CAN PHYTOESTROGENS REVOLUTIONISE YOUR PERIMENOPAUSE SYMPTOM MANAGEMENT?

menopause perimenopause phytoestrogens women's health May 27, 2024

It’s only 9 AM, and it’s already been quite the day! One moment, you’re a loving mum; the next, you’re a screaming banshee. Adding to your frustration, you find yourself switching from being comfortable in your clothes to suddenly feeling hot and sweaty, desperately wanting to rip your jacket off.

So many women experience some version of these symptoms in their 40s and beyond. "Welcome to perimenopause," your friends say with a knowing nod.

But what do I say?

Just because it's common, doesn't mean it has to be your new normal! Keep reading to understand how incorporating my favourite food friends — phytoestrogens — into your diet can help.

WHAT ARE PHYTOESTROGENS?

Phytoestrogens are natural compounds found in certain plants that have a similar structure to our body's estrogen. This means they can bind to estrogen receptors on our cells, offering a milder estrogenic effect compared to our body’s own (endogenous) hormones.

Because phytoestrogens have a milder or weaker effect than our own estrogen, they are beneficial when our own estrogen is high or low. Phytoestrogens can help modulate your estrogen levels. Isn’t that fabulous?! I love this about herbs and functional foods (what we call a food that we are using as a stronger or more therapeutic medicine), that they can have this modulatory effect. And it makes them a great - safe - choice to help the body level itself out, and find it’s balance.

When estrogen is high, or in excess, phytoestrogens can bind to our cells estrogen receptors and have a milder, or weaker action on the cell. This is called competitive inhibition.

When we are in low estrogen states (like menopause) then the phytoestrogens bind to our cell’s receptors, and their mild estrogenic effect helps boost our body’s own low levels of estrogen.

This modulatory effect can provide significant relief from the classic symptoms of perimenopause, such as hot flashes, mood swings, and sleep disturbances. I have used phytoestrogen-rich foods in my own diet and with my clients for many years, with great success.

TYPES OF PHYTOESTROGENS

Phytoestrogens are not just one compound but a group of diverse plant-based molecules that can influence our hormonal health. They’re grouped based on their chemical structure and sources:

  • Isoflavones: Isoflavones are similar to oestrogen.
  • Lignans: are converted by intestinal bacteria into compounds that have oestrogenic activities.
  • Coumestans: Less common.
  • Stilbenes: Found in very small amounts, with resveratrol being the most studied, primarily present in grapes and red wine. Eat the grapes, leave the wine because it causes more irritation and problems than it helps!

THE ROLE OF PHYTOESTROGENS IN PERIMENOPAUSE

For many women, the journey through perimenopause feels like a constant battle with their bodies.

Take my client Nicci for example, who came to me feeling completely unlike her usual self - she had lost her love of life, was feeling down, battling stubborn weight gain, and experiencing lots of hot flushes and sweats that were interrupting her sleep. Nicci was doing great things with her personalised nutrition plan and what she was learning in my program, The Chaos to Calm Method, to lose weight, sleep better, and feel amazing again. But she was having some bouts of hot flushes and disturbed sleep again during a stressful period.

I asked Nicci to introduce phytoestrogen-rich foods to her meals, making sure to have at least one at each meal. Within the week she wasn’t experiencing hot flushes or disturbed sleep anymore. Now, you know I don’t believe in magic bullets or quick fixes for your health, but this certainly helped her find relief quickly, as an adjunct to what she had already been doing with her diet and lifestyle.

Phytoestrogens are very safe when consumed as part of a balanced diet, even in the long-term, and offer many other health benefits such as reducing constipation, bad cholesterol, inflammation and blood glucose levels. Incorporating phytoestrogens into your diet may help you experience fewer and less severe symptoms of menopause, especially those related to estrogen fluctuation like hot flushes, night sweats, heavy bleeding, vaginal dryness, fatigue and mood swings.

OPTIMAL SOURCES OF PHYTOESTROGENS

Incorporating phytoestrogens into your diet isn't just about adding soy products. Nuts, seeds (like my faves flaxseeds), legumes (beans and lentils), sprouts, herbal teas and some whole grains like rye, barley and oats are also excellent sources. You can see, you don’t need to look hard to find them!

Phytoestrogens are most commonly found in:

  • Soy products: such as tofu, tempeh, soy milk, and edamame predominantly contain isoflavones.
  • Nuts and Seeds: particularly flaxseeds, sesame and pumpkin seeds, almonds and walnuts, contain lignans.
  • Legumes: including lentils, chickpeas, and other beans contain lignans.
  • Whole grains: such as barley and oats contain lignans, and so do.
  • Vegetables like garlic, alfalfa, and broccoli, kale, cabbage, sweet potato and herbs like red clover tea contain coumestans and isoflavones.
  • Fruits: such as apples and berries.

These foods not only help balance hormones but also enrich your diet with fibre, minerals, and vitamins. For instance, adding 1-2 tablespoons of ground flaxseeds to your morning smoothie or porridge can kickstart your day with a phytoestrogen boost.

Other easy ways to add some phytoestrogen-rich foods to your day are:

  • Alfalfa sprouts
  • Sprinkle some nuts, seeds or edamame on your salad
  • Swap lentil or chickpea pasta with your regular wheat pasta
  • Use tofu or tempeh in your curry or casserole
  • Switch out a meat meal for legumes (beans or lentils) a couple of times per week. Or add less meat and more legumes for a phytoestrogen and budget boost!
  • Spread hummous on your sandwiches or crackers • Change up your wheat bread for a 100% rye sourdough
  • Ditch the processed breakfast cereal for rolled (or steel cut) oats

SUPPORTING YOUR GUT HEALTH WITH PHYTOESTROGENS

Phytoestrogens also play a crucial role in supporting gut health, which is vital during perimenopause. A healthy microbiome and estrobolome helps regulate estrogen levels, reducing the large fluctuations of estrogen that can contribute to perimenopause symptoms. Foods rich in phytoestrogens help nourish these beneficial gut bacteria, enhancing both digestive and hormonal health. This is good because you need a healthy gut microbiome to help activate the lignans in flaxseeds into phytoestrogens.

By adjusting your diet to include these phytoestrogen-rich foods, you're not just managing symptoms—you're taking proactive steps to enhance your overall health during perimenopause. These natural solutions empower you to regain control and improve your quality of life significantly.

ARE PHYTOESTROGENS A MAGIC BULLET FOR PERIMENOPAUSE?

Phytoestrogens offer a promising solution for managing perimenopause symptoms naturally. With their ability to mimic and modulate estrogen, they provide a gentle and safe option to help support your body, even if you’re using hormone therapies. (Please do check in with your prescribing doctor or a qualified naturopath like me, if you’re using HRT before you start adding functional foods and herbs to your diet.)

If you’re ready to dive deeper into how you can harness the power of phytoestrogens - including some bonus content on the safety of soy products and how to incorporate them safely in your diet, then please listen to the full episode of our podcast on phytoestrogens.

Remember, the key to perimenopause symptom management isn’t one thing (eg phytoestrogen-rich foods)! The key lies in a holistic approach: understanding your body, nurturing it with the right foods and lifestyle, and adjusting as needed - depending on your phase of life and stress levels/busyness.

As your hormones change, so does your approach to health need to! If you’d like to explore how The Chaos to Calm Method, featuring the power of Metabolic Balance personalised nutrition can help transform your perimenopause experience from chaos to calm, then please book a free Clarity Call.

 
 

Take control of your perimenopause journey — manage mood swings, hot flashes, and other symptoms naturally. (Yes, you have more options than hormone therapy!) 

PerimenoGO (because who wants to pause anyway?!) is the easiest way to go from perimenopause chaos to calm in just 4-weeks. You'll eat delicious, satisfying meals to support, nourish and soothe your hormones, lose weight, improve your mood and energy, and feel comfortable in your body and clothes again. 

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Is it perimenopause hormone changes or something else making you cranky, exhausted, overwhelmed, and gaining weight in your 40s?

SOLVE THE MYSTERY BEHIND YOUR SYMPTOMS WITH THE PERIMENOPAUSE DECODER

Don't keep feeling stuck and confused - download The Perimenopause Decoder now and get clear on what's behind how you're feeling.