So, we have all heard the myth that soy products affect hormone levels in both men and women, causing drastic side effects like spikes in estrogen or causing breast tissue to grow. However, these myths were popularized by certain individuals with their own agenda and thus, I have decided to write a blog on the benefits of phytoestrogens which are the main component in soy products.
The idea that food contains nutritional properties as well as organic functions is becoming more accepted by the scientific community. Functional foods are foods that make us healthy and are common in diets high in whole plant based foods. Functional foods have the ability to regulate body functions in order to protect against diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, cancer, coronary heart disease and many others.
Phytoestrogen vs Mammalian Estrogen
Functional foods consist of many different groups, however phytoestrogens are a large component. Phytoestrogens are a very special type of molecule that help our bodies feel good and look great.
Phyto means derived from plants, thus phytoestrogen is estrogen that naturally occurs in plants such as legumes, soy, flaxseed and mulberries. Phytoestrogens are beneficial to our health because when our bodies break down phytoestrogens, the molecules that are formed help regulate biological reactions. Meaning that phytoestrogens can connect to some receptors as mammalian estrogen, however phytoestrogen is like a key that can open a door, but leaves the screen door closed- which blocks out all of the bad things.
In contrast, mammalian estrogen which is naturally produced by us or consumed in dairy products, can fully open the door which leaves us vulnerable to diseases & chronic problems.
Estrogen & Other Hormones in Dairy Products
The interesting thing about estrogen & food intake is the fact that not many people associate dairy with it, even though cows must be genetically altered in order to continuously produce milk. The hard truth is that dairy is a much more significant source of female hormone exposure. Commercial dairy cows contain high amounts of estrogen and progesterone and are impregnated just to sustain the demand for cows milk. Even dairy products that are labelled as organic, or no hormones added contain high amounts of hormones because many of them are naturally produced by cows, even if they have not been given additional hormones.
- One study concluded that when men and children consume milk, estrogens are absorbed and gonadotropin secretion becomes suppressed, followed by a decrease in testosterone secretion.
- This study also concluded that milk consumption was responsible for significantly increased levels of estradiol and progesterone in adults and children.
Phytoestrogens are classified into 7 groups- the main groups are isoflavones, lignons and coumestans:
Isoflavones are mainly found in soy products.
Lignons are commonly found in plants & grains rich in fiber such as wheat, barley, oats, beans, lentils, asparagus, broccoli, carrots.
Coumestands are found in peas, beans and alfalfa shoots.
Phytoestrogens are a crucial component of a healthy diet, research has shown that phytoestrogens are very beneficial in the reduction of menopausal symptoms. The health benefits of Eastern diets is generally associated with the consumption of high quality proteins found in soy. In Eastern countries, soy is part of the traditional diet and contains an average of 15-50/mg a day of isoflavones from soy. Whereas the Western diet only contains an average of 2/mg a day of isoflavones from soy. The lack of soy in the Western diet is preventing many of us from benefiting from all of the great qualities attributed to phytoestrogens.
So since I have introduced the foods that contain phytoestrogens, as well as why phytoestrogens are beneficial when compared to mammalian estrogen, I think now would be a great time to show the research that support these claims!
- The first area of research that has shown substantial evidence that phytoestrogens are beneficial in the human body is Menopause. Research has shown that supplementation of genistein (one of the 7 groups of phytoestrogens) may promote the reduction of menopausal symptoms. Researchers have also found that eating more soy products can alleviate the severity of hot flashes in women experiencing menopause.
- Another condition that has had positive effects from soy products is Osteoporosis, which is the reduction of bone density. Research has shown that genistein which has a structure similar to estrogen, can bind to the same receptors as mammalian estrogen. This helps regulate estrogen levels which can cause bone deterioration if imbalanced.
- Phytoestrogens found in soy products have also been shown to successfully improve blood sugar levels in Diabetic patients.
Non-GMO Soy products are beneficial in our everyday diet and research has demonstrated that phytoestrogens have a positive effect on our health. It’s unfortunate that there’s a very common misconception between phytoestrogen and mammalian estrogen. However, if you are concerned about elevated estrogen or hormonal levels your body, the best thing you can do is ditch dairy products, or limit your consumption.
Bhathena, S. J., & Velasquez, M. T. (2002). Beneficial role of dietary phyto- estrogens in obesity and diabetes. American Journal of Clinical Nutri- tion, 76, 1191–1201.
Monteleone, P., Mascagni, G., Giannini, A., Genazzani, A. R., & Simoncini, T. (2018). Symptoms of menopause – global prevalence, physiology and implications. Nature Reviews Endocrinology., 14(4), 199–215.
Ricci, E., Cipriani, S., Chiaffarino, F., Malvezzi, M., & Parazzini, F. (2010). Effects of soy isoflavones and genistein on glucose metabolism in peri- menopausal and postmenopausal non-Asian women: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Menopause, 17(5), 1080–1086.
Petrine, J. C., & Bianco-Borges, B. D. (2020). The influence of phytoestrogens on different physiological and pathological processes: An overview. Phytotherapy Research. doi:10.1002/ptr.6816
Maruyama, K., Oshima, T., & Ohyama, K. (2010, February). Exposure to exogenous estrogen through intake of commercial milk produced from pregnant cows. Retrieved September 16, 2020, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19496976