The 'M' word Part 5- Should I take soya isoflavones?

What are soya isoflavones? 
Soya isoflavones are phytoestrogens that is chemicals derived from plants that mimic the effects of oestogen in the body although they are much weaker than oestrogen. Soya products such as tofu, soy beans, miso, soy milk, yogurt and cheese are all sources of these phytoestrogens along with other plant based foods such as chickpeas, and other legumes. Check with your doctor before taking a supplement. For instance, if you suffer from asthma or have had breast cancer you may find soya isoflavones are contraindicated. You may not need a supplement if you include soy products in your diet. If you do decide to go ahead and take a supplement, make sure it is not from genetically modified soya, that is non-GMO.

How do they work to ease the symptoms of menopause? 
Initially when you begin going through the menopause your oestrogen levels actually become elevated as your body overcompensates for falling oestrogen levels (your body likes to keep everything the same - this is known as homeostasis). This can cause heavy blood loss, headaches, mood swings and breast tenderness. At this time soya isoflavones act as endocrine disruptors blocking the effects of the excess oestrogen by binding to oestrogen receptors. This period of elevated oestrogen is followed by a  decline in oestrogen. At this time the soya isoflavones bind to the oestrogen receptors mimicking the effects of oestrogen and thereby reducing menopausal symptoms.

Other benefits of soya isoflavones 
It was noticed that Asian populations that include a great deal of soy in their diet have lower rates of breast cancer, endometrial cancer, osteoporosis, heart disease and menopausal symptoms. The effect on heart disease is due to lowering LDL cholesterol (the 'baddie') and increasing HDL cholesterol (the 'good guy'). Science is still unsure if all these benefits are attributable to the consumption of soy but of the research that has been carried out soy would seem to have a positive effect in menopause. More research is still needed however to establish the long term effects.  

Soya isoflavones vs HRT 
HRT has been shown to have a positive effect on cardiovascular health in menopausal women. Also on bone density, cognitive function and menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes. However HRT is also associated with an increased risk of breast cancer and endometrial cancer. There is also an increased risk of blood clots leading to stroke in women who already have cardiovascular disease.  

Given these risks it may well be that soy isoflavones are a good natural alternative. Current research will hopefully prove this to be the case.  

Please see also ''The M-Word Part 1-Diet to help ease your way through the menopause''- 

''The 'M' word Part 2 - coping with 'brain fog', and memory impairment'' 
''The 'M' word Part 3-Avoiding weight gain in the menopause''

Stay well,

Janet x

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