Phytoestrogens for Perimenopause

Jul 07, 2024
Example Images of Some Phytoestrogens
Perimenopause can be challenging due to fluctuating hormones and symptoms. Phytoestrogens, plant-based compounds, offer a natural alternative for symptom relief.

Phytoestrogens for Perimenopause

The perimenopausal transition can be exhilarating as women let go of old patterns and embrace their new roles. However, for most women, the transition isn’t easy and is marked with uncomfortable symptoms and a rollercoaster of emotions.

In recent years, perimenopause has become a household word. More women are talking about it, more practitioners are getting hormone training, and books, podcasts, and news media all help to reduce the stigma and keep the conversation going.

Unlike past generations, women today have many tools to ease symptoms. We no longer have to suffer in silence and believe that poor health or quality of life is just a part of getting older.

One such tool for perimenopause support is phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens can bind to estrogen receptors and ease menopausal symptoms. Yet, they continue to remain controversial in some circles despite the high safety profile.

Today’s article will dive into the topic of phytoestrogens and how you can use them during your perimenopausal transition. We’ll shed some new light on the following:

  • What are phytoestrogens?
  • Examples of phytoestrogen foods and herbs
  • The use of phytoestrogens in perimenopause
  • Best practices for use

What Are Phytoestrogens?

Phytoestrogens are plant estrogens, weak estrogen-like compounds widespread in plants, including fruits, vegetables, legumes, seeds, and medicinal herbs. Phytoestrogens likely evolved as a survival or protection tool plants by having effects on animals and humans.

Medicinal herbs containing phytoestrogens have a long history of use in traditional medicine and were officially discovered in the late 1800s. Since then, scientists have isolated and studied various phytoestrogen compounds and their health benefits, including for managing perimenopausal symptoms.

Humans have estrogen receptors throughout the body that play a significant role in physiology; they are involved in reproduction, metabolism, digestion, mood, cognition, bone formation, cardiovascular health, and more. Phytoestrogens can bind to estrogen receptors in the body; they bind more weakly than the estradiol the body makes, but nonetheless, the binding leads to cellular changes.

Phytoestrogens are also selective about what receptors they bind to, typically binding to estrogen receptor beta over the alpha receptor. Many phytoestrogens also interact with a third receptor, the GPER receptor.

It’s also important to note that some phytoestrogens need to be activated by the gut microbiome to have effects in the body and not everyone’s microbiome is good at this.

Phytoestrogen Examples

The most studied phytoestrogens are the isoflavones found in soy. Other examples of phytoestrogens include lignans (high in flaxseeds), coumestans (in alfalfa and clover), and resorcylic acid lactones (made by the fungi that grow on grains and legumes).

While soy and flax contain high amounts of phytoestrogens, phytoestrogens are widespread in plant foods at lower amounts. For example, most beans contain 10 to 100 times less phytoestrogens than soy.

Foods containing phytoestrogens include:

  • Legumes – mung, pinto, lentils, chickpeas, peanuts
  • Grains – barley, rye, oats, sorghum
  • Kudzu root
  • Sesame seeds
  • Red grapes
  • Pomegranates
  • Garlic

Another source of phytoestrogens is medicinal herbs. Along with isoflavones from soy, you’ll often find these as the source of phytoestrogens in supplements:

  • Pueraria mirifica
  • Black cohosh
  • Hops
  • Siberian rhubarb
  • Red clover
  • Fennel
  • Fenugreek
  • Sage

Perimenopause and Phytoestrogens

Perimenopause, the transition to menopause, is when women see the most symptoms related to fluctuating and eventually declining hormones (estrogen and progesterone). Perimenopausal symptoms include sleep disturbances, mood changes, and vasomotor symptoms (hot flashes and night sweats). As perimenopause hits menopause (the one-year mark without a period) and into post-menopause, a woman’s risk for osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, and other chronic diseases rises.

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is the standard of care and the best option for perimenopausal symptom relief for many women. Scientists are also discovering HRT may support long-term health and disease prevention. However, some women aren’t good candidates for HRT or may prefer natural, non-hormonal remedies to ease the perimenopausal transition. Phytoestrogens are the most popular alternative to HRT.

Phytoestrogens bind to estrogen receptors (as discussed above) and have a modulating effect. In early perimenopause, where estrogen levels are fluctuating, phytoestrogens have a balancing effect. During high estrogen, the phytoestrogens displace some estrogen at the receptors and lessen the cellular response. Conversely, when estrogen levels are low (as in late perimenopause and post-menopause), phytoestrogen binding promotes more of a cellular response.

In this way, phytoestrogens help with symptoms of both high and low estrogen, but they do not increase estrogen levels in the body as HRT does.

The health benefits of phytoestrogen in perimenopause (and beyond) can include:

  • Reduction of perimenopausal symptoms, primarily vasomotor symptoms
  • Prevention of bone loss; improvement of bone mineral density
  • Improvement of cardiovascular risk markers

Phytoestrogens are safe and don’t show any harmful effects on the breast, uterine lining (endometrium), or colon. Newer research on soy specifically suggests phytoestrogens may be protective against breast cancer.

How to Use Phytoestrogens for Perimenopause Support

Phytoestrogens are a natural and beneficial part of consuming a diet rich in varied, colorful plant foods. And the benefits of a plant-rich whole-food diet go well beyond phytoestrogens.

Perhaps the easiest way to consume phytoestrogens is through the rich food sources like soy and flax. Frequent or daily consumption of whole soy foods, such as edamame, tofu, and tempeh, may help reduce vasomotor symptoms. Avoid highly processed soy products and soy-based meat alternatives, and always choose organic soy to avoid herbicides and GMOs.

Flaxseeds offer a helpful alternative for women who are allergic or sensitive to soy. Add one to two tablespoons of ground flax to smoothies or meals daily.

Beyond food, consider a concentrated phytoestrogen supplement for supporting perimenopausal symptoms and health in the post-menopause years, especially for women not using HRT. Your TārāMD team can help you identify the best phytoestrogen supplement to meet your needs.

You likely won’t see immediate results with phytoestrogens and will need to take them consistently for four to six weeks before assessing your progress. Tracking your symptoms can be helpful along the way. With phytoestrogens, you may not always get a complete resolution of symptoms but may notice a decrease in the frequency and intensity of hot flashes, for example.

Finally, you don’t need to limit perimenopause support to phytoestrogens alone. They are one tool in a vast toolkit and will likely work better when you address nutrition, exercise, sleep, stress management, and other lifestyle factors concurrently. You can also use other supplements along with phytoestrogens to support perimenopause symptoms and robust future health. Consider adrenal support, antioxidants, metabolic support, and others.

While perimenopause can feel like a rollercoaster, it’s also a time with many positives. Phytoestrogens and other supportive strategies can help you navigate the transition with more comfort and ease, allowing more bandwidth to focus on the things you love.

At TārāMD, we offer personalized integrative women’s healthcare. Your treatment plan is as unique as you, and if you want to try phytoestrogens, we’re here to guide and support you!



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