During menopause, a woman's body produces less estrogen and progesterone. Soy protein has been considered a possible treatment ever since researchers observed that women in Asia tend to have lower rates of bone loss and osteoporosis.
According to CNN:
"So if soy isn't beneficial, what options are women left with? To prevent bone loss, women should stick with the basics ... That means getting enough calcium and vitamin D, [and] exercising regularly".
Soy is widely promoted as a natural alternative to hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in relieving hot flashes, bone loss and other symptoms of menopause. And since soy is a natural food, many health-conscious women mistakenly believe it is a safe choice. If you are currently taking soy to relieve your menopausal symptoms, you should know that not only is it ineffective, it could actually be damaging your health.
Soy Found Ineffective at Relieving Hot Flashes, Bone Loss
A new study of women taking either soy isoflavone tablets or a placebo for two years found no difference regarding changes in bone mineral density in the spine, hip or neck, while a significantly larger proportion of participants in the soy group experienced hot flashes.
So, clearly, soy supplements actually did more harm than good.
In case you were wondering, the reason why soy was initially targeted as a potential menopause "treatment" is because of two natural drugs it contains -- genistein and daidzein -- which mimic estrogen Menopause occurs when you stop producing estrogen and progesterone, and your periods cease. So, it seemed sensible to scientists that replacing those hormones would alleviate menopausal symptoms.
When this was done artificially using synthetic hormones like Premarin, negative side effects, such as an increased risk of breast cancer, heart disease and insulin levels resulted. So soy was considered a "natural" alternative. Unfortunately, the vast majority of soy at your local market is not a health food, nor a substance I would advise taking in supplemental form for menopause or any other condition.
Most Soy is Not a Safe Solution for Menopause Relief
Unlike the Asian culture, where people eat small amounts of whole, mostly fermented non-GMO soybean products, western food processors separate the soybean into two golden commodities—protein and oil. And there is nothing natural or safe about these products or the vast majority of unfermented soy on the market.
Soy contains hormonal mimics in the form of isoflavones, which can not only disrupt delicate hormone systems in your body, but also act as goitrogens, substances that suppress your thyroid function. When the thyroid is suppressed, a host of health problems result, namely:
- Anxiety and mood swings
- Difficulty losing weight
- Difficulty conceiving children
- Digestive problems and food allergies
Soy foods also contain anti-nutritional factors such as saponins, soyatoxin, phytates, protease inhibitors, oxalates, goitrogens and estrogens. Some of these factors interfere with the enzymes you need to digest protein. While a small amount of anti-nutrients would not likely cause a problem, the amount of soy that many Americans are now eating is extremely high and poses a health threat for many.
The two worst soy products though are infant soy formula and soy protein powders. In my opinion, there simply is never any reason you or anyone you love should be using these products.
Dr. Kaayla Daniel, author of The Whole Soy Story, points out thousands of studies linking soy to malnutrition, digestive distress, immune-system breakdown, thyroid dysfunction, cognitive decline, reproductive disorders and infertility—even cancer and heart disease. Here is just a sampling of the health effects that have been linked to soy consumption:
Breast cancer Brain damage Infant abnormalities Thyroid disorders Kidney stones Immune system impairment Severe, potentially fatal food allergies Impaired fertility Danger during pregnancy and nursing
Further, one of the worst problems with soy comes from the fact that 90 to 95 percent of soybeans grown in the US are genetically modified (GM), and these are used to create soy protein isolate. As GM expert Jeffrey Smith states:
" … the only published human feeding study on GM foods ever conducted verified that the gene inserted into GM soy transfers into the DNA of our gut bacteria and continues to function. This means that years after we stop eating GM soy, we may still have the potentially allergenic protein continuously produced within our intestines."
If You Eat Soy, Make Sure it's Fermented
The claim that soy products can help prevent osteoporosis, decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease and dementia and protect you from certain cancers is actually true, but ONLY if the soy is fermented and organic (non-GMO).
After a long fermentation process, the phytate and "anti-nutrient" levels of soybeans are reduced, and their beneficial properties become available to your digestive system. One of the main benefits of fermented soy, especially fermented soybeans called natto, is that it is the best food source of vitamin K2. Vitamin K2 is essential to preventing osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, and diseases of the brain such as dementia, and helping to protect you from various cancers including prostate, lung, liver cancer and leukemia.
Fermented, organic soy products are the only ones I recommend consuming, which include the following:
- Tempeh a fermented soybean cake with a firm texture and nutty, mushroom-like flavor.
- Miso, a fermented soybean paste with a salty, buttery texture (commonly used in miso soup).
- Natto, fermented soybeans with a sticky texture and strong, cheese-like flavor.
- Soy sauce, which is traditionally made by fermenting soybeans, salt and enzymes; be wary because many varieties on the market today are made artificially using a chemical process.
How to Relieve Hot Flashes and Other Menopausal Symptoms, Naturally
First I want to remind you that menopause is not a medical condition; it is a natural phase of a woman's life and it does not require "treatment." However, many women do experience a variety of very uncomfortable symptoms, including hot flashes and mood swings, around this time, which is likely related to the fluctuating hormone levels that occur during menopause. Many women also experience bone loss as they get older, and many of the strategies I discuss below will help address both your hormone levels and your bone health.
Treating hormone imbalances effectively requires a whole-body approach; the best approaches are often preventive and involve diet, exercise and other lifestyle-based strategies.
For instance, both estrogen and progesterone are necessary in the female cycle, and their balance is key for optimal health. Many women have an imbalance of these hormones, regardless of their age. Examples of lifestyle interventions and natural strategies that can help your hormones balance out naturally include:
Addressing your stress levels Eating healthy foods Exercising regularly Avoiding fructose, refined carbohydrates, processed and heated fats. These can raise your estrogen to abnormal levels, as much as twice the normal, which are maintained for the better part of the adult lives of most American women. Consuming plenty of phytoestrogens (plant-estrogens) such as licorice, alfalfa and fermented soy before menopause can also help moderate your day-to-day estrogen levels so that when menopause comes, the drop won't be so dramatic. Optimizing your vitamin D levels Get plenty high quality animal-based omega-3 fats, such as krill oil Black Cohosh may help regulate body temperature and hot flashes Royal Macha seems to be an amazing adaptogenic herbal solution for menopause that has helped many women. Be sure to avoid the inexpensive varieties, as they typically don't work. Instead make sure to obtain the authentic version from Peru.
These lifestyle strategies will be very effective in relieving menopausal symptoms in the majority of cases, but in the event it is not enough, bioidentical hormones may be able to help. The bioidentical that is prescribed 80 percent of the time is estriol. It's natural, not a drug, and you get it at compounding pharmacies. You can also review my article on using natural progesterone.
Estriol has been used safely for decades, and I believe it's particularly useful when your ovaries have been removed or you've had a hysterectomy. Dr. Johathan Wright, who I've interviewed many times, is a pioneer in bioidenticals, and you can see what he has to say about their value in this short video. If you do decide to take bioidentical hormones, be sure you do so in combination with the lifestyle strategies discussed above, and also work with a knowledgeable health care practitioner who can guide you.
But for the best book I have ever read on hormone therapy I would recommend Dr. Wright's book Stay Young and Sexy. Dr. Wright is the pioneer in this area. He is the physician who actually introduced bioidentical hormone treatment into the United States and he regularly trains other physicians how to use it.