men are diagnosed each year. But we know that nutrition and specifically the benefits found in cruciferous vegetables may help make a significant difference to the risk factors to prostate health both of cancer and benign prostatic hypertrophy (prostate enlargement).
DIM supplements have been shown to promote prostate health and protect against prostate cancer by supporting a healthy cell cycle and causing the death of prostate cancer cells.
Indole 3 Carbinol vs DIM
You may now be wondering whether to go down the route of purchasing diindolylmethane (DIM) rather than an Indole 3 Carbinol (I3C) supplement. But there are several reasons why this isn't going to get you the best results and why we strongly advise staying with an I3C supplement instead.
We have seen and heard some totally unsubstantiated claims for DIM supplements combined with a fundamental lack of understanding as to how the body breaks down and utilizes these chemicals. So, we thought it was important to address some of the key facts and dispel some of the misunderstandings around I3C and DIM.
While formal research doesn't always tell us the full story, it can help us make informed decisions about our health and wellbeing. Right now, there are few human studies on DIM supplements compared to a wealth of research into the benefits of I3C.
History tells us that conclusions drawn from research carried out in a Petrie dish or on animals doesn't necessarily tell us the full story of how the human body will respond in the same situation.
Multiple Actions of I3C
DIM is formed in the stomach when I3C breaks down, but this isn't the only substance that is formed. As well as DIM, I3C also creates ICZ, NI3C, and IAN. Now while there has been less research about these substances, it is thought that each one has its own unique action towards cancer prevention.
- Indole[3,2-b] Carbazole (ICZ) -
ICZ is known to provide several benefits from mediating the toxic side effects of pollution within the environment through to providing protection against DNA damage in the colon.
- N-methoxyindole-3-carbinol (N13C) -
N13C inhibits the cell growth of human colon cancer.
- Indole-3-acetonitrile (IAN) -
IAN plays a role in preventing the growth of stomach cancer cells.
This then makes it clear that if DIM supplements are taken in isolation, then only a fraction of the potential benefits are going to be received compared to taking I3C.
But Doesn't I3C Disappear When Ingested?
We often hear this one being quoted by sellers of DIM supplements, and yet again, it clearly demonstrates a lack of understanding of the chemical processes underway. I3C does 'disappear' but only because it has been converted into other chemicals, including DIM.
In fact, DIM may only represent around 6% of the total products formed from I3C. So, that means taking DIM supplements instead of I3C leaves you with a 94% benefit deficit.
Predictability of I3C compared to DIM
You want to know what when you take a supplement that you get predictable results, and with I3C, that's precisely what you get. However, we know that when DIM supplements are taken in isolation that they can actually result in the growth of cancer cell growth.
The unpredictability of the individual components of I3C comes as a result of their use in an unnatural form, such as taking DIM. When taken as I3C, we then see many research papers citing the benefits for preventing and possibly treating hormone-related cancers.
In fact, when we went through the research papers and pulled out the praise that researchers gave to I3C, it's an immensely compelling list:
- DNA protection
- Bone marrow protection during chemotherapy
- Prevention of breast, colon, and other forms of cancer
- Helps to prevent recurrences of respiratory papillomatosis
- Can reverse cervical dysplasia
- Reduction of pain caused by fibromyalgia
Now we have to say that DIM supplements can also have positive effects on health. However, out of the sixteen anti-cancer effects that are reported within the research and are proven for I3C, DIM only features in six of these papers. Again, clear evidence that for the best possible protection, I3C should be your choice.
We often see some confusion when people talk about DIM supplements being more stable than I3C, but that really does show a lack of understanding of how both DIM and I3C operate. That's because, if I3C were stable, then it wouldn't form DIM to begin with or any of the other highly beneficial phytochemicals.
I3C needs to be unstable so that when it's exposed to stomach acid, it then converts to all these constituent elements that we then benefit from so much.
Estrogen Caused Cancer and I3C
Scientists studying I3C have found that there is a reduced risk of estrogen caused cancers when people ate several servings of vegetables every day, especially when eating cruciferous vegetables like broccoli.
Researchers have also found that both I3C and DIM supplements have the ability to prevent cancer. In one study, they discovered that I3C increased the speed with which cervical cells returned to normal after women were diagnosed with cervical dysplasia, a precancerous condition. Then there are the many animal studies that connected I3C to a reduced likelihood of cancers sensitive to estrogen levels.
Our knowledge of free radicals is still quite limited, but these unstable atoms can damage cells, causing illness and aging. However, it has been suggested that I3C can actually reduce oxidative stress by scavenging free radicals in the human body, which further lowers the risk for some types of cancers.
The most effective way for our bodies to get rid of waste products is via urine. It's an efficient and effective way of getting rid of everything that's no longer needed and could also be harmful if allowed to build up. Hormone metabolism is one source of waste products.
However, some hormones are known as being lipophilic, which literally means 'fat-loving.' As such, they don't dissolve well in water, which means that they don't effectively pass into urine.
This is when your metabolism comes into action and helps the body to stay healthy by getting rid of these waste products.
Metabolic Pathways Play a Role in Cancer Risk
We know that the liver's ability to metabolize estrogens can affect the risk of breast cancer. Too much of some harmful estrogen metabolites such as 4-hydroxy estrogens, have been connected with breast cancer and other hormone-related cancers.
How DIM Supplements May Help Estrogen Dominance
Estrogen dominance is caused by a hormone imbalance resulting in the overproduction of estrogen. It's thought that during the perimenopause, the body reduces the production of progesterone while the metabolism of estrogen stays at the same level.
This, in turn, creates a balance issue that results in several unpleasant side effects and health problems, including acne breakouts, irregular or heavy periods, water retention, and headaches.
Women will often mistakenly associate the adverse effects of estrogen dominance as being related to normal hormone responses. When estrogen breaks down, it creates what's called estrogen metabolites, and these have a huge effect on the health of our bodies. Although there is still research underway to fully understand their role, what we do know is that there are more than 40 different types of these metabolites.
The two key metabolites which have been identified are 2-hydroxyestrone (2-OHE1) and 16-alpha-hydroxy-estrone (16-OHE1). 2-OHE1 estrogen is the 'good' estrogen; it can prevent tumors and is linked to a lower proportion of body fat and higher levels of lean muscle. Meanwhile, 16-OHE1 estrogen, the 'bad estrogen,' may promote tumor growth and is linked to a higher breast cancer risk.
So that means that we want higher levels of 2-OHE1 and less of 16-OHE1 but still in the correct proportions. Historically this would have meant a healthcare provider prescribing synthetic hormones or treatments to produce, replace or mimic more estrogen. These alone can create more problems, including those related to weight loss and depression.
DIM helps your liver enzymes convert your estrogen metabolite to more 2-OHE1 and promotes a more desirable level of metabolism for the estrogen. DIM then ensures an estrogen ratio of greater balance, with whole-body benefits including increases in cardiovascular health.
Estrogen metabolism is the subject of much research in the medical world as it's believed to play a critical role in the development of breast cancer.
Taking I3C (DIM) Supplements
The evidence for taking I3C as a dietary supplement seems to be growing in strength every day. Whether that's to address existing health problems or as a proactive approach to health care and cancer prevention.
Before taking any new supplement, it's sensible to research for any side effects and to identify if there are any times when it may not be the right supplement to take.
Both men and women usually start on an effective dosage of 200mg of I3C per day and may work up to 300mg per day, depending on their health and the benefits they are looking to achieve.
Occasionally people may experience minor side effects such as a stomach upset when first taking DIM supplements, though taking DIM with food often gets rid of this particular issue.
Harmless changes in urine color may also take place, but this is just related to the presence of DIM metabolites, which have an amber color; eating lots of cruciferous vegetables causes precisely the same result. We have found that drinking 6-8 glasses of water per day may help restore balance.
Who Shouldn't Take I3C?
As for who shouldn't take I3C, well, if you're already on a course of medication, especially cancer-related medicines such as Tamoxifen, then you should seek medical advice from your health care professional before you begin taking any new supplement.