Soy and Other Phytoestrogens

Soybeans (Glycine max) are protein-rich legumes widely grown around the world as a food crop. They are the major dietary source of isoflavones, which are broken down in the intestine into the phytoestrogens genis-

tein and daidzein. It is believed that the lower risk of breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, and osteoporosis in Asian women is partly due to their high soy diet, since these benefits are lost when they adopt Western dietary habits. Flaxseed, from flax (Linum usitatissimum), is the source of another type of phytoestrogen, lignan, as well as linolenic acid and omega-3 fatty acids. Red clover (Trifolium pratense) contains isoflavones as well as coumarin and produces effects somewhat similar to those of diethylstilbestrol. The negative effect of red clover on sheep fertility threatened the economy in New Zealand at one time.

Perhaps the most marketed herbal phytoestrogen is black cohosh, or black snakeroot (Cimicifuga race-mosa), a tall woodland perennial with white torchlike flowers native to eastern North America. The rhizome contains triterpene glycosides and many other ingredients that appear to have phytoestrogenic effects. Other traditional herbs sometimes promoted as phytoestro-gens, such as dong quai (Angelica sinensis), have little medical evidence to support their use.

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