Phytoestrogens, or plant estrogens, are found in a number of foods, including whole grains, dried beans, soy beans and soy products, peas, fruits, broccoli and cauliflower. Flaxseed, sesame seed, fenugreek, licorice root, ginseng, mint, hops and fennel also all contain measurable levels of phytoestrogens.
As of 2014, plant-based estrogens are thought to be part of a healthy diet, though there is a lot of conflicting data whether a diet rich in soy-based products is healthy, according to the Breast Cancer Fund. While soy is a rich source of phytoestrogens, some research indicates that it causes an increased risk of breast cancer in women.
The similarities of phytoestrogens to the body's naturally produced estrogen on a molecular level allows the plant-based estrogens to both mimic and act as an antagonist to the body's natural estrogen. These substances have been shown to help lower the risk of osteoporosis, breast cancer, heart disease and menopause symptoms, according to the National Institute of Health. However, many phytoestrogens are thought to be endocrine disruptors, meaning that they can cause potentially adverse effects to one's health. According to the National Institute of Health in 2014, whether or not phytoestrogens are helpful or harmful to the health is not known and depends on health, age and the presence of certain types of gut flora.