Soy! Oh Boy!

Posted by on Aug 27, 2008 in hot flash, nightsweats, women's health | 10 comments

It’s Wednesday, meaning that it’s time for me to debunk a popular myth about menopause or provide you with a bit of inspiration for hump day.

Tongues have been wagging a lot about soy isoflavones (plant-based compounds with estrogen-like properties)  with the most disturbing reports linking high doses to genetic damage and stimulation of estrogen receptors to promote breast cancer.

So, do you need to be worried if your current menopause diet includes lots of soy? (You can read more about the potential benefits of soy here.) Evidently, the answer is NO!

According to a newly published study in the Menopause Journal, unconjugated forms of soy isoflavones are safe and well tolerated at daily doses as high as 900 mg/day. (Unconjugated forms are more readily absorbed into the bloodstream.)

In this study, researchers administered soy isoflavones or placebo to 30 postmenopausal women for 84 days.  The goals of the study were to measure DNA damage, cell death and any changes that would indicate that estrogen was stimulated (which might lead to tumor growth). The researchers found no indication that high (900 mg) daily doses of soy caused DNA damage, increased cell death or affected estrogen. What’s more, any side effects (ocurring in only 1 woman) were mild or moderate in severity.

Granted, the study population is quite small and more data are needed to confirm these findings. Neverthless, the researchers do conclude that despite the considerable debate over the negative, estrogen-related effects of soy isoflavones, findings suggest only minimal effects.

If you are currently using soy isoflavones as a strategy to combat vasomotors symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats, eat with ease. It appears that you are not increasing your breast cancer risk. Nevertheless, as my grandmother used to say “everything in moderation.”

Happy News for Wednesday!

[Cross-posted at EmpowHer.com]

10 Comments

  1. 8-27-2008

    thank goodness. now please pass the edemame!

  2. 8-28-2008

    Hi, I liked your post title and clicked over from Problogger. I ate a huge bowl of edamame yesterday. Good info here.

  3. 8-28-2008

    It’s nice to see a positive article about soy. As a vegan I eat quite a bit of soy and am always being told that since I have thyroid issues I shouldn’t eat it. However, my doctor says it’s fine and my levels are always perfect as long as I keep up with my meds. And the whole “soy makes you gay” scare tactic always makes me laugh.

  4. 8-29-2008

    Amy – eat away! Next time, I’ll join you!
    Laurin -glad you found me. I’m happy to welcome a new reader and am a huge edamame fan myself!
    Marc – thanks! for the pingback and plug!

  5. 8-29-2008

    Hi,
    I find your article a little confusing. Most people are really unfamiliar with the idea that fresh, unprocessed soy; the way americans eat it; is not very good for the human body. In fact, it is often described as toxic.

    However, processed soy (tofu) the way the Japanese eat it is good for the human body. I’d like to reference a book by Michael Pollen “In defense of foods” that says you should avoid soy isoflavones completely.

    Why tolerate a food in any measure that is consider toxic?
    -Sharon

  6. 8-29-2008

    Sharon. Thanks for your input. Unequivocal statements are often very dangerous. Pollan’s contention that soy isoflavones should be avoided altogether overlooks the fact that their estrogen-like properties have been shown, in carefully controlled clinical studies, to exert favorable effects on things like blood pressure and to a lesser extent, vasomotor symptoms in postmenopausal women. Many of these studies utilized the unprocessed forms, like soy nuts, that you say are toxic to the body.

    Now if you delve deeper, the reason why folks like Pollan (who is an environmental journalist btw) say that unprocessed forms of soy are dangerous is that he is referring to the pesticides, etc that may go into their growing and manufacturing.

    Like any food, and as I state in the post, eat soy in moderation. Large, daily amounts of anything is rarely if ever recommended. Try to look for organic labels (which may help to eliminate the pesticide issue altogether), and avoid drinking soy milk every day.

  7. 8-30-2008

    What is the “fresh unprocessed soy” Americans eat that Sharon is referring to? I lived in Japan for 20 years and have developed what feels like a healthy habit of eating tofu regularly. I’m not a vegetarian, I alternate tofu with fish. I’d like to point out that one of the big advantages of tofu is it is a cheap and dietetic protein. A bit gas producing but oh well.
    Please share this discussion over at the ask and share health site EmpowHer.com. They love this sort of thing.

  8. 8-31-2008

    Great post! I’d like to learn more about the benefits of soy. I will be bringing my mom back here!

  9. 2-4-2009

    Tried estrogen-only patches off and on with moderate relief; finally stopped because would develop leg cramps in the calf (worried about those clots!) Now doing Nutrisystem which is heavily soy-based. Have developed a painful lump in right calf again. Question: Connection between the soy and its estrogen-like properties??

  10. 2-4-2009

    L – according to that National Library of Medicine, dietary soy has not been shown to affect long-term heart-related outcomes such as heart attack and stroke. Nevertheless, if you have a painful lump, you should consult your doctor or healthcare provider. Good health to you!

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