For many years, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) had been the treatment of choice for women entering the age of menopause. This grand therapy was effective in relieving hot flashes and other symptoms, and also appeared to protect women against conditions that notoriously set in after menopause: namely osteoporosis and heart disease.
This changed in 2002, when major studies unearthed some negative findings about HRT. Though still a point of controversy, 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, hormone therapy raised their risk of heart disease, stroke, dementia, and blood clots, too.
This controversy — no matter how truthful — has propelled more women into trying alternative treatments. Of the herbs and supplements, there is one now leading the pack: soy. 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 could prevent hardened arteries and reduce overall cholesterol. And it also does not raise the risk of endometrial cancer.
But most interestingly is soy’s perceived ability to keep bones strong and healthy, and prevent osteoporosis. Soy contains “isoflavones,” which are natural phytoestrogens that could 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. Researchers have found that women who eat the most soy have a nearly 40% reduced risk of fractures than those who eat the least amount.
That falls in line with many other studies over the past decade or so. They have all found that diets rich in isoflavones lead to increased bone density and thus lower 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 for women not to increase the amount they get in their diet. At the supermarket or the health food store, read the labels and find the ones highest in isoflavones. If you’re already on HRT, please consult your doctor before increasing your soy intake.
Examples of soy products include: Soymilk, tofu, miso, tempeh, soy cheese, soy flakes, soybeans, texturized vegetable protein, soy yogurt and soy meats (of which there are many, many kinds now).