Menopause is a stage in life all women have to go through. It's defined as the end of menstruation and generally starts around the age of 50, though a determining factor is the age at which a woman experienced her first menstrual cycle. Some of the symptoms related to menopause are: hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, irritability, depression and anxiety, among others.
It is believed that soy provides many health benefits in general, but is especially good for alleviating the symptoms of menopause. Asian women have been known to have a lower incidence of hot flashes and night sweats when compared to American women. Also, it is known that traditionally Asian diets are high in soy, thus more research was dedicated to discovering the role that soy has on the symptoms of menopause.
Soy is a legume that contains large amounts of phytoestrogens and is one of the best sources of isoflavone. Isoflavones are very similar to estrogens produced by the body. These compounds compete with estrogens for the same receptor and can produce similar effects.
The exact mechanism that produces hot flashes during menopause is still unclear, but it is believed that they are caused by a decrease in estrogen levels. For this reason it is believed that women could benefit from the estrogen-like effects of soy.
According to the American Dietetic Association, a dose of 70 to 100 mg/day of isoflavone extract can decrease the severity of hot flashes produced during menopause by 40 to 60%. Thus, soy could help decrease the intensity, though not the incidence of symptoms.
Also, it is believed that soy can help prevent some problems that intensify after menopause such as osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease and cancer. In the case of osteoporosis, soy phytoestrogens help decrease the loss of bone, given that bone health depends on various factors related to estrogen.
With respect to cardiovascular disease, data indicates that the rate of deaths caused by it is lower in Asia than in North and South American countries. The soy-rich diet followed by Asian populations is known to play an important role since this legume has been shown to have beneficial effects on blood cholesterol levels. However, the exact compound responsible for these changes has not yet been identified. Most likely the benefits are attributed to isoflavones, but other components may also be involved.
It is also believed that soy helps in preventing cancer, given the much lower incidence rate of this disease in Asia as compared with America. Doubt remains, however, as to whether these benefits are attributable to the consumption of soy, or if differences in genetics and lifestyle in general have more of an influence.
Some suggestions for including soy in your diet:
A variety of soy-based products can be found such as soy drinks (soy milk), tofu, soy cheese, roasted soybeans, soy meat substitutes, fruit juice with soy, etc. An advantage of these products is that they can be mixed with other foods and easily seasoned in a variety of ways. For example, tofu can substitute for chicken in a salad, soy milk can be mixed with frozen fruit to make a protein- and antioxidant-rich smoothie, and soy meat can be combined with ground turkey to make hamburgers.
- American Dietetic Association (2007). Nutrition and Women’s Health Position Paper. Reviewed Mayo 2008 from www.eatright.org
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