A Better Treatment than Hormone Therapy?
Maybe or maybe not!. As you will see, it may all depend on your genetic background.
You are probably interested in soy because you heard that it contains a large amount of isoflavones. Isoflavones are similar to the estrogen your body produces – hence the name Soy Estrogen.
So the logical thinking is that if you replace the dropping estrogen in your body with isoflavones, your symptoms should get better.
Unfortunately it is not so easy, and the many studies that have been done about Soy estrogen are inconclusive at best.
But what does this mean for you?
- Are soy estrogens effective? Maybe – if you have the right gene to break down the soy.
- Are they safe? Yes – especially if you use whole soy, don’t take it in super high doses and for a very long time (years).
- If you have never used it before, start with a lower dose to see if you are allergic to soy (many people are).
After reading all the information, we will give you resources for some great soy estrogen and also provide you with some alternatives for your symptoms.
Yes, this may not be the answer you were hoping for (we were disappointed as well) but when you understand how it all works, you can select the best treatment for your symptoms – and that is probably more important.
What are Soy Isoflavones
Soy Isoflavones have an estrogenic effect and are classified as phytoestrogens or plant-based estrogens.
Theoretically, if you take a large enough amount of isoflavones, you should be able to replace the amount of estrogen in your body as you go through menopause. This should alleviate your menopause symptoms, especially hot flashes.
If you are not interested in the science behind soy estrogen, skip to the section “Does Soy Estrogen Work?
The isoflavones Genistein, Daidzein, and Glycitein are present in small amounts in other foods but are most abundant in soy. There are numerous studies to discover the mechanism of isoflavones. Most of the research focuses on genistein which is the most common of the isoflavones.
One of the reasons for this scientific interest is the tissue specific action of soy estrogen (and the other isoflavones).
The theory goes that if your body has too much estrogen (estrogen dominance), isoflavones and other phytoestrogens occupy the estrogen receptors and so block the “real” estrogen. This would moderate symptoms of estrogen dominance (which can happen during peri-menopause) like breast tenderness, irregular bleeding and cyclical headaches.
But if your body is estrogen deficient, the phytoestrogens provide an estrogenic effect (bring estrogen levels up) and help to alleviate low estrogen symptoms (such as hot flashes, vaginal dryness, etc.).
But it is even more complicated:
Your body has two different estrogen receptors, alpha (ERα) and beta (ERβ). The alpha receptor is found mostly in your reproductive organs and the hypothalamus; the beta receptor is more predominant in the heart, blood vessels, kidney, lungs and intestines.
The isoflavone genistein binds more to the beta receptor (the one that is not so common in the reproductive organs). This means that it blocks the estrogen receptors in the tissue of your reproductive organs, but in the other tissues it acts just like estrogen.
This would mean that the estrogenic effect is safer because it doesn’t lead to the growth of cancer cells in breast tissue like regular estrogen.
Overall, numerous studies have been done to find out if soy estrogen can be used instead of estrogen replacement therapy.
The results are inconclusive at best. Most large studies found that there was no evidence to suggest any benefit for hot flashes, except for a strong placebo effect. Research regarding the benefits for osteoporosis showed mixed results as well.
However, it is very difficult to make a definitive statement regarding the effectiveness of soy estrogen at this time solely based on the studies we have seen. Most studies (and that is what scientific research is all about) can focus only on very narrowly defined aspects of the whole isoflavone question. There are so many variables in the study of the health benefits of soy (and soy estrogen in particular) that it will take time and many more studies to narrow down the answer.
One recent discovery shows that the effectiveness of soy isoflavones depends heavily on the way they are absorbed by certain bacteria in the human intestine.
It appears that only about 1/3 of the people in Western cultures can break down isoflavones into the effective substances in their digestive system.
This may explain why women in Asia, where Soy has been used for thousands of years, have less problems with hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms, as well as lower rates of breast cancer. Not only do they consume more soy, but their bodies may have adapted to break down isoflavones for maximum benefit.
Summary and Recommendations
Our conclusion about Soy Estrogen based on everything we have read:
- We do know (based on research) that whole soy supplements work better than soy-derived extracts.
- Benefits may come after prolonged use, and should not be expected after a couple of weeks. However, there are warnings not to take soy supplements in higher than recommended doses for LONG periods of time (several years).
- If you take isoflavones long-term, and you still have an intact uterus, make sure that you also use Progesterone. (The warning about the long term use in high doses came from ONE study that found an increase in endometrial growth, but they did not balance the estrogen with the necessary progesterone.)
- Most important: Only about 1/3 of the Western population can metabolize Isoflavones in a way that creates the necessary estrogen-like activity and benefits.
So if you decide that this is just not what you were hoping for, here are some suggestions for other herbal remedies for hot flashes. They will also help with any menopause symptom that is caused by low estrogen levels.
Researchers have recently found a new and very powerful phytoestrogen in hops. Hops has been used for brewing beer for thousands of years but it is also a great medicinal herb. The Life Extension Foundation has a Hops supplement (a specific hops extract plus lignans from Norway spruce). This supplement promises to be very effective in treating hot flashes and other menopause symptoms based on some preliminary research.
Black Cohosh is a great alternative to soy estrogen. It also has plant estrogen but in a different form. It is by far the most popular herb for hot flashes.
Red Clover is becoming a very popular alternative to soy. It helps with hot flashes and has a lot of other beneficial substances.
Licorice Root works on many different low estrogen related symptoms, is an estogenic herb and also helps with mood swings and adrenal fatigue.
Here is the link to our page about these and other herbal menopause teatments.
If you want to give soy estrogen a try, get the highest quality soy like those from the Life Extension Foundation (Here is the link to our affiliate information. It wil open in a new window to make it easy to come back here.)