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Soy and Menopause:  Miracle Food or …..?

You've probably heard about soy and menopause and how eating more soy foods and/or taking soy-based supplements can help with hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms.  Soy milk, tofu and soy supplements are touted as a preventative for breast cancer and heart disease.  Soy is added to many foods and even supplements.  You have to work at avoiding soy these days.  You can't even buy meat and eggs without it, because the animals are fed soy with their grain.  

So it may surprise you to learn that the story of soy has two sides to it, some positive, and some negative.  In order to understand how something promoted so heavily may not live up to its claims, you need to understand the motivations and connections between the food industry, research and research grants, and the medical health care industry.  

The food processing industry is large and powerful.  Many health research grants are funded by the food processing and pharmaceutical industries.   To give you a small example of what I am talking about, let's say you read an article about an indoor air quality study that concludes that second-hand smoke is not harmful to your health. 

The study was performed by The Center for Indoor Air Research.  Since you are around second-hand smoke often, this is good news to you.  You never find out that The Center for Indoor Air Research was created by three tobacco companies, which creates a conflict of interest from the start.  This is hypothetical:  there is an organization by that name, but the study mentioned here is purely hypothetical.

There are hundreds of examples similar to this one.  If you are not asking, “who funded the study?” every time you hear one quoted, you are probably being misled, at least when it comes to health.

What is the truth?

There are many studies quoted in articles about soy foods and supplements.  Some are more positive than others.  The idea that Asian women have less cancer or hot flashes because they eat more soy food is more of a marketing idea than anything else.  Sure, Chinese and Japanese women eating their native diets eat soy foods.  Yes, they have less hot flashes and breast cancer.  But do these women drink soy milk?  No.  Do they eat tofu by the pound?  No, they have little bits in soups, along with meat and other foods.  Do they drink soy protein powders, soy energy bars, vitamins with soy isoflavones?  No, No, and No.  

The Problems with Soy:  Risks, Side Effects

Soybeans are notoriously difficult to digest.  They contain enzyme inhibitors that cause problems with digesting the protein.  Fermenting these beans or products made from them neutralizes the enzyme inhibitors.  Soybeans are also high in phytic acid, which blocks absorption of many minerals.  Products such as miso, tempeh and tamari are fermented soy products and can actually be nutritious for you – but in moderation.  Eating too much soy, just as eating too many cruciferous vegetables, can interfere with thyroid production, which is already a problem for many women at this age.

Many people will tell you to take soy-based supplements, in the range of 40 grams or even way more than that.  According to an article published at The Weston Price Foundation,  Chinese and Japanese people average 9 grams of soy per day.  This is a long way from the 40 to 100 grams being promoted as healthy in the U.S. today.

At the same website, in an article titled, In Response to Dr. Mark Hyman, (9/29/2010), Kaayla Daniel, a nutritionist, states, “The bottom line: thousands of studies have been carried out over the past eighty years, many of which suggest risks and none prove safety.”

Even though soy and menopause may not go together the way you've heard, the good news is there are herbs and other nutrients that can help with menopausal symptoms and help with prevention of diseases such as heart disease and cancer.

For more information, see the related pages below:

Herbal estrogen

Hot flash remedy

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