Search results for genistein

Are you getting the sleep you need?

Posted by on Feb 14, 2011 in sleep disturbance | 4 comments


Sometimes I don’t even know what that means any longer. I long for the day (night) that I sleep a solid eight hours without awakening. However, that may the thing that my dreams are made of.

As I’ve written previously on Flashfree, sleep becomes more of an issue as we grow older.  Factors like less efficient sleep and a greater difficulty staying asleep can lead to depression and affect overall wellbeing. More frustrating than  the lack of sleep however, is the fact that experts can’t quite agree on the key factor underlying sleep disruptions: is it aging? Hormone fluctuations? Apnea? Moreover, do you treat the cause or the factor?

Besides my own personal interest in the topic, I do believe that the more that individuals understand the factors affecting their sleep quality, the greater their ability to proactively do something about it. That’s why I am always intrigued when I run across new research, like this study on isoflavones and sleep in the February edition of Menopause.

In it, 38 menopausal women who qualified as insomniacs (i.e. having difficulty falling or staying asleep or whose sleep is disrupted or insufficient enough to affect alertness and physical/mental wellbeing) participated. Over a course of four months, the women were asked to take a daily 80 mg isoflavone pill (primarily made up of genistein) or a sugar pill. During the study, all women had blood work done, were visited monthly by a researcher to discuss their menopausal symptoms/complaints, and underwent sleep assessments.

The researchers say that they found that use of daily isoflavones actually decreased the frequency of insomnia by as much as 30%, and increased sleep efficiency — the ratio of time asleep to time spent in bed — by as much as 6%. Apparently, women using isoflavones also had fewer and less intense hot flashes.

Importantly, the researchers say that there is a paucity of published sleep studies in menopausal women and even fewer that look at alternative or complementary therapies. Nevertheless they point out that by using a standard of sleep analysis — polysomnography – they were able to demonstrate significant objective improvements in insomnia among women taking isoflavones. In contrast, studies reporting improvements in sleep after hormone therapy have been based on subjective reports.

Another critical point that they make is that although this was a small study, almost 70% of women had objectively defined insomnia, demonstrating the breadth of the problem in menopause. Moreover, sleep disturbances that drove these women to seek help tended to be individualized, indicating that there is a depth of insomnia-related complaints that affect aging women in this stage of their lives that warrant a closer look.  Still, despite these differences, soy appeared to work well across the range of complaints.

Are closer to unlocking the chicken versus egg, ie aging versus factors mystery surrounding sleep? Perhaps not. And it’s unlikely that soy will work exactly the same for each person. No medicine does. However, soy appears to be a safe and potentially effective treatment for sleep disturbances during menopause.

How’s your sleep? And what steps are you taking to improve it? `

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Soy. Is it safe?

Posted by on Jan 3, 2011 in diet, herbal medicine, osteoporosis | 0 comments

For years, researchers have been exploring the potential of soy isoflavones — naturally-occurring plant estrogens — for alleviating menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, atrophy and bone loss. Thus far, certain components of soy, including genestein and S-equol have shown the most promise. However, are they safe?  And, as the adoption of soy as a viable alternative to risk-ridden hormone replacement therapy continues to grow, and women turn to supplements rather than food-based soy, is there anything that they need to worry about in terms of side effects?

Researchers recently evaluated this question in a study of 403 postmenopausal women who took  either 80 mg soy tablets, 120 mg soy tablets or placebo tablet daily for  two years. The particular type of soy isoflavones used were hypocotyl isoflavones, which are a byproduct of soy protein and (very rich in daidzein – the second most plentiful isoflavone in soy. The effects of the supplements were measured at the study’s start, at one year and at the end via blood tests and a well-woman examination (i.e. mammogram, pap smear, x-rays to measure bone density). A smaller group of women also had ultrasounds done to determine any possible effects on the lining of the uterus or development of fibroids.

Although the primary goal of the study was to determine the effects of this type of soy supplement on osteoporosis and bone loss, the researchers discovered that taking soy supplements during this time period did not present any major risk to health and did not affect thyroid function. Although one participant developed breast cancer during the study and one, endometrial cancer, 1) utrasounds in the subgroup of women who received them did not show any uterine thickening and 2) the rate of cancer development in this study, only two women over a two year time period, was considerably lower than statistically likely in a general population of women. Both of these factors support the contention that soy isoflavones are not likely to promote either cancers.

So, is soy safe over the long-term? It appears that it is. HOWEVER, bear in mind that the type of soy used in this study is are very different that the type that is commonly sold over the counter, which commonly contain higher percentages of genistein, the most plentiful isoflavone component in soy.

And what about osteoporosis? This particular paper did not address those specific results, although others have. Thus far, the results have been mixed. However, this particular study, better known as OPUS (Osteoporosis Prevention Using Soy)is one of the largest and most comprehensive to date and those findings are likely to come to light soon.

In the interim, if you are going to be taking soy in supplement form, be mindful that your exposure is likely to be as one to four times that a typical Asian diet and as much as 100 times that of a typical Western diet. While these level do not appear to be harmful, herbal and plant medicines are not without risk so as always, the rule of thumb is be vigilant and speak to a health practitioner first.

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Soy! Everything you wanted to know. Or should.

Posted by on Sep 20, 2010 in hot flash, HRT | 6 comments

Confusion about soy abounds. Does it help hot flashes, improve bone health or prevent heart disease by lowering cholesterol? Or it is no more effective than placebo?  Does its effectiveness rely upon the ratio of certain isoflavones — the plant-based estrogen-like components, which in soy include  genistein (50-55% of total isoflavone content of soy), daidzein (40% to 45% of total isoflavone content) and glyceitein (5% to 10% of total isoflavone content) — or is the metabolite S-equol the only component that will yield estrogen-like benefits without negative health risks?

Are you perplexed? I sure am, which is why this particular post may be a bit to scientific for a few and too long for others. however, it’s important to understand some of the reasons why soy continues to intrigue, baffle and well, show differing results in terms of benefits for menopausal symptoms. So I encourage you to bear with me.

I’ve written previously that there are several key reasons why researchers have yet to make any any definitive conclusions about soy during menopause, such as poorly designed studies, small number of study participants, wide range of ages and years from menopause, and the fact that the pros and cons of an agent or strategy are not being studied for a long enough period of time. In other cases, there is an inconsistency in the soy preparation being studied and the ratio of isoflavones may differ; alternatively, researchers have not accounted for the presence of other isoflavones in the diet, which may influence results.

Does a new study that appears in the advanced online edition of Maturitas journal, comparing low-dose hormone therapy to soy powder in women with hot flashes, offer any anything more definitive or different than what’s gone before?


The 16-week study enrolled 60 women between the ages of 40 and 60, all of whom had had their last period at least 12 months, had the same frequency of hot flashes (more than 8 per 24 hours), had not used any hormonal treatment in the 6 months leading up to the study period, and were not currently using any drugs that lower blood fats, treat diabetes, taking other soy-based products or using herbal supplements.

Women participating in the study were randomly assigned:

  1. low-dose hormone therapy (a Activelle ®tablet daily, better known as Activella® in the US) plus a placebo powder or
  2. 2 portions daily of dietary soy supplementation powder (comprising 45 mg isoflavone per dose) plus a placebo tablet, or
  3. 1 placebo tablet/2 portions placebo powder.

All women were first screened  for  current hormone levels, reproductive history, age at menopause, time since menopause, medication use and cigarette/alcohol consumption. During the study, they were asked to use a standardized scale to evaluate menopausal symptoms (hot flashes, heart discomfort, sleep, and muscle and joint problems) mood (depression, irritability, anxiety, physical/mental exhaustion) and sexual problems, bladder problems and vaginal dryness.

The results?

Both hormone therapy and soy supplementation were associated with significant improvements in hot flashes and joint/muscle pain (which declined by about 45.6% in the hormone group and 49.8% in the soy group) and in vaginal dryness (which decline d by 38.6% in the hormone group and 31.2% in the soy group) compared to women who took placebo. Improvements in mood scores were consistent between the three groups, indicating that other factors, such as caring and attention by medical practitioners throughout the study, may have played some role in wellbeing. Moreover, both treatments were considered safe with few side effects.

These results are quite promising, as they indicate that soy may indeed, offer an alternative to hormone therapy in menopausal women seeking relief. However, it’s important to consider the following:

  • Like many of its predecessors, the study is a small one.
  • The study length was short, lasting only 16 weeks, which some critics might say is too short a time period to elicit a satisfactory clinical response.
  • The researchers did not analyze whether or not the women actually took the drugs or soy consistently, and relied on their self-reports.

On the other hand:

  • The study followed strict Western scientific guidelines and the women and the researchers did not know who was taking what.
  • Symptoms were measured using a common quality of life scale whose goal it is to diminish errors by healthcare practitioners when analyzing results of questionnaires. This particular scale, better known as the MRS, is widely used and allows researchers to evaluate symptoms and treatment over time.

There has been a lot of criticism geared towards alternative treatments, such as acupuncture, herbs and Chinese medicine, as being shams, especially because there is no evidence supporting their use for addressing troublesome menopausal symptoms. Others will claim that the placebo effect is at play, i.e. a situation in which symptoms are relieved by an otherwise ineffective treatment due to expectations or beliefs. However, the researchers of this particular study point to the placebo effect in studies comparing estrogen to placebo, demonstrating for example, a 75% reduction in hot flashes among hormone users compared to a 57% reduction in hot flashes among women taking placebo.

The most important conclusion to be drawn is that there is early evidence that soy supplementation may be as effective as low-dose hormonal therapy in relieving certain vasomotor symptoms and possibly, vaginal dryness. We need more studies like this one, enrolling larger numbers of women, in order to definitively demonstrate benefit. Dollar for dollar, the monthly difference between the two treatments may only be about $30.  Yet, this is one of the first studies I’ve seen that followed enough rules to quiet the rioters. And that alone, is worth the price of admission.

Stay tuned. The fat lady hasn’t sung her soy aria as of yet.

[Special thanks to Reuters Health Executive Editor Ivan Oransky, for your continued support of my mission to provide timely, evidence-based information on menopause and midlife to my readers.]

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Looking for the Big Sleep?

Posted by on Aug 27, 2010 in menopause, sleep disturbance | 0 comments

Those of you who are going through hormonal shifts, night sweats or hot flashes knows exactly what I’m talking about. Sleep. Sleep, the elusive gold ring that plagues many of us going through the transition. How many sheep have you counted this evening? Or last night? Or last week? Heck, I’m ready to start my own version of Farmville. Any takers?

Experts say that as many as 63% of postmenopausal women have insomnia. Frankly, I’m tired.

So, before you let another sleepless, toss and turn type of night go by, you might want to pay attention: isoflavones may just take away the awakenings that go bump in the your night. Say what?! Mind you, this is a very small study, enlisting only 38 menopausal women. However, I can dare to dream (or think about dreaming), can’t I? Participants were selected on the basis of their sleep complaints, meaning that they had to have difficulty initiating or maintaining sleep, or constantly experience nonrestorative, insufficient sleep to avoid fatigue and lack of alertness during the day.  They were given a lecture about sleep hygiene, menopausal symptoms and general healthcare and then had a general checkup, after which time, they were asked to take an 80 mg soy isoflavone (estrogen-like plant compounds tablet (containing mostly of a type of soy isoflavone called genistein) or a sugar tablet daily for four months. Thereafter,  they were assessed for sleeping habits, general complaints and any changes in their condition.

The researchers say that not only did use of isoflavones decrease the frequency of moderate and severe insomnia in the women studied by more than 60%, but they also increased sleep efficiency, that is, the degree of alertness the women felt the day following a night of sleep and their ability to perform everyday activities and feel good while doing it. They attribute  improved sleep patterns to a significant decline in the number and intensity of hot flashes.

There are several unanswered questions left by this information, such as whether or not soy will have this effect on a majority of women (remember, the study was small), how soy might affect lifelong insomniacs who also have menopausal symptoms, and if other soy compounds might provide equal benefits. I’d love to see more on this before drawing any conclusions. However, it’s good to know that eventually, tossing and turning might be a thing of the past.

Want more information on sleep and menopause? Check out these posts and please, share your experiences as well!

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Fat…to boldly go where where none has gone before

Posted by on Jun 28, 2010 in herbal medicine, weight gain | 2 comments

That body tire around the middle that tends to plague most women in their late forties and fifties and into old age reminds me of Star Trek – boldly going where no fat has ever gone before. Despite an hour at the gym daily, eating healthy and moderate (okay sometimes more than moderate) intake of alcohol, I still can’t seem to conquer that bulge that’s creeping into my midsection. I’ve spoken to trainers and nutritionists about it and have even tried conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which theoretically helps reduce deposits of body fat. And still, fluctuating hormones and aging seem determined to redistribute that midsection bulge in ways that remain unacceptable (at least, to me). More importantly, however, is the fact that fat that settles in the abdominal areas increases the risk for impaired blood fat and insulin levels that can lead to diabetes and heart disease.

I’ve written about weight and the middle-aged bulge several times in the past and you can find some of these posts here. My friend Mollie Katzen and I collaborated on a post earlier this year about eating habits, food and midlife. And still, an effective solution to the bold bulge continues to elude women, trainers and researchers alike.

Still, a very small study published in the online edition of Menopause shows that hope may still spring eternal. In fact, results suggests that women who took 70 mg isoflavones daily (i.e. 44 mg daidzein, 16 mg glycitein, 10 mg genistein) for six months and then added at least an hour of intensive aerobics, circuit training and resistance training at least three times weekly for another six months experienced significant declines in blood pressure, fat mass and total body weight, and a small reduction in waist circumference (of about an inch and a half). In this particular study, the researchers selected women who were known to respond physically and beneficially to exercise. However, only the women who supplemented their exercise with isoflavones had demonstrable improvements in their fat mass and distribution. These women also experienced improvements in their insulin levels.

Clearly, the benefits of isoflavones added to exercise from both a weight and health perspective need to be explored more thoroughly and with larger numbers of women. However, it is possible that the addition of soy to a regular exercise routine may help to address that elusive bulge from entering the black hole that we call midlife.

Stay tuned!

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