Soy & Menopause: Women Are Eating Soy To Combat Menopause

Wednesday, October 11, 2006 - 12:49pm

By Rose Giordano

Menopause is a natural part of life that typically occurs over the course of one year in women between the ages of 35-58 years (with an average age of 51). Women undergoing "the change" usually experience a variety of symptoms, including:

  • Mood swings
  • Hot flashes
  • Night sweats
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Urinary disturbances
  • Bone deterioration

What causes these symptoms? The loss of the hormone called estrogen. In fact, the loss of estrogen has also been linked to heart disease and an increased risk of osteoporosis.

Hormone replacement therapy for the menopause can be risky

To help alleviate the discomfort of menopause and fight its negative effect on women's health, many physicians prescribe hormone replacement therapy (HRT) as a treatment. HRT typically involves estrogen supplements in addition to other combinations of hormones. However, during the last few years scientific research has suggested that HRT leads to an increased risk of breast cancer. The American Heart Association has also indicated that HRT does not provide any benefit to those with preexisting heart disease. All this bad press has caused many women to search for alternative treatments to HRT.

A natural estrogen, soy holds promise as an HRT alternative

Many women have looked to changing their diets to minimize the negative symptoms of menopause. Research on plant compounds known as isoflavones has gained considerable interest in the field of human nutrition. Soybeans are a rich source of two particular types of isoflavones that have been termed phytoestrogens because of their ability to mimic the effects of estrogen.

Consider this, a study on Japanese women showed a lower incidence of breast cancer and cardiovascular disease than white women. The researchers suggested that this difference was due to the high soy intake of the Japanese culture as compared to that of the United States1.

Another research study looked at a different source of isoflavones, red clover supplements. The results indicated a protective effect on the spine of women after one year of supplementation with red clover when compared with the placebo group2.

In 1999, the USDA supported the health claim that "25 grams of soy protein per day as a part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease." In order for food labels to claim this benefit, the ingredients must contain a minimum of 6.25 grams of soy protein per serving.

Soy supplements may not be the answer

Despite this approval, there isn't enough scientific evidence to recommend soy supplements to achieve the same health benefits. Researchers have yet to determine that the cardiovascular benefits of the soy protein are strictly from the isoflavones or from their combination of with other chemicals in the food. Because of this, your best bet is to include soy in your diet in the form whole foods such as soy beans, tofu, or other soy containing products.

1Source: Biomedical Pharmacotherapy 2002; 56:302-12.

2Source: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2004; 79(2):326-33.