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Veganism and estrogens - hormones in soy and co?

Veganism and estrogens: Do plant foods contain female hormones?

Want to know more about veganism and oestrogens? Then you've come to the right place! Many people opt for a vegan diet because it is environmentally friendly, animal-friendly and also beneficial to health. However, sometimes doubts arise. For example, when it comes to female hormones in plant-based foods - such as soy.

In this article, you will therefore find all the important information about the connection between the Veganism and the so-called phytoestrogens that you need for a plant-based lifestyle. From the definition, to corresponding foods, their effects and health benefits, to recommended amounts and the often-heard rumor of estrogens in soy products. Let's go!

Here is in advance one more Table of contents for orientation:

  1. Definition
  2. Foods
  3. Effect
  4. Health advantages
  5. Recommended quantities
  6. Soy
  7. Cow's milk
  8. Closing words

Notice: This article is not a substitute for medical advice, but merely provides general information about phytoestrogens in a plant-based diet. Please consult your doctor if you feel unwell or wish to prevent health problems with medical care.

What are estrogens or phytoestrogens?

Phytoestrogens are the secondary plant substances to be assigned. As the name suggests, these are substances that resemble the hormone oestrogen. This is because they have a similar structure to the female sex hormone 17ß-oestradiol.1

Phytoestrogens include Lignans, isoflavones and coumestans. Their various forms can be found in around 300 plants. Above all, soy is often associated with phytoestrogens. However, many other foods containing phytoestrogens are also a regular part of our diet.

What contains phytoestrogens?

Phytoestrogens are found, among other things, in Sage, licorice root and hops. Other foods in which various forms of phytochemicals can be found:

  • Lignans: including linseed, pumpkin seeds, rye, barley
  • Coumestane: red clover, mung bean sprouts, alfalfa sprouts, soybean sprouts, etc.
  • Isoflavones: a.o. soybeans and soy products, beans, peas

How do phytoestrogens work?

Phytoestrogens have an influence on many Metabolic processes. They have an effect according to the German Society for Nutrition (DGE) also antioxidant and immunomodulating.2

It is also often said that phytoestrogens can change the hormone balance, sometimes even myths such as "Soy feminizes men". However, their effect is 100-10,000 times weaker than the effect of oestrogen. This could be compensated for if the phytoestrogens were present in 100-10,000 times higher quantities. However, this is only possible if you eat almost exclusively soy products.3

Important Notice: Many studies claiming that phytochemicals have negative properties are in-vitro studies or studies with Animal testing. According to the DGE, however, these studies cannot be applied directly to humans.2 Similarly, studies with isolated isoflavone preparations cannot be transferred to whole foods such as soybeans.

How do phytoestrogens influence diseases?

Veganism and estrogens - hormones in soy?

Secondary plant substances have an influence on many different clinical pictures. These include diseases of civilization such as cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Here I would like to take a brief look with you at the health benefits of phytoestrogens.


The risk of developing hormone-related cancers such as breast or prostate cancer is reduced by an increased intake of isoflavones.4 The Cancer Council Australia recommends the consumption of soy products and a diet with a high proportion of plant-based foods, as these can be effective in preventing cancer.5

Cardiovascular diseases

According to studies, soy products have a cholesterol-lowering effect. The lowered cholesterol thus reduces the risk of heart attacks or strokes.6 An increased intake of isoflavones helps with clinically manifest arteriosclerosis. It has also been found that isoflavone supplementation leads to a reduction in systolic blood pressure in hypertensive patients.2

The American Heart Association confirms that a Consumption of 25-50 g of soy protein per day safe and effective reduces LDL cholesterol. The association therefore recommends including soy products in your diet to promote heart health.7

Tip: For example, 25-50 g of soy protein are contained in about 150-300 g of tofu.

Bone Health

Isoflavone supplementation increased bone mineral density in women by as much as 54 percent. This effect was even stronger in postmenopausal women.2 It can therefore be assumed that isoflavones can greatly reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis or other bone diseases.

Menopausal symptoms

Red clover - phytoestrogens in vegan products

Hot flushes are one of the typical symptoms of the menopause. According to studies, the isoflavone genistein can reduce the occurrence of sweating and similar symptoms, as well as alleviate hot flushes.6

Red clover is one of the plants with the highest phytoestrogen content. As it has an oestrogen-increasing effect, it can be used to compensate for oestrogen deficiency during the menopause. It is interesting to note that the phytoestrogen in red clover has an anti-oestrogenic effect when oestrogen levels are high.8

What quantities of phytoestrogen are recommended?

According to current science, for example, 50-100 mg isoflavones are safe and recommended. In concrete terms, this means that you could eat around 200-400 g of tofu or 150 g of tofu and 250 ml of soy milk to absorb around 60 mg of isoflavones.9

In order to achieve hormonal effects, you would have to consume vast quantities of foods containing isoflavones, lignans or coumestans. In principle, this is only possible if you were to eat exclusively soy products for a long period of time. Even the Daily consumption of soy products or other phytoestrogen-containing foods in normal quantities is therefore hormonally harmless.

Soy and phytoestrogens

Soy products are often viewed particularly critically with regard to phytoestrogens. The first thing to do here is distinguish between fermented and non-fermented soy products. This is because non-fermented soy products only contain very small amounts of hormonally active isoflavones.

In contrast, fermented soy products such as tempeh or miso contain higher amounts. However, for the hormonally active isoflavone to actually influence your hormone balance, you would have to eat almost exclusively tempeh or miso.

According to Dietitians of Canada the consumption of soy as part of a healthy diet is recommended by several national dietary guidelines.10 If you still don't like eating soy, you can simply remove soy products from your diet and still eat a vegan diet.

Oestrogens in cow's milk

When talking about oestrogens in the diet, the focus must also be on cow's milk. The estrogen contained in cow's milk is, in contrast to the phytoestrogens discussed so far, not a plant estrogen and is therefore more potent.

In a report by Harvard University, estrogens from cow's milk are described as up to 100,000 times more potent referred to as phytoestrogens. On average, dairy products account for between 60 and 80 percent of the oestrogens supplied in the diet. This is particularly worrying because a connection between hormone-dependent cancers and hormones from the diet is suspected.11 Furthermore, there is evidence from epidemiological studies that high milk consumption may reduce motile sperm count.12

Veganism and estrogens - No need to worry!

Phytoestrogens can help with many diseases of civilization, either preventively or therapeutically. At the same time, the amounts of phytoestrogen required to achieve hormonal effects similar to regular estrogen are extremely high. In a plant-based diet, you would have to consume huge amounts of soy products or other phytoestrogen-containing foods every day - and this is not the case with a balanced diet.

This means you can relax and enjoy your tofu, tempeh or soy milk without having to worry about hormonal effects.

Do you have any questions about this article on veganism and oestrogens? Then write me a comment as always!

All the best,

Julian from CareElite

P.S.: If you want to know more about nutrition, you can find lots of articles in our Nutrient database. For example, take a look at my posts about Riboflavin or Vitamin B12 with a vegan diet an.


1 N. Rittenau (2018): Goodbye vegan cliché! Scientific answers to critical questions about vegan nutrition. VENTIL-Verlag, Mainz.

2 Deutsche Gesellschaft für Ernährung e. V.: Secondary plant substances and their effect on health, [10.08.2021]

3 S. Kulling, B. Watzl (2003): Phytoestrogens. In: Ernährungsumschau 50 (6), pp. 234-239, [10.08.2021]

4 B. Watzl (2012): Influence of phytochemicals on health. In: German Nutrition Society (ed.): 12th Nutrition Report 2012. Bonn, pp. 355-374.

5 Cancer Council Australia (2017): Position statement - Soy, phyto-oestrogens and cancer prevention. Online: [10.08.2021]

6 Zentrum der Gesundheit: Tofu - more than a meat substitute, [10.08.2021].

7 J. W. Erdman (2000): Soy Protein and Cardiovascular Disease - A Statement for Healthcare Professionals From the Nutrition Committee of the AHA. In: Circulation 102(20), pp. 2555-2559.

8 Zentrum der Gesundheit: Red clover - a real all-rounder, [10.08.2021]

9 US Department of Agriculture (2008): USDA Database for the Isoflavone Content of Selected Foods. Release 2.0, [10.08.2021]

10 Dietitians of Canada (2015): What are the health benefits of soy?, [10.08.2021]

11 The Harvard Gazette (2006): Hormones in milk can be dangerous, [12.08.2021]

12 Ärzteblatt (2018): Do oestrogens in cow's milk harm health?, [12.08.2021]

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Julian Hölzer

Julian Hölzer

Hi, my name is Julian and I am a trained vegan nutritionist. In 2016 I started to get involved with veganism and quickly learned how big an impact our diet has on the environment and how diverse plant-based diets can be. That's why I want to inspire you to get involved with veganism too.

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