Despite the benefits of conventional hormone replacement therapy, some women are not candidates for this treatment and many others choose not to take it. As a result, there is growing interest among patients about natural alternatives. There is some evidence that phytoestrogens may offer protection against a wide range of human conditions, including breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, brain dysfunction, osteoporosis, and menopausal symptoms. The literature on the possible health benefits of phytoestrogens has expanded exponentially since the 1980s, mainly in response to funding initiatives by the U.S. government and soybean industries, and more lately by European and UK Ministries of Food. The physiological effects of phytoestrogens also have created a marketing opportunity that has been used by industry, particularly in soybean-producing countries such as the U.S. and Australia. Nevertheless, clinical applications for phytoestrogens are still in their infancy, and more interventional trials are required to reach definitive conclusions regarding their efficacy and safety, although they appear to represent a promising group of compounds, which may be useful in the future for the treatment of the menopausal syndrome. Also, the lack of clinical data presently available must signal caution in relation to the possible risk of adverse effects.
Target audience: Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Family Physicians.
Learning objectives: After completion of this article, the reader will be able to identify the various types of phytoestrogens, list the sources of phytoestrogens, and summarize the various effects of phytoestrogens.