The Most Potent Phytoestrogen is in Beer

The Most Potent Phytoestrogen is in Beer
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The reason why women who handle hops start menstruating is because of a phytoestrogen that ends up in beer, called 8-prenylnaringenin (8-PN).

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Why do alcoholic men develop man boobs, and other feminine traits? Well, we know estrogens produce feminization, and our liver clears estrogens from the body. And so, the original theory was alcohol-induced liver damage leading to the retention of excess estrogens. The problem was that when they measured estrogen levels, they were not elevated. And even those with cirrhosis of the liver appeared to clear estrogens from the body normally. And also, men’s testicles started shrinking, even before serious liver disease developed.

So, alternative explanations were considered. Well, if it’s not due to estrogens produced endogenously, meaning within the body, maybe alcoholics are being exposed to exogenous estrogenic substances from dietary sources—maybe from phytoestrogens in the plants that alcoholic beverages are made from.

The discovery that plants could contain hormonal compounds was made back in 1951 by two Australian chemists charged with finding out the cause of an epidemic of infertility in sheep that was ravaging their nation’s wool industry. It took them ten years, but they finally figured out the cause—a compound present in a type of clover called genistein, the same phytoestrogen found in soybeans.

Online, you can read about the dreaded clover disease on scare-mongering websites, but you’ll note they never talk about the difference in dose. To get as much as the sheep were getting from clover, you’d have to drink more than a thousand cartons of soy milk a day, eat 8,000 soy burgers, or about 800 pounds of tofu a day.

This is not to say you can’t overdo it. There are two case reports in the medical literature on feminizing effects associated with eating as few as 14 to 20 servings of soy foods a day. But at reasonable doses, or even considerably higher than the one or two servings a day Asian men eat, soy phytoestrogens do not exert feminizing effects on men.

So, anyways, back in 1951, we realized plant compounds could be estrogenic. Aha, two German researchers realized, maybe that’s why women who handle hops start menstruating. And indeed, they found estrogenic activity in hops, which is the bittering agent used to make beer. They found trace amounts of the soy phytoestrogens, but in such tiny quantities that beer would not be expected to have an estrogenic effect.

But then in 1999, a potent phytoestrogen called 8-prenylnaringenin was discovered in hops—in fact, the most potent phytoestrogen found to date; 50 times more potent than the genistein in soy, an obvious explanation for the menstrual disturbances in female hops workers in the past. Now that we have machines to pick our hops, our only exposure is likely via beer consumption, but the levels in beer were found to be so low, they shouldn’t cause any concern.

But then in 2001, a study on a hops-containing dietary supplement for “breast enhancement” raised the concern that another phytoestrogen in hops, called isoxanthohumol, might be biotransformed by our liver into the more potent 8-PN—which would greatly augment the estrogenic effect of hops. But this was a study done on mice. Thankfully, a study using human estrogen receptors found no such liver transformation.

And so, all seemed fine, until 2005. See, the liver is not the only transformation site inside the human body. The human colon contains trillions of microorganisms with enormous metabolic potential. It’s like a whole separate organ within our body, with a hundred livers’ worth of metabolizing power. So, let’s effectively mix some beer with some poop, and see what happens.

And indeed, up to a 90% conversion was achieved. Up until then, the concentration of 8-PN in beer was considered too low to affect human health. However, these results show that the activity of the intestinal microbial community could more than tenfold increase the exposure concentration. This can explain why you can detect 8-PN in the urine of beer-drinkers for days—because their gut bacteria keep churning it out. Obviously, the amount of straight 8-PN in beer is not the only source of estrogen effects, given this conversion.

So, a decade ago, the question remained, might drinking too much beer cause estrogenic effects and feminize men? I’ll give you the ten-year update in my next video.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Katie Schloer.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image thanks to Enokson via flickr.

Why do alcoholic men develop man boobs, and other feminine traits? Well, we know estrogens produce feminization, and our liver clears estrogens from the body. And so, the original theory was alcohol-induced liver damage leading to the retention of excess estrogens. The problem was that when they measured estrogen levels, they were not elevated. And even those with cirrhosis of the liver appeared to clear estrogens from the body normally. And also, men’s testicles started shrinking, even before serious liver disease developed.

So, alternative explanations were considered. Well, if it’s not due to estrogens produced endogenously, meaning within the body, maybe alcoholics are being exposed to exogenous estrogenic substances from dietary sources—maybe from phytoestrogens in the plants that alcoholic beverages are made from.

The discovery that plants could contain hormonal compounds was made back in 1951 by two Australian chemists charged with finding out the cause of an epidemic of infertility in sheep that was ravaging their nation’s wool industry. It took them ten years, but they finally figured out the cause—a compound present in a type of clover called genistein, the same phytoestrogen found in soybeans.

Online, you can read about the dreaded clover disease on scare-mongering websites, but you’ll note they never talk about the difference in dose. To get as much as the sheep were getting from clover, you’d have to drink more than a thousand cartons of soy milk a day, eat 8,000 soy burgers, or about 800 pounds of tofu a day.

This is not to say you can’t overdo it. There are two case reports in the medical literature on feminizing effects associated with eating as few as 14 to 20 servings of soy foods a day. But at reasonable doses, or even considerably higher than the one or two servings a day Asian men eat, soy phytoestrogens do not exert feminizing effects on men.

So, anyways, back in 1951, we realized plant compounds could be estrogenic. Aha, two German researchers realized, maybe that’s why women who handle hops start menstruating. And indeed, they found estrogenic activity in hops, which is the bittering agent used to make beer. They found trace amounts of the soy phytoestrogens, but in such tiny quantities that beer would not be expected to have an estrogenic effect.

But then in 1999, a potent phytoestrogen called 8-prenylnaringenin was discovered in hops—in fact, the most potent phytoestrogen found to date; 50 times more potent than the genistein in soy, an obvious explanation for the menstrual disturbances in female hops workers in the past. Now that we have machines to pick our hops, our only exposure is likely via beer consumption, but the levels in beer were found to be so low, they shouldn’t cause any concern.

But then in 2001, a study on a hops-containing dietary supplement for “breast enhancement” raised the concern that another phytoestrogen in hops, called isoxanthohumol, might be biotransformed by our liver into the more potent 8-PN—which would greatly augment the estrogenic effect of hops. But this was a study done on mice. Thankfully, a study using human estrogen receptors found no such liver transformation.

And so, all seemed fine, until 2005. See, the liver is not the only transformation site inside the human body. The human colon contains trillions of microorganisms with enormous metabolic potential. It’s like a whole separate organ within our body, with a hundred livers’ worth of metabolizing power. So, let’s effectively mix some beer with some poop, and see what happens.

And indeed, up to a 90% conversion was achieved. Up until then, the concentration of 8-PN in beer was considered too low to affect human health. However, these results show that the activity of the intestinal microbial community could more than tenfold increase the exposure concentration. This can explain why you can detect 8-PN in the urine of beer-drinkers for days—because their gut bacteria keep churning it out. Obviously, the amount of straight 8-PN in beer is not the only source of estrogen effects, given this conversion.

So, a decade ago, the question remained, might drinking too much beer cause estrogenic effects and feminize men? I’ll give you the ten-year update in my next video.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Katie Schloer.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image thanks to Enokson via flickr.

73 responses to “The Most Potent Phytoestrogen is in Beer

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    1. Jopen Koyt , a dutch beer made with herbs . There seem to be a number of beers without hops. Some ales are sweeter and some are very low in alcohol , there is danish Hvidtol {white beer} which is only 2 per cent and was at one time most popular beer in Denmark. Everybody drank it , kids to grandmas, it is a little like root beer and easy to make.




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    2. I never liked “over hoppy” beers anyway. But then I just switched to wine and gin this week…funny how that worked out.




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  1. The more research studies I read the more I resolve not to do alcohol in any form. Period. The much touted “French Paradox” about red wine helping applies only if there are other risks already such as saturated fats, smoking, etc. Peoples who don’t do any do better yet.




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      1. One summer, I drank O’Douls regularly and my husband noticed it had the effect mentioned in the video. Plenty of hops (which I like), I guess, or maybe I had the right gut flora.




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    1. Actually, there really is no French Paradox. As Dr. Greger states, “French physicians under-report ischemic heart disease deaths on the death certificates by as much as 20%, according to a World Health Organization investigation. So, if you correct for that, then, France basically comes right back in line with the death versus animal fat and death versus cholesterol lines, with about four times the fatal heart attack rates as Japan decades after four times the animal fat consumption.” http://nutritionfacts.org/video/what-explains-the-french-paradox/




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  2. Interesting news. I’m wondering how this phytoestrogen (8PN) compares with the lignin phytoestrogens (lignans) found in flaxseeds. I assume flaxseeds are still considered safe since there are many studies showing their benefits and Dr G still recommends their consumption. Why is one detrimental and the other is beneficial? Is it the dose or maybe the 8PN is more similar to real estrogen than the lignin phytoestrogen? Just trying to see how all this fits together in a big picture view.

    nutritionfacts.org/video/can-flax-seeds-help-prevent-breast-cancer/




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    1. 8-prenylnaringenin is unusual among phytoestrogens in that it has a stronger affinity for the feminizing estrogen receptor alpha (ERα) than for estrogen receptor beta (ERβ), which has opposing, antiproliferative effects in reproductive tissue. Hence we shouldn’t take issues arising with 8PN as cautionary for all phytoestrogens.




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      1. Thanks Darryl. I was hoping you would chime in. From your previous posts, I have confidence in your understanding of these details!.




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    1. Many standard Lagers probably contain only minuscule amounts of hop. Then again the ‘real’ beers like Guinness are truely ‘hop-made’ but anyone can get boobs from drinking them because of their high calorie content.




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      1. I guess so, but the hops is the nice bitter taste of the quality beers! I doubt that a moderate consumption would bring problems though, but lets see what the next video will bring us.




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    2. IPA is the stuff with the mostest hops.

      Malt is where the flavor is.

      Nut Brown Ales like Lazy Magnolia Brewing’s Southern Pecan is so fantastic that I might just sport some boobs for the pleasure. The thing is KNOWING what sort of tradeoffs one is making. That’s what you get with some NutritionFacts!!!




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          1. Just celebrated my B’day with plenty of Guinness and I’m here to tell you for sure, despite my “middish” age, I had ZERO hot flashes. That stuff really works! 8-P




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  3. I agree with Jerry LA. Alcohol is not good for health. A
    phrase “in moderation” is just an excuse of people who cannot give it
    up.
    Actually, it’s easy to quit beer; sparkling water (no sugar, no sweetener,
    no-flavor, of course) is a good substitute. For me, it was more difficult to
    give up wine…I’m just trying not to look at it…




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    1. Speak for yourself. I agree alcohol is not good for your health but we all have different tastes. Maybe someone like me likes beer a lot more than you do so giving it up is easier or not as much an issue for you. I’d rather drink beer than wine. I love sparkling water but an alternative to beer? C’mon. I probably have a few beers a week. It’s one of life’s simple pleasures that I enjoy much like pizza that may enhance my life in other ways (psychological rather than physical). By the way I’m a mostly vegetarian, 155 pound/6 foot tall male who practices yoga, cycles and plays table tennis regularly. Man boobs are not an issue..lol.




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    2. While I’d agree that alcohol probably doesn’t have a place in health-optimal lifestyles, there’s a huge body of evidence that moderate intake is associated with better health outcomes in the general population. Those who eat whole-plant based diets and exercise regularly won’t benefit from alcoholic beverages, even in moderation, but couch potatoes eating Western diets do, but only when drinking in moderation.




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        1. I predict otherwise. His videos on alcohol have consistently focused on diseases where there’s no upside to moderate intake, like breast cancer, where even small amounts of alcohol have net harms. This is arguably not true for cancer in general.




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    3. Alcohol is a relaxant/depressant and no matter how limited amounts you drink using a good dose of will power to know when to put a cork in it, stress is always there and you end up drinking to relax opposed to drinking for entertainment, sociability.




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  4. Off-topic, but a question for anyone who could help. Does the digestion of carbs produce water / urine? There is, of course, a lot of water in most fruits and vegetables, but what about the digestive byproducts of other carbs?




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    1. Yes. Carbohydrate metabolism stepwise captures energy produced during glucose oxidation, which generates carbon dioxide and water.

      C6H12O6 + 6O2 → 6CO2 + 6H2O




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      1. Thanks so much, Darryl. It seems I somehow urinate quite a bit more than my actual liquid input, but I do as well consume lots of water-laden fruit, veg, and other “drier” carbs. Now I see there’s a mechanism at play. Thanks.




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    1. Hi Darryl,
      OT: I’ve been meaning to ask you – does methyl salicylate ‘count’ as a salicylate as far as AMPK activation goes?




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  5. Fast food meat contains MSG, including chicken. MSG is an excite-o-toxin that kills brain cells. I do not know what the safe amount of MSG is, if there is any.




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  6. I get into debates with paleo people on YouTube. The nice thing about Dr. Greger’s site here is that I can copy and paste a reference into the comment sections on YouTube in my “scraps” with paleo people. Presently, I am debating a person on the fact that meat has dietary cholesterol in it. I say that it does. The paleo people say that it does not.




    1
    1. John Axsom: That’s a new one to me. I’ve seen paleo people argue that dietary cholesterol does not affect blood cholesterol/serum levels. But I’ve never heard of a paleo person arguing that meat does not contain dietary cholesterol to begin with. Wow.
      .
      Well, good for you for putting in the effort. Good luck.




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  7. I have noticed that I get acne breakouts when I drink beer daily, for instance during vacations. Could the estrogenic effect be to blame? (If relevant: male, 30+.)




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    1. whoops, damn a 2-parter maybe? I won’t fuss too much because I’m a “concerned citizen” at this point. I have never apologized for drinking some alcoholic beverages and don’t intend to start now, BUT this potentially shows new negative affect. I do fully expect it to be significant-otherwise it wouldn’t be subject to a video “series”.




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  8. Ales were traditionally brewed without hops but most modern versions are hopped. Finding a traditional ale may be an option for those who do not wish to give up their brew.

    Incidentally, where I grew up, people still routinely referred to the pub as “the alehouse”. I won’t mention what the toilet/outhouse was called.




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      1. I do not think that I can write it here under the etiquette rules. However, it is a very old term, one that goes back to before English became a separate language. Modern German uses exactly the same term but, obviously, the spelling and pronunciation are a little different from that in English. The German is “Scheisshaus” – does that help?




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  9. Alcohol consumption actually makes no sense , in Canada 80% drink . They drink 20.5 billion worth of alcohol, the governments cut is 10.5 billion in taxes, but the related health costs total 14.5 billion . That is a losing proposition . There also is no safe level of alcohol consumption in cancer prevention.




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  10. Nooooooooo! Not beer!!! And I just started drinking an NA beer so I could ‘refresh’ more during the sweltering 115 degree summer heat. And I love the hoppy brews the best. Please, say it isn’t so…




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    1. April McCue: Previous videos showing phytoestrogens protective? Yes–to a degree. I think the difference being discussed here is the type and potency. There are, apparently, different kinds of phytoestrogens.

      Note: Even when traditional soy foods (which are relatively high in phytoestrogens compared to most foods, but probably not so high compared to hops–if I understand the video correctly) are shown to be protective, there was at least one historical video showing that *excessive* amounts of soy could lead to problems. I can’t find the video, but there was an example of some guy who drank a giant amount (like quarts? worth) of soy milk every day. He did get a problem from consuming so much. So, if the hops stuff is particularly potent (based on how our digestive system works) compared to other foods with different types of phytoestrogens, it would stand to reason that hops beers could be a problem that is not found with soy and flax.

      What do you think?




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  11. I quit drinking back in 1991 without any intervention. Just had enough of my stupid lack of control. I could not even drink in moderation, so that was that. I also quit smoking on the same day. And have never gone back. Sometimes you have to look at what works and if it doesn’t, change is good.




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  12. Beer is great if you want bitch tits and all the pesticides , mycotoxins , bromides , in the wheat , corn , hops will make your body estrogenic with a big belly … like a pregnant woman .




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  13. Hops are also antimicrobial. Regular macro lagers use hops as a flavoring agent and probably do little damage to your gut flora; however, I’d be curious to know the effects of India Pale Ale (super mega hopped beer) on both estrogen levels and gut flora. My intuition tells me this can’t be a good thing. Maybe carpet bombing your gut flora?




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  14. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16772450http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0367326X15000611:
    “IXN exhibits an antiproliferative activity against human cell lines
    typical for breast cancer (MCF-7), ovarian cancer (A-2780), prostate
    cancer (DU145 and PC-3), and colon cancer (HT-29 and SW620) cells. It
    strongly inhibits the activation of the following carcinogens:
    2-amino-3-methylimidazol-[4,5-f]quinoline and aflatoxin B1 (AFB1) via
    human cytochrome P450 (CYP1A2). It also inhibits the production of
    prostate specific antigen (PSA). IXN significantly reduces the
    expression of transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β) in the case of
    invasive breast cancer MDA-MB-231. It interferes with JAK/STAT signaling
    pathway and inhibits the expression of pro1inflammatory genes in the
    monoblastic leukemia cell line (MonoMac6). It activates apoptosis in
    human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVEC) and human aortic smooth
    muscle cells (HASMCs). In addition, IXN shows an antiviral activity
    towards herpes viruses (HSV1 and HSV2) and bovine viral diarrhea virus
    (BVDV).”




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  15. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0367326X15000611
    “IXN exhibits an antiproliferative activity against human cell lines typical for breast cancer (MCF-7), ovarian cancer (A-2780), prostate cancer (DU145 and PC-3), and colon cancer (HT-29 and SW620) cells. It strongly inhibits the activation of the following carcinogens: 2-amino-3-methylimidazol-[4,5-f]quinoline and aflatoxin B1 (AFB1) via human cytochrome P450 (CYP1A2). It also inhibits the production of prostate specific antigen (PSA). IXN significantly reduces the expression of transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β) in the case of invasive breast cancer MDA-MB-231. It interferes with JAK/STAT signaling pathway and inhibits the expression of pro1inflammatory genes in the monoblastic leukemia cell line (MonoMac6). It activates apoptosis in human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVEC) and human aortic smooth muscle cells (HASMCs). In addition, IXN shows an antiviral activity towards herpes viruses (HSV1 and HSV2) and bovine viral diarrhea virus (BVDV).”




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  16. I know my comment is a bit late to the party but I have a question regarding non-dairy milks (especially soy): A lot of people I know (including omnivores and vegans) claim they don’t like (e.g.) soy milk because it gives them a taste like cardboard (whatever that means) in their mouth and also makes they mouth feel sticky/gluey. They don’t expect the taste of cow’s milk but for them it seems to be absolutely disgusting so I was thinking that there might be some kind of biochemical reaction in certain people (like with cilantro). If there is something like that, maybe it’s worth making a video about it (and ideally a solution to the problem).




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  17. I’m thoroughly confused about whether I should be concerned about phytoestrogens in food. Here’s my story: about 3 years ago at age 34 I started suffering from debilitating migraines (prettymuch every 2 weeks like clockwork), along with ovarian cysts. After 18 months of suffering, I gave up gluten and processed foods and also went off the pill. My migraines as well as my ovarian cysts miraculously disappeared. In fact, I went over 18 months without a single migraine. (Throughout this period of time I adopted a WFPB diet and will remain vegan for rest of my life). Unfortunately the migraines have returned –I had 2 in the last few months — both of which seemed to be hormone related as in both instances my period was 10 days late or so. I already eat a very clean, plant-based diet so I’m looking into further minimizing my exposure to non-food endocrine disruptors and also trying to figure out if I may have a hormone imbalance. Can the foods I am eating with phytoestrogens be causing a hormone imbalance resulting in menstrual cycle irregularity and/or migraines? Thank you!




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    1. Hi Rina, it can be very frustrating to have found the solution to your problem only to discover it has come back again. Interestingly and alarmingly there are many items in our environment that can be disruptive to our delicate hormonal balance – as you well know. In addition to diet many chemicals in our environment can adversely act like hormones and also effect how your hormones work in your body. Here are a couple of good websites that delineate some of those sources so you can investigate where you might want to consider other changes. http://www.ewg.org/research/dirty-dozen-list-endocrine-disruptors?gclid=CjwKEAiAg5_CBRDo4o6e4o3NtG0SJAB-IatYjZgD9QDoUigjLukC77g2rBu5v6wtTdxyRH9kcppdChoCdvzw_wcB and https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/endocrine/




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      1. Thanks very much-I have read this EWG article and have eliminated many (but not all as its a work in progress) of these toxins from home and products. Any thoughts on whether eating foods like yams, chic peas and soy can cause a hormonal imbalance? Thanks again!




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  18. I am a 42 year old male. I drink Soya milk and eat tofu and Soya yoghurt. However, a lot of people have told me that the phytoestrogens can have a negative effect on male fertility and can raise the breast cancer risk in women. However, this website seems to say the opposite. Am I at risk from continuing to consume non GM soya products?




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    1. Hey Ian, thanks for writing! There are no adverse effects of soy on fertility when consumed in reasonable amounts – meaning, you’re not drinking half a gallon of soy milk each day AND eating tofu for lunch AND edamame for dinner. Soy actually REDUCES the risk for hormone-related (and other) cancers. So No, you’re not at risk.




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      1. Thanks for your reply. I was drinking about 2 litres of organic soya milk, two portions of tofu and one carton of soya yoghurt each week.
        However the lady who runs our local health food shop said it can cause women to get fibroids and affects men’s hormones. Do you know why this Information is out there? There seems to be a lot of people saying soya can cause problems beca use of the eastrogen.
        I am now looking at mixing up the plant milks I drink but most have other additives so am a little unsure if the best way forward.




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