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Diindolylmethane (DIM): The Hormone-Regulating Supplement for Acne, Weight, Breast Cancer, and More

By: Courtney Sperlazza, MPH
September 18, 2018

  • Diindolylmethane (DIM) is the compound in cruciferous vegetables that makes experts advise people at risk for breast cancer to eat more cabbage and broccoli as a preventive measure.
  • Word is getting out, and DIM has started picking up steam as a supplement of choice to deal with a variety of issues such as acne, PMS, mood swings, fibroids, menopause symptoms, and even things like man boobs.
  • DIM restores healthy hormone balance by adjusting the balance of bad estrogens to good estrogens, and it blocks aromatase, which converts testosterone to estrogen.
  • Read on to find out the benefits of DIM and whether it’s right for you.

As the word gets out, diindolylmethane (DIM) has started picking up steam as a supplement of choice to deal with a variety of issues such as acne, PMS, mood swings, fibroids, menopause symptoms, and even things like man boobs. Read on to find out the benefits of DIM and whether it’s right for you.

What is Diindolylmethane (DIM)

Let’s take a step back first. Remember when the buzz was that cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, etc.) help prevent breast cancer? That’s because they contain a compound called indole-3-carbinol. When indole-3-carbinol hits your stomach acid, a chemical reaction converts it to diindolylmethane (DIM), and that’s what works its magic.

You could eat a giant serving bowl of broccoli and cabbage to get the researched dose of DIM, and veggies are obviously necessary for overall health. But there’s a catch. The veggies that contain indole-3-carbinol are the same ones that contain goitrogenic compounds — compounds that mess with your thyroid.

If you have thyroid problems, you have to pay attention to goitrogens. There’s a two-way cause-effect relationship between your thyroid and excess estrogen. You can still have your broccoli and cabbage with a lazy thyroid. You don’t want piles of it, though. If you take DIM in a capsule, you avoid those extra compounds and the resulting thyroid pitfalls.

The benefits of DIM go way beyond breast cancer prevention. Keep reading to find out what DIM can do for weight loss, acne, menopause and more.

Benefits of DIM

The list of uses for diindolylmethane is growing as research on the topic expands. There is science behind benefits of DIM for things like:

  • Hormonal acne
  • Preventing negative effects of testosterone supplementation
  • Estrogen dominance
  • Weight loss
  • Potential cancer therapy
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Menopause

Science is emerging and the results are promising. Here are the more noteworthy findings around DIM so far.

Is DIM an estrogen blocker?

You’ll see people using DIM as an estrogen blocker, but that’s not exactly how it works. Your body will continue to produce the estrogen it would have produced without DIM. Xenoestrogens (estrogen imitators from your personal and household products and environment) still make their way inside your body as they would without DIM.

More accurately, DIM works two ways. First, it blocks the enzyme that converts testosterone into estrogen. Second, it converts bad estrogens into good estrogen metabolites.

“Good” estrogen vs. “bad” estrogen

A lot of women and a substantial portion of men are either aware or suspect they are estrogen dominant — they have too much estrogen relative to other hormones.

It’s not enough to demonize all estrogens. Certain estrogens have a positive action on the body, while others cause problems.

Related: Find Out If You’re Estrogen Dominant Now

Good estrogen: 2-hydroxyestrone

There’s a bit of controversy as to whether 2-hydroxyestrone (2-OHE1) causes cancer or prevents it. It’s tricky because so many other factors go into DNA damage and tumor formation. So far, evidence points to 2-OHE1 as a cancer preventive.

Healthy levels of 2-OHE1 are associated with:

  • Lower body fat and more muscle[1]
  • Higher quality collagen in the skin and joints[2]
  • Healthy bone density[3][4]
  • Proper cholesterol levels (in animal models)[5]

2-OHE1 also serves as a strong antioxidant, protecting the body from damaging free radicals.

Bad estrogens: 16-alpha-hydroxyestrone, 4-hydroxyestrone

Levels of 16-alphy-hydroxy-estrone (16-OHE1), the “bad” estrogen, are elevated in women and research animals with breast cancer.[6] Newer research takes it a step further, pointing out that it’s not the individual levels that matter — rather, it’s the ratio of good estrogen to bad estrogen. If your estrogen metabolism favors 2-OHE1, you’re less likely to experience the negative effects of estrogen, including pre-menopausal[7] and post-menopausal breast cancer[8]

Although 4-hydroxyestrone (4-OHE1) gets far less research attention in estrogen studies, the research that is out there confirms it as a cancer-causing estrogen.[9][10] It deserves more scrutiny for its influence on cancer because of its ability to alter DNA without even hooking up to an estrogen receptor.[11][12]

These estrogen metabolites are the ones responsible for all of the problems you may attribute to estrogen, including PMS, fibroids, endometriosis, water retention, acne, low sex drive and more.

Related: Science-Backed Ways to Boost Low Libido & Sex Drive

What DIM does to your estrogen metabolite ratio

Researchers showed that DIM and its precursor, I3C, adjust your ratios of estrogen metabolites and protect your body in several ways:

DIM as a hormonal acne treatment

Do you have hormonal acne? Here are a few telltale signs of hormonal acne:

  • Does your acne appear at the same time in your menstrual cycle each month?
  • Is your acne the deep, painful, cystic variety that doesn’t easily pop? (Don’t try to pop it…but you know the kind of pimples these are.)
  • Do you see your acne along the chin, jawline, or cheeks?

If this sounds like you, you might benefit from DIM.

Hormonal acne results from an imbalance of good estrogens, bad estrogens, and testosterone. When you supplement with DIM, it works to prevent the bad estrogen pathways and strengthens the good estrogens and testosterone. When everything is in balance, you skin will have the proper support to stay clear and healthy.

Testosterone supplementation and why the bodybuilding community likes DIM

Everyone has testosterone — both men and women need it for cardiovascular health, bone density, skin quality, mental health, and more. By your mid-forties your testosterone typically drops low enough that some of your body processes aren’t working properly, and you’ll need to supplement.

We all have an enzyme called aromatase which converts a portion of our testosterone, whether we produce it naturally or supplement. Aromatase will convert a portion of testosterone into estrogen,[25] which comes with all the effects that natural estrogen has. Some people have a gene that causes them to convert testosterone to estrogen more readily than others.

Bodybuilding presents a special case of too much estrogen from testosterone. Since testosterone promotes muscle tone in normal amounts and extreme muscle growth in excess, men and women of the bodybuilding community typically take more than replacement levels of testosterone. It’s the norm in the world of bodybuilding, and if you want to compete without injecting yourself with hormones, you can find “natural” or “drug-free” bodybuilding competitions.

Too much testosterone can lead to an excess of estrogen, which can cause all kinds of problems. Gyecomastia (man boobs, known to bodybuilders as “gyno”) is one of the more undesirable effects of too much estrogen that results from too much testosterone, especially for men who want to get into competition shape. Men develop extra fatty tissue in the breast and a palpable mammary gland behind the nipple. A large portion of competitive bodybuilders who develop gyno will opt for corrective surgery.

DIM inhibits aromatase, so that more testosterone is freely available in your system to benefit your heart, bones, skin, and brain. Plus, when aromatase isn’t able to convert testosterone into harmful estrogen metabolites, you have fewer symptoms of estrogen dominance like acne and mood swings.

DIM for weight loss

People report weight loss with diindolylmethane supplementation, for several reasons.

For one, bad estrogens signal to your body to hold onto weight, especially in the hips and thighs[26]. If you have a better balance of estrogen metabolites, you’re less likely to hold onto unnecessary body fat.

Related: What Your Body Type Says About Your Hormones and What to Do About It

Second, DIM and its precursor I3C suppress adipogenesis, which is the formation of new fat cells.[27][28][29] It also stimulates burning the fat cells you have and the fat you eat through your diet.[30][31]

Side effects of DIM and how to deal

DIM is generally well-tolerated with a few mild symptoms for a few days. Side effects of DIM include:

  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Brain fog
  • Dark urine (orange to brownish)

The consensus is that darkened urine is harmless and will return to normal once you stop taking your DIM supplement. Some say it’s a good sign that DIM is working on your liver to neutralize estrogen metabolites. Whatever the cause, don’t be alarmed.

The rest of the side effects of DIM are short-lived and resemble the effects of general detox symptoms — because that’s precisely what’s happening. DIM pulls excess estrogens out of your cells and sends them out into the bloodstream for elimination. While it’s all circulating, you’ll feel like crud.

That’s the case with any detox. When you pull things like chemicals, heavy metals, and mold toxins out of hiding, they have an effect on the cells they come into contact with while they’re on their way out. That’s why it’s crucial to support your body’s detox and elimination systems while you’re taking DIM or doing other detoxes.

Here’s how you can get the ick out ASAP:

  • Support your liver. The liver is a main mode of estrogen breakdown, and when you’re using DIM to usher it out, your liver starts to work overtime. You can support your liver with glutathione, calcium d-glucarate, vitamin C, and liver support herbs like dandelion, burdock, yellow dock, and milk thistle.
  • Use charcoal on rough days. Activated charcoal binds to excess estrogen to prevent it from creating havoc on your cells. Use it on particularly miserable initial detox days — not throughout the entire time you take DIM. Reason being, it also binds nutrients, and you want to get the most out of the healthy food you eat.
  • Drink plenty of clean water. Get a good filter, and drink way more water than you think you need. Frequent urination is a good thing while you’re detoxing.
  • Explore detox biohacks. Saunas, IV therapy, cryotherapy (no chamber needed, you can toss some ice in your bath or take a cold shower), and other detox methods will help things along.

If you had detox symptoms for a few days, it’s a sign that you had a lot of estrogen to deal with and you probably really needed to get it out.

Related: 8 Detox Methods That Actually Work

One more DIM side effect…

There are women who were successful with DIM who anecdotally report breast growth while taking DIM. Coincidence? Maybe. Or, it could be because clearing out the “bad” estrogens frees up estrogen receptors for the “good” estrogens, which have a tendency to perk things up. Your mileage may vary.

DIM dosage

Typically, DIM will come in 100-200mg capsules. Since you could have detox effects, it’s best to start slow, with 100mg every day or every other day until you no longer have detox symptoms. Depending on your goals, you might stay at that dose, or work up to more.

Bodybuilders who use DIM to counteract the effects of testosterone supplementation converting to estrogen tend to take up to 400mg a day.

Cancer patients using DIM to complement their cancer treatment typically take a higher dose as well. If you’re taking a higher dose than the bottle suggests, make sure you’re supervised by a qualified medical professional.

There’s no need to power through the difficult part. If you’re miserable, ease off and pick back up once you don’t get the fatigue and headaches.

DIM might sound like a wonder pill, but the reality is that it acts mainly on one small mechanism that causes havoc when it’s out of control. To get DIM naturally, eat your cruciferous veggies. If you think DIM might benefit you, talk to a qualified medical professional and see if you can get yourself onto a program that will give you the most return.