The fascinating subject of phytoestrogens is quite close to my heart as I studied it intensively during my MSc nutrition thesis project over the duration of six months. I researched ways to promote survival opportunities for breast cancer patients through a new novel WebApp development and it was during this time, I discovered countless studies that suggested phytoestrogens foods can actually help with the progression and prevention of breast cancer.
The topic of phytoestrogens is confusing and conflicting and can be pretty difficult to wrap our heads around! However, understanding phytoestrogens role in your health and wellbeing is key to maintaining balanced hormone levels.
What Exactly Are Phytoestrogens?
The word phytoestrogen comes from the Greek word ‘phyto’ meaning plant and ‘oestrogen’, the fertility hormone in female mammals. They are found within polyphenols, the largest group of phytochemicals, that exist within plants as a natural defence against herbivores. Plants secrete these hormones to reduce further attacks by controlling the fertility of animals.
Phytoestrogens exhibit biological activity similar to 17-β-oestradiol (E2), the mammalian steroidal oestrogen. In over 70% of breast cancer cases, oestrogen is considered to be the primary cause of tumour growth. Yet, the similarity in phytoestrogens structure to E2, enable them to exert potential health benefits by naturally creating anti-oestrogenic effects and binding to oestrogen receptors – hence their link to the prevention and recurrence of breast cancer.
How Much Should You Consume?
Extra oestrogen in a women’s body has been linked to infertility, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and even certain types of cancer. For men this can lead to testosterone imbalance, infertility and low sperm count. However, as women get older, we gradually stop producing oestrogen which can cause the body to behave differently (hot flushes, reduction in the elasticity and thickness of the skin and potential weight gain to name a few).
For women who are pre-and post-menopausal some physicians suggest incorporating more phytoestrogen foods to counteract the effects of the hormonal imbalances women begin to experience. Certain research has even found a reduction in the hot flushes for women who are menopausal by eating a phytoestrogen-rich diet.
*I do encourage you to always consult your physician before making any major dietary changes.
What About Soy?
Soy is the most concentrated source of the phytoestrogen class, isoflavone, however, this subject we often see debated a lot – is soy good or bad for you? Unfortunately, the answer is complex and there is no ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
Within the UK, isoflavones, a phytoestrogen class, consumption averaged at 2.34 mg/day with the Japanese intake ranging from 27.1-68.7 mg/day in 2012. The lower incidence rate of chronic diseases within Japan has been attributed to their high consumption of isoflavones compared to the UK intake where chronic diseases are more prevalent. However, the soy found in Japan is not genetically modified compared to the US in 2010 where 93% of soy is genetically modified – this is not something we want in our bodies. Fermented organic soy products are the exception such as miso, tempeh and natto and from time to time, organic tofu.
For this reason, I would advise going for the below top phytoestrogen foods, avoiding genetically modified soy, and choosing more nutritious options from certain vegetables, fruits and seeds.
Foods & Essential Oils with a High Phytoestrogen Content:
Red Clover Flower Tea
Clary Sage Oil
If you have any questions regarding phytoestrogens then please get in touch!