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Phytoestrogens are present in certain edible plants being most abundant in soy; they are structurally and functionally analogous to estrogens. These substances are used for compensation of hormone deficiency in menopause. Some recent reviews concluded that there is no convincing evidence in favor of relieving menopausal symptoms by phytoestrogens compared to placebo. Soy is used as ingredient of infant food and other foodstuffs as well as animal fodder, so that residual phytoestrogens and their active metabolites such as equol can remain in meat products. Soy protein is broadly used by the food industry. Derangements of the reproductive system in humans under the impact of phytoesthrogens are regarded to be rare and mild. There have been singular reports on modified gender-related behavior in children and feminization in consequence of abundant soy consumption. In animals, the intake of phytoestrogens was reported to impact fertility, sexual development and behavior. Phytoestrogens are named disruptors or selective modulators of the endocrine system. There are no reasons to assume that beneficial effects of such modulation would overweigh harm in all soy consumers. Feminizing effects in humans may be subtle but statistically significant in large populations. The literature on phytoestrogens is extensive; many authors recommend their practical use. However, in recent reviews, it was concluded about insufficient evidence on the effectiveness of phytoestrogens as a means for replacement therapy during menopause. Side effects of phytoestrogens have also been reported. There are fears that mass consumption of soybeans by a population not adapted to it may have a feminizing effect. Objective studies of a high quality level, including animal experiments, are needed to document endocrine effects.
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