For cancer prevention, make room for phytoestrogens

For cancer prevention, make room for phytoestrogens – adapted from the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, July 1994

In addition to antioxidants, researchers are investigating how another food component — phytoestrogens — may play a role in health maintenance and disease prevention. Very little information exists about foods containing phytoestrogens. Now, a study published in the July 1994 issue of Journal of The American Dietetic Association shows that tofu (bean curd) and soy drinks contain a substantial amount of phytoestrogens.

What Are Phytogestrogens? Can They Help?

According to Johanna Dwyer, D.Sc., RD (registered dietitian), lead researcher of the study, “phytoestrogens are compounds found in certain plants, that when ingested, may act like hormones.”

Although the effects of phytoestrogens on long-term health are still unknown, the impact these compounds could have on reducing certain health risks looks “intriguing,” according to Dwyer.

For example, current hypotheses regarding how phytoestrogens work suggest that in premenopausal women, phytoestrogens may have an antiestrogen effect, which may help decrease the risk of breast cancer. On the other hand, in postmenopausal women who have 60% less endogenous estrogen (estrogen produced by the body) than premenopausal women, phytoestrogens may have an estrogen effect that may reduce menopausal symptoms, according to the journal article. Low estrogen levels after menopause are linked to higher incidence of osteoporosis and increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

In addition, epidemiological studies have shown that the traditional Japanese population and vegetarians — groups that eat a diet low in fat and high in phytoestrogens — have a lower incidence of breast cancer. Also, Japanese men who eat a traditional diet have a lower mortality rate from prostate cancer than do Americans.

What Foods Contain Phytoestrogens?

To date, very little information exists regarding the amount of phytoestrogens available in foods. Phytoestrogens are thought to be present in soy products that contain most or all of the bean, such as soy milk, sprouts, flour and tofu. According to results from the research, the amount of phytoestrogens in soy-based products varies greatly. “Tofu contained the highest amounts of phytoestrogens, with slight variations from brand to brand. A soy drink product contained lesser amounts, and the soy-based formulas contained negligible amounts of phytoestrogens,” Dwyer said.

Should You Eat More Phytoestrogens?

At this point, there is not enough scientific evidence available to recommend specific amounts of soy products or other phytoestrogen-containing foods in the diet. “Our best advice,” Dwyer added, “is to follow the U.S. Dietary Guidelines and the U.S.D.A. Food Guide Pyramid. If you enjoy soy products, you can use them as meat substitutes as part of a low-fat diet.”

COPYRIGHT 1994 Vegetus Publications

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group