Phytoestrogens - what are they and why you need them?
When it comes to diet, food is so much more than macronutrients like protein, carbohydrate and fat. And even more than the sum of its vitamin and mineral content. Some of the magic ingredients the nutrition world is talking about are phytoestrogens.
These are naturally occurring plant-based chemicals, which are structurally similar
to oestrogen and exert a weak oestrogenic effect. The great news is that you can use them to gently help rebalance your hormones.
Phytoestrogens are particularly helpful for women because they are adaptogens.
This means they can either replicate or counteract the effects of oestrogen.
They’re useful for all women but especially if you are going through the perimenopause, have endometriosis, fibroids or PMT (any symptoms at all during or in the run up to your period).
The absorption of phytoestrogens depends on a healthy gut, as there must be enough healthy bacteria to convert phytoestrogens into their active form. A probiotic supplement will be helpful here.
HOW THEY HELP
This is a stage in a woman’s life usually starting in her late 40s. During this time, your body stops making as many female hormones like oestrogen. This transitions into a time when your periods have stopped for at least 12 months – menopause. There are many uncomfortable symptoms that usually occur during this phase of your life, ranging from hot flushes and mood swings to decreased libido. Research shows that phytoestrogens can have a positive impact on many of these symptoms.
Oestrogen plays an important role in maintaining bone mineral density. Osteoporosis is a disease in which bone density and quality is reduced, resulting in greater porosity of bones and a higher risk of fracture. Research is ongoing in this area but the work shows that a diet that brings these phytoestrogens into your life may help prevent osteoporosis.
Many menstrual problems are linked to too much oestrogen in your system – like endometriosis and fibroids. Phytoestrogen-rich foods decrease the effects of oestrogen levels naturally by blocking the oestrogen receptors on the cells in fibroids and other estrogen-sensitive tissues.
Adult acne can result from an imbalance in hormones, often where male hormones like testosterone are present in a higher than normal ratio compared with oestrogen. The idea is that these plant sources of oestrogen counteract the effect of the male hormones and may help prevent acne as a result.
The three types of phytoestrogens are isoflavones, lignans and coumestans.
Soybeans (and related products like tofu, tempeh, miso)
Lentils Beans (black beans, aduki beans, broad beans, pinto beans)
COUMESTANS: Split peas