Estrogen is a group of hormones that control the development and maintenance of bodily functions. Estrogen is produced in the ovaries and is essential for the reproductive and menstrual health of one’s body.
Estrogen is commonly understood as a sex hormone, meaning it contributes mostly to reproductive and gender specific functions. However, it’s not widely known that estrogen does a lot more than that! This hormone plays a role in maintaining your urinary tract, the heart, blood vessels, bones, skin, hair, mucous membranes and the brain!
Sex hormone? More like smart hormone
A study out of Berkeley University found that women with higher levels of estrogen also had higher levels of dopamine. High levels of dopamine help your brain make cognitive decisions at an accelerated rate, additionally having less dopamine can lead to minor cognitive impairment.1 For example in one study women who had more estrogen also had more dopamine and practiced better cognitive thought processes compared to those who did not have high levels of estrogen. This tells us two things:
- There’s likely a connection between dopamine and estrogen stores
- Dopamine leads to increased cognitive abilities
So more estrogen could mean mental super powers!! Or more realistically improved mental alertness and productivity.
Soy & estrogen
Estrogen is soy good for you, right? There’s some controversy around soy products and estrogen. Soy products contain phytoestrogens which can bind to the estrogen receptor in breast epithelial cells, which could further develop cancerous cells.2 This is also believed to cause hormone disruption as the phytoestrogens are mimicking the natural estrogen your body would produce.2 But wait! Before you start burning all of your tofu, listen up! Some experts explain soy consumption should not be flagged and dangerous, as many different factors are at play.
For instance, historically Asian populations have much lower risks of cardiovascular disease, obesity and breast cancer compared to North American’s. It’s important to note soy foods have always been a crucial part of the traditional Asian diet. Knowing this information, connections were made that linked ingesting soy products and having a higher immunity against cancerous cells.3 Again, researchers are not advising North Americans to load up on soy products, as our food systems are very different. Heavily refined soy foods will not give your body the same benefits as a whole food, organic, fermented soy product like tempeh. A comparison to this would be like believing a prepackaged salad from a store will give you the same health benefits as eating an organic salad that you freshly picked from your own garden. Very extreme differences.
Unfortunately results are still very scattered. One review summarizes that there have been studies that effectively provide evidence that soy products can prevent the development of breast cancer, others have shown the promotion of cancerous cells.2 It’s important to understand that nutrients and compounds in food react differently in everyone’s body. It all depends on your gut health, genetics and overall health/lifestyle.
The sad truth is with soy being used in many processed and packaged foods in North America, it’s even more crucial to stick to a diet rich in organic, whole foods. Some researches even state that soy products should be consumed in as much moderation as alcohol or caffeine.4 This can be tough for vegetarians and vegans, but there are plenty of other plant based protein options. For more information read: Everything you need to know about plant based protein written by our in house Holistic Nutritionist, Kari Fraser, CNP (Hons).
*Siren noises* Watch out for fraudsters!
It’s important to know that many trialed studies have been fully or partially funded by companies who manufacture soy products.4 When looking for information online, always think critically about who would benefit from you reading this information. Here at Pranin Organic we try to solely include medical reviewed studies by established doctors, scientists or educational establishments. Sadly, there are biases everywhere people! Not every study out there is a scam, but in case you haven’t heard the internet isn’t always the best resource. Speak to your healthcare practitioner about soy foods so you’re able to get recommendations that are tailored to your own health history. Unless your practitioner has a side business producing tofu and soy milk, then you should be gaining an unbiased opinion.
Preparing for menopause
Just like PB & J or vegan wine and plant-based cheese, estrogen and progesterone are two key hormones that work better together! Your body needs these two in balanced amounts to sustain it’s natural functions. Naturally after menopause both of these hormones stop getting produced, and overtime there is a decline of estrogen and progesterone. Having a depletion like this can cause lots of problems; mood swings, memory loss, stress, anxiety, heart problems and bone fractures.5
Even though some of these side effects are unavoidable, you can take action and live a more holistic lifestyle to mitigate the intensity of these symptoms.
There is a correlation between those who eat a plant-based diet having less intense symptoms during menopause.6 The reason this occurs is because high fat, low fibre diets increase the production of estrogen. Going back to the study in the previous section, demographically people who reside in Asian countries tend to have more fibre and less processed fats in their diet. For this reason, researchers believe Asian women have lower estrogen levels due to eating soy products as their main protein source, and consuming more plant foods. This results in these women having lower levels of estrogen before menopause, so when their ovaries naturally stop producing estrogen, they don’t experience as much of a drop as women who are on a standard American diet.6 This gives reason behind a study that found roughly 80% of women examined who resided in China, Japan and Singapore reported having no hot flashes. Where as only 25% of women in the US reported not having any hot flashes.7,8,9,10 Aside from reducing consumption of meat and dairy, regular aerobic exercise is believed to help your body transition into menopause.11
What about soy consumption for men?
Rest assured soy eaters! Whether you identify as male, female or neither, you are safe to consume organic, whole food soy products in moderation. Those with male sex organs will naturally have different hormones than people who do not, however the myth around soy affecting a male’s fertility has been busted.12 One study found men who consumed 40-70mg of soy a day, showed little or no affect on their fertility.12 This is not nearly enough evidence to support the claims made by illegitimate medical news websites/organizations. So if you’re using soybeans as a form of birth control, you may want to reconsider
To Soy or not to Soy
I am soy over this debate. Eat whole organic foods and you’ll be fine Karen!! Don’t rely on realdoctor.com to make your food choices for you, book a one way ticket to Asia and live your best life! Just kidding, Asia is slowly becoming more westernized so you won’t find soy serenity there.
Maybe just eat what makes you feel good and listen to your body? Organic, plant based, whole foods will help regulate your hormone levels, and unprocessed soy foods are great to add to your diet, if you don’t have allergies of course. Our favorite local and organic tempeh company is Tempea, but there are other organic options for soy foods. Stay away from the refined packaged stuff, and you’ll be fine!
4 Pros and cons of soy https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3074428/
7 Ho SC, Chan SG, Yip YB, Cheng A, Yi Q, Chan C. Menopausal symptoms and symptom clustering in Chinese women. Maturitas. 1999;33(3):219-27.
8 Chim H, Tan BH, Ang CC, Chew EM, Chong YS, Saw SM. The prevalence of menopausal symptoms in a community in Singapore. Maturitas. 2002;41(4):275-282.
9 Melby MK. Vasomotor symptom prevalence and language of menopause in Japan. Menopause. 2005;12(3):250-257.
10 Utian WH. Psychosocial and socioeconomic burden of vasomotor symptoms in menopause: a comprehensive review. Health Qual Life Outcomes. 2005;3:47
11 Fugate SE, Church CO. Nonestrogen treatment modalities for vasomotor symptoms associated with menopause. Ann Pharmacother. 2004;38(9):1482-99. Epub August 3, 2004.
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