Dietary phytoestrogens are bioactive compounds with estrogenic activity. With the growing popularity of plant-based diets, the intake of phytoestrogen-rich legumes (especially soy) and legume-derived foods has increased. Evidence from preclinical studies suggests these compounds may have an effect on hormones and health, although the results of human trials are unclear. The effects of dietary phytoestrogens depend on the exposure (phytoestrogen type, matrix, concentration, and bioavailability), ethnicity, hormone levels (related to age, sex, and physiological condition), and health status of the consumer. In this review, we have summarized the results of human studies on dietary phytoestrogens with the aim of assessing the possible hormone-dependent outcomes and health effects of their consumption throughout a lifespan, focusing on pregnancy, childhood, adulthood, and the premenopausal and postmenopausal stages. In pregnant women, an improvement of insulin metabolism has been reported in only one study. Sex hormone alterations have been found in the late stages of childhood, and goitrogenic effects in children with hypothyroidism. In premenopausal and postmenopausal women, the reported impacts on hormones are inconsistent, although beneficial goitrogenic effects and improved glycemic control and cardiovascular risk markers have been described in postmenopausal individuals. In adult men, different authors report goitrogenic effects and a reduction of insulin in non-alcoholic fatty liver patients. Further carefully designed studies are warranted to better elucidate the impact of phytoestrogen consumption on the endocrine system at different life stages.
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