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Possible health impact of phytoestrogens and xenoestrogens in food

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Plants produce estrogen-like substances, denominated phytoestrogens, which are present in many human foodstuffs. The consumption of phytoestrogens has been associated with a variety of protective effects. Their relative estrogenic potency combined with their concentrations in food and human plasma indicate biological relevance. However, their biological properties differ from those of estradiol or other endogenous estrogens in humans. For instance, their possible effects on SHBG, inhibition of steroid metabolizing enzymes, anti-proliferative and anti-angiogenetic and other side effects have been described. Furthermore, phytoestrogens can exert estrogenic and antiestrogenic activities at the same time and their potency and metabolism have not been yet elucidated in all cases. In recent decades growing evidence has accumulated on the hormone-like effects of synthetic chemicals that appeared in the environment. The possible impact of xenoestrogens, to which humans are also exposed through the food chain, needs to be further clarified as well. The molecular effects and control mechanisms of these substances, their pharmacokinetics, threshold levels and dose-response differences are issues that require further research before a full assessment of their effect on humans can be drawn. Evaluating the total exposure and impact of this estrogenic effect is very challenging because of the lack of specific knowledge in some areas and the differences in the biological activity among these substances, as pinpointed in this review.

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Keywords: Phytoestrogens; food exposure; xenoestrogens

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Institute for Prospective Technological Studies; Joint Research Centre (EC), Isla de la Cartuja s/n, E-41092 Seville, Spain and 2: Institute of Physiology, Technical University Munich-Weihenstephan, D-85350 Freising-Weihenstephan, Germany

Publication date: 01 March 2001

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