Whenever women enter menopause, they will get an imbalance between estrogens and progesterone, which at its best will make them feel 'uneasy' but at its worst can cause severe health problems.
Along with soy, lignans are among the often recommended natural substances for aging women. But what are exactly lignans?
Lignans are polyphenols of which the largest amounts are found in flaxseeds and to a lesser extent in sesame seeds and berries and even grains.
When you consume plant-based lignans, bacteria in your gut convert them into "human" lignans, including enterodiol and enterolactone, which have weak estrogenic activity.
This can be beneficial for women's health, because if you have naturally high estrogen levels, the weak "estrogens" from lignans may bind to some of your estrogen receptor sites, thereby actually reducing total estrogen activity.
There are all sorts of different strengths to estrogens. Estradiol, which is the strongest, if it hooks on to the estrogen receptor, it may trigger your body to make a thousand cell divisions. But if a plant estrogen hooks on, it may only trigger one single cell division.
The beauty in the system is that the strength of the estrogen doesn't matter for how fast either one of them hooks onto the receptor.
There are only certain numbers of receptors, and whoever gets their first, gets it. They block the strong estrogens from getting on, so that's why it has an inhibitory effect.
On the other hand, if your estrogen levels are low, lignans may help to supplement your levels to promote a more optimal balance. Its effect on hormonal balance is just one way these phyto-estrogens may benefit your health.
The anti-estrogenic effects of lignans could potentially help reduce the risk of hormone-associated cancers (breast, uterine, ovarian, and prostate).
Experimental evidence in animals has shown clear anticarcinogenic effects of flaxseed or pure lignans in many types of cancer.
Postmenopausal women who have a high intake of dietary lignans from either flax seeds or sesame seeds seem to have a significantly lower risk of breast cancer compared to those with a low intake. Lignans are even able to reduce tumor growth with sesame lignans being slightly more effective than flaxseed lignans.
Flaxseeds contain 100 times more lignans than any other known plant source and are one of the most powerful foods you can eat to lower your risk of breast cancer.
Phyto-estrogens are not the same as the estrogens your body makes or synthetic estrogens found in hormone replacement therapy. Phyto-estrogens act more like Selective EstRogen ModulatorS or SERMS as well as like aromatase inhibitors.
Flax lignans fight breast cancer in a number of ways: lthey lower your overall production of estrogen, block environmental estrogens from attaching to breast tissue, protect your breast tissue from the damaging effects of environmental toxins, create more of the "good" protective type of estrogen, decrease 3 different growth factors associated with the growth of breast cancer, and block both the aromatase enzyme as well as bind to the estrogen receptor.
Flaxseed, pumpkin, sunflower, poppy, and sesame seeds are among the best food sources of lignans. Flaxseed is the richest dietary source and crushing the seeds improves lignans' bioavailability.