What are Phytoestrogens?

The word phytoestrogen is a combination of Phyto (a Greek word meaning plant) and estrogen (a group of primary female hormones known for their sexual regulatory functions in humans). As a way of definition, we can say that phytoestrogens are compounds or chemicals that occur naturally in plants. They are also present to some extent in a wide range of plants consumed as food. These phytochemicals are present in food such as grains, legumes, veggies, and fruits. Plant diets especially those from soy origin are rich in phytoestrogens in healthy amounts. This is why when peri or pre-menopausal symptoms occur, the first defense is a rich, fibrous plant based diet.

Phytoestrogens although from plant origin can also function much like the estrogens found in humans. By consuming food samples rich in phytoestrogens, our bodies give a similar response to the release of estrogens in our body.

Effects of Phytoestrogens On your health:

To some extent, we can boldly say that phytoestrogen can serve as an alternative source of estrogens. They have found use in phytoestrogen supplements and hormone replacement therapy.

Since phytoestrogens have the ability to mimic the natural estrogens found in the body, these phytochemicals or hormones can produce the same results. Some of the other effects of phytoestrogens in the body include the following:

  • Relieves symptoms of menopause:
  • Hot flashes are the most common symptom of the perimenopausal stage in women. Perimenopause is a reproductive stage in a woman’s life which kicks starts usually in her late 40s and may lead to a stop in the production of sex-related hormones such as estrogen. When perimenopause lasts for at least 12 months, menopause kicks in.
  • Not just hot flashes, but perimenopause can also bring about several uncomfortable symptoms such as decreased libido, and mood swings and this may continue until after menopause is complete.
  • Data gathered from research shows that phytoestrogens have a healthy effect on not just hot flashes but also the other forms of perimenopausal symptoms.
  • Prevents Osteoporosis in women
  • Phytoestrogens have been linked to the prevention of bone loss in aging women. One of the functions of natural estrogens is to maintain a normal bone density in the body. The drop in the estrogen level caused by age can make them vulnerable to osteoporosis.
  • Using phytoestrogens can go a long way in complementing the actions of the natural estrogens present in the body.
  • Menstrual relief
  • Most women use phytoestrogens in the form of herbal remedies to relieve complications associated with their menstrual cycle. During the menstrual cycle, there is a great possibility of a reduction in the total amount of estrogen present thus, causing the uncomfortable symptoms.
  • Using phytoestrogens in the form of pills can adequately relieve these symptoms.
  • Acne treatment
  • There is a possibility of treating acne with phytoestrogens. This is because of estrogen counters androgens (male hormones) which can contribute to acne in women.

Risk factors associated with Phytoestrogens

  • The risk factors associated with the use of phytoestrogens include the following;
  • Brings about changes in the hormonal cycle
  • Increased risk of uterine fibroids, nonviral toxic hepatitis, endometrial cancer, endometriosis and breast cancer.
  • Difficulties with lactation.

We suggest you avoid taking phytoestrogen supplements in high doses and over a long period of time to be on the safer side.

Food samples containing Phytoestrogens include:

  • tea
  • soy (tofu, tempeh, miso, soymilk)
  • red clover
  • oranges
  • licorice root
  • legumes (beans, peas, peanuts)
  • evening primrose
  • dong quai
  • coffee
  • chaste tree berry
  • carrots
  • broccoli
  • black cohosh
  • angelica

Conclusion

Although phytoestrogens may have some benefits to your health, we suggest you take them with caution most especially with long-term and high doses. Kindly read our article on ‘estrogens’ for more information about estrogens their functions and uses.

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