What are phytoestrogens?
Phytoestrogens are substances that have a similar structure to estradiol.
So what is estradiol?
In reproductive years, women naturally produce an estrogen hormone known as estradiol. This is the most powerful estrogen hormone, and contributes to reproductive and sexual maturation and health.
Men also produce estradiol, but at a much lower level. It plays an important role in bone maintenance, brain health, regulating libido, erectile function, and sperm development.
What do phytoestrogens do?
Phytoestrogens bind to the same receptors as estradiol, and produce similar effects.
They offer health benefits including:
- Lowers risk of osteoporosis, heart disease, and breast cancer
- Reduces menopausal symptoms
However, they may disrupt the endocrine system. Typical consumption levels does not carry any significant impacts. However, there may be an increased risk of obesity, cancer and reproductive issues.
Types of phytoestrogens
Phytoestrogens can be classified into 4 types: isoflavones, stilbene, coumestan and lignan.
Most research has been conducted on isoflavones, which are found in soybeans and other legumes. Pure soybeans have higher phytoestrogen levels than processed, due to differences in the way it is absorbed by our body.
Foods containing phytoestrogens
The most common sources of dietary phytoestrogens:
- Sweet potatoes
Are phytoestrogens beneficial or harmful?
Research is inconclusive. The effect of phytoestrogens on your health may depend on your age, health status and possibly your gut microbiota.
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Sirotkin, A. V., & Harrath, A. H. (2014). Phytoestrogens and their effects. European journal of pharmacology, 741, 230-236.
Patisaul, H. B., & Jefferson, W. (2010). The pros and cons of phytoestrogens. Frontiers in neuroendocrinology, 31(4), 400-419.