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Phytoestrogens in foods on the Nordic market

A literature review on occurrence and levels

image of Phytoestrogens in foods on the Nordic market

Phytoestrogens are plant-derived compounds that may bind to estrogen receptors, but with less affinity than the natural ligand estradiol. They may be biologically active as such or after metabolization in our body. To investigate the occurrence and level of phytoestrogens, scientific literature was screened for data on isoflavones, lignans, stilbenes and coumestans in raw and processed foods of plant origin. The review presents data based both on analytical methods hydrolysing glucosides and non-destructive methods.Many phytoestrogens are phytoalexins. Their production is induced when plants are exposed to abiotic and/or biotic stress. This could explain the rather different levels reported in plants by various investigators, and indicates that many samples are required to describe the levels generally occurring in foodstuffs. The influence of food processing was also considered.

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Chemical analysis of phytoestrogens

The methods for extracting isoflavones, lignans, and coumestrol from food products have varied between studies. The most common method has been to mix the food sample with a suitable solvent, followed by hydrolysis of glucosides to aglycones using enzymes or acidic or basic conditions, or using a combination of these. Using such methods, typically only the total aglycone content is measured and the original proportion of glycosides and aglycones remain unknown. During later years, more studies have tried to identify and quantify the individual compounds in the plant, and to do so, milder extraction methods are required.

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