Menopause can be a difficult time for many woman and declining oestrogen levels can have major impact on many areas of the body. You can see from the table below just how essential oestrogen is for a women’s health and vitality
|Area of the body||Effect|
|Brain||Helps maintain temperature
Delays memory loss
Oestrogen increases the concentration of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, so affects mood
|Breast||Creates breast tissue|
|Heart & liver||Helps regulate the liver’s production of cholesterol and protects the heart|
|Uterus, ovaries||Stimulates the maturation of the ovaries and uterus|
|Vagina & urinary tract||Maintains vagina tissue thickness and lubrication
Helps protect the urinary tract from infection
|Bone||Helps preserve bone density|
|Hair, skin, nails||Reduces collagen loss, so a reduction can affect hair, skin and nails|
So if you don’t fancy using HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) or Bio identical hormones what other options are there?
Well nature has provided a solution in the form of phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens are plant derived compounds found in a wide variety of foods and herbs. There are many kinds of phytoestrogens, but they all have a similar chemical structure. Their common chemical structure is also very similar to that of the different human oestrogens. As you can see below Oestrone, the most common oestrogen produced in menopausal women, is very similar to that of Genistein a phytoestrogen found in soy.
Research has found there are several benefits for women consuming phytoestrogens. The first is around menopause when a woman’s oestrogen levels begin to decline and this affects all the areas of the body we have shown above. The way oestrogen has an effect is by binding to oestrogen receptor sites around the body, which then makes something happen. When there is less oestrogen the effect on the body diminishes over time. For example low oestrogen affects the vaginal tissue by slowing down production of new cells and mucous secretions. Leading to a loss of vaginal tissue plumpness and lubrication and leaving women more vulnerable to vaginal dryness, thrush and other infections. The also applies to the urinary tract as the loss of oestrogen’s protective effects around menopause can lead to an increase in urinary tract infections. Phytoestrogens work by binding to the oestrogen receptor sites to help fill this loss and keep many body functions working.
The other protective function that phytoestrogens provide is that they prevent the binding of dangerous forms of oestrogen in the form of environmental or xenoestrogens. There are many chemicals found in our environment that “mimic” oestrogen but have a negative effect. These xenoestrogens can be found in pesticides (e.g. DDT and methoxychlor), industrial lubricants (e.g. PCBs) and plasticizers (don’t microwave in plastic) and many other personal care items and household cleaning products. They are frequently associated with alarming statistics regarding declining reproductive health and increasing rates of cancer and obesity.
What are well known sources of phytoestrogens?
- Soy is a well know source and there is research around soy being the reason why Asian women eating a traditional diet don’t suffer menopausal symptoms. There is a lot of controversy around the use of soy, but is can be beneficial in its fermented forms such as tofu and tempeh and we need to avoid GMO forms.
- Legumes – apart from soy phytoestrogens are found in beans, lentils and peas
- Seeds – Sesame, sunflower and linseeds
- Grains – oats, rye, corn, rice and barley
- Apple, cherry, Pomegranates, rhubarb, plum
- Carrots, potato, beetroot
- Cabbage family
- Black cohosh – a well know herbs used n traditions medicine for many years to support menopausal symptoms
- Red Clover
- Liquorice root