Phytoestrogens are often called dietary estrogens because they’re not created by the human body. They can only be ingested or consumed. The molecular similarities of plant-derived estrogen and human estrogen allow them to mimic each other mildly, and sometimes they act as antagonists (meaning they work in opposite ways) too.
Phytoestrogens have been a controversial topic of heated debate. With one side calling it a superfood, while others think it’s the food of doom. I have experienced its adverse effects at first hand. But more about that in just a second.
Before we make our own judgment about the question whether or not phytoestrogens are good or bad for you, let’s take a closer look at these plant estrogens.
What Are Phytoestrogens?
Phytoestrogens are estrogen-like compounds found in a wide variety of foods, most notably soy products. While soy was once touted as the heart-friendly superfood, the real truth is that it is a food you should avoid. But again more about soy and adverse effects of plant estrogens in just a sec.
Estrogen plays a key role in female fertility, the menstrual cycle, and it is necessary for healthy bones, hair, skin, and heart function. In plants, however, phytoestrogens act as a natural defense against herbivores. Plants secrete these estrogen-like compounds to modulate the fertility of animals that may eat them to prevent further attacks.
Since phytoestrogens are not essential to the human body, we can’t see them as actual nutrients. Also, for the majority of young women, adding extra estrogen to the body can mess up the hormonal system and cause severe issues such as infertility, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and certain types of cancer. And as for the men, they don’t need extra estrogen either.
However, women over 50 or in their menopause may benefit from some extra estrogen. Some studies have found that for them, extra estrogen may reduce cancer risk, enhance heart health, and lessen menopause symptoms such as hot flashes and low libido.
Phytoestrogens And Soy
When it comes to phytoestrogens, it seems that the benefits don’t outweigh the adverse effects, especially when it comes to the phytoestrogens in soy. Furthermore, soy is packed with plenty more antinutrients that can do more harm than good to your body.
I have struggled with many lumps and bumps in both breast and messed up hormones, which were all traced back to soy consumption. As heart issues run in the family and I was mainly eating vegetarian food, soy was on the menu nearly every day. Think of soy sprouts, edamame, soy cheese, tofu, veggie burgers, etc.
After eliminating all soy from my diet, all symptoms disappeared in a matter of weeks.
Phytoestrogens Side Effects In A Nutshell
- Fertility issues in both men and women
- Hormonal imbalances which may lead to painful breast, fibroadenomas or other breast lumps and bumps
- Stimulate breast cancer growth
- Increase the risk of cognitive decline and dementia
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Estrogen-rich foods to avoid
Note that phytoestrogens are found in many plant foods in different concentrations. Only a few of these foods, with the highest levels of phytoestrogens, are a concern for your health. With soy being to worst.
- Soybeans and all soy products: tofu, tempeh, soy milk, soy yogurt, miso, veggie burger, fake meats, soybean sprouts.
- Some nuts and seeds: flaxseeds and sesame seeds
- Cereals and bread: flax bread, multi-grain bread, and doughnuts.
- Legume products: black bean sauce and hummus
- Processed foods: protein bar and black licorice
- Drinks: red wine
- Fruit: dried apricots, dates, and peaches.
Other foods and drinks that contain phytoestrogens include
Pistachios, walnuts, apples, carrots, rye bread, lentils, mung beans, beer, oranges, black and green tea, coffee and garlic, winter squash, collard olives, and alfalfa sprouts. However, note that these contain phytoestrogen only in small concentrations, which should not pose any threat.
Also note that in our western diets, soy is the most common and concentrated source of phytoestrogens and should be avoided at all cost. While it won’t harm your health if you indulge in all the other foods on occasion, just remember, moderation is key and don’t make them a daily habit.
Also, not all soy is created equally. Non-GMO, fermented soy is actually an excellent probiotic food. During fermentation, most antinutrients and phytoestrogens are inactivated or eliminated. However, if you are struggling with hormonal issues, it is better you skip these too.
FYI: Estrogens in plastic: a similar class of estrogens coming from outside our body are xenoestrogens. These are synthetic estrogens found in certain kinds of plastic and pesticides.
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Thanks for reading. I hope this information was helpful. Until next time!
Crazy cat lady, life and food lover, certified biologist, and holistic health coach.