To understand what phytoestrogen is, we fist need to learn about estrogen. Estrogen is a hormone with many jobs: determining the onset of puberty, controlling menstrual cycles, supporting pregnancy, stimulating milk production, maintaining bone health, and more. While its benefits for women past menopause have received widespread attention in recent decades, estrogen is not a new discovery: ancient Greek and Egyptian medicine knew of the hormone’s role in pregnancy and contraception.
Estrogen is found in foods as diverse as apples, soy, pomegranates, oats, coffee, yams, and beer. While phytoestrogen (plan-based estrogen) has many perks, it has been linked to cognitive difficulties, hormonal problems, a risk of breast cancer, and other health hazards. Read on to discover foods that contain phytoestrogen and valuable information about its benefits and drawbacks.
What Is Phytoestrogen?
Phytoestrogen is a combination of “phyto,” the Greek word for plant, and estrogen, the female fertility-causing hormone. This form occurs naturally in plant foods. It also goes by the name of dietary estrogen because the hormone is not generated by the body; it is only obtained from food. However, since there are a wide variety of foods that contain phytoestrogen, it is easy to make it part of any diet. Since the hormone is found in plants, vegetarians and vegans have no difficulty incorporating it into their meals.
Foods That Contain Phytoestrogen
Phytoestrogens occur naturally in a wide variety of foods.
- Soy. Soybeans are a staple in Japan. In fact, Asians consume much more soy than their counterparts in the West. Since it is known that the incidence of bone loss, difficult menopause, and breast and other malignancies affected by hormones is significantly less in Asia, other parts of the world are jumping on the soybean bandwagon. However, unlike in Asia, most or all crops grown in three major soy producers (the United States, Brazil, and Argentina) are genetically modified. The health risks associated with GM foodstuffs make other sources of phytoestrogens more attractive choices.
- Wild yams. These tubers are not the same as the sweet potato found in supermarket produce aisles. They do more than relieve insomnia, hot flashes, and mood changes that accompany menopause. Wild yams provide nourishment to nervous, urinary, respiratory, and (female) reproductive systems.
- Alcoholic beverages. There’s another reason to enjoy a glass of wine with dinner or a beer after work. Red wine has the strongest concentration of phytoestrogens, followed by white wine and beer.
- Legumes. Peas, lentils, beans, and alfalfa are all phytoestrogen powerhouses. Black beans top the list of plant estrogen superfoods. Hummus is another good source; paired with estrogen-rich whole grain bread, it’s a delicious way to boost your intake.
What Are the Dangers of Phytoestrogens?
- Reproductive Problems. Phytoestrogen-rich diets can have a negative effect on human and animal fertility. For example, sheep that eat only clover tend to demonstrate difficulties in reproducing. Cheetahs fed a high-soy diet also became temporarily infertile; when the big cats’ diet was switched to corn, the difficulty ended.
- Developmental difficulties. According to one study, infants born to pregnant women eating a vegetarian diet experienced birth defects. In addition, babies fed soy formulas used more allergy medications as young adults. Women experienced longer and more painful periods than those on a cow’s-milk formula diet. However, since species react differently (as do individuals within a species), additional studies will determine safe and effective amounts of foods that contain phytoestrogens.
- Cognitive Difficulties. There is a possible link between phytoestrogen consumption and dementia. While there are a number of reasons for cognitive issues, limiting foods that contain phytoestrogens is a wise move—especially for those with risk factors for these problems.
- Breast cancer. While foods that contain phytoestrogen are a weapon in the cancer-fighting arsenal, there is an exception. Small amounts of plant estrogens speed up the growth of breast tumors—and reduce the effective of the treatment drug tamoxifen. When participants consumed more phytoestrogen-containing foods, there was a positive effect on both tumor size and medication effectiveness.
Are There Benefits to Foods That Contain Phytoestrogen?
There are definite gains to a phytoestrogen-rich diet.
- Bone strength is one perk, especially in tandem with calcium and vitamin D. Women in Asian countries, who consume more soy products than their Western sisters, tend to take in less calcium and have reduced bone density. Even so, they exhibit greater bone strength and not as many fractures as they go through menopause.
- A more comfortable menopause—fewer hot flashes, better sleep, and less vaginal dryness—is another happy result of eating foods that contain phytoestrogen. Even though there are variables in effective amounts of high-estrogen foods and the length of time they need to be eaten, a diet rich in plant-based sources is a win-win situation.
- Foods that contain phytoestrogen demonstrate the ability to maintain heart health (especially in women past menopause). In addition, they are a natural arteriosclerosis remedy.
Foods that contain phytoestrogen are the key to a healthier you. Plant estrogens, while they benefit females from teens to seniors, are not for women only. By adding plant-estrogen-rich foods to your diet, you will be adding variety to the menu while keeping undesirable health conditions at bay.
Image from pixabay.com.