Two hormone-like compounds linked to the consumption of soy-based foods can cause irreversible changes in the structure of the brain, resulting in early-onset puberty and symptoms of advanced menopause in research animals, according to a new study by researchers at North Carolina State University. The study is a breakthrough in determining how these compounds can cause reproductive health problems, as well as in providing a key building block for how to treat these problems.
The study is the first to show that the actual physical organization of a region of the brain that is important for female reproduction can be significantly altered by exposure to phytoestrogens or plant-produced chemicals that mimic hormones during development. Specifically, the study finds that the compounds alter the sex-specific organization of the hypothalamus a brain region that is essential to the regulation of puberty and ovulation. The study also shows that the phytoestrogens could cause long-term effects on the female reproductive system.
While the study examined the impact of these compounds on laboratory rats, neurotoxicologist Dr. Heather Patisaul who co-authored the study says the affected "circuitry" of the brain is similar in both rats and humans. Patisaul is an assistant professor in NC State's Department of Zoology. Her co-author is Heather Bateman, a doctoral student in the department.
Patisaul says this finding is extremely important because, while the changes in brain structure cannot be reversed, "if you understand what is broken, you may be able to treat it." Patisaul says she is in the process of evaluating the effects of these compounds on the ovaries themselves.
Patisaul says that this study is also "a step towards ascertaining the effects of phytoestrogens on developing fetuses and newborns." Patisaul adds that these phytoestrogenic compounds cross the placental barrier in humans and that, while many people are concerned abou
|Contact: Matt Shipman|
North Carolina State University