Phytoestrogens: Helpful or harmful?

Friday, November 6, 2009 17:00
Comments Off on Phytoestrogens: Helpful or harmful?

Q. I consume about 1-2.5 tbsp of ground
flaxseeds per day. I know from my symptoms (breast tenderness etc) that
I have a bit of estrogen dominance. Could the phytoestrogens be
negatively impacting my estrogen balance?

A. Does flax contain phytoestrogens? Yes.  In fact, flax seeds are a more potent source of phytoestrogens than soybeans. Is the ground flax causing your symptoms? Hard to say.

The whole issue of phytoestrogens (estrogen-like compounds found in plant sources including soy and flax) continues to bedevil researchers. Do they block the effects of estrogen, thereby protecting against things like breast cancer? Or, do they exert weak estrogenic effects, thereby protecting against things like heart disease and osteoporosis? Both? Sometimes one and sometimes the other?

Despite copious research, we still don't have a definitive answer on how phytoestrogens behave in the human body and why.  

Searching for clues in a sea of conflicting and confounding information, it appears that phytoestrogens probably don't do much for hot flashes but may help preserve bone density and reduce risk of heart disease.  The findings on cancer are even less conclusive. Phytoestrogens may protect some people against cancer,  but those with hormone-sensitive cancers are usually advised to avoid them. 

I have fewer concerns about whole foods like flaxseed and soybeans than I do about supplements which extract, isolate, and concentrate the bioactive compounds.

Returning to your question: I don't know if your symptoms are due to "estrogen dominance" or not. But the easiest way to find out whether flaxseed is contributing to them might be to stop eating flax for several weeks (try to keep everything else about your diet the
same) and see if you notice any improvement.

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