Isoflavones are compounds with action similar to estrogens, but what do they really consist of and what are their main functions? What do they do in our body?
The estrogens are considered a steroid sex hormones, especially women, who are mainly produced not only by the ovaries but also by the adrenal glands. The man also possesses estrogens (like progesterone) but in a smaller quantity.
They are mainly responsible for the development of secondary sexual characteristics of women, such as the growth of the breasts, the appearance of menstruation and the widening of the hips.
For this reason, they tend to appear in greater quantities during puberty, when their production increases, and the maturation of the uterus, fallopian tubes, endometrium and vagina is stimulated. Then, its level certainly remains stable until the arrival of menopause, just when there is a significant decrease.
While estrogens are endogenous hormones (that is, they are produced by our own body), we can also find other hormones with more or less similar action on the human body, but which are present in certain foods of plant origin.
They are known as phytoestrogens, which basically consist of chemical compounds present in some foods of plant origin, which, as we indicated, tend to exert an action in our body that is quite similar to human estrogens. But we must bear in mind something fundamental: the effects of isoflavones are less than those exerted by estrogen.
What are isoflavones?
Isoflavones are plant substances that act in the body like endogenous estrogens do (that is, those produced by the body itself). We find them mainly in soybeans, which is why they are more popularly known simply as soy isoflavones, since they are actually the main food source.
They consist of a set of compounds that we find especially in soybeans. Within the isoflavone family we can distinguish genistein, glycitein and daidzein. In fact, 100 grams of soy provides around 300 mg. of isoflavones, while other legumes tend to provide just 5 to 10 mg.
However, unlike what is thought, the isoflavones that are consumed from fermented soybeans (such as tempeh, soy sauce or tamari) are much better, since their absorption is much better.
What are the main functions of isoflavones?
Isoflavones have a double activity. For one thing, they act as estrogenic. While, on the other hand, they also have the ability to act as anti-estrogens, which is why it gives isoflavones a series of unique qualities to regulate the hormonal balance of women depending on the moment in which they are.
So, for example, we can summarize its main functions below:
- Reduces the symptoms of menopause: Specifically, it helps combat and reduce the most common and typical symptoms of climacteric, such as hot flashes, excessive sweating, headache, irritability and emotional instability, insomnia, anxiety and nervousness. Why? Mainly because isoflavones tend to compensate for the decrease in estrogens that usually occurs during this stage.
- Prevents cardiovascular diseases: By helping to reduce LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol. As you surely know, after the arrival of menopause there is a greater risk of cardiovascular problems.
- Improves calcium absorption: Thanks to the presence of saponins, useful for maintaining adequate bone density, thus helping to prevent osteoporosis.
- Improves defenses: By producing greater activity of both white blood cells and macrophages, isoflavones improve the immune system in general.
Despite all these qualities, we must bear in mind that in people who do not need estrogens, or in those who consume them in an exaggerated way, it can cause autoimmune thyroiditis or goiter, so it is advisable to consult a specialist before choosing to consume isoflavones on our behalf.