Soy for Perimenopause Symptoms

by Magnolia on October 9, 2012

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I’m still interested in discussing soy as a treatment for perimenopause and menopause symptoms.

I am well aware of the controversy which surrounds soy, however, and I have addressed it at least a couple of times here at The Perimenopause Blog.

You can find those posts here and here.

True to my rebellious nature, I’m still not convinced that soy is as completely ineffective as some would have us to believe; neither am I convinced that it is dangerous to our health.

But, I will concede, there are legitimate concerns and health issues surrounding soy which need to be addressed. Namely, that soy products in the United States are genetically modified and engineered, which makes the majority of them unsafe, ineffective, and unhealthy.

I reached out to Body LogicMD recently and asked the physicians for an opinion on soy and phytoestrogens (plant based estrogens) as an effective treatment for symptoms of perimenopause.

Dr. Keith Wharton, a Body LogicMD physician who practices anti-aging and preventative medicine in Pittsburgh, PA, answered me with an in-depth and interesting answer.

I’m still mulling Dr. Wheaton’s answer, and have submitted some more questions back to him.  When I receive those answers, I will post those as well.  Until then, I thought I would share with you the first part of what hopefully will be a longer and informative conversation about soy.

Magnolia

What do you know about phytoestrogens, and what is your opinion of women using them in the place of hormone replacement therapy for perimenopause symptoms?  For example:  Some women use soy for hot flashes.  However, there is a lot of division among healthcare professionals and physicians over the effectiveness and safety of it.  A lot of this is compounded by the fact there are conflicting studies on the effectiveness and safety of soy

 Dr. Wharton

The use of phytoestrogens to treat menopausal symptoms has been a practice that has been around for years. It has never been fully embraced by patients or physicians because it does not seem to be very effective. Sometimes patients will get short-term relief of their symptoms.

Other times it does not seem to work at all. There have been many clinical studies, which fail to show an effect. Scientific American on September 21, 2012 published an article in which samples of an herbal medication were analyzed for the treatment of hot flashes.

The impact of phytoestrogens (soy) is largely dependent upon several factors, including when in the lifespan you begin consuming soy regularly in your diet and what soy products you are consuming.

They used DNA technology to identify the herbs within the sample. The sample was supposed to contain black cohosh. Approximately 10 percent of the samples contained no black cohosh. There was also a question of whether other herbal contaminants were present in the samples.

From my personal research and experience, soy is not a favorable choice for most women, particularly in the U.S. The impact of phytoestrogens (soy) is largely dependent upon several factors, including when in the lifespan you begin consuming soy regularly in your diet and what soy products you are consuming.

In many Asian cultures, natural soy is a regular part of the diet from birth to death. These populations also have reduced incidence of breast and uterine cancer, as well as fewer reported side effects with menopause. Due to the fact that consumption is natural and consistent throughout the lifespan, phytoestrogens remain active inside the body and work in tandem with the endogenous estrogen. That, and the source of soy in these countries is not from processed soy shakes, soy bars, soy burgers or the numerous other products that the food and supplement industries have created.

In the U.S., however, soy is not a regular part of the diet (and, if it is, it’s fake, processed soy.) Parents may give a child soy formula throughout his/her dependent years, but the child may or may not choose to continue consuming soy milk and other products, unless he or she is lactose intolerant and is forced to use this alternative. Again, the difference is consistent consumption versus inconsistent consumption across the lifespan.

When excessive consumption is intermittent (more than 40 milligrams daily), many women (premenopausal) are at an increased risk of disease, early onset of menopause and harsh symptoms with menopause. Inside the body, phytoestrogens can mimic endogenous estrogen and take its place on the receptor causing negative side effects. In men who consume high quantities of phytoestrogens, you may observe side effects, such as gyneocomastia, while in women the effects come about as symptoms of menopause or disease.

The greatest debate lies in the overwhelming amount of evidence for and against the use of soy to treat the discomforts of menopause and the risks associated with the absence of estrogen in the female body. According to a study published in the February 2012 issue of Cancer Prevention Research researched the efficacy of soy isoflavones in the prevention of breast cancer.

The study found that not only did it not prevent breast cancer, but it potentially increased the risk and contributed to adverse health effects in premenopausal women. On the other hand, a two-year study of menopausal women published in 2011, showed no health risk when consumption was initiated at this point in the lifespan.

However, the study was careful to note that natural soy was and is used in most trials. There are significant health risks associated with chronic consumption of large quantities of processed soy – like the pills, shakes, burgers and similar soy products found on supermarket shelves.

Rather than self-medicating and risking exposure to the unknown quantities of chemicals in many soy products on the market, I recommend that women get their hormone levels tested. Go to a physician that specializes in hormones and hormone therapy. Get the facts about what is going on inside your body and then work with that specialist to design an effective treatment plan.

Studies of hormonal replacement therapy have shown a 30 percent decrease in all-cause mortality in women taking hormonal replacement therapy between the ages of 50 and 60. Obviously, there are women who are not candidates for hormone replacement therapy, but overall it is safe and actually prevents disease. Besides preventing disease it also relieves symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes, sleep disturbances, memory issues, stiff joints and vaginal dryness.

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Dr. Keith Wharton practices anti-aging and preventive medicine at BodyLogicMD of Pittsburgh located at 681 Andersen Drive, Suite 301 Foster Plaza, Building 6 Pittsburgh, PA 15220 (412) 238-1108.  Dr. Wharton helps women and men suffering from menopause, andropause and other hormone imbalances achieve a longer, better life.Using individual, customized wellness programs tailored to address each patient’s specific, personal needs, Dr. Wharton combines customized nutrition and fitness regimens, pharmaceutical-grade supplements, stress reduction techniques and natural bioidentical hormones to ensure his patients enjoy restored energy, improved mental clarity and the highest quality of life possible.

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