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Avoid hormone therapy, instead use soy to fight hot flashes - studies suggest

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Dr David Liu PHD

Wednesday April 4, 2012 (foodconsumer.org) -- You don't have to use dangerous hot flashes treatments.  Taking soy isoflavones as a dietary supplement or simply eating soy food may be as effective as hormone therapy, a new review study suggests.

The study published in Menopause meta-analysed data from19 previous studies that examined more than 1,200 women and found taking soy isoflavones could reduce the frequency and severity of hot flashes by up to 26 percent in menopausal women, compared to a placebo.

Melissa Melby, a medical anthropology professor at the University of Delaware and co-author of the study, and colleagues said early studies on the efficacy of soy in alleviating hot flashes were inconsistent only because some studies were small and used methodologies were not the same.

The meta-analysis was large sets of data from many studies, resulting in a more reliable conclusion, that is, eating soy can alleviate hot flashes, which are found in some menopausal women as one of menopausal symptoms.

To relieve hot flashes, many women resort to hormone therapies, which have unfortunately been associated with increased risk for heart disease and breast cancer.  Harvard University researchers have recently published a study suggesting that any dose of hormone therapy used for any short period increase risk of developing breast cancer.

It should be no wonder that taking soy products can reduce the severity and frequency of hot flashes in menopausal women because soy is estrogenic even though its activity can be 1000 or 10,000 times smaller, compared to the effect of estrogen used in hormone therapies.

After reviewing the studies, the researchers found ingesting at least 54 milligrams of soy isoflavones daily for six weeks to one year reduced the menopausal hot flash frequency by 20.6 percent and the severity by 26 percent, compared to a placebo, which is believed to have no effect on hot flashes.

In longer studies in which women who used soy isoflavones for 12 weeks or longer, the researchers found the reduction in the hot flash frequency was about three times greater than that observed in shorter term studies.

Soy isoflavones are available as dietary supplements or health supplements.  Active soy compounds include genistein, which is the primary isoflavones found in soybeans and soy food.  When used at higher levels, genistein was twice as effective as used at lower amounts, the researchers said.

According to a press release by the University of Delaware, each gram of soy protein from soybeans and traditional soy food provides about 3.5 mg of isoflavones.  To have a daily ingestion of 50 mg of isoflavones, one would have to drink two glasses or 16 oz of soy milk or eat seven ounces of tofu, the latter does not seem awafully a lot.

In Japan where soybeans are more commonly used, fewer women experience hot flashes at menopause, suggesting that the lower frequency may be due to high consumption of soy foods.

Food consumers should be aware that due to the fact that aluminum is used in soy processing equipment in many plants if not all and acid is used during the making of soy milk, certain amounts of aluminum finds a way into the soy product.  Aluminum is neurotoxic and may play a role of Alzheimer's disease.

Also, more than 75 percent of soybeans produced in the United States is genetically modified and some studies in Russia suggest that GM soy is unsafe for certain groups of people to say the least.  

If you want to try soybean or soy foods to alleviate your menopausal hot flashes, make sure to use organic tofu, or simply slow-cook some organic soybeans with some meat (to make it more tasty) and use it as often as you want.

Caution needs to be exercised that at least one case study reported that a woman who ate a couple of pounds of soy a day for some period found her sexual drive intensified so much to a level that she needed to seek medical attention.

One thing to remember is that one needs to eat quite some soy to have an effect of menopausal hot flashes.  A bit of soy sauce used for its taste or soy lecithin used as a processing aid in processed food or junk foods should not be enough to provide any benefits.  Also Soy isoflavones as dietary supplements can be expensive.  So the best bet for most women is soybeans.

Still, soy is only one thing that meopausal women can try to relieve their menopausal hot flashes.  Other alternative treatments include black cohosh, natural progesterone, vitamin E, Effexoris, exercise at least 30 minutes every day, gabapentin, and avoiding dietary triggers like alcohol, caffeine, cayenne and other spicy foods.
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