Phytoestrogens for Hormone Balance
Phytoestrogens are naturally occurring plant compounds structurally similar to oestrogen hormones that we make in our own body, but in a weaker form. They can help with hormone balance by increasing or decreasing levels as needed.
When we have too much oestrogen, phytoestrogens can help to balance that out by flooding the body with a weaker form of oestrogen that blocks oestrogen receptors throughout the body, preventing the uptake of the more potent oestrogen that we produce from our ovaries.
During the perimenopause, when oestrogen levels are fluctuating, and during the menopause when they decline, phytoestrogens can be beneficial as they mimic oestrogen.
So either way phytoestrogens can have a modulating effect on hormone balance by mimicking the hormonal actions of oestrogen.
The Role of Oestrogen in the Female Body
- Primary female sex hormone and essential for reproduction.
- Required for normal cell function in the vagina, bladder, breasts, skin, bones, arteries, heart, liver and brain.
- Helps to keep skin smooth and hydrated.
- Helps to regulate the body’s internal thermostat.
- Necessary for proper bone formation.
Symptoms of Hormonal Imbalance
Hormones are chemical messengers that tell tissues and organs what to do. They are excreted by the endocrine glands into the blood stream. Issues occur when the ratio of hormones becomes unbalanced, effecting how our body functions. Here are some classic signs that the hormones are out of balance:
- Irregular, missed or no periods at all
- Heavy, painful periods
- Acne and frequent breakouts
- Hair loss or thinning hair
- Hair growth on the face, chin and other body parts
- Reduced libido
- Weight gain
- Change in bowel motions – constipation or more frequent bowel motions
- Low mood, anxiety and depression
- Vaginal dryness
- Headaches and migraines
- Night sweats
- Fertility problems
- Muscle and joint pain or stiffness
Benefits of Phytoestrogens for Hormone Balance
- For women of reproductive age, phytoestrogens help with the metabolism and detoxification of oestrogen.
- Phytoestrogens improve insulin sensitivity and therefore have a beneficial effect on polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
- Phytoestrogens can make periods lighter.
- Generally beneficial for endometriosis, although soy can makes symptoms worse in some women.
- Can improve heart health by reducing triglyceride and cholesterol levels.
- May reduce the risk of certain hormone sensitive cancers.
- Lower the risk of osteoporosis.
- May reduce menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes and night sweats.
Sources of Phytoestrogens
The main classes of phytoestrogens are isoflavones found in soy, and lignans found in flaxseeds. There are also coumestans in legumes and sprouts, and stilbenes in the skin of grapes.
There are phytoestrogens in almost all fruit, vegetables and cereals but the following sources have the highest amounts:
- Seeds: Flaxseeds, sesame seeds and sunflower seeds
- Soy: Edamame, tofu, tempeh, and miso. Read my blog for tips on cooking tempeh.
- Dried fruit: Apricots, dates and prunes
- Legumes – lentils, chickpeas and beans
- Nuts: Almonds and walnuts
- Whole grains: Rice, oats and barley
- Berries: strawberries, cranberries and raspberries
- Fruit & vegetables: Cruciferous vegetables, garlic, grapes, peaches, rhubarb, apples, carrots, fennel and celery
- Sprouts: Alfalfa and mung bean
- Herbs: Parsley, sage
Extra information on flaxseeds
Flaxseeds are highly nutritious containing protein, fibre and omega 3 fatty acids, as well as being one of the richest source of phytoestrogens. Along with helping to balance hormones, flaxseeds can improve digestive health, protect against some forms of cancer, lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and balancing blood sugar levels.
Buy your flaxseeds whole and grind them yourself or buy cold pressed ready ground flaxseeds. Keep in the fridge or freezer to prevent the oils from going rancid.
Extra information on soy
Only buy organic sources to avoid consumption of genetically modified soy. Fermented soy (tempeh, miso) are best as they have been partially activated and so are more beneficial to the body. Avoid products containing soy isolates as these no longer resemble the original soya bean and will not convey therapeutic benefits.
Diet, lifestyle and toxins in our environment all impact on hormonal health. Incorporating phytoestrogens for hormone balance into our diet is one of them.