Soy & Menopause

soya menopauseSoy(soya in the UK), has recently been hailed as the latest `discovery` in the fight against menopausal symptoms, although in actual fact, soy protein has been used as a food ingredient for over forty years.

If you`re unsure of the merits of eating a diet rich in soy products, this article will hopefully make things clearer for you.

How Would It Help?

As women move towards menopause and estrogen levels begin to drop, we experience symptoms associated with fluctuating hormones.  Soy products such as tofu, tempeh and miso are rich sources of a substance similar to estrogen, called isoflavones. Some people claim that foods containing soy are a simplified and natural form of HRT (albeit a weakened version). So what exactly do we know about soy as a menopause food?

In Japan, where soy foods are consumed daily, women are one-third as likely to suffer menopausal symptoms as in the United States or Canada. Interestingly there is no word in the Japanese language for “hot flashes”.

What Symptoms Does Soy Help With?

Soy seems to do very well in alleviating hot flashes and recent recommendations are that women take between 40 – 70 mg of soy per day to help with symptoms. That would equate to 1 – 4 servings every day.

To give you an idea of the approximate amount of isoflavones per serving, the following each contain 40 mg:

¨      Soy Milk – 1 cup

¨      Miso – ½ cup

¨      Tofu – 4oz

¨      Tempeh – 4oz

How Much Is Beneficial?

One study focused on post-menopausal women who consumed 40 grams of soy protein every day for 6 months. Researchers found that these women significantly increased their bone mineral density compared to the other group. Another study found that eating soy was associated with a significantly lower risk of fracture, particularly among post-menopausal women.

Regarding concerns of estrogen and breast cancer, it has been acknowledged that the phytoestrogens in soy foods, may block estrogen from reaching the receptors and therefore potentially protecting women from developing breast cancer. But for women who already have breast cancer, a few studies showed the estrogen like effects in isoflavones may prove harmful to them. If a women is post-menopausal,  concentrated soy supplements may add estrogen to the body and hence increase breast cancer risk. Therefore, post-menopausal women should avoid taking concentrated soy supplements until more is known.

As Yet, The Benefits Remain Unproven

American Institute for Cancer Research stresses that as yet, data on soy and breast cancer are not conclusive.  Prostate cancer seems to be very promising and many studies support the role of soy in the prevention and possible treatment of prostate cancer. Cancer research states that more work is needed in all areas of soy and cancer treatment before any dietary recommendations can be made.

Although vegetarians have been using soy as an alternative to meat for years—as it is a rich source of the B Vitamins– nowadays it can be found in a variety of foods, including, soy milk, soybeans and soy burgers. It is an excellent source of protein, calcium, iron, zinc and magnesium, low in saturated fats and has no cholesterol.

Now, while studies have shown that isoflavones behave like estrogens in the body and there has been improvement in symptoms for some women, it must be remembered that soy, manufacturers are keen to promote this message. After all, it`s good for business. But such a message may give women the impression that soy can be used alone to naturally relieve symptoms of menopause and as yet, this has not been confirmed by clinical studies.

As the connection of soy as an aid to menopause is quite recent, there is understandably lots of contradictory information and advice. As always, we have given you both sides of the story and the choice of whether to include soy products in your diet is of course entirely yours.

Please consult your doctor and a nutritionist if you do decide to change your diet dramatically.

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