Are Naturally Occuring Hormones in Food Good or Bad ?

Hormones are little molecules in our body that regulate multiple functions . Any deviation from the average can be deleterious.The right balance of hormones is essential to healthy living. But it is easier said than done. Just like any other balance , maintaining adequate levels of hormones is a tricky challenge even for apparently healthy bodies.

Diabetes Mellitus, Hypothryroidism, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome are some of the common disorders due to hormonal imbalance.

But did you know there are Endocrine Disrupters in the environment which can upset this delicate and much-needed equilibrium.

Many common substances are endocrine active – sugar, caffeine and plant-based estrogens such as soy protein,goitrogens in cabbage,  for example – but they do not usually cause harm at doses commonly consumed. Such substances could become endocrine disruptors, however, if people are exposed to them at unusually high levels.

The likelihood that an endocrine disruptor will cause harmful effects is based on its dosage, frequency and duration.

Since this topic is highly controversial and is still undergoing extensive research, the aim of this article is to generate awareness so that consumers can exercise caution.

Here we will discuss the most commonly accused Endocrine Active Substance Phytoestrogens -the naturally occurring Plant based Estrogen-like compound in our daily diet.

Estrogen is the hormone responsible for fertility in females. Its spike in teen years triggers puberty, fluctuation in the balance of estrogen and progesterone are responsible for various bodily changes of menstrual cycle and its gradual downfall eventually leads to menopause.

Phytoestrogens act like-estrogen and against-estrogen in a complex manner.

Foods rich in Phytoestrogens

  • Soybean and its products; including Soy milk, Tofu, Tempeh and Soy based Infant Milk Formula ( Read more about Soy milk here)
  • Flax Seeds
  • Oats
  • Sesame Seeds
  • Yam
  • Barley
  • Legumes such as Chickpeas , lentils
  • Alfalfa
  • Wheat Germ
  • Fruits like apple, carrots and pomegranate

How are Phytoestrogens good for you?

  • Allay symptoms of menopause
  • Good for heart health and prevent atherosclerosis
  • Increases Libido
  • Improves bone health and prevents osteoporosis
  • Positive effects in prevention of certain cancers like breast and ovarian. (topic under research)

How are Phytoestrogens bad for you?

  • Impair fertility in females
  • Decrease sperm count in males
  • Worsen Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
  • May fasten the onset of puberty in young girls which makes them more likely to develop breast cancer and uterine cancer later in life
  • Delay puberty in young boys
  • May lead to Gynaecomastia ( Male Breast Enlargement)
  • May stimulate growth of hormone sensitive cells of breast cancer in already diseased individual and also decrease the effect of tamoxifen ,a drug given in Breast cancer treatment. (topic under research)
  • Women who are pregnant, nursing, or attempting to become pregnant should use such foods with caution

So next time, Reconsider before  

  • Including hummus or tahini in your kid’s daily diet 
  • Gorging on Tofu regularly
  • Stacking up your supply of soy milk as an apparent health drink
  • Making flax seed your morning health routine. 

Be cautious when including these in the diet of your <15 year old children .

Try them to ease your menopausal symptoms if you are >50 years . 

If you are between 15 to 50 years of age, moderation is the key . 

I will be covering topics like ‘Precocious Puberty in children’ and ‘Harmful Substances in Our Food’ in my upcoming posts.

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