Endocrine disrupting compounds (EDCs) alter the function of the endocrine system and consequently cause adverse health effects. Phytoestrogens, natural plant compounds abundantly found in soy and soy products, behave as weak estrogen mimics or as antiestrogens. They are considered to be EDCs, and have some beneficial effects on health, including reducing the risk of breast cancer and improving metabolic parameters. However, the supporting evidence that consumption of phytoestrogens is beneficial is indirect and inconsistent. Lifetime exposure to estrogenic substances, especially during critical periods of development, has been associated with formation of malignancies and several anomalies of the reproductive systems. Phytoestrogen consumption in infants, through soy-based formulas, is of particular concern. Prospective epidemiological studies for the evaluation of the effect of phytoestrogens alone, and in combination with other estrogenic chemicals, are lacking, yet possible adverse effects should not be taken lightly.
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