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What is the Relationship Between Soy and Estrogen?

By Erin J. Hill
Updated Feb 08, 2024
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Soy and estrogen are related because soybeans contain a plant form of the hormone. Known as isoflavones , these phyto-estrogens are similar to those produced by the human body, although they are typically much weaker and thus do not cause as much of a response. The debate on whether soy-based estrogen results in infertility, certain cancers, and other disorders has not been resolved.

There is some evidence linking soy and estrogen consumption from eating soy-rich foods and the rise in infertility. While estrogen is needed for reproductive health, too much can lead to a host of gynecological problems. Studies are conflicting on whether or not soy has much of an impact on reproductive health in both men and women. Although the majority of research shows very little impact on the majority of individuals who eat or drink soy products in moderation, it may be beneficial to avoid soy for those who have issues with fertility.

Despite potential drawbacks, soy and estrogen can also be good for the body. There is some evidence to suggest that eating soy in moderation may help to alleviate menopausal symptoms and reduce the risk of certain cancers. That said, other links have been made between high soy consumption and breast cancer risk, so those at high risk for developing breast cancer should enjoy soy in extreme moderation. Additionally, consumers should speak with a doctor about any troubling symptoms they may be having.

Some debate has also been raised on the use of soy infant formulas, especially in infant boys. While studies are inconclusive on the impact phyto-estrogens in high enough enough quantities may have on the male body, many argue that it makes sense that estrogen could affect male fertility. Infants are sometimes given high amounts of soy in comparison to their body size and weight, since formula fed babies are given the formula as their main food source for the first year of life. For these reasons, soy formula should only be used once milk versions have been tried. Mothers who are breastfeeding may wish to avoid soy products.

The full relationship between soy and estrogen is not entirely understood. That said, there are many nations who eat soybeans and their byproducts as a main food staple, and birth rates are no lower than in nations who eat much less soy. Breast cancer rates are also generally not any higher than in countries who eat very little soy products.

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Discussion Comments
By anon343200 — On Jul 28, 2013

I don't think there's anything to worry about if you have a balanced diet with cruciferous vegetables. Diindolylmethane from eating cruciferous greens will metabolize unwanted estrogen.

By SarahGen — On Mar 14, 2013

I think the connection between soy, estrogen and cancer is far from proven. Some scientists say that even though soy has isoflavones, it also has other compounds that help protect against cancer.

I've also heard that these phyto-estrogens are not as dangerous if the soy product is fermented. You would need to consume a lot of soy to see its estrogen-like effects.

By donasmrs — On Mar 13, 2013

@fBoyle-- I think that almost all soy in the world is genetically modified now. Last I heard, it was about 99% of it.

It's not that soy has estrogen but isoflavones act like estrogen in the body. I would advise against using a lot of soy products, especially if you're post-menopause.

I try to avoid it even though I'm young. My mother who is in menopause is not allowed to have soy at all because she has a cyst in her breast. Estrogen can cause cysts to develop into cancer and it can also cause cancer to spread. That's why it has to be avoided in such cases.

By fBoyle — On Mar 13, 2013

Do all soy products have a plant form of estrogen? I thought it was just genetically modified soy that has estrogen in it.

I eat a lot of tofu and soy milk. I want to know if I'm at risk.

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