Making Sense of Soy: The Real Benefits of Soy for the Menopausal Woman


Making Sense of Soy: The Real Benefits of Soy for the Menopausal Woman

“Take soy supplements. They will make it easier to deal with menopause.”

“Soy supplements are useless. They won’t do anything for your symptoms.”

Soy Instead of Hormone Replacement Therapy?

Many women struggling with menopause turn to hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to help ease their symptoms and make “the change” easier to deal with. However, research has shown that HRT can cause significant side effects and increase health risks, including potential increased risks for breast cancer, stroke and heart disease. In addition, HRT can be expensive and isn’t always completely covered by insurance, although the prices are lower from an online Canadian pharmacy.

In the early 2000s, many doctors began recommending soy supplements as a way to ease symptoms of menopause, as soy contains high levels of phytoestrogens, or plant-based estrogens. For some women, increasing the amount of soy they consumed each day proved effective in managing the symptoms. However, most of the evidence was anecdotal, so scientists at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine undertook a study designed to test the effectiveness of soy as an alternative to HRT.

Many women struggling with menopause turn to hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to help ease their symptoms and make “the change” easier to deal with. However, research has shown that HRT can cause significant side effects and increase health risks, including potential increased risks for breast cancer, stroke and heart disease. In addition, HRT can be expensive and isn’t always completely covered by insurance, although the prices are lower from an online Canadian pharmacy.

The study followed 248 women who were within five years of menopause. Half of the women were given a placebo, while the other half were instructed to take a daily supplement that amounted to approximately twice the amount of soy in the typical Asian diet. Scientists followed up with the women after two years, and the results were surprising: Not only did the women who took the soy show no improvement in terms of bones density or menopause symptoms, they actually reported more hot flashes than the placebo group as well as other complications, including more constipation.

While the results were disappointing to both the researchers, and the women who hoped that soy could help them avoid HRT, just because soy does not appear to have any effect on menopause symptoms doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have any other benefits. In fact, new research indicates that eating a diet rich in soy before menopause can actually have significant health benefits unrelated to menopause itself.

Soy and Heart Health

Soy for heart health

While menopause itself does not increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, the natural process of aging means that unhealthy lifestyle choices are more likely to catch up with you after menopause. Smoking, not exercising and a high-fat diet are all associated with an increased risk for heart disease. In addition, the decrease in estrogen that takes place after menopause is believed to contribute to atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries.

However, research shows that a diet rich in soy can actually help improve heart health after menopause, and reduce the risk of atherosclerosis and other problems. A study at Wake Forest University found that not only does a diet rich in soy help maintain good cholesterol levels both before and after menopause, switching to a high-soy diet after menopause can have a positive effect on cholesterol as well. However, the researchers are quick to point out that it’s best to develop a heart-healthy lifestyle before menopause, as the habit you develop earlier will carry through menopause, possibly making the transition easier and reducing the risk of serious disease.

Adding Soy to Your Diet

To get the greatest health benefits from soy, it’s important to understand the best type of soy to eat and what to look for.

If you want to try soy as a means to control hot flashes, you want to eat foods that are high in soy isoflavones, which are the phytoestrogens. Experts recommend eating at least 40 to 80 milligrams of soy isoflavones each day for the best results. A 3-ounce serving of tofu, for example, as about 20 milligrams of isoflavones, while a half cup serving of edamame (steamed soybeans) has about 12 milligrams.

However, for heart health, you want to eat foods that are rich in soy protein, which may not be the same as those with high levels of isoflavones. The best way to benefit from soy, according to doctors, is to replace half of your normal dairy or animal-based protein intake with soy products instead. Try tempeh instead of a hamburger, for example, or a meatless tofu hot dog or sausage. As a bonus, you’ll eat far fewer calories and less fat with soy products than with typical meat or dairy.

So while soy might not be the natural replacement for hormones that it was once believed to be, that doesn’t mean you should skip it altogether. Adjusting your diet before menopause could have major benefits to your cardiovascular health and help you move past menopause easily — even if it doesn’t do much for those terrible hot flashes.