The pros and cons of phytoestrogens

Front Neuroendocrinol. 2010 Oct;31(4):400-19. doi: 10.1016/j.yfrne.2010.03.003. Epub 2010 Mar 27.


Phytoestrogens are plant derived compounds found in a wide variety of foods, most notably soy. A litany of health benefits including a lowered risk of osteoporosis, heart disease, breast cancer, and menopausal symptoms, are frequently attributed to phytoestrogens but many are also considered endocrine disruptors, indicating that they have the potential to cause adverse health effects as well. Consequently, the question of whether or not phytoestrogens are beneficial or harmful to human health remains unresolved. The answer is likely complex and may depend on age, health status, and even the presence or absence of specific gut microflora. Clarity on this issue is needed because global consumption is rapidly increasing. Phytoestrogens are present in numerous dietary supplements and widely marketed as a natural alternative to estrogen replacement therapy. Soy infant formula now constitutes up to a third of the US market, and soy protein is now added to many processed foods. As weak estrogen agonists/antagonists with molecular and cellular properties similar to synthetic endocrine disruptors such as Bisphenol A (BPA), the phytoestrogens provide a useful model to comprehensively investigate the biological impact of endocrine disruptors in general. This review weighs the evidence for and against the purported health benefits and adverse effects of phytoestrogens.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / growth & development
  • Breast Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Diethylstilbestrol / adverse effects
  • Endocrine Disruptors / adverse effects*
  • Endocrine Disruptors / pharmacology
  • Female
  • Genitalia / drug effects
  • Genitalia / growth & development
  • Heart Diseases / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Menopause / drug effects
  • Menstrual Cycle / drug effects
  • Mice
  • Osteoporosis / prevention & control
  • Phytoestrogens / adverse effects*
  • Phytoestrogens / pharmacology
  • Puberty / drug effects
  • Rats
  • Sexual Behavior / drug effects
  • Soybean Proteins / adverse effects
  • Soybean Proteins / pharmacology


  • Endocrine Disruptors
  • Phytoestrogens
  • Soybean Proteins
  • Diethylstilbestrol