Much discussion has been created lately over the estrogen in food, and what sort of health implications this hormone might have. Most of this attention is all about soy, which contains phytoestrogens, naturally occurring plant estrogens that have been linked to both benefits and risks. But there are other forms of plant estrogen that have produced interesting findings, as well.
WebMD reports that one study found that women who ate a diet that is high in lignans, a form of plant estrogen, were 17% less likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer than those who did not consume many lignans. These women ate about 1 milligram per day of lignans on average, which they got from tea, coffee, fruits, vegetables, grain products, and flaxseed. While these findings may be largely incidental (the study was not directly testing the effect of lignans against breast cancer), scientists do agree that the results are strong enough to recommend a diet that is high in lignans from fruits, vegetables, and grains.
Another estrogen in food that is commonly studied is the phytoestrogen found in soy. There are contradicting ideas regarding this phytoestrogen, especially when it comes to breast cancer. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign reports that one researcher who has studied isoflavones, the plant estrogens in soy, and their effect on rats, has found that soy genistein reduced the amount of chemically induced mammary tumors but also spurred the growth of estrogen-dependent breast tumors. One explanation is that the body will react differently to the hormone based on what age it is exposed to it. If a tumor has already grown, genistein exposure may help it to grow, but if the exposure happens before puberty, the cells may be less likely to progress into breast cancer.
Additionally, whole soybeans may have properties that reduce the negative implications of consuming individual parts of soy. Unfortunately, when it comes to the effects of estrogen in food, the science is still unclear. If you have questions or concern, it is best to talk to your doctor.
- “Soy estrogens and breast cancer: Researcher offers overview”, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
- “Plant Estrogen May Cut Breast Cancer”, WebMD
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