Nonetheless, previous research in laboratory and agricultural settings found that eating estrogenic plants could disrupt fertility and affect behavior in animals such as rodents, monkeys and sheep. Effects of phytoestrogen consumption in other studies have included more aggression, less body contact, more isolation, higher anxiety and impaired reproduction.
To expand on this possibility, Wasserman and his colleagues are now examining the relationship between phytoestrogens and other primate species, including our closest-living relative, the chimpanzee, to determine how common estrogenic plants are in the diets of wild primates.
"Human ancestors took most of their diet from wild tropical plants, and our biology has changed little since this time, so similar relationships as those found here are expected to have occurred over our evolutionary history," said Wasserman, now a post-doctoral scholar at McGill University's Department of Anthropology in Montreal, Canada.
However, the researchers noted that the red colobus diet contains a high percentage of leaves, while the diet of chimpanzees, other apes and human ancestors consists primarily of fruits. Thus, one of Wasserman's current goals is to compare the presence of phytoestrogens in wild leaves and fruits.
"If phytoestrogens make up a significant proportion of a fruit-eating primate's diet, and that consumption has similar physiological and behavioral effects as those observed in the red colobus, then estrogenic plants likely played an important role in human evolution," said Wasserman. "After studying the effects of phytoestrogens in apes and fruit-eating primates, we can then get a better sense of how these estrogenic compounds may influence human health and behavior."
|Contact: Sarah Yang|
University of California - Berkeley