Genistein exploded onto the health scene a number of years ago after researchers started to delve into the health benefits of eating soy. It turns out that soy could help inhibit the growth and spread of certain cancers and one of the key players in this is “genistein.” Genistein is what’s known as a phytoestrogen — or, in other words, an estrogen-like chemical compound present in plants that binds to estrogen receptors and has both estrogenic and anti-estrogenic effects.
There are three major classes of phytoestrogens that have estrogen-like actions in the human body. They are lignans, isoflavones, and coumestans. Genistein is an isoflavone. Researchers are still discovering new things about the health benefits of this super-nutrient. Just recently, a team of scientists from Virginia Tech in the U.S. studied the effect of genistein on a common symptom associated with
diabetes: vascular inflammation.
Vascular inflammation is a potentially serious medical condition caused by the buildup of plaque within arterial walls. Commonly referred to as “atherosclerosis,” vascular inflammation is a progressive condition that is usually managed with medication and/or lifestyle changes.
For their study, the Virginia research team investigated the link between hyperglycemia-induced vascular inflammation and enhanced monocyte-endothelial cell (EC) interaction — which is, according to the researchers, the key event in the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis in diabetes.
Six-week-old diabetic mice were untreated or treated with a diet containing one gram genistein/kilogram of diet for eight weeks. Non-diabetic mice were used as normal controls. The researchers found that genistein treatment suppressed diabetes-induced EC interaction by a whopping 87%! They concluded that genistein improves diabetes-caused vascular inflammation.
To boost your intake of genistein, soybeans are probably your best bet. Besides being full of genistein, soybeans are also a cholesterol-free, high protein legume — so they’re a healing food all around. Other legumes, such as chickpeas (or garbanzo beans), contain small amounts of genistein. Genistein can also be found in food products containing soy such as tofu, soymilk, soy flour, textured soy protein, tempeh, and miso.
Other plant foods that have been shown to contain genistein include alfalfa and clover sprouts, barley meal, broccoli, cauliflower, and sunflower, caraway, and clover seeds.