What are phytoestrogens and how can they support menopause?

During perimenopause (the time leading up to menopause), a decrease in the hormone estrogen can lead to some unpleasant side effects.

smoothie bowls with fruit and seeds

These can include hot flushes, mood swings, difficulty sleeping, brain fog and irregular periods. The symptoms can have a significant impact on some, leading them to seek help. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may be recommended; an approach that helps to boost estrogen levels using synthetic estrogen. 

In some cases, HRT isn’t the best option (for example if there is a history of breast cancer) or simply isn’t wanted, and a more natural alternative may be sought. This is where phytoestrogens come into play.

What are phytoestrogens?

Phytoestrogens, also known as dietary estrogens, are compounds that are naturally found in plants. When we eat these plants, the phytoestrogens imitate estrogen as they have a very similar chemical structure. The body responds to them as if they were estrogen, however, the phytoestrogens don’t bond as firmly to estrogen receptors as our own estrogen, so the effects on the body are weaker. 

Despite this weaker bond, it has been found that phytoestrogens do have an effect on the body and may help to ease symptoms caused by low estrogen. 

Do phytoestrogens work for menopause?

People may turn to phytoestrogens as a natural way of balancing hormones during perimenopause and menopause. Several studies have been done to see how effective phytoestrogens are and while more research is needed, most results are positive. 

Here are some ways phytoestrogens may be able to help:

  • reduce hot flushes
  • regulate menstrual issues
  • reduce acne
  • support heart health
  • support bone health
  • ease brain fog/memory loss

It’s important to note that everyone’s different and tailored advice is key. Speak to your doctor before making changes to your diet or taking new supplements to ensure you are doing what’s right for your body.

Which foods are high in phytoestrogens?

There are a number of foods rich in phytoestrogen, including the following:

  • apples
  • berries
  • grapes
  • pomegranates
  • broccoli
  • cabbage
  • sprouts
  • carrots
  • oats
  • rye
  • barley
  • wheat germ
  • soybeans
  • tofu
  • tempeh
  • miso soup
  • miso paste
  • kidney beans
  • lima beans
  • pinto beans
  • chickpeas
  • mung beans
  • split peas
  • yams
  • lentils
  • almonds
  • walnuts
  • linseeds
  • flax seeds
  • pumpkin seeds
  • sesame seeds
  • sunflower seeds

Learn more about seed cycling and how it can help hormones.

Which foods should you avoid during menopause?

As well as increasing your phytoestrogen intake and generally eating a balanced and varied diet, there are some food and drink worth reducing during this time of your life. 

Ultra-processed food

During perimenopause and menopause, the risk of heart disease increases so anything we can do to help minimise risk is helpful. Ultra-processed foods typically have five or more ingredients that tend to include additives and preservatives. These have been linked to poor heart health, and while removing them from your diet entirely may not be possible, reducing them can help. See the British Heart Foundation for more information. 

Spicy food

If you are struggling with hot flushes, you may want to avoid spicy foods. These can trigger hot flushes and sweating, so it could be worth experimenting with other flavourings.


Again, alcohol can bring on hot flushes. Notice how drinking makes you feel and if it aggravates symptoms try to cut down. 


Another culprit for triggering hot flushes is too much caffeine, which can bring on symptoms for some. Switching to herbal teas or decaf can help here if you’re noticing a pattern.

How can a nutrition professional help with menopause?

If you are struggling with symptoms caused by menopause and are keen to support your health through diet, working with a nutrition professional can help. Working with you in a one-to-one capacity, they can learn more about your current diet, the symptoms you’re experiencing, and what you’d like to change. Using this information they can then help you tailor a diet plan to help you feel your best, which may include eating more phytoestrogens. 

Offering a sense of accountability and support, nutrition professionals take a holistic approach to health and help you stick to habits that bring you back to you. 

If you’re ready to take the next step, use our search tool to find a nutrition professional today.  

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Written by Kat Nicholls
Kat is a Content Producer for Memiah and writer for Nutritionist Resource and Happiful magazine.
Written by Kat Nicholls
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