Welcome to the Blossom Wellness guide to phytoestrogens—If nature’s solution to easing into menopause, a secret treasure hidden in plain sight within your diet! you’re curious about these plant-based, estrogen-like wonders, you’re in exactly the right place.

Phytoestrogens (phy-toe-estro-gens) are remarkable for their ability to mimic estrogen naturally, and they could be a game-changer for managing menopause symptoms more holistically. In this article, we dive deep into what phytoestrogens are, how they resemble our own estrogen and the potential they have to enhance your menopause experience. We’re not just stopping there; we’ll also guide you through a day’s worth of phytoestrogen-rich meals designed to integrate seamlessly into your lifestyle.

 

What are Phytoestrogens? Types and Sources Explained

Phytoestrogens are naturally occurring compounds found in plants that bear a structural resemblance to the hormone estrogen, which is produced by the human body.

These compounds interact with estrogen receptors in the body, helping to control hormone activity and impacting various physiological processes.

When consumed during menopause, phytoestrogens can help to gently ease the decline of estrogen experienced during this period, and act as a natural alternative to the more powerful HRT.

Originating from plant sources, phytoestrogens can be found in foods that are grown naturally. There are different types of phytoestrogens that mimic estrogens chemical structure, but the main type you need to be aware of is isoflavones, which are the strongest phytoestrogen.

Phytoestrogens are structurally similar to the estrogen that we produce within our bodies. It can interact with your estrogen receptors too, triggering responses similar to the estrogen that is produced naturally within the body.

Think of phytoestrogens as little helpers that are found in certain plants, and they are also very similar to the estrogen hormone that our bodies make. When they enter our bodies, they can communicate with specific places within our cells, called estrogen receptors.

 

What are estrogen receptors?

The receptors are like locks, and estrogen is the key that fits perfectly. Phytoestrogens can also fit into these locks, similar to the key.

When the phytoestrogens do this, they can make our bodies react in a similar way to when estrogen is present. This interaction between phytoestrogens and receptors can do two things:

  1. Act like estrogen and make our bodies respond in the way that estrogen would traditionally make us respond. This is known as an agonistic action. This type of action can help with easing symptoms that we experience in the menopause, like hot flashes or night sweats.
  2. The phytoestrogen can have a push-and-pull with the receptors. This gentle push-and-pull can sometimes make the effects of estrogen weaker in a positive way. This is an antagonistic response. This can be a good thing because it can weaken the estrogen response and help to protect us from some conditions that can happen when there is too much estrogen, like certain types of breast and overian cancer, and potentially endometriosis.

It is the receptor that decides which response, agonist or antagonist, the cell needs.

The effect of phytoestrogens can vary and will depend on factors such as individual genetics, your hormone status, health and level of consumption. While some females may experience relief from menopausal symptoms when implementing phytoestrogens into their diets, others may not notice significant changes.

Four phenolic compounds classified as phytoestrogens are isoflavones, stilbene, coumestan, and lignan.

 

Key Benefits of Phytoestrogens for Menopausal Symptom Relief

As menopause brings about hormonal shifts, phytoestrogens can be an ally in alleviating its accompanying symptoms. These natural, plant-derived compounds possess the ability to interact with estrogen receptors in the body, offering a more holistic and non-medical approach to maintaining hormonal balance. 

Relief from Hot Flashes and Night Sweats

Two of the most common and bothersome menopause symptoms! Your body’s internal thermostat may regulate more efficiently with phytoestrogens added into your diet.

Emotional Well-Being and Mood Swings

It is possible for phytoestrogens to interact with estrogen receptors in the brain and positively influence your emotional state. This interaction between the two may help your mood to feel a little more steady and reduce mood swings.

Bone Health and Osteoporosis Prevention

Estrogen is crucial for maintaining strong bones, but as estrogen levels drop during menopause, the risk of osteoporosis increases. Incorporating foods rich in phytoestrogens can help to supplement lowering estrogen levels, supporting bone density and keeping your bones stronger for a longer time. With a diet rich with these plant-based estrogens, you can help safeguard your skeletal health as you navigate through menopause.

Cardiovascular Benefits

Research has shown that regular phytoestrogen consumption (even outside of the menopause) reduces the likelihood of cardiovascular disease and obesity, potentially contributing to a healthier heart.

 

It is very important that we recognise the impact of phytoestrogen consumption during menopause may differ among individuals. Whilst some may experience relief from symptoms, others will notice minimal to no improvement. Before you incorporate phytoestrogens into your diet, we recommend you have a conversation with your Doctor, or even a dietician, for personalised guidance on the right phytoestrogen consumption for you.

Top Phytoestrogen-Rich Foods and How to Include Them in Your Diet

There are four of different types of phytoestrogens, but we want to keep it simple.

We know that phytoestrogens are naturally occurring and found in plant-based foods that mimic the effects of estrogen in the body, and by including phytoestogen-rich foods in your diet you may experience some relief from menopausal symptoms.

Common foods rich in phytoestrogens

  • Soybeans. Soybeans are renowned for their high phytoestrogen content. Foods like tofu, tempeh, soy milk and edamame are excellent ways to incorporate soy into your diet.
  • Chickpeas. Chickpeas (also known as garbanzo beans) are a staple in many cuisines. Use them to make hummus, toss the into a salad or roast them for a crunchy snack
  • Whole Grains. Oats, barely, quinoa and brown rice contain phytoestrogens and provide a satisfying base for a variety of dishes. Overnight oats have more than one benefit of just being easy to grab-and-go in the morning! Add quinoa to salads or half and half with some brown rice.
  • Cruciferous vegetables. Leafy green and vegetables such as cauliflower, bok choy, broccoli, kale and brussel sprouts
  • Flaxseeds. Flaxseeds are a versatile source of phytoestrogens. You can sprinkle ground flaxseeds on yoghurt, porridge or mix them into your baked goods for an added nutrient kick
  • Lentils. Lentils are not only rich in protein and fibre, but also contain phytoestrogens.

Practical Tips for Incorporating Phytoestrogens into Your Diet

  1. Try adding some tofu to your stir-fries or add soy milk to your smoothies for a phytoestrogen boost
  2. Incorporate lentils into soups, stews and salads for a hearty and nutritious meal
  3. If you’re having a Sunday roast, why not swap your Yorkshire pudding for your very own cauliflower cheese?
  4. Kickstart your morning with a power-packed breakfast by adding flaxseeds to your yogurt or porridge. You can also blend a delicious smoothie using soy milk, frozen berries, and a tablespoon of ground flaxseeds. This not only offers a nutrient boost but also helps you stay fuller for longer.

Simple Recipes and Meal Ideas

Have a look at our example phytoestrogen-rich menu

A good place to start is to get creative with your cooking! Make easy phytoestrogen-rich substitutions where possible.

Over time, gradually include these more in your diet. 

Remember, variety is the spice of life so mix and match these foods to create a diverse and flavourful diet that not only supports your menopause journey, but a daily diet that you love! 

Enhance your well-being with foods that you enjoy, that serve a purpose to your health, and harness the potential benefits of phytoestrogens to further your well-being even more!

 

Potential Side Effects and Considerations

While phytoestrogens offer many health benefits, they are not without potential side effects and risks, and are not suitable for everyone. In particular, women with specific health conditions like estrogen-sensitive cancers. It’s important to approach phytoestrogen intake with balance and caution, as excessive consumption can have a negative impact.

As always, we recommend you to consult your Doctor to tailor phytoestrogen intake according to your individual health profile and needs, ensuring safe and effective use of these natural compounds in their diet.

*Please also note that this is nothing in this article is intended to be medial advice.

 

Before you go

Deliberately incorporating phytoestrogens into your diet is a fantastic natural strategy to help enhance menopause well-being!

Including phytoestrogens in your diet is not just about managing immediate symptoms; it is about fostering a balanced approach to menopause health that considers both short-term relief and long-term well-being.

By leveraging the power of foods rich in phytoestrogens, you can navigate the menopausal transition with greater comfort and confidence, addressing not only immediate concerns but also promoting overall wellness.

If you’re looking for something that may help your menopause experience, but isn’t HRT or medical-related, here is a good place to start.

Frequently Asked Questions

Read more about this topic

What are phytoestrogens, and how do they relate to menopause?
Phytoestrogens are naturally occurring compounds found in a variety of plant based foods that we eat. These phytoestrogens have a similar structure to the estrogen (female hormone) that is found in our bodies. During menopause, when estrogen naturally declines, we may consume foods that have a high content of phytoestrogens to help with menopause symptoms. Phytoestrogens are a natural and very gentle way of boosting estrogen.
Which foods are rich in phytoestrogens?
Soy is the common and highly researched food that is high in phytoestrogens. Soy milk, soy proteins and soy beans. Other examples are whole grains, like wholegrain bread, flaxseed and cruciferous vegetables.
Can phytoestrogens help manage menopausal symptoms like hot flashes and mood swings?
For some females, they can. Phytoestrogens are very mild in comparison to other estrogen alternatives like HRT, but research has shown that consuming phytoestrogen-rich foods can reduce the severity of hot flashes and mood swings.
How can I include phytoestrogen-rich foods in my daily diet?
Each individual will require a different approach based on what they are currently eating. However, one of the easiest ways to include phytoestrogen-rich foods within your daily diet is by making some easy swaps:

– Swap white bread for wholegrain bread
– Sprinkle half a teaspoon of flaxseed onto your porridge in the morning
– Swap the milk you are using to make your smoothie with soy milk
– Try eating one meal which is tofu or tempeh based each week
– Add some kale or rocket to a side salad, or if you’re roasting your vegetables, be sure to include some parsnip or cauliflower!
Are there any side effects or considerations when incorporating phytoestrogens into my diet?
Yes. This all depends on your current hormone status, level of estrogen and if you have any hormonal medical conditions. For the average person, beginning to add some phytoestrogen-rich foods into their diet will likely not trigger any side effects, as the level of estrogen in these foods is low. At Blossom Wellness, we strongly recommend you to speak with your healthcare provider about adding phytoestrogen-rich foods into your diet and follow their guidance.
Can phytoestrogens replace hormone replacement therapy during menopause?
Yes and no. Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) is much stronger and likely to yield better results in terms of managing symptoms. However, phytoestrogen-rich foods can be viewed as a natural alternative to HRT and a great starting point for anyone in the menopause period. Due to the difference in strength, we would not say that phytoestrogrens are a direct replacement for HRT.
Should I consult my doctor before adding phytoestrogen-rich foods to my diet?
Yes, it is advisable to consult your doctor or healthcare provider before adding phytoestrogen-rich foods to your diet, especially if you any underlying medical conditions or concerns about how these might interact with your health or medications. Here at Blossom Wellness we aim to provide as much information as possible, however we recommend you get persoanlised guidance based on your specific health status and needs.
Are there specific portions or amounts of phytoestrogen-rich foods recommended for menopause management?
Wherever you can fit them into your diet is ideal. We always recommend to start small and slowly increase your consumption over time. However, between 40-70mg daily is ideal.
How long does it take to see the effects of phytoestrogen consumption on menopause symptoms?
The time it takes to notice the effects of phytoestrogen consumption on menopause symptoms can vary amoung individuals. Some females may experience relief from symptoms like hot flashes within a few weeks, to a couple of months of regular consumption. As a general rule, we would expect to notice some changes after twelve weeks of regular consumption. It is important to note that the effectiveness of phytoestrogens can depend on factors like individual genetics, hormone status, health status and the level of consumption.
Can men benefit from including phytoestrogens in their diet as well?
Yes, men may also benefit from including phytoestrogens in their diet. While these compounds are often associated with women’s health due to their potential role in managing menopausal symptoms, phytoestrogens can have broader health benefits for both genders. They may contribute to cardiovascular health, bone health, and potentially offer protection against certain diseases. However, as with females, we recommend to consult with a healthcare provider or dietician to ensure a balanced and appropriate dietary approach for men, as individual health needs can vary.

References

Research further

References
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Stovall DW, Pinkerton JV. Estrogen Agonists/Antagonists in Combination with Estrogen for Prevention and Treatment of Menopause-Associated Signs and Symptoms. Women’s Health. 2008;4(3):257-268. doi:10.2217/17455057.4.3.257

Patisaul HB, Jefferson W. The pros and cons of phytoestrogens. Front Neuroendocrinol. 2010 Oct;31(4):400-19. doi: 10.1016/j.yfrne.2010.03.003. Epub 2010 Mar 27. PMID: 20347861; PMCID: PMC3074428.

Nomura SJO, Hwang YT, Gomez SL, Fung TT, Yeh SL, Dash C, Allen L, Philips S, Hilakivi-Clarke L, Zheng YL, Wang JH. Dietary intake of soy and cruciferous vegetables and treatment-related symptoms in Chinese-American and non-Hispanic White breast cancer survivors. Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2018 Apr;168(2):467-479. doi: 10.1007/s10549-017-4578-9. Epub 2017 Dec 11. Erratum in: Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2018 Jan 11;: PMID: 29230660; PMCID: PMC5928523.
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Phytoestrogens Editor(s): J.K. Aronson, Meyler’s Side Effects of Drugs (Sixteenth Edition), Elsevier, 2016, Pages 755-757, ISBN 9780444537164, https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-444-53717-1.00151-7.
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Rietjens, I. M. C. M., Louisse, J., and Beekmann, K. (2017) The potential health effects of dietary phytoestrogens. British Journal of Pharmacology, 174: 1263–1280. doi:
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Desmawati D, Sulastri D. Phytoestrogens and Their Health Effect. Open Access Maced J Med Sci. 2019 Feb 14;7(3):495-499. doi: 10.3889/oamjms.2019.044. PMID: 30834024; PMCID: PMC6390141.

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