Phytoestrogens are a form of dietary estrogen we get from food. Research is ongoing into the effects of these plant-based nutrients. Studies indicate they can mimic or enhance the natural hormone’s health benefits.
While most research points to positive effects, in some cases phytoestrogens can block or disrupt estrogen in your body. It’s important to talk to your doctor about managing your hormone levels with your diet.
Why You Need Estrogen
Estrogen’s main function is to control reproductive changes in women, but it serves other roles in both male and female bodies, including:
- Heart and blood vessel support
- Bone strength
- Brain protection and mood regulation
Our estrogen levels can change for many reasons. For some, managing these effects may require treatment such as hormone replacement therapy.
The phytoestrogens in foods may help support estrogen’s natural functions. Research shows these nutrients are linked to several health benefits, including:
Menopausal Relief in Women
Women’s estrogen levels decrease with age, causing changes in the body referred to as menopause. Studies show that phytoestrogens can help relieve some of menopause’s physical symptoms, like the frequency of hot flashes and vaginal dryness.
Improved Bone Health
Estrogens help maintain healthy bone density, reducing the risk of osteoporosis in both men and women. Studies show that phytoestrogens from food may support this effect, improving long-term bone health.
May Lower Risk of Heart Disease
Studies show phytonutrients may help manage cholesterol. Maintaining good cholesterol levels keeps your arteries free from fatty build-up, reducing the risk of heart problems and stroke.
May Reduce the Risk of Cancers
According to research, higher estrogen and phytoestrogen levels are associated with lower rates of breast cancer. Phytoestrogens have also been shown to kill prostate cancer cells, an effect scientists continue to study for the nutrients’ use in cancer prevention or management.
Foods With Estrogen
Many types of food-based phytoestrogens are studied for their potential health benefits. These include:
- Flavonoids like quercetin
Each of these phytoestrogens has antioxidant properties. This means that in addition to the nutrients’ potential health benefits, they fight cell damage in our bodies linked to a wide range of chronic diseases.
The best dietary sources of phytoestrogens include:
Flaxseeds are the richest dietary source of lignans (polyphenols found in plants). Researchers believe they lower breast cancer risk. You can sprinkle flaxseeds on many dishes, bake them into bread and cookies, or blend them into smoothies and spreads.
Soy contains high levels of isoflavones, phytoestrogens that may mimic estrogen’s effects and reduce the risk of both breast and prostate cancer. Soy is also rich in a range of essential vitamins and minerals. It can support heart health as an alternative to red and processed meats. It’s also extremely versatile — you can include soy in your diet with foods like tofu, tempeh, edamame, and soymilk.
Because of their high lignan content, studies show that eating two servings of peaches or nectarines a week reduces a woman’s breast cancer risk. Researchers find similar effects from consuming blueberries and strawberries.
Regular garlic consumption can help lower cholesterol, reduce blood pressure, and prevent clots — all heart disease risk factors. Research shows garlic can influence estrogen levels in the body, perhaps helping reduce age-related bone loss. But more research is needed to study this effect.
5. Red Wine
Red wine is rich in resveratrol, a phytoestrogen researchers believe reduces heart disease risk by regulating cholesterol levels. Another study found that phytoestrogens in red wine may stop cancer cell growth, particularly among postmenopausal women.
6. Sesame Seeds
Sesame seeds are easy to add to almost any meal — and they may help improve your cholesterol levels. Studies show they affect estrogen levels, with potent antioxidant activity fighting chronic disease risk factors.
7. Cruciferous Vegetables
Vegetables like broccoli, Brussel sprouts, and kale contain phytoestrogens with anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties. Diets rich in cruciferous vegetables are also associated with a lower risk of many chronic diseases, including heart problems.
Nuts like cashews, almonds, peanuts, and pistachios are a great source of heart-healthy phytoestrogens. They’re easy to add to your diet. But because most nuts are high in calories and fat, be sure to limit your portions to the recommended serving size.