Menopause and Phytoestrogens

Jeanie has made dong quai, soy and flaxseed a regular part of her diet since she turned 50. “A lot of women that I know have specific ailments and so are accustomed to going to their doctor and getting medication,” she says. “I have had an interest in alternative medicine since the 1960s, and this seemed like a natural progression for me.”

These dietary supplements appear to be having a positive effect on her health. “The doctors would always ask if I was having symptoms of menopause, and I would always say no,” she says. “They checked my bone density and found that I was in wonderful shape.”

Phytoestrogens are plant chemicals that resemble the estrogens found in humans. When ingested, they are able to substitute for human estrogen. The result generally appears to be beneficial to the health. Asian populations that consume a great deal of phytoestrogens in the form of soy products have a lower rate of osteoporosis, menopausal symptoms and breast cancer.

The natural question is: why don’t more Westerners include these plant products in their own diet? Jeanie believes, “Some people think that if you take the hormone replacement, it is easier than eating soy.”

In addition, some women and physicians may not believe that plant estrogens can relieve the symptoms of menopause. As more and more scientific studies are designed to test the impact of phytoestrogens on women’s health, however, the volume of data in support of consuming soy and other plant products is increasing. While not extensive, clinical and other studies have demonstrated that eating soy can decrease the incidence and severity of hot flashes, increase the level of good (HDL) cholesterol, prevent stroke-forming blood clots and preserve the structure of bones.

Dr. Anderson says you only need about 60 mg of the soy estrogen in order to experience the benefits. You can find this much in one six to eight ounce serving of tofu or one cup of soymilk. She explains that “you can utilize that tofu in so many different ways” and mentions a soy cheesecake “that is really not bad.”

Even women who have already decided to take hormone replacement therapy in the form of medication may benefit from increasing the soy in their diet. Dr. Anderson suggests, “If you take soy, you may be able to cut down on your HRT (hormone replacement therapy) dose.”

However, Dr. Anderson cautions women to use moderation when taking herbal supplements. Her preference is to see women consume these plant estrogens in their food (such as soy) as opposed to consuming them through herbal supplementation.

Some of the web sites about pills, capsules, supplements, etc., are actually quite frightening. One of them actually advises some groups of women to use their product at a dose that would be more than 100 times the daily amount of isoflavones [a plant estrogen] consumed by women on traditional Asian diets. This is so scary! No one in all of human history has been exposed to those sorts of levels through food.

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