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Phytoestrogens in foods on the Nordic market

A literature review on occurrence and levels

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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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Summary

For a long time, nutritional and toxicological aspects of the diet have focused intensely on primary metabolites. In the past three decades the discussion of potential beneficial and adverse effects of secondary metabolites in the diet has intensified. One class of compounds that has been under the spotlight in these discussions is the phytoestrogens, compounds that have the potential to act in a similar way to oestrogens in our bodies. The phytoestrogens may be active as such or after having been metabolised in our body. The active compound may bind to ER but with less affinity than the natural ligand 17β-estradiol. Food contaminants having oestrogenic activity and produced by microfungi are not called phytoestrogens but mycoestrogens. They have not been considered in the present report.

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