Phytoestrogens are substances found in plants that exhibit weak estrogen-like activity. Often referred to as "almost estrogens" these compounds bind to estrogen receptors in certain cells, locking the estrogen out and preventing the hormone from interacting with the cells. Because certain hormone-dependent cancers require estrogen to flourish, phytoestrogens may help to reduce cancer risk.
Research shows that women consuming high amounts of phytoestrogens, particularly as isoflavones in soy products, have less heart disease, breast and uterine cancer and menopausal symptoms than those eating Western diets. Because estrogen plays a role in maintaining bone density, and low estrogen is the key culprit for menopausal symptoms and thinning bones, phytoestrogens may help to keep the bones strong and also ease menopausal symptoms.
It is important to note that phytoestrogens can promote certain types of cancer and may also promote infertility. Because of this, talk with your doctor about consuming phytoestrogens. If you do want to get phytoestrogens in your diet, opt for whole foods as opposed to supplements, and make sure you choose organic soy foods that have not been genetically modified.
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