A substantially high intake of phytoestrogens (isoflavones and lignans) may help reduce your menopausal symptoms. They may also reduce your risk for diseases associated with estrogen loss. Phytoestrogens occur naturally in certain foods:
Isoflavones: soybeans, chickpeas, and legumes
Lignans: flaxseeds, whole grains, and some fruits and vegetables
Phytoestrogens can have an estrogenic effect. The classes of phytoestrogens, common compounds within the class, and food sources are listed in this table:
Modified by intestinal bacteria to genistein, daidzein
Because the body must convert or alter phytoestrogens through digestion, the actual amount of active compound that is absorbed varies. The relative potency is 0.1%-2.0% that of estradiol, a form of estrogen. In premenopausal women with high endogenous estrogens, phytoestrogen compounds compete for receptor sites with estrogens. Therefore, the net effect of phytoestrogens in premenopause may be anti-estrogenic (estrogen antagonist) because the activity on the receptor is much less.
In postmenopausal women who are taking exogenous estrogen therapy, again the net effect of phytoestrogens may be anti-estrogenic. In postmenopausal women with low levels of endogenous estrogen, occupation of the receptors by phytoestrogen compounds may increase the total estrogenic effect (estrogen agonist). This group of women (namely, postmenopausal, low endogenous estrogen, not on hormone replacement therapy) would be more likely to have vasomotor symptoms (eg, hot flashes and night sweats), have urogenital atrophy (eg, vaginal discomfort), and be at risk for osteoporosis. This is the group that could potentially benefit from phytoestrogen compounds in their diet.
This table shows the relative potency of phytoestrogens compared to estradiol, as cited in the journal
Obstetrics and Gynecology
Relative Value (mg)
The typical Asian diet contains 20-150 mg of isoflavones or 20-50 grams of soy protein per day. A typical diet supplementation would be a daily substitute of 50 grams of soy protein for the equivalent amount of animal protein. This is the equivalent of about 1 cup of soy flour. This amount would contain less than 350 mg of isoflavones, and an unknown amount of converted compounds would be biologically available. With certainty, the biologic effect of this amount of soy would be considerable less than 0.025 mg of transdermal estradiol, 0.5 mg of micronized estradiol, or 0.3 mg of conjugated equine estrogens (CEE).
A double-blind randomized controlled trial of 58 postmenopausal women comparing 45 grams of soy flour per day to 45 grams of wheat flour per day showed a 45% reduction in hot flashes with soy flour and a 25% reduction in hot flashes with wheat flour. An additional three studies support this finding. More information about soy can be found at the University of Illinois'
Phytoestrogens and Bone Mineral Density
There is insufficient data on the potential effect of dietary intake of phytoestrogens on bone mineral density in postmenopausal women.
Soy and Lipids
A meta-analysis of the effects of soy consumption on lipids concluded that low density lipoprotein (LDL) could be modestly reduced by substituting daily servings of soy for animal protein. Some of the studies analyzed were poorly designed, and the analysis is subject to publication bias. Importantly, substituting soy means that the animal protein was removed from the diet. When we eat animal protein, we also eat animal fat. So it's difficult to separate the effect of removing animal protein and fat from the diet from a possible additional beneficial effect of adding soy. Any woman with elevated LDL needs to lower her daily fat content, especially saturated fats, which are found in animal-source food. Any method that accomplishes this goal will be helpful, and substituting soy products appears to be a safe and effective method.
Phytoestrogens and Endometrium
There are no studies of the effect of phytoestrogens on endometrium.
Studies on the safety of phytoestrogens are limited, but legumes appear to be safe as part of a balanced diet, and in cultures throughout the world, a dietary intake of phytoestrogen-containing foods has not been shown to be harmful. Rather, those cultures appear to be realizing health benefits from a diet that has lower fat and animal-source content then the standard American diet. Although it is unlikely that people could suffer an "overdose" effect from enriching their diet with phytoestrogen-containing foods, it would be possible to take excess amounts of neutraceutical concentrations of phytoestrogen derivatives, such as the isoflavones and ipriflavone. Isoflavones are not the only biologically active substances in soy beans; there are also protease inhibitors, omega-3 fatty acids, and phytosterols—all of which would be absent in a capsule containing concentrated isoflavones.
Soy and phytoestrogens cannot be considered a substitute for estrogen replacement therapy (ERT) and hormone replacement therapy (HRT). The effects of combining phytoestrogens with ERT/HRT are not completely understood.
Ipriflavone is a synthetic isoflavone derivative which is structurally very similar to daidzein and genistein. When ipriflavone is consumed by a human, it is metabolized; the major metabolite is daidzein.
Two placebo-controlled randomized trials involving postmenopausal women with osteopenia (most commonly caused by osteoporosis), treated with either calcium and placebo or calcium and ipriflavone (200 mg three times a day) for two years, reported that women who received calcium experienced a decrease in vertebral bone density. The women who received calcium and ipriflavone did not have a loss of bone density.
A placebo-controlled randomized trial involving postmenopausal women with osteoporosis, treated with either calcium and placebo or calcium and ipriflavone (200 mg three times a day) for two years, reported that women who received calcium experienced a decrease in vertebral bone density. Women who received calcium and ipriflavone had a gain in vertebral bone density. To date, there is only preliminary data regarding the use of ipriflavone and bone fractures.
The Ipriflavone Multicenter European Fracture Study of postmenopausal women with osteoporosis should be published soon. There have not been reports of significant side-effects from ipriflavone. The long-term safety has not been established. Further prospective studies are need to clarify the role of ipriflavone in management of postmenopausal women.
Phytoestrogens and Other Areas of Study
At present, there is insufficient data on the potential effect of dietary intake of phytoestrogens on bone mineral density in postmenopausal women. Also, there are no studies of the effect of phytoestrogens on endometrium; this is possibly an area of future research.
Eat a Healthful Diet
A healthful diet during menopause can improve your sense of well-being. It may also reduce the risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, and certain cancers. Your diet should be low in saturated fat and high in fruits, vegetables, and grains. An adequate intake of calcium (1200-1500 mg per day) can help lower your risk of osteoporosis. You can increase the calcium in your diet by eating more calcium-rich dairy foods (low-fat or nonfat preferred), leafy green vegetables, and calcium-fortified foods and juices. Vitamin D, found in sunlight and certain foods (fortified milk, liver, and tuna), helps your body absorb calcium.
Recent evidence supports dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil capsules, salmon, tuna)
Learn About the Research on Herbs and Supplements
herbs and supplements
might be pharmacologically and clinically effective, they are not necessarily free of toxic effects or side-effects. Some of these products may interact with, augment, or oppose the effects of prescription medication. These products may be subject to contamination, alteration, and misidentification. In one study, 54 available ginseng products were analyzed; 25% of the products contained no ginseng at all. Talk to your doctor before taking any herbs or supplements.
)—This herb is widely used to treat menopausal symptoms, but more studies need to be done. It has been shown to be safe.
Blue cohosh (
)—There is no evidence to support the use of blue cohosh for any menopausal symptoms.
Vitex agnus castus
)—The evidence for this herb is very weak.
—Wild yams do not have any progesterone or progestogen. They do have a substance that can be chemically converted to progesterone. But, the human body cannot do this conversion. There are some wild yam creams that contain a synthesized progesterone, which is added to the cream. Wild yam, by itself, does not reduce hot flashes.
USP progesterone is the commercially prepared substance that is sold in bulk to companies to make capsules, oils, tablets, gels. It may also be added to creams and sold over-the-counter. There is no evidence that use of these creams can be substituted for prescribed progestogens for the purpose of opposing estrogenic effects on the endometrium. There is little consistency or quality control; the detectable amount of progesterone in over-the-counter creams varies extremely from 0 to 500 mg/ml.
A randomized placebo-controlled trial of 20 mg of progesterone cream applied to the skin daily reported an improvement in vasomotor symptoms in 83% of treated women and 19% of placebo subjects. There is insufficient evidence to support the use of over-the-counter USP progesterone creams for the management of menopausal symptoms. These products should not be substituted for a prescribed progestogen as part of an estrogen and progestogen replacement therapy regimen.
Limit Caffeine and Alcohol
Cutting back on caffeine and alcohol may reduce symptoms of anxiety and insomnia. It may also reduce the loss of calcium from your body and reduce your risk of other health problems.
Smoking is the number one preventable cause of premature death. Giving up smoking can reduce your risk of early menopause, heart disease, osteoporosis, and many types of cancer, including lung and cervical cancer. Many women quit smoking successfully, often after several attempts. Your doctor may offer medication that can help, such as the antidepressant Zyban (bupropion) and other smoking cessation aids, such as nicotine patches and gums. Support groups and smoking cessation classes can also help. The most successful smoking cessation programs involve a combination of behavior modification techniques and drug therapy.
Regular exercise is a great remedy for many symptoms of menopause. It helps promote better sleep, stimulates brain chemicals that can reduce negative feelings and depression, and may reduce hot flashes. Weight-bearing exercises such as walking, climbing stairs, and resistance exercises, such as lifting weights, help to strengthen your bones and decrease your risk of osteoporosis.
During menopause you may be facing many stressors, such as raising children or having children leave home, caring for elderly parents, and juggling a number of responsibilities. You can reduce stress by taking care of your whole self. This means eating a healthful diet, getting plenty of sleep, exercising regularly, and having enough time for rest and recreation. A variety of relaxation techniques can also help you to cope more effectively with stress. Examples include meditation, deep breathing, progressive relaxation, yoga, and biofeedback.
If you are having hot flashes, try making a diary of when they happen and what seems to trigger them. This may help you find out what to avoid. Otherwise:
When a hot flash starts, go somewhere that is cool.
Sleeping in a cool room may keep hot flashes from waking you up during the night.
Dress in layers that you can take off if you get warm.
Use sheets and clothing that let your skin "breathe."
Carry a small, battery operated fan in your briefcase or purse.
Try having a cold drink (water or juice) at the beginning of a hot flash.
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Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care
provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a
substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER
IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the
advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to
starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a