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Phytoestrogens

Sunday, 20 September 2009

phytoestrogenDepressing as it may sound, aging processes in women begin as early as in the age of 25, first slowly and then more intensively. By the age of 30, mimic lines appear, and another 10 years later, a web of fine wrinkles covers the skin around the eyes, the skin becomes dry and loses elasticity, and then, during menopause, a number of unpleasant signs emerge including fragility of bones, cardiovascular disorders and other symptoms associated with ageing. The older a woman becomes, the less estrogen her ovaries produce. This is followed by the gradual ovarian failure and subsequent depression of all body functions in general, with such symptoms as hot flushes, osteoporosis, heartaches, unstable blood pressure.

In order to normalize hormonal balance in woman's body and improve her health condition, to preserve the beauty of her skin, special preparations containing a substance similar to the estrogen produced by the woman's body are widely used in medicine and cosmetology. These are special plant extracts called phytoestrogens, phytochemicals that have properties similar to estrogens. They are bioflavonoids in the isoflavone family. The isoflavones daidzein and genistein appear to be the most important phytoestrogens yet discovered. Evidence is accruing that phytoestrogens may have protective action against diverse health disorders such as breast, bowel, and other cancers, cardiovascular disease, brain function disorders, and osteoporosis.

Today, food supplements contain various phytoestrogens. Moreover, these substances are included into the formulae of anti-ageing cosmetics products to preserve youthfulness.

In different countries, doctors and beauticians have different views on the effectiveness and safety of phytoestrogens. Some scientists believe that these synthetically produced substances can be a threat to a woman's health. At the same time, experiments proved that phytoestrogens-based drugs and preparations stimulated significant improvement in physical and mental condition of many women.

According to a recent theory, Asian women owe their beauty and longevity to the plant estrogens which are included in their daily diet. However, phytoestrogens which are hormonal substances have natural advantages and disadvantages, and their properties are still not fully researched. Phytoestrogen content varies in different foods, and may vary significantly within the same group of foods (e.g. soy beverages, tofu) depending on processing mechanisms and type of soy bean used. Legumes (in particular soybeans), whole grain cereals, and some seeds are high in phytoestrogen. A more comprehensive list of foods known to contain phytoestrogens includes: soy beans, tofu, soy beverages, linseed (flax), sesame seeds, wheat, berries, oats, barley, dried beans, lentils, yams, rice, alfalfa, mung beans, apples, carrots, pomegranates, wheat germ, soy linseed bread, ginseng, bourbon and beer, fennel and anise.

The natural estrogen found in the human body is a steroid hormone. Phytoestrogens also include steroid hormones which are called phenolic phytoestrogens, and substances which have antiestrogenic effect. The latter prevent and inhibit the development of tumors, which are stimulated by natural estrogens.

Primarily, «phytoestrogens» meant stearins, lipophilic substances found in vegetable fats. They are not synthesized in the human body, but their structure and properties are similar to those of the natural estrogens. Many doctors, biologists and researchers agree that these substances - steroid phytoestrogens - may stimulate the synthesis of collagen in the body, thereby preserving youthfulness of the skin.

However, there is a huge difference between steroid phytoestrogens extracted from plants and steroid hormones found in humans. The have nearly the same effect at concentrations of synthetic estrogen in 5000 times higher than is found in humans. Therefore, in order to achieve the desired effect, cosmetic products containing phytoestrogens are produced using the methods that help to achieve the same high concentration of the substance which is very expensive.

Phenolic phytoestrogens are hydrophilic substances that include flavones, izoflavones, flavonones and others. They are also found in plants and to achieve the desired effect, various methods of purification and concentration of these substances are required. Phytoestrogens of this class have rarely found application in cosmetology.

Unfortunately, phytoestrogens are understudied, and it may take years of research and experiments to assert their positive effect on the physical and mental health. Phytoestrogen-based products can not be used when there is a risk of cancer.

In conclusion, it is apparent that the study of phytochemicals and their effects on human health will become an ever-increasing topic in the 21st century. As our understanding of specific phytochemicals increases, there will undoubtedly be a multitude of applications that will benefit humans.

Inessa Hyder

 

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