Isoflavones for Menopausal Symptoms?
Answered by: Susan Eagles
Question from: Merry Carter
Posted on: October 7, 2003

I am interested in the soy isoflavones for medical reasons. My aunt is on this particular herb and says it works wonders for menopausal women. I’ve asked my GYN doctor and he is open to herbs. I need to know some type of research for this herb and the benefits for women going through the change of life. My family has a history of cancer, mostly breast, but since I am going through the change of life, would like to know the benefits.

Isoflavone is a family of plant estrogens found in soybeans and other plants. It is not a herb. Red clover blossom, often used by menopausal women, is an example of a herb that contains isoflavones.

The theory behind using plant estrogens in menopause is that they do provide an estrogenic effect by mimicking human estrogen. Plant estrogens are weaker than human estrogens, so are generally thought not to promote cancer.

There are problems associated with taking isolated soy isoflavones and other soy products that are high in isoflavones. Isoflavones in soy can disrupt thyroid function. They have been the cause of underactive thyroid and Grave’s disease, an overactive thyroid condition. There is a risk of breast cancer in taking even plant estrogens. Although it was once believed that plant estrogens protected against breast cancer, studies now conclude that estrogens should not be taken to prevent breast cancer.

There are some scientific studies regarding the use of soy in menopause on the internet, at Choose "menopause" from the menu to see an opinion on the current marketing of phytoestrogens, safety issues of phytoestrogens in breast cancer patients and a summary of some of the studies.

One of the factors related to cancer, in taking an "isoflavone" rather than a whole plant, is that the whole plant often contains anti-cancer compounds that counteract carcinogenic compounds in isolated components. Another factor is the introduction of unwanted chemicals with solvents or high temperatures used in the extraction process.

Soy is most safely used in the traditional ways: small servings of tofu a couple of times a week, or better still, fermented soybean (miso, naturally ferment soy sauce and tempeh) daily. Fermented soybeans are easier to digest and have more health-promoting benefits than tofu.

I would never recommend taking isolated isoflavone supplements because of the risk of negative health affects.

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