Phytoestrogens: How the plant substances affect your body

Photo: CC0 / Pixabay / Jing

Phytoestrogens are a popular remedy for menopausal symptoms and cardiovascular diseases. However, research is divided on the positive effects of these secondary plant substances.

Phytoestrogens are secondary plant substances that are very similar to estrogens, female sex hormones. They are used medicinally as herbal preparations.

In this article, you will learn how phytoestrogens are used, how they affect your body and which foods contain them.

What are phytoestrogens?

Phytoestrogens are secondary plant substances. They can be divided into three classes:

  • Isoflavones

  • Lignans
  • Coumestans

They are all very similar to the natural form of estrogen (17-ß-estradiol). Phytoestrogens are found particularly in soy products and red clover.

According to one theory, women in Asia, where soy products are traditionally part of the diet, have fewer hormonal problems, especially during menopause. However, a study refutes this connection. According to the scientists, this has to do with their culturally specific socialization.

Other researchers conducted another study to investigate whether there is a connection between the consumption of soy and other foods containing estrogens and symptoms during menopause. Based on this assumption, soy is used as an alternative treatment for menopausal symptoms. According to the studies, the effect of phytoestrogens and soy products can be subtle and can only be detected in large populations. According to the researchers, further research is needed to clearly prove the connection.

Effect of phytoestrogens

Phytoestrogens are also found in certain seeds.
Phytoestrogens are also found in certain seeds.
(Photo: CC0 / Pixabay / SEMSEMS)

As already mentioned, phytoestrogens have an effect on your body. Because phytoestrogens can activate and block estrogen receptors at the same time, they can be said to have both an estrogenic and antiestrogenic effect. They are also said to have an antioxidant effect and inhibit cell growth.

The following effects on diseases and complaints have been suspected, observed and partially refuted or confirmed:

  • Phytoestrogens for menopausal symptoms:

The effect of isoflavones against hot flashes cannot be confirmed. The German Pharmacist Newspaper writes about the phytoestrogen Cimicifuga that a reduction in hot flashes, depressive moods, sleep disorders, vaginal dryness and muscle and joint pain was observed. However, the treatment involves Cimicifuga as a drug. The test subjects did not ingest it through food.

  • Phytoestrogens in cardiovascular diseases:

The Association for Independent Health Advice (UGB) reports positive effects on blood lipids that are primarily due to soy protein. Isoflavones as phytoestrogens do not seem to play a major role.

  • Phytoestrogens in osteoporosis:

Some studies show a positive effect on bone density after taking phytoestrogens. The UGB views this critically and criticizes the fact that the studies were conducted for too short a period of time.

  • Phytoestrogens in estrogen-dependent cancers:

Breast cancer, uterine cancer and prostate cancer are estrogen-dependent. Both the UGB and the Deutsche Apotheker Zeitung report “discordant” research results. Although there are positive studies, risks cannot be ruled out: Some research results indicate that isoflavones may increase the risk of some types of cancer.

Estrogens in food

Legumes contain phytoestrogens.
Legumes contain phytoestrogens.
(Photo: CC0 / Pixabay / StockSnap)

Do you want to include phytoestrogens in your diet? Estrogens can be found in some foods. This means you don’t have to resort to expensive nutritional supplements whose effectiveness has not been proven, but can cover your needs through your diet. This also has the advantage that you don’t absorb the phytoestrogens in isolation, but in combination with other important nutrients.

Phytoestrogens are mainly found in:

  • Soybeans or soy products, such as tofu or tempeh

  • linseed

  • sesame
  • legumes
  • Garlic
  • Peaches
  • Berry
  • Cruciferous vegetables

During fermentation, the concentration of phytoestrogens increases, which is why miso or tempeh contain more phytoestrogens than unfermented soy.

Read more on Techzle\.com:

  • Contraception without hormones – an overview
  • PMDS: physical symptoms, psychological effects and difference to PMS
  • Blue Zones: The secret to a long life

Edited by Paula Boslau

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