A review published in Food and Function explores how different phytoestrogens have unique estrogenic profiles. The review focuses on the mechanisms that cause phytoestrogens to act as either agonist (estrogen) or as antagonist (anti-estrogen) towards the estrogen receptors in the human body. The review, covering three decades of research, also summarizes new findings on the dietary occurrence, bioavailability, and metabolism of phytoestrogens.
Phytoestrogens are found in many plants and primarily belong to the class of isoflavonoids. The most commonly known subclass of the isoflavonoids is isoflavones, of which soybeans are considered one of the most significant dietary sources. Based on their estrogenic activity and health benefits, phytoestrogens can be referred to as selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs). This is due to the observation that different phytoestrogens can have tissue-specific estrogenic activity. It is the SERM effect that could be responsible for the health benefits attributed to phytoestrogens, such as menopausal symptom relief, as well as bone and breast health.
“Research has shown that the estrogenic mechanisms in the body are very complex,” said Rudy Simons, co-author and R&D Manager at Frutarom. “However, it appears that the molecular structure of phytoestrogens play a big role in the in vitro estrogenic activity as well as the type of clinical health benefits. Although their activity profiles are similar, they are not the same. For example, phytoestrogens from soy are associated with improved bone health and menopausal health, phytoestrogens from flax can delay the onset benign prostate hyperplasia (BPH) and hair loss, and licorice phytoestrogens are particularly associated with chemoprevention. These differences in bioactivity possibly originate from the activation of different mechanisms.”
This offers interesting possibilities concerning the development of unique, tailor-made phytoestrogen-rich extracts with a specific SERM-like activity profiles.