Phytoestrogens – the plant nutrients that mimic the effects of oestrogen in the body

By Sue Bedford (MSc Nutritional Therapy)

In the years leading up to menopause (known as peri-menopause) and during the menopause itself, there is a lot you can do to prevent, lessen, or improve menopausal symptoms through your diet and lifestyle. Eating the right foods provides your body with the vital nutrients it needs during this time. Research suggests that phytoestrogens may help to support women during perimenopause and menopause by producing oestrogen-like effects in the body. They also stimulate the liver to produce sex-hormone-binding globulin (SHBG) which controls the circulating levels of oestrogen and testosterone in the blood and therefore helps regulate hormone balance.

What exactly are Phytoestrogens?

Phytoestrogens are plant nutrients that mimic the effects of oestrogen in the body and are considered useful by many in the peri-menopause and early years of menopause, as for some they help to reduce key symptoms such as night sweats. Our bodies convert these phytonutrients into oestrogen-like compounds, with the help of friendly gut bacteria, so it’s important to maintain a healthy gut. Soya is known for being a source of phytoestrogens, but research suggests to focus on the fermented varieties because fermentation breaks down soy’s natural compounds, which makes it easier for the body to access the useful minerals.

Which foods are classed as phytoestrogens?

Lentils
Soya and fermented soy products (such as miso, tempeh, and tamari)
Chickpeas
Flaxseeds
Legumes eg beans and peas
Pulses
Wholegrains
Green and black tea
Berries
Grapes
Plums

The topic of soy consumption has become and remains controversial in recent years, and research into the effects of soy on menopause has been varied so if you’re concerned, check out with your G.P/ Nutritional Therapist /healthcare provider as to whether soy is suitable for you.

Interesting reading: 

Bacciottini L, Falchetti A, Pampaloni B, Bartolini E, Carossino AM, Brandi ML. Phytoestrogens: food or drug?. Clin Cases Miner Bone Metab. 2007;4(2):123–130.

M-N. Chen, C-C. Lin, C-F (2015) Liu Efficacy of phytoestrogens for menopausal symptoms: a meta-analysis and systematic review Climacteric; 18(2): 260–269.

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