For women, estrogen can have both positive and negative effects. Ideally, a selective estrogen receptor modulator would deliver pro-estrogenic effects on, say, bones, and anti-estrogenic effects on, say, breast tissue. Phytoestrogens, compounds found in plants such as soybeans, appear capable of doing exactly this. The reason is that there are two different types of estrogen receptors in the body. Soy operates on “beta” while human estrogen operates on “alpha.” This ultimately means that consuming soy can avoid some of the negatives associated with estrogen pills, such as increased endometrial cancer.
- The Women’s Health Initiative found that hormone replacement therapy — although beneficial for bone health and some other things — can raise the risk of breast cancer and other serious conditions.
- Certain plant compounds, such as one found in soy, can act as selective estrogen receptor modulators, causing pro-estrogenic effects in some places and anti-estrogenic effects elsewhere.
- Genistein, the phytoestrogen found in soy beans, avoids the risk of blood clots by circumventing the alpha estrogen receptors in the liver.
“The existence of this newly discovered estrogen receptor, named “estrogen receptor beta…to distinguish it from the ‘classical’ estrogen receptor alpha,” may be the “key to understanding the health-protective potential of soy” phytoestrogens.”