What you need to know about phytoestrogens

Perimenopause is a time when estrogen levels are unpredictable.  The regular monthly rhythm and interplay between estrogen and progesterone is thrown completely out of sync, and the cyclic periods also become more variable.

This erratic estrogen level, along with the fact that estrogen and progesterone aren't communicating with each other anymore, is considered to be the reason for many of the uncomfortable symptoms perimenopausal women experience.  

Hormone replacement therapy went out of favor years ago (2002) when it was linked to heart disease, blood clots, and breast cancer.  When the symptoms outweigh the risks, HRT is still provided on a short term basis, as opposed to the way hormones had previously been freely prescribed.

Bioidentical hormones have risks of their own, and most conventional doctors won't touch them.  Those that are compounded are not regulated, so there is no guarantee of exactly what and how much is in the compound.  With close practitioner supervision, and a trusted compounding pharmacy, they may be an option.  If you are interested, that can be a topic for a future post.

Another option for balancing the hormones during premenopause is to take in phytoestrogens.  There are supplements of these plant based estrogen mimicking substances, but they are found in many of the foods you eat every day.  

What do they do?

The nice thing about phytoestrogens is that they are adaptogenic.  That means that they actually stabilize the estrogen level, whether it happens to be too high or too low.  As they crowd out the unruly excessive estrogen on the body's receptors, the phytoestrogens have a calming effect.

When the estrogen levels drop too low, and there are receptors left without a hand to hold onto, the phytoestrogens step up to take the empty places.

They sound like just the thing to fix all estrogen woes!  Unfortunately, that isn't always the case.

A 2004 statement made by NAMS (North American Menopause Society) reported there is insufficient evidence to support or refute the efficacy of soy foods or isoflavone supplements (both of which are phytoestrogen sources).  That was 10 years ago, and there doesn't seem to be any clear research that has turned up good news since then.

However, there continues to be encouragement to recommend the use of phytoestrogens for the management of menopausal symptoms. For example in this article which reports there is good scientific evidence to use phytoestrogens as natural therapy.

I am compelled to remind you that menopause is not a disease.  It is not a chronic condition for which we need to be on the lookout for a cure.  Menopause is a natural stage of life that can be extremely uncomfortable for a minority of women.  And, for that group of women, its pretty miserable.  

So, will phytoestrogens help?

After reviewing all the information I could get my eyes on regarding phytoestrogens, my opinion is that it is worth a try.  Every woman is different, and the food sources are healthy choices anyway.  Phytoestrogens are a form of antioxidants, and you can never have too many of those!

Consult your healthcare practitioner about taking the supplements, if you are considering them.  My preference is to make a deliberate choice to eat foods that are higher in phytoestrogens daily.  Try that for 6 to 8 weeks before judging what effect they have made.

It would be wise to alternate the foods you select.  Soy was once feared to cause some cancer risk, but The American Cancer Society states that there is no evidence to that effect, as explained in this article.  Additionally, I would avoid powdered soy products.

Instead, here is a partial list of food sources of phytoestrogens.  Soy has the highest content by far.



Flax seeds

Garbanzo beans



Whole grains



Citrus fruits

Green tea


After you give them a try, post a comment to let us know what effect you experience.

I look forward to hearing your results!

Photo credit: Premal Dhruv Photography / Foter / CC BY-SA