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Soy: One Option for Menopause

Soy: One Option for Menopause 
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Now a study reveals that postmenopausal women who add soy to their diet may experience relief from menopausal symptoms
Despite a lack of conclusive research, many women try soy because they have heard that its plant-based estrogen-like compounds (isoflavones) may ease menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and irritability. Now a study published in Maturitas affirms the benefits of soy and reveals that postmenopausal women who add soy to their diet may experience similar relief from symptoms as women who took hormone replacement therapy.

Soy soothes symptoms caused by "the change"

In the past, some women have relied on hormone replacement therapy to relieve menopausal symptoms, but since the news about the increased risk of breast cancer associated with long-term hormone therapy use, women and clinicians have searched for alternative options for relief.

In this study, 60 healthy women (40 to 60 years old) were randomly assigned to receive dietary soy supplementation (90 mg of isoflavones), hormone therapy (1 mg estradiol and 0.5 mg norethestirone acetate), or placebo daily for 16 weeks.

Participants were surveyed about their symptoms before and after treatment. Results showed that women in all the treatment groups experienced relief from hot flashes, muscle pain, and psychological symptoms such as irritability and fatigue. But compared with the placebo group, relief from hot flashes, muscle pain and urogenital symptoms was greater in the hormone therapy and dietary soy group. "Many women consider the risk associated with hormone therapy to be unacceptable and request nonhormonal alternatives for the management of their...symptoms," said Lucio O. Carmignani and his colleagues from the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, State University of Campinas, Brazil. The authors state that soy may be one helpful option that women and clinicians consider, and they recommend that treatment be based on each person's specific symptoms and level of distress.

Should you use soy?

  • It's nutrient-rich. Soy is an excellent source of protein, which is important for people who are vegetarians or vegans as they rely on plant rather than animal sources of protein. Soy foods are also full of other key nutrients such as potassium and magnesium.
  • It has a wide range of healthful effects. Regularly eating soy may support bone health, heart health, and cancer prevention, among other healthy effects. Recent research suggests that men who regularly eat soy may reduce their risk of prostate cancer. Further research is needed about the full range of health benefits from soy and the optimal amount to eat.
  • It's not for everybody. Soy may not be appropriate for certain people, so check with your doctor before taking soy supplements.

(Maturitas 2010;67:262-9.)

Jane Hart, MD, board-certified in internal medicine, serves in a variety of professional roles including consultant, journalist, and educator. Dr. Hart, a Clinical Instructor at Case Medical School in Cleveland, Ohio, writes extensively about health and wellness and a variety of other topics for nationally recognized organizations, websites, and print publications. Sought out for her expertise in the areas of integrative and preventive medicine, she is frequently quoted by national and local media. Dr. Hart is a professional lecturer for healthcare professionals, consumers, and youth and is a regular corporate speaker.