In the assessment of the health risk of an obese individual, both the amount of adipose tissue and its distribution and metabolic activity are essential. In adults, the distribution of adipose tissue differs in a gender-dependent manner and is regulated by sex steroids, especially estrogens. Estrogens affect adipocyte differentiation but are also involved in the regulation of the lipid metabolism, insulin resistance, and inflammatory activity of the adipose tissue. Their deficiency results in unfavorable changes in body composition and increases the risk of metabolic complications, which can be partially reversed by hormone replacement therapy. Therefore, the idea of the supplementation of estrogen-like compounds to counteract obesity and related complications is compelling. Phytoestrogens are natural plant-derived dietary compounds that resemble human estrogens in their chemical structure and biological activity. Supplementation with phytoestrogens may confer a range of beneficial effects. However, results of studies on the influence of phytoestrogens on body composition and prevalence of obesity are inconsistent. In this review, we present data from in vitro, animal, and human studies regarding the role of phytoestrogens in adipose tissue development and function in the context of their potential application in the prevention of visceral obesity and related complications.
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