Phytoestrogens are naturally-occurring plant chemicals that can act like the female hormone estrogen, when animals or humans eat plant foods that contain high levels of phytoestrogens.
Any list of endocrine disrupters or environmental estrogens should include phytoestrogens. However, the recent controversy about endocrine disruptors has centered around synthetic chemicals in the environment that can interfere with the normal reproductive functioning of humans and animals, rather than naturally-occurring estrogenic substances in food plants. Compounds such as the insecticide, DDT and industrial PCBs have been implicated as causing some estrogen-dependent cancers, as well as fertility problems in humans and animals. These compounds tend to bioaccumulate in the body, whereas phytoestrogens are quickly metabolized and eliminated from the body. For more information on PCB's see PCB Contamination of Food.
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Prepared Summer 1997 by Bernadene Magnuson, Ph.D.
University of Idaho, Dept. of Food Science and Toxicology - EXTOXNET FAQ Team.