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Soy: A Controversial Remedy for Menopause Symptoms

Review on October 23, 2008

As many women approach menopause and begin to develop the symptoms so common to this transition in life, many reach for soy products as a natural way to relieve troublesome menopause symptoms such as hot flashes, irregular periods, and night sweats. These women understand the serious risks of hormone replacement therapy and may even be averse to taking mediations. Including soy in the diet sounds like an effective and easy strategy to relieving menopause symptoms. And many women find relief with soy, a natural phytoestrogen.

Soy for menopause symptoms

However, medical experts are not clear the exact benefits of soy for menopause symptoms, particularly in comparison to its potential risks, particularly if consumed in high doses. The following article will explore the risks and benefits of soy products as a natural way to treat menopause symptoms.

As a 2004 New York Times feature reports, doctors are still unclear about the effectiveness of soy in safely relieving menopause symptoms . While some doctors and researchers hail soy as a wonder food that both relieves menopause symptoms and prevents cancer, others say that postmenopausal women are put at greater risks of breast cancer and other health risks by consuming too much soy.

Too much of a good thing?

This question about the risks and benefits of soy has become more pressing as the consumption of soy based products has skyrocketed in the US. Since 2001, soy sales have increased by at least 44 percent, while sales of some supplements has curiously dwindled. Consumers now have many soy choices at the market---from soy milk to edamame to natural soy based snacks and cereals. Experts worry that this peak in soy consumption presents unknown risks.

What do the studies say?

Unfortunately, there have been no double-blind clinical trials (considered the most desirable research method) conducted to measure the effects of soy in humans. Of the studies have been performed the results are conflicting. Here is a smattering of these studies' results.

In 2004, a rigorous study presented in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that soy failed to help post menopausal women by lowering cholesterol levels, improving cognitive function, or boosting bone mineral density.

Studies on soy and have found that soy can reduce hot flashes by about 10 to 20 percent, after accounting for the placebo effect, which is not as great a reduction as is seen with other menopause symptom treatments.

Breast Cancer Concern

The biggest worry over soy consumption for the treatment of menopause symptoms is the possible link between soy and breast cancer. Here is the rub: experts are worried that consuming large quantities of soy might expose women to a form of estrogen that might promote breast cancer. This risk is of particular concern for women who already have a high risk of breast cancer, those with undetected breast cancer, and those who have survived a courageous battle against breast cancer already. Another worry is that soy may interfere with breast cancer treatment drugs, which are by nature anti-estrogenic.

Some animal studies have suggested that soy consumption in rats induced the proliferation of breast cancer cells, which can lead to malignancy. However, these studies have been criticized for their applicability to human women. Other animal research suggests that soy is a weak estrogenic product, with the potential to actually reduce the risks of tumor growth.

While it is important to note that not a single human clinical study has found an increased risk of breast cancer among soy consumers, this doesn't necessarily mean women are in the clear.

What do the experts say now?

Based on limited clinical data and observational information coming from studies of populations with a long history of soy consumption, most doctors recommend soy consumption in moderation (1 to 2 daily servings for a total of 15 to 30 milligrams), especially if it works to relieve menopause symptoms in women. With all the soy-enriched products out there, it is possible to consume far more than this amount, which may not have benefits outweighing some unclear risks.

Women with questions about soy consumption for the relief of menopause symptoms are wise to speak with their doctor. It may also be a good idea to explore other natural ways of relieving menopause symptoms. For example, non-phytoestrogenic herbs can help stimulate the body's natural production of hormones without the potential risks associated with soy and other phytoestrogens. To learn more about these menopause symptom treatments please click here.


Sources:
  • Anne Kendall, M.D., clinical research fellow, breast and biochemistry unit, Royal Marsden Hospital, London, England; Jay Brooks, M.D., chairman, hematology/oncology, Ochsner Clinic Foundation, Baton Rouge, La.; Jan. 26, 2006, Annals of Oncology.
  • Hayes, Daniel F. M.D. "Follow-up of Patients with Early Breast Cancer." http://content.nejm.org"
  • Hormone therapy: Is it right for you?" mayoclinic.com.