Many women are turning to soy products as they go through menopause in order to protect against some of the health issues they’re facing. But do these help? The answer is “maybe.”
For instance, MedlinePlus, a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine, reports that a new, albeit small, study out of Baylor College of Medicine suggests soy supplements may not help lower blood pressure in older women. The researchers followed 24 menopausal women who had moderately elevated blood pressure during a six-week period. The women were randomly assigned to two groups. One of these groups took a daily dose of 80 milligrams of soy isoflavones while the other group took a placebo.
At the end of the study, the researchers found that women who were taking the soy supplement did not see a difference in the blood pressure. They also analyzed blood samples to determine whether the soy supplement changed production of nitric oxide, which causes blood vessels to dilate. Again, the study found that there was no effect on the level of this chemical.
However, other studies have suggested that consuming soy foods may lead to health benefits. For instance, NutritionMD (which is operated by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine) pointed to studies that found that people who consume more soy foods have lower risk of breast and colon cancer, as well as reduced cholesterol and other factors related to heart disease as well as to enhance coronary artery function. Soy foods also may help support bone mineral density and bone retention. The George Mateljan Foundation added two additional areas – obesity and type 2 diabetes – where early research is hinting at the promise of eating soy foods. However, the foundation reported that at this point researchers haven’t found a relationship between consuming soy and diminished hot flashes.
Interestingly, some of the research that shows the most health benefits focuses on the dietary patterns of people who live in Asian communities. For instance, Dr. William Wong, the Baylor’s study’s lead researcher, hypothesizes that the reason for the Asian community’s lower blood pressure and lower rates of heart disease may be due to eating soy-based foods throughout their lives. The George Mateljan Foundation agreed: “Soybeans were adopted as important parts of the diet in China (and then later in Japan and Korea) long before they became part of European or North American diets. Culinary traditions involving soy have existed for dozens of generations across Asia, but remain almost non-existent even today in Western countries like the United States. When research is conducted on the health benefits of soybean in Asian diets, the findings seldom match up with research findings on U.S. and European populations.”
So what exactly are soy foods? NutritionMD identifies numerous types, including fresh soybeans (edamame) and foods made from soybeans (soy milk, tofu, tempeh, miso and vegetarian meat and dairy substitutes). “Like most other plant foods, the most healthful soy foods are those that are minimally processed and so retain all of their original nutrients,” the website states. The George Mateljan Foundation pointed out that people in China, Japan and Korea typically eat soybeans as whole foods whereas people in the U.S. rarely eat soy in a whole food form. Instead, Americans often eat soy that has been highly processed that separates the oils from the rest of the bean.
Eating soy foods instead of meat and dairy products can make a big difference nutritionally. “According to a recent research analysis, U.S. adults would increase their intake of folate, vitamin K, calcium, magnesium, iron and fiber if they replaced their meat and dairy intake with soy,” reported the George Mateljan Foundation. Soybeans also provide copper, manganese, molybdenum, phosphorus, potassium, riboflavin and omega-3 fatty acids.
There are some downsides to soy, according to Nutrition MD. For one, soy can have a lot of fat, which can make it difficult to lose weight. Secondly, adding soy to your diet will not make it "healthy" unless you also are cutting back on the amount of meat and dairy you consume. But knowing that, moving to whole forms of soy foods may be a healthy choice for women as they go through menopause.
Primary Sources for This Sharepost:
MedlinePlus. (2012). Soy supplement shows no blood pressure benefit. The U.S. National Library of Medicine.
NutritionMD. (N.D.). Making sense of foods: Understanding soy foods. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.
The George Mateljan Foundation. (N.D.). Soybeans.
Published On: May 29, 2012