The soy deception | Does soy help with menopause?


Nowadays the benefits of soy foods in helping menopause symptoms is being shouted from the rooftops. It is being promoted for its health benefits in helping prevent some cancers, heart disease and osteoporosis. In the past few years, the soy industry has poured vast amounts of time and energy into marketing and advertising soy foods and promoting its use as a health food. While there does seem to be gathering evidence that soy has mild estrogenic properties-that mimic the natural estrogen our bodies produce-it would be prudent to avoid getting too caught up in the hype of this relatively new health ‘angle.’

Now, as a vegetarian for over 30 years and someone who drinks only soy milk and eats other soy products regularly, I have to say that I am rarely ill. My concern however, comes from the fact that women may be led into believing that they only have to consume soy on a daily basis and all their menopausal symptoms will miraculously vanish (oh, if this were only true).

Although soy products have been around for many years, it is only in the past few that it has been promoted as an answer to hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause. And while I would absolutely love for soy to be the miracle cure of all menopausal symptoms-at this early stage, I feel that we should await results of the tests that are currently being carried out, before we become too excited. Because, make no mistake, if it does turn out that soy is the new wonder food, the manufacturers will ensure that we know all about it.

In the meantime, try a variety of remedies for your symptoms and don’t pin all your hopes on any single one-at least not until it`s proved itself worthy of your loyalty!

The buzz around soy

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.

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.