For many years, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) has been the treatment of choice for women entering menopause. This therapy was effective in relieving hot flashes and other symptoms, and it also appeared to protect women against conditions that notoriously set in after menopause–namely osteoporosis and heart disease.
All this changed in July 2002 when major studies unearthed some negative findings about HRT. Though still a controversial topic, a study called the Women’s Health Initiative found that HRT raised a woman’s risk of getting breast cancer and inexplicably made the tumors more difficult to detect. But the news didn’t end there. In many women, HRT also raised their risk of heart disease, stroke, dementia, and blood clots.
Regardless of the facts–which are still being sorted out– this controversy has propelled more women into trying alternative treatments. Of all the herbs and supplements, one is now leading the pack–soy. And while we still have much to learn about soy and the special ingredients it contains, it certainly holds some promise. Unlike HRT, soy products don’t increase triglyceride levels and the formation of clots; in fact they decrease both, leading to the belief that soy can prevent hardened arteries and reduce overall cholesterol. Also, it does not increase the number of endometrial cells like HRT does–thus it doesn’t raise the risk of women developing endometrial cancer.
Most interestingly is soy’s perceived ability to keep bones strong and healthy, which prevents osteoporosis from setting in. Soy contains isoflavones, which are natural phytoestrogens that can prevent the kind of bone loss that happens to women when their estrogen levels start to fall after menopause. This means a woman who has a high intake of isoflavones is at a substantially lower risk of sustaining bone fractures. A recent study from the Archives of Internal Medicine says that women who eat the most soy have a nearly 40% reduced risk of fractures than those who eat the least amount.
This falls in line with many other studies that have been conducted on isoflavones over the past decade or so. They have all found that diets rich in isoflavones lead to increased bone density and thus a lowered risk of osteoporosis. This helps explain the surge in demand for soy products as a stand-in for HRT. While we don’t know everything about soy yet, there is no reason why women shouldn’t increase the amount of it that they get in their diet. When purchasing soy the supermarket or the health food store, read the labels and find the products that are the highest in isoflavones.
Examples of soy products include: –Soymilk –Tofu –Miso –Tempeh –Soy sauce –Soy cheese –Soy flakes –Soy beans –Texturized vegetable protein –Soy yogurt –Soy-based burgers and hot dogs