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Phytoestrogens and menopause

Why soya might help your hot flushes and other troublesome menopausal symptoms...

Phytoestrogens refer to plant based ‘oestrogen’ occurring naturally in plants. They have a similar structure to our own body oestrogen. They are able to bind to the same receptors that our own oestrogen does. This can vary depending on oestrogen environment, so being in your reproductive years or menopausal with lower oestrogen.

But this goes back to physiology basics… it all depends on how they bind to an ‘individuals’ specific oestrogen receptor, this can vary for each woman.

During perimenopause or postmenopause when the body's oestrogen is low, phytoestrogens may help ease the symptoms of low oestrogen in about 1 in 3 women. This is because about a third of the population has the specific gut bacteria that can metabolise the isoflavones (a type of phytoestrogen) in soy to a more potent phytoestrogen called equol. The amount of isoflavones needed daily to achieve therapeutic effects is contained in about 200g of tofu, or 100g of tempeh.

Eating foods rich in phytoestrogens is nutritious. It can provide protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals. The effect of phytoestrogens on menopausal hot flushes varies between individuals, as only a third to a half of individuals have the gut bacteria to convert phytoestrogens for the body to use. There is evidence phytoestrogens can help with bone and cardiovascular health by boosting soy based foods and supplements.

However, this is not recommended for women with a high risk of breast cancer, or who have had breast cancer.

Foods high in phytoestrogen:

There are three groups:

Isoflavones (found in soy and other legumes such as chickpeas, mung beans and alfalfa)

Coumestans (found in alfalfa and clover sprouts, and sprouted legumes such as mung beans and soy sprouts)

Lignans (found in linseed, grains and vegetables)

Soy products


soy beans



whole soybean soy milk

soy drinks






rice bran


wheat germ

Seeds and nuts


sesame seeds

sunflower seeds






red kidney beans


mung beans

split peas

How much soy contains 50mg of isoflavones? 50mg of soy isoflavones =

About 200g tofu, 100-150g of tempeh, 3 cups of whole bean soy milk, 100g of cooked/canned soybeans

Not all soy milks are fortified with calcium. If your brand does not have 120mg of calcium per 100ml or higher, a calcium supplement might be a good plan.

Eating a diet with moderate amounts of whole soy foods such as tofu, soy beans and breads made from soy flour is healthy. Avoid highly processed soy foods and soy based supplements, they work differently to soy found in nature.

Some ideas to eat some lovely soya:

Add tofu to a stir fry - I like Clear Spring Tofu, then sprinkle sesame seeds over

Linseed crackers with 1/4 cup of hummus

Miso soup

Vegetable & soya bean soup

Low fat soy milk smoothie with flaxseed oil, apple & pear

Tempeh burgers & a salad with sunflower seeds sprinkled over

Dark rye toast with lentil dip

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