A study into phytoestrogens has revealed the way they affect the body may be down to key differences in molecular structures that affect different mechanisms.

The research carried out by Frutarom and Wageningen University, The Netherlands, focuses on the mechanisms that cause phytoestrogens to act as either an agonist (estrogen) or as antagonist (anti-estrogen) towards the estrogen receptors in the human body.

It comprises four decades of research that could enable the health industry to develop tailor-made phytoestrogen-rich products with specific selective estrogen receptor modulator (SERM) profiles.

It is the SERM effect that could be responsible for the health benefits attributed to phytoestrogens, such as menopausal symptom relief, as well as bone and breast health.

"Research has shown that the estrogenic mechanisms in the body are very complex," said Frutarom R&D manager and study co-author Dr Rudy Simons.

"However, it appears that the molecular structure of phytoestrogens play a big role in the in vitro estrogenic activity as well as the type of clinical health benefits."

Simons said that while phytoestrogens from soy are associated with improved bone health and menopausal health, phytoestrogens from flax can delay the onset benign prostate hyperplasia (BPH) and hair loss, and licorice phytoestrogens are particularly associated with chemoprevention.

The study suggests that although their activity profiles are similar, they are not the same and that these differences in bioactivity possibly originate from the activation of different mechanisms.

Phytoestrogens are found in many plants and primarily belong to the class of isoflavonoids.

"The ongoing collaboration with academia, especially with Wageningen University, to create a better understanding of the physiology and effects of phytonutrients is one of our core values," added Simons.

"We are committed to advancing the scientific understanding of phytoestrogens, with Frutarom’s continued leadership to in substantiating science-backed health ingredients."

Image: New study may enable the health industry to develop tailor made phytoestrogen-rich products. Photo: Courtesy of