Are You Getting Your Fix Of Plant-based Proteins Containing Phytoestrogens?

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8th July 2009, 12:01pm - Views: 619

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8 July 2009

Are you getting your fix of plant-based proteins containing


This year during Natural Medicine Awareness Week (July 6-12), the Jean Hailes Foundation for

Women’s Health is highlighting the importance of eating whole foods instead of taking supplements to

benefit health. 

According to Jean Hailes naturopath Sandra Villella, one of the most popular natural medicines today is

phytoestrogens. In particular, phytoestrogens found in soy products have been touted to prevent or treat

a range of health issues associated with menopause including heart disease, osteoporosis, mood

disorders and cognitive abilities.

Recent Jean Hailes research in this area backs up international research demonstrating that it is the

whole food containing the phytoestrogens, rather than the isolated phytoestrogens that are most


Phytoestrogens are plant compounds that are similar to the female sex hormone oestrogen, but with

much lower potency. They attach to some of the oestrogen receptors in a woman’s body, and have

become an area of research interest as a potential oestrogen alternative in recent years.  

Eating a phytoestrogen-rich diet has been linked to reduced rates of heart disease and cancer and are

thought to be of some health benefit to menopausal women. To date scientific evidence has shown that

phytoestrogen-rich foods may offer:

Protection against heart disease 

Possible anti-cancer properties – more research is needed

A possible role in prevention of osteoporosis – more research is needed

“It is important that a distinction in phytoestrogens is made between nutrients consumed in whole foods,

as opposed to those consumed in supplements such as powders or tablets,” says Sandra. “There is no

evidence that phytoestrogen supplements are more effective than a placebo for relieving menopausal

symptoms, and safety in regards to women who have had breast cancer is still not yet established.”

According to Jean Hailes research director Professor Helena Teede, other benefits of phytoestrogens,

including reductions in cholesterol and blood pressure, appear to be mainly related to the vegetable

protein in foods that contain phytoestrogens rather than to the phytoestrogens themselves. “This is why

the whole food, rather than the phytoestrogen supplements, appear to have the most benefit,” said

Professor Teede.

Supplements made from isolated soy compounds are not generally recommended as a source of

phytoestrogen because they do not contain all of the health benefits of whole soy foods and there is not

enough evidence of their safety when taken for long periods. Whole foods contain differing amounts of

complex compounds that can behave differently when they are consumed as a food versus what happens

to an isolated compound when tested individually. 

“Phytoestrogen food sources are also good sources of vegetable protein, essential fatty acids and

minerals,” adds Sandra.

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In a 2006 meta-analysis of research on phytoestrogens and breast cancer, the authors of the review

concluded that it is not recommended for women at high risk for breast cancer or who have had breast

cancer to take soy supplements. There is no evidence to suggest that eating a diet of soy foods in

amounts consistent with an Asian diet is detrimental to breast health. 

It is recommended to eat whole soy foods such as tofu, soy beans, low fat soy milk or breads containing

soy flours. 

Foods high in phytoestrogrens include:

Soy – soybeans, tofu, soymilk, miso

Linseeds (also known as flaxseeds)

Sprouts – alfalfa, mungbean

Legumes – chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans

Other sources that contain some phytoestrogens include:

Wholegrain cereals – oats, wheat, corn, barley, buckwheat and rye

Seeds – pumpkin, sesame, sunflower



To interview Sandra Villella or Prof Teede please call Aleeza Zohar on (03) 9562 6771 or 0425 758 729.

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