Oestrogenic chemicals produced naturally
by plants are called phytoestrogens (Hopert et al., 1998). They
are present in low levels in many plants, and some are anti-oestrogens
(IEH, 1995). It is believed that consumption of plants with anti-oestrogenic
phytoestrogens may reduce the risk of breast cancer. The UK Institute
for Environment and Health report concludes:
"Taking into account the lifelong exposure to phytoestrogens,
it is probable that the potential adverse properties are more
than counterbalanced by the anti-oestrogenic and other benefits
of eating a high plant food diet".
The chemical industry is very keen to emphasise the existence
of phytoestrogens, sometimes even claiming that their anti-oestrogenic
effect will, by some remarkable coincidence of concentration
and activity, cancel out any oestrogenic effects of their chemicals.
It is important to remember that humanity, and the organisms
we evolved from, have been exposed to phytoestrogens for tens
of millions of years, and so are likely to have evolved methods
of degrading and detoxifying them in most circumstances. This
is not true of the new man-made hormone disrupters.
Concerns about infant formulae
There are, however, concerns about the
use of soya-based infant foods, as these are not a natural part
of our diet, and could be having a negative effect. The UK Department
of Health advice is:
1) babies being fed soya-based formulae
on the advice of a doctor, health visitor or other health care
professional should continue to be given it;
2) parents who have not been advised but
have chosen to give their baby soya- based formulae should continue
to feed their baby on the formulae but seek advice from their
doctor, health visitor or other health care professional;
3) breast feeding is the best way of feeding
infants and can help prevent allergies. Infant formulae provide
an alternative source of nutrition and formulae based on cow's
milk are preferable for most bottle-fed babies (DOH, 1996).
This advice was re-iterated in September
1998, following a UK Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
survey of plant oestrogens in soya-based infant formula (MAFF,
This page was last
updated in October 1999
to the hormone disrupting chemicals home page
DOH, 1996. Advice on soya-based infant formula,
UK Department of Health press release, 18th July 1996.
Hopert, A.-C., Beyer, A., Frank, K., Strunck,
E., Wünsche, W. and Vollmer, G. 1998. Characterization of
estrogenicity of phytoestrogens in an endometrial-derived experimental
model. Environ. Health Persp. 106: 581-586.
IEH 1995. Environmental oestrogens: Consequences
to human health and wildlife. Institute for Environment and Health,
University of Leicester, Leicester, UK.
MAFF, 1998. Plant Oestrogens in Soya-Based
Infant Formulae. Food Surveillance Information Sheet No 167, November
Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.