The Value of Soya in Women’s Health

Women today face many challenges throughout all the phases of their lifecycles, not least of all making and managing time to care for themselves.

Specific life-cycle phases can pose specific health challenges if not supported with correct nutrition and good lifestyle habits, namely pregnancy, parenthood, menopause, and older-age.

Women can also be susceptible to specific gynaecological problems linked to genetics, environment, weight issues and diet, such as PMS, endometrioisis, polycystic ovarian syndrome and hormonally-driven cancers such as breast cancer, and ovarian cancer.

Another issue of concern for many Western women is Osteoporosis.

Encouraging, and well-substantiated research into soya has shown that it plays a very important and essential role in women’s health.

A few areas in which soya benefits women include:

  • Prevention and management of lifestyle diseases: diabetes, heart disease, overweight and obesity
  • Soya may reduce symptoms of menopause, especially hot flushes
  • Soya may improve bone health and reduce incidence of osteoporosis in post-menopausal women
  • Soya assists in weight management, by virtue of it’s low GI properties, which mean that soya products result in sustained blood glucose levels, and thus sustained energy levels. If blood glucose levels are sustained one experiences fewer blood sugar dips, and less cravings for highly refined and fatty foods.

Oestrogen metabolism and Phytoestrogens

Phytoestrogens are plant compounds that can beneficially influence estrogen synthesis and metabolism through a variety of mechanisms, and are currently being extensively investigated as a potential alternative therapy for a range of conditions associated with oestrogen imbalance (including menopausal symptoms, PMS, endometriosis, prevention of breast and prostate cancer, and protection against cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis).

There are 2 types of phytoestrogens: ISOFLAVONES and LIGNANS.

1. Isoflavones

Found in Soy (most common food source of isoflavones), legumes, alfalfa, clover, licorice root and kudzu root.

Higher intakes of soy products and isoflavones (as is found in traditional Japanese diets) is associated with low rates of hormone-dependant cancers.    THE AVERAGE DAILY ISOFLAVONE INTAKE OF JAPANESE WOMEN is 20-80mg; WHILE THAT OF AMERICAN WOMEN is  1-3mg.

Soy Isoflavones are antioxidants, and are the active components in the soy bean accounting for +/- 75% of the beneficial effects of soy-based foods in human health.

THE RESEARCH ON SOYA

  • Women given 45mg isoflavones/day for 1 month had longer menstrual cycles.
  • Young women: given 1l soymilk/day had longer menstrual cycles, and also lower (unbound) oestrogen levels: persisting for 2-6months AFTER discontinuation of the soymilk.
  • In women with low SHBG levels: 69mg of isoflavones/day obtained from soymilk powder increased their SHBG concentrations, thus improving oestrogen metabolism.

Soy isoflavones have 4 important functions:

  1. When oestrogen levels are high, isoflavones block the more potent forms of oestrogen produced by the body. In this way they may help to prevent hormone-driven diseases, such as breast and prostate cancer.
  1. When oestrogen levels are low, as they are after menopause, isoflavones substitute for the body’s own oestrogen. Adequate oestrogen can possibly reduce hot flushes; and may also assist in increasing bone mineral density, thus preventing osteoporosis in post-menopausal women.
  1. These isoflavones / plant sterols have proven cholesterol-lowering effects. In this way they assist in the prevention of hyperlipidaemias, and cardiovascular disease.
  1. Soya isoflavones have also been shown to be beneficial in lowering blood pressure in those with hypertension, but not in normotensive subjects (meta-analysis 2012).

Most experts say that one should obtain the soy isoflavones required from food (not capsules).

1-2 servings a day will most likely provide adequate soya isoflavones:

1 serving = 1 cup soya milk OR ½ cup (50g) soya porridge.

2. Lignans

  • Found in fibre-rich foods and, through intestinal fermentation is converted into lignans with excellent health effects in the body.
  • Lignans are found in flaxseed, other oil seeds, wholegrains, legumes including soya and vegetables.
  • They stimulate the production of SHBG in the liver thus reducing levels of free estrogen circulation.
  • They directly decrease the conversion of testosterone to oestrogens in fat and breast cells.
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