In the aftermath of the 2002 Women’s Health Initiative study into the effects of the standard hormone replacement therapy to help menopausal women deal with the mood swings, hot flashes and other symptoms, women have turned to soy as a natural alternative--but does it really do anything?
As we learned in “Soy Protein and PMS Symptoms”, it is important to distinguish between soy isoflavones, which have a beneficial effect on hormone levels, and the soy protein that is used in many store-bought products, from which the isoflavones have been stripped and so will have little to no effect on hormone levels and the accompanying mood and comfort issues.
The Case for Soy
Western culture started looking to soy when they saw the difference between how women in the Orient seemed to experience fewer menopausal symptoms than those in North America. The difference between western women and Asian women was the protein intake. North American women get the vast majority of their protein from animal fats. Asian women get their protein from soy--an estimated 200 mg per day.
“In a Japanese study, only 24 percent of perimenopausal women and 29 percent of postmenopausal women experienced hot flashes…Studies in China have reported that less than 25 percent of postmenopausal women endured hot flashes…In contrast, it has been reported that approximately 40-90 percent of U.S. women experience uncomfortable hot flashes” (www.soy.com).
HRT versus Soy
But what is it, precisely, that soy isoflavones do differently than conventional hormone replacement therapy?
Hormone replacement therapy is usually comprised of a combination of estrogen and progesterone. During childbearing years, the estrogen and progesterone work together to prepare the uterus for receiving and nurturing a fertilized egg. Over the years the body grows accustomed to this monthly dose of hormones (especially the breasts).
When a woman hits menopause, the hormone levels fluctuate, often leaving hormone receptors wanting more. Hormone replacement therapy provides a synthetic hormone dose to replace what the body is not producing any longer.