Phytoestrogens at menopause…the good news

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Phytoestrogens often get bad or mixed press messages and people often get confused as to whether they are good for you or can lead to other health risks. Catherine O'Keefe, our expert perimenopause coach at explains.

Phytoestrogens are plant-derived compounds found in several foods, the most common known being soy and these compounds are very good in menopause.It is soy that raises the confusion and questions, there isconfusion around soy and thyroid related problems - however if you have thyroid problems you can still take isoflavones and soy products, you may find over time that your thyroid levels change and so you may need to tweak your medication with you GP, generally in a downward direction.

The key is to look at the right food is fermented soy products that are the best, not the heavily processed soya milk and other soya products - these will not give the same benefits as fermented soy and these are what cause the confusion.

The North American Menopause Society also suggests that soy isoflavones can be used as a natural alternative to HRT where the menopausal symptoms are mild in nature and primarily addresses hot flushes and night sweats. 

So how can they help in perimenopause ? 

Isoflavones are a type of phytoestrogen (or plant hormone) which are similar to human oestrogen in chemical makeup but are weaker. The oestrogen keeps everything running smoothly (like the oil in your car) and keeps your hormones balanced. The phytoestrogens copy what oestrogen did before you hit perimenopause when you had oestrogen flowing through your body at the normal levels. In addition to supporting your hormones, the ability to mimic oestrogen also gives these plant derived chemicals significant health benefits with the ability to protect you from heart disease, bone loss, osteoporosis, dementia and diabetes. 

For all these reasons it is really important to consume them throughout your day - by doing so you are in effect tricking your brain into thinking you still have the normal supply of oestrogen going through your body. When you look at your daily habits and diet make sure you include naturally occurring oestrogens to keep you symptom free during perimenopause.

The simplest sources

The best sources to use on a daily basis are flaxseeds, chickpeas (eg hummus), tofu, edamame beans, alfalfa and peanuts. I have found great frozen edamame beans in Supervalu & Asian Supermarkets at very good prices and Tesco also do dried edamame snacks. I take flaxseeds every day with my breakfast and these are easy to buy and really easy to get into your daily nutrition. 

I am often asked for top tips in perimenopause and eating phytoestrogens is always on my Top 5.

About Catherine:

Catherine O'Keeffe, health geek, homeopath, food lover, ex director financial services. Mum to three young boys. My degree in 1992 from Trinity College Dublin was in Business Studies. I worked in financial services in London, New York, India and Dublin over a period of 24 years. In 2005, I completed 4 years training to become a homeopath. During the past 3 years I have been a volunteer with Scouting Ireland.

Last year I set up health coaching consultancy (website coming soon) to help women optomise their wellbeing in their 40s and 50s, through perimenopause and menopause. Drop me a line on for more information. 

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