Research is currently exploding on a little known anti-inflammatory compound called diindolylmethane, or “DIM.”
DIM, known to many health promoters for its cancer-fighting properties, is a nutrient commonly found in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, bok choy and cauliflower.
These plants have been cultivated for thousands of years in both Eastern and Western cultures. Historical records show that many of these vegetables were cultivated not only for food, but also for medicinal benefits.
The way that DIM gets into the body is a round-about process. When cruciferous vegetables are chewed, plant enzymes release DIM into the body.
When exposed to stomach acid, these enzymes form a compound called indole-3 carbinol. This compound then yields DIM.
Research on DIM started in 1997 when researchers at Johns Hopkins discovered that four-day old broccoli sprouts had 20 to 50 times as many cancer-preventing components than full-grown broccoli. These components eventually were designated as diindolylmethane. Later the abbreviated “DIM” became popular for ease of use.
Since that time research on DIM has progressed—steadily at first, then a virtual explosion in the past decade.
Studies published in National Institutes of Health’s PubMed Central database documents studies going back at least 20 years. Much of the research focused on DIM’s anti-cancer benefit. This 2003 study, for example, found DIM was able to “inhibit tumor initiation.”
Today, over 2,000 DIM studies are recorded on PubMed Central.
Hormone disruption epidemic
The recent boom in DIM research—and growing popularity as a nutritional supplement—is due in large part due to the epidemic of hormone disruptors that permeate modern society.
Constant exposure to toxic hormone disruptors eventually causes imbalances in estrogen levels—in both men and women. The imbalance can cause a wide range of symptoms and disorders, including estrogen dominance.
Understandably, scientists would like to know how the hormone disruption challenges of modern society can be tackled.
And this is where DIM shines: Research has established that DIM is one of the potent nutrients that can keep unhealthy estrogen levels in check—perhaps the most potent.
Every hour the average person eats, drinks, breathes, smokes, injects or bathes in some kind of chemical that is known to be a “hormone disruptor.”
A hormone disruptor—also known as Endocrine disruptors—are any substance that interferes with the normal function of your body’s endocrine system.
These substances are in the environment, food sources, personal care products, and chemical-based manufactured products like plastics and pesticides. All of these chemicals are known commonly as Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals.
It should be noted that hormone disruptors can also enter the body through the skin, so even people who are careful about what they ingest will still be exposed to these toxins.
Some of these toxic substances act like “hormone mimics”—meaning they trick our body into thinking they are hormones. Other disruptors block natural hormones from carrying-out their normal biological functions.
The worst offenders
While hormone disrupting substances can be found in literally thousands of products, according to ClevelandClinic.org, the most widespread and well-studied substances fall into four categories:
• Bisphenols, including bisphenol A (BPA) — found in the food processing and packaging industry.
• Phthalates — most commonly used to make plastic products, including dishes and cookware.
• Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) — banned in the U.S. since the late 1970s but still widely present in the U.S.
• Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethanes (DDTs) and dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylenes (DDEs) — most commonly found in pesticides.
In addition, some disruptors can increase or decrease the levels of hormones in the blood by affecting how they are made, broken down, or stored in our body. Finally, hormone disruptors can also act subtly by changing how sensitive our bodies are to different hormones.
The Endocrine Society states: “[Hormone disruptors] have been linked to numerous adverse human health outcomes including alterations in sperm quality and fertility, abnormalities in sex organs, endometriosis, early puberty, altered nervous system function, immune function, certain cancers, respiratory problems, metabolic issues, diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular problems, growth, neurological and learning disabilities, and more.”
How DIM helps
The connection between DIM and hormones like estrogen has to do with similar characteristics between them at the molecular level.
DIM is not an estrogen or an hormone; however, it shares the common characteristic of being poorly soluble in water. And, like estrogen, DIM can be metabolized only by a special class of cytochrome enzymes that reside in cell membranes in the non-water part of cells.
Researchers have shown that DIM, when consumed in food or supplements, encourages its own metabolism. This special metabolic pathway that DIM creates, along with the enzymes involved, precisely overlaps with the pathway needed for healthy estrogen metabolism.
In short, when a person’s diet is supplemented with DIM, estrogen metabolism is optimized and a healthy hormonal balance is achieved.
It is important to note that DIM is not just for women. Men definitely also benefit from DIM. Some of men’s testosterone changes into estrogen and is metabolized in the liver. High levels of estrogen may lead to higher risks of cancer—and a plethora of other issues—in men, just as it does in women.
Supplements offer greater potency
Since DIM is produced from the digestion of cruciferous vegetables, it could be assumed that it’s easy to reap DIM benefits by simply eating more cruciferous vegetables; however, studies show it’s a pretty tall order to accomplish a therapeutic intake through diet alone.
While it’s always a good idea to include more vegetables in your diet, you would have to consume several servings of vegetables at every meal to see a significant increase in DIM levels. And this would need to continue regularly since DIM breaks down in your body within 24 hours.
Also, DIM production is most effective when consuming raw vegetables; so, if you only eat cooked vegetables, plan on eating a bucket-full at each meal!
For this reason only supplements can provide a real therapeutic benefit. Supplements can provide higher quantities easily and consistently. Supplements can also be formulated for better absorption, and can provide other nutrients that act synergistically with DIM.
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