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Phytoestrogens and Breast Cancer

POSTED BY Pink Ribbon Cooking / May 27, 2014

Pink Ribbon Cooking

Phytoestrogens and Breast Cancer

Phytoestrogens, a group of food-based compounds commonly associated with soy products and available in oral supplements, are connected with a wide range of health benefits, including lowered risks of breast cancer, heart disease, and symptoms of menopause. Some research indicates potential downsides to the introduction of phytoestrogens to a diet when taken in supplement form – none of which are currently regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.

Let’s take a closer look at phytoestrogens, where they are found, and some of the current research.

When broken down into their most common components, phytoestrogens (the subject of numerous studies about whether or not they actually act like an estrogen in the body or not) can be found in the following foods:

Polyphenols (notably resveratrol): grape skin and red wine.

Flavonoids: citrus fruits and juices, parsley, celery, capsicum pepper, kale, broccoli, onions, tomatoes, lettuce, apples, grapes, red wine, chocolate, green tea, beans, apricots, cherries, and berries.

Lettuce Sleds with Lime Sriracha Dressing

Isoflavonoids: soy beans and legumes (kidney beans, lentils, chick peas), clover, alfalfa, spinach.

Chickpeas & White Beans

Most of us already consume phytoestrogens from a well-balanced diet containing fruits, vegetables and legumes, as well as soy products and/or soy-derived foods such as soy beans, soy milk, and isolated soy protein. The consumption of foods forming a healthy diet (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins, including soy and other phytoestrogen-containing foods) has been shown to decrease the risk of some breast cancers.

Tabbouleh   Chocolate Dipped Apricots with Sea Salt   Red Wine Pasta

“Introducing phytoestrogens as part of a healthy diet via the food stream, as tolerated by the individual, is appropriate at almost any stage of the cancer journey from diagnosis to survivorship,” says Deb Downes, outpatient clinical dietitian at the Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Connecticut Health Center.

According to Downes, the phytoestrogen isoflavone found in soy has been shown in observational studies to prevent breast cancer and to also possibly protect against recurrence. The current recommendation is to consume no more than 1-2 servings of whole soy foods (whole soy foods are those which utilize the entire bean in its natural state) daily (up to 110 mg of isoflavones), even while under treatment. One serving equals 8 ounces of soy milk, 4 oz. of tofu or tempeh or ½ c of edamame (green soy beans), or 1 TB ground flaxseed.

But, Downes notes that isoflavone, whose chemical structure looks like estrogen but is not, has also been identified as a possible concern for breast cancer patients. Ultimately more research is necessary. One recommendation shared by the American Cancer Society, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and the American Institute of Cancer research is to get your nutrition from whole foods – foods that are unprocessed and unrefined, or processed and refined as little as possible – not supplements.

“The recommendation is to eat a plant-based diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, lean proteins such as chicken and fish, and use unsaturated fats for fat sources, avoiding saturated fats,” Downes says. “In other words, a healthy diet that should be followed by everyone.”


John Lahtinen is a Connecticut-based freelance writer and editor who has written about policy, personalities, trends and new technology in the healthcare arena.

Follow him on Twitter @JohnLahtinen.