Phytoestrogens, or plant-based estrogens, are compounds found in our food that can bind to our estrogen receptors. While a lot of confusion exists on the impact this has on our hormone health, I’m going to help you understand the amazing balancing effects of phytoestrogens, and tell you why you should consider having more of them in your diet.
Why Phytoestrogens are Important
In our bodies we have three sources for estrogen: the estrogen we make (also known as endogenous estrogen), the estrogen we eat (phytoestrogens) and the estrogen-like compounds we are exposed to in our environment (xenoestrogens).
Each of these estrogens can bind to an estrogen receptor and cause an estrogen-like effect. The chemical estrogens, or xenoestrogens, from the pesticides, herbicides, personal care products and other chemicals in our body have a much stronger impact than that of our own home-made estrogen. And the plant estrogens have a much weaker effect.
The Balancing Effects of Estrogen
With many women suffering from conditions of excess estrogen – like fibroids, PCOS, obesity and estrogen dominance as well as estrogen sensitive conditions like endometriosis, fibrocystic breasts and breast cancer – lowering their body burden of estrogen is important. For women with high estrogen, consuming more very mildly estrogenic phytoestrogens can prevent the negative impact of exposure to their body’s own estrogens as well as the chemical estrogens from the environment. When you have lots of plant estrogens in your body they occupy the estrogen receptor, causing a very small estrogen-like impact, but most importantly, they prevent other stronger estrogens from binding to that receptor. This results in an overall lower estrogen state in the body.
Following along so far? It gets better!
When women are suffering from low estrogen – due to hysterectomy or menopause, phytoestrogens can also be helpful. When women is no longer producing her own estrogen in optimal amounts, the small amount of an estrogen effect from a phytoestrogen can help to boost her estrogen levels and diminish symptoms of low estrogen like hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia and mood swings.
Food Sources of Phytoestrogens
Lignans – Vegetables, fruits, nuts, cereals, spices, seeds; especially flax seeds
Isoflavones – Spinach, fruits, clovers, peas, beans; especially soy
Flavones – Beans, green vegetables, fruits, nuts
Chalcones – Licorice root
Diterpenoids – Coffee
Triterpenoids – Licorice root, hops
Coumarins – Cabbage, peas, spinach, licorice, clover
To increase dietary sources of phytoestrogens, consider the following foods:
Flax seeds – the highest food source of phytoestrogens is flax seed and oils. The phytoestrogens in flax seeds are lignans. Lignans have antitumour, antioxidant, and weakly estrogenic and antiestrogenic characteristics. They have been found in studies to decrease vaginal dryness, hot flashes or night sweats in women with low estrogen symptoms.
Soy, edamame, tofu, tempeh – the best known phytoestrogen, soy, when consumed in the diet, is safe for women with symptoms of both high and low estrogen. For hot flashes and night sweats, women who consume soy tend to have less symptoms than women who do not. Other research suggests that increasing soy foods in the diet stabilizes bone density, decreases cholesterol levels and has a favourable effect on cardiovascular risk profiles in menopausal women
Beans: soybeans, tempeh, black beans, white beans, kidney beans, lentils, mung beans, coffee
Grains: wheat berry, oats, barley, rice, alfalfa, wheat germ
Seeds and nuts: flaxseed, sesame seeds, fenugreek
Vegetables: yams, carrots
Fruits: apples, pomegranates
Herbs and spices: Mint, licorice root, ginseng, hops, fennel, anise, red clover
Harmonizing Your Hormones
If you are interested in exploring more ways to balance your hormones naturally, book a free 15 minute meet and greet appointment with me to discuss how you can bring harmony to your hormones and fire up your health!
The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only. It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider. Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.