Both naturally occurring food components as well as certain additives have the ability to act like estrogen once inside your body. Phytoestrogens include isoflavones and lignans, both found naturally in foods. These phytoestrogens may help combat the effects of menopause and increase bone mass, although their effects on health are still under investigation and not well understood. On the other hand, xenoestrogens are food additives that may be causing more harm to your body than good.
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Soy is an isoflavone and a phytoestrogen. Soy isoflavones can also bind to estrogen receptors, causing a weak estrogen-like effect inside the body. According the Linus Pauling Institute, soy isoflavones may benefit the health of your skeletal system; increasing your intake of soy stimulates bone growth due to its phytoestrogen properties. Lower estrogen after menopause can cause of a decrease in bone mass, and a diet high in soy can mimic estrogen and cause the body to maintain its bone integrity.
Lignans -- or seeds such as flaxseed, pumpkin seed, poppy, sesame and whole grains -- are naturally occurring foods that act like estrogen. Lignans are known as phytoestrogens. These foods are able to bind to estrogen receptors and mimic the action of the hormone produced by the body. However, the Linus Pauling Institute clarifies that these lignans are not nearly as powerful as estrogen, the hormone produced by the body. There is little evidence linking lignans to any harmful health effects.
Other Sources of Phytoestrogens
Other foods provide phytoestrogens. Legumes, including chickpeas and lentils boost your phytoestrogen intake, and whole grains -- including millet and sorghum -- also contain phytoestrogens. You'll also find phytoestrogens in the produce aisle -- berries, broccoli, brussels sprouts and kale are especially rich in these chemicals. Some herbs, such as thyme, also offer estrogen-like compounds.
Xenoestrogens are food additives that mimic the work of the hormone estrogen inside the body. According to a study published by "Chemical Research in Toxicology" in 2009, these xenoestrogens can cause negative health effects such as in increase in breast cancer for women and a reduction in sperm for men. During the study, researchers found a new way to identify xenoestrogens inside food. The researchers also discovered two previously unidentified xenoestrogens. Propyl gallate is a preservative used to prevent spoiling in fatty foods; the other, 4-hexylresorcinol, is an additive used to prevent discoloration in shellfish.