Can Phytoestrogens Help in Menopause?
What are Phytoestrogens?
They are compounds that naturally occur in plants. They are found in fruits, vegetables, legumes and some grains.
Some research has shown that phytoestrogens can help alleviate some of the symptoms of menopause like hot flushes and night sweats.
Whilst they have a similar chemical structure to your own body's oestrogen and are able to bind to the same receptors as your own oestrogen, they don't act in exactly the same way.
They may help ease the symptoms of menopause in about one in three perimenopausal or postmenopausal women. This is because not all of us have the necessary gut bacteria to metabolise them into a usable form.
Phytoestrogens are found in :
Soy products: Tofu, Tempeh, Soya Beans, Soya Milk
Legumes: Chickpeas, Lentils, Split Peas, Kidney Beans
Grains: Quinoa, Oats, Rice, Wheatgerm
Nuts and Seeds: Sunflower Seeds, Flax Seeds, Almonds, Pistachios
Are they safe?
To a limited extent, phytoestrogens could act as a type of natural hormone replacement therapy. This is especially the case with phytoestrogen supplements. However, synthetic oestrogen may have negative side effects. This includes increased risks for obesity, cancer, reproductive disorders, and cardiovascular diseases. As a rule of thumb, you should avoid taking phytoestrogen supplements unless your doctor tells you otherwise.
No such risks have been proved with consuming plant-based phytoestrogens.
There were some suggestions that soy was linked to an increased risk of breast cancer, precisely because it contains substances which are like the hormone estrogen but long-term clinical studies have shown that not only is soy not linked to an increased risk of breast cancer — but that it may also be helpful for people who live with it, with a study concluding that soy foods were found to decrease breast cancer recurrence.
How much should I eat?
Studies have concluded that around 50mg per day of isoflavones (a type of phytoestrogen found in soy products) provide the best health benefits, this can be found in:
About 200g of tofu
About 100-150g of tempeh
About three cups of whole bean soy milk
About 100g of cooked/canned soybeans
You could incorporate more phytoestrogen with:
Baked beans on soy-linseed toast
A glass of low-fat soy milk
Vegetable and soybean soup
Stir-fried noodles with Asian vegetables and tofu cubes
Tempeh burger and salad
Nut and seed bar
Soy smoothie with banana and 1-2 tablespoons wheat germ or ground flax seed
The Bottom Line
There is growing evidence to suggest that phytoestrogens may help with bone and cardiovascular health, but this remains unclear.
Whilst they may help with some of the symptoms of menopause and act as a natural HRT, it is best to stick to natural sources and only consider manufactured phytoestrogens solely on the advice of your GP.
Next Menopause Blog Post : HRT