Julieanna Hever, MS, RD, CPT &
Virginia Messina, MPH, RD
Phytoestrogens, or plant estrogens, are compounds found in certain plants such as grains, berries, seeds (particularly flaxseeds), and other fruits, vegetables and legumes, but most abundantly in soybeans and soyfoods. Most studies on the effects of phytoestrogens on health have focused on a type of phytoestrogen called isoflavones, which is found in soybeans and foods made from soybeans.
The most important thing to understand about isoflavones is that they are not the same as estrogen. They have a similar chemical structure to estrogen, the reproductive hormone that all mammals produce, but small differences in chemical structure can translate to significant differences in effects on health. To a large extent, these differences are due to estrogen receptors in the body.
In order to have a biological effect, estrogen needs to attach to receptors in cells. But it wasn’t until 1996 that scientists discovered that there were two types of estrogen receptors in the body. The hormone estrogen attaches with equal affinity to both. Isoflavones, on the other hand, have a strong affinity for just one of the receptors. The effects of isoflavones vary depending on which type of receptor predominates in a tissue. The result: isoflavones sometimes act like estrogen in the body, but not always. They can have anti-estrogenic effects or sometimes, no effects at all in tissues affected by the hormone estrogen.
The most important thing to understand about isoflavones is that they are not the same as estrogen.
As a result, soy isoflavones don’t appear to have the same risks for certain diseases that are associated with estrogen. We know that among women in Asia, where soy is a common component of the traditional diet, breast cancer rates are significantly lower than among Western populations. There is evidence that consuming soyfoods early in life—during childhood and/or adolescence—may lower lifetime risk for breast cancer. Consuming soy has also been linked to improved survival in women with breast cancer. The American Institute for Cancer Research and American Cancer Society have concluded that soyfoods can be safely consumed by breast cancer patients and the World Cancer Research Fund International has concluded there may be a link between soy intake and better survival from breast cancer.
In addition to breast cancer, isoflavones have been associated with reduced risk for prostate cancer, improved cardiovascular health, favorable effects on, reduction in the frequency and severity of hot flashes, and perhaps even a decrease in wrinkles.
In contrast to the extensive research on phytoestrogens and breast cancer and other diseases, very little research has evaluated the impact of these compounds on endometriosis. Just a few studies, focusing on soy isoflavones, have been conducted. A small observational study in Japan looked at the effects of soyfood consumption among 138 women who were seeking treatment for infertility. The researchers assessed soy intake by measuring the amount of isoflavones in the subjects’ urine. Women with the highest intakes of soy isoflavones had the lowest incidence of advanced endometriosis.
One risk factor for endometriosis is increased endometrial thickness. A recent statistical analysis of 23 intervention studies found no effect of isoflavones on endometrial thickness in postmenopausal women. In one laboratory study, isoflavones had a weak estrogenic effect on endometrial tissue, but when the hormone estrogen was added to the mix, the isoflavones had anti-estrogenic effects. That might suggest an advantage for premenopausal women who are still producing estrogen.
Overall, there is clearly a need for further research before specific recommendations can be made. But based on the current research, phytoestrogens appear to be safe for women with endometriosis or who are at risk for developing it.
Since uterine tissue contains estrogen receptors and endometriosis is an estrogen-dependent disease, it is reasonable to speculate that phytoestrogens might have a similar impact in the uterus as in breast tissue. In fact, soyfoods have been associated with reduced risk of cancer of the endometrium, which is the lining of the uterus and the most common form of uterine cancer.
While the research is still evolving, it is interesting to note that increased intake of green vegetables and fresh fruit has been shown to lower risk for endometriosis while red and processed meat and trans fats can increase risk.
Choosing soyfoods over animal products and enjoying the benefits of other phytoestrogen-rich foods such as flaxseeds (which also improve gastrointestinal health and lower cholesterol) and berries (which are potent sources of antioxidants) can only be advantageous. Whether or not these compounds have specific benefits in regard to endometriosis necessitates further study. In the meantime, there is no harm and almost certainly substantial benefit to including ample amounts of phytoestrogen-rich plant foods in the diet.
The PMS Mixtape Volume 1
There are variety of moods one goes through when experiencing PMS - sad, angry, tired and vulnerable, just to name a few. So we’ve decided to create some playlists to match how you may be feeling. Yes, it’s The PMS Mixtape!
Instead of going with anything obvious like “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” this first mix is a much more subtle collection of soothing female vocals, starting off with Jenny Hval’s beautiful ambient musings on menstruation. The vibe is tranquilo, Spanish for “Take it easy,” so put it on when you want to chill things out a bit.
|Prep Time||30 min|
- In the food processor, add the dried apricot and blend on high until a ball forms.
- Add the water.
- Blend again. You will see the apricot paste start sticking to the sides.
- Using a spatula, transfer the apricot paste into a medium sized bowl. Add the coconut flakes to the bowl and mix until it becomes more uniform.
- In a separate small bowl, add the crushed pistachio.
- Using your hands, take some of the apricot mix and roll it in your palms until it forms a sphere. Make them as big or small as you like but try to keep them similar in size.
- Take each sphere and roll it in the pistachios until is coated from the outside.
- Place in a bowl and enjoy!
|Cook Time||30 min|
|Passive Time||30 min|
- 1 cup steel-cut oats
- 1 cup water
- 1 1/2 cups almond milk (or substitute nut/rice/soy milk)
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp sea salt
- 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
- In a medium pot, with a heavy bottom, add the water and the almond milk and bring it to a boil.
- Turn down the heat so the liquid is simmering, and add the oats, sea salt and cinnamon. Cover.
- Take an 8 inch square pan and line with parchment. Set aside for when the oats are done.
- Cook the oats for 30 minutes. Stir occasionally during the first 20 min. In the last 10 minutes you have to stir constantly so it doesn’t stick to the pot and it gets creamy.
- As soon as they are done, pour the oats into the parchment lined pan. Level it out evenly using a spoon.
- Cool for 30 minutes on the counter. Then pop in the fridge for another 30 minutes. This will allow the oatmeal to firm up and set.
- Lift the parchment out of the pan carefully and set on a cutting board. With a large smooth knife, cut into four squares, then cut those squares into triangles.
- Heat a large pan with the olive oil, once hot, add the triangles. Don’t crowd the pan and work in batches if needed.
- Cook each oatmeal triangle for 3-4 minutes per side until browned.
- Add to a serving platter and sprinkle on the strawberries, coconut & walnuts. Drizzle the maple syrup on top and enjoy while still warm.
- 8 cups cauliflower florets (around half a cauliflower head)
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 2 tsp turmeric
- 6 tablespoons sesame oil
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 cup cilantro (packed)
- 2 tablespoons lime
- 2 tablespoons tahini
- salt to taste
- Cut the cauliflower into florets big enough to skewer.
- In a big bowl add the garlic powder, turmeric, oil and salt. Mix well.
- Add the florets to the marinade and mix well. Make sure all the florets are coated.
- Add 4-5 florets per skewer.
- To make the sauce, add the cilantro, lime, tahini and a pinch of salt to the food processor. Blend on high until smooth. Set aside in a small bowl.
- Heat the grill on high, and then add the skewers. Cook the cauliflower on medium heat 4-6 minutes per side.
- When done, add the skewers to a serving platter and drizzle some of the sauce lightly over using a spoon. Save the rest to serve for dipping.
If using bamboo skewers, soak them for half an hour before use so they don’t burn on the grill.
If you want to grill them inside, use a griddle or pan and add some sesame oil to prevent sticking.
|Prep Time||30 min|
|Cook Time||50 min|
- 1 beet medium or large
- 1 tsp olive oil (to rub the beet with)
- 1 large garlic clove
- 2 cans chickpeas (3 cups cooked chickpeas)
- 1/2 cup tahini
- 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup water (to be used as needed)
- Preheat the oven to 400°F. Wash the beets, rub with olive oil and wrap loosely but securely (so the steam doesn’t escape) in tin foil. Place in a pan in the oven and bake for around 50 min or until the beets are tender. You can gauge the doneness by sticking a fork in the beet (through the foil). If the fork goes in easily, they are done. Remove from the oven and let them cool.
- After they cool, using a knife, peel and discard the outside skin, and cut the beet into cubes.
- If you are using canned chickpeas, put them in a colander or strainer and wash them well. Make sure they are well drained.
- Place the garlic in the food processor and pulse until it is ground up. Then add the chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, and salt. Let the processor run for a few minutes. Occasionally, push down the chickpeas from the edges to make sure it all gets processed. This is the point to gauge how thick or loose you want the hummus. Add 1-2 tablespoons of water at a time and let the processor run, check the consistency, and adjust with more water as needed. Once it is the consistency you like, let the processor run for a few more minutes to make it as smooth as possible.
- Finally, add the cubed beets to the food processor and blend until it is smooth again.
Even though the recipe calls for one beet, make as many as you like and reserve for Greek salads, or snacking. Add more beets to increase the flavor as you like.
We recommend adding a variety of thinly sliced vegetables instead of chips or crackers for a healthy snack.