Plant hormones, so-called phytoestrogens, which are similar to the female sex hormone estrogen, are found in plant foods. Among other things, these exhibit antioxidant effects and can bring health benefits. Which foods contain estrogen?
Along with testosterone, estrogen is one of the sex hormones and is present in the bodies of both women and men. In women of childbearing age, estrogen levels are usually at their highest and fulfill important functions, especially in the female body, such as the menstrual cycle. Naturally, estrogen levels decrease in women during menopause, which can lead to symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, and an increased risk of osteoporosis.
So-called phytoestrogens are naturally occurring plant compounds that are chemically similar to the estrogen produced by the human body. Studies have shown that phytoestrogens can have positive effects on blood vessel function and blood pressure. Other benefits, for example, in the prevention of cancer and cardiovascular disease, are still under discussion. Here we present foods rich in plant phytoestrogens.
No. 1: Soy products
The main source of phytoestrogens is soy. Especially among vegetarians and vegans, soy products are popular meat alternatives because they provide abundant plant protein. Soybeans can be processed into tofu, tempeh, and miso, or enjoyed whole as edamame. Secondary plant compounds such as phytoestrogens, especially isoflavones, continue to be the subject of research because of their multiple effects on health.
Isoflavones from soy can mimic the action of endogenous steroid hormones, or more specifically, they can induce estrogen-like activity in the body. People in Southeast Asia have a traditionally higher consumption of soy products and, thus, isoflavones. For example, a meta-analysis concluded that phytoestrogens can minimize some menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes, without causing serious health side effects.
Some menopausal women also rely on isolated isoflavones through dietary supplements. According to the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), however, the effect of isoflavones or phytoestrogens has not been conclusively scientifically proven and is even associated with some risks. Ref.
Soy belongs to the foods with a lot of “estrogen”, or phytoestrogens like isoflavones. These seem to be able to influence estrogen levels in the body.
No. 2: Cow milk
According to the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), the level of hormones in cow’s milk is higher than in meat, fish, eggs, or vegetarian foods. Cow’s milk naturally contains female sex hormones such as progesterone and estrogen, but the intake is low with normal consumption when compared with the amounts present in the human body; this is especially true for adult women with higher levels of their own production.
Are there any health risks associated with consuming milk due to its hormone content? The BfR considers the usual consumption of milk and milk products harmless since the quantities of hormones ingested are low compared to the human body’s own synthesis and, moreover, can be rapidly broken down. Scientific data also does not give any reason to assume a health risk. Ref.
Hormones such as estrogen are also found in animal products such as cow’s milk. However, the amounts ingested through food are relatively small.
No. 3: Flaxseed
Golden or brown flax seeds are known for their health benefits. They are not only rich in valuable fatty acids and fiber but also in lignans, which also act as phytoestrogens. Flaxseeds even appear to contain significantly more lignans than other plant foods.
There are studies (in mice) that suggest that these phytoestrogens may even play a role in reducing the risk of breast cancer. In particular, postmenopausal women are thought to be able to benefit from them to reduce potential symptoms. Nevertheless, serious hormonal problems should not be taken lightly, and medical advice should always be sought when in doubt. Ref.
Flaxseeds are particularly rich in lignans, which act chemically as phytoestrogens. Studies suggest that eating flaxseed frequently is actually associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer.
No. 4: Garlic
This aromatic bulb is a popular ingredient in many dishes. Garlic is not only known for its culinary benefits but also for its health benefits. Mainly due to its antioxidant properties, it protects our cells and helps prevent diseases.
Among other things, a randomized controlled trial in post-menopausal women showed positive effects of garlic supplements against bone loss due to estrogen deficiency. This study provided interesting results. However, further research is needed to derive practical recommendations. The positive effect of phytoestrogens on bone density is still considered scientifically uncertain. Ref.
Garlic is one of the healthiest foods available. Initial study results suggest that garlic may positively influence bone loss due to estrogen deficiency.
No. 5: Dried fruits
Dried fruits such as dates, apricots, and plums also contain phytoestrogens. They also contain valuable minerals and fiber that can help our digestion. In addition, they are not only a sweet snack but also taste good in muesli or in baking as a sugar substitute.
The phytoestrogens they contain have even been shown in some studies to have positive effects on female hormone balance during menopause. Dried fruit may not contain as many phytoestrogens as soy, but it can still be a source of a variety of other nutrients. Ref.
Dried fruits can add phytoestrogens to our diets in addition to valuable nutrients.
No. 6: Sesame seeds
The small sesame seeds are a popular ingredient in Asian dishes and impart a nutty flavor. It has been suggested that sesame seeds, similar to flaxseeds, may provide phytoestrogens in addition to important nutrients.
In a randomized, placebo-controlled study, it was observed that consumption of sesame powder may affect estrogen levels in postmenopausal women. Not only can estrogen levels appear to be lifted, but other health parameters, such as blood lipid levels, can also be improved. Ref.
Study results suggest that larger amounts of sesame may increase postmenopausal estrogen levels in women.
No. 7: Cruciferous vegetables and berries
In addition to all sorts of nutrients, berries, and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli also contain biologically active phytoestrogens. Berries in particular have long been known for their numerous health benefits, being rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and fiber, including phytoestrogens, among others.
Cauliflower, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts belong to the cruciferous family—plants with different flavors, textures, and valuable nutrients. They are also among the foods high in phytoestrogens. Ref.
Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts contain abundant vitamins and minerals as well as phytonutrients that have estrogenic activities.
Knowledge to go
In addition to phytoestrogens in plant foods, estrogens are also found in cow’s milk. A major source of phytoestrogens is primarily soy, but flaxseed, garlic, dried fruits, sesame seeds, berries, and broccoli are also sources of plant phytoestrogens
There continues to be debate about the health benefits and drawbacks of Predominantly animal studies that have shown the possible risks of high soy consumption. Other studies show the rather positive effects of phytoestrogens on our health.
Finally, a predominantly plant-based diet that also includes the above-mentioned foods as phytoestrogen sources is recommended, as they also have other health benefits. In cases of serious hormonal problems, do not rely on self-therapy with the above-mentioned foods but seek medical advice.