The onset of menopause can cause numerous uncomfortable symptoms for women. Finding a solution for these symptoms was the focus of a recent study led by researchers at the University of California, Davis. This study concentrated on the relationship between the consumption of soy products and a reduction in hot flashes and night sweats.
Soy and Menopause
The researchers who conducted the study were primarily interested in phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens are non-steroidal plant compounds that mimic estrogen and can be found in many soy products. Because they are structured similarly to estrogen and have a similar effect on women’s bodies, the researchers hypothesized that they could help to reduce menopause symptoms. The study also took consumption of fiber into account, as fiber can make estrogen more available to the body.
After examining the dietary habits of over 1600 women, the researchers did not find a strong link between the consumption of soy and the reduction of menopausal symptoms.
The UC Davis study was only one of several performed in recent years that focused on the relationship between soy and menopausal symptoms. The results from these studies have been varied. This particular study stands out because it takes data from women who were not already experiencing the symptoms of menopause.
An interesting aspect of the study is that it included women from many different racial and ethnic groups. Gail Greendale, a geriatric specialist involved in the study, said "In general, women of Asian ancestry report fewer menopausal hot flashes than do women of European backgrounds." One of the proposed reasons for this is the high number of soy products used in Asian cuisine. However, Greendale goes on to point out that "our findings do not support the theory that higher phytonutrient intakes are associated with lower hot flash rates."
Other Ways to Reduce Menopausal Symptoms
While studies like the one done at UC Davis have not formed a solid link between soy consumption and a lack of menopausal symptoms, there are still options for women suffering from hot flashes, night sweats, and other symptoms.
Menopause occurs when a woman’s ovaries stop releasing eggs, resulting in an end of menstruation. As this occurs, the ovaries lessen their production of the hormones estrogen and progesterone. It is the fluctuation in the level of these hormones that causes many of the symptoms of menopause.
One of the most commonly used methods to treat the symptoms of menopause has been hormone replacement therapy (or HRT). This therapy supplements the body with these hormones, easing some of the symptoms of menopause.
Hormone replacement therapy is done in two major ways. The first is the addition of estrogen alone. A low dose of estrogen is administered in the form of a pill or cream. However, estrogen alone can increase the chance of endometrial cancer in women who still have their uterus. In cases where this can happen, progesterone is prescribed along with estrogen to reduce the risk of cancer.
HRT is not without other side effects either. The most serious is an increased risk for blood clots and stroke. Although this side effect is rare, it does mean that HRT is not recommended for women with a history of blood clots and stroke.
An herb-based supplement that has been used by women for centuries to help regulate hormones and ease menopausal symptoms is chaste tree berry (Vitex agnus-castus). It must be taken regularly for two to three months before its full effectiveness is realized, but many women find it effective in easing symptoms without bringing with it the negative side effects of HRT.
One of the side effects of menopause is increased weight gain. Recent studies suggest that estrogen helps to regulate weight, so with less estrogen, weight is more difficult to regulate. As we grow older we also tend to lose muscle mass, meaning we burn fewer calories each day. Because of this, women have to work harder to keep weight off after menopause. A regular exercise routine is crucial in addressing this and other health concerns.
Finally, menopausal women need to keep their nutrient intake in mind. Women’s diets are notoriously low in calcium and iron, so make sure you are getting enough of both of these nutrients. It is also important to get an adequate amount of fiber and to limit your consumption of salt.
Looking to the Future
Although soy does not seem to be a natural cure-all for menopause symptoms, researchers continue to look for foods that may help. Time will tell what their findings will be, but in the meantime making healthy lifestyle choices will go a long way in increasing your overall health and reducing the severity of menopausal symptoms.