Soy supplements for menopause
Jackie Agenbroad, WHNP-BC, is a women’s health nurse practitioner at The Women’s Center at Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix. Her office can be reached at (602) 839-4915.
Question: I have been taking soy supplements over the last few months for menopause, but recently heard they are useless. Is that true?
Answer: Since results of the Women’s Health Initiative were released in 2002, many women and some clinicians have been reluctant to use hormone therapy to help relieve the uncomfortable symptoms that sometimes accompany menopause.
In a search for alternative therapies, many women turned to botanical and dietary supplements, including soy products, namely because they contain phytoestrogens, a similar, yet weaker, compound to human estrogen.
A recent Consumer Reports article negating the benefits of soy supplements has caused some women to question their benefits. While it is true that soy supplements provide only mild to moderate relief of menopausal symptoms, they have shown to positively impact lipid, glucose and insulin levels. Therefore, if nothing else, soy supplements are believed to provide cardiovascular health benefits for women during menopause.
Beyond alternative therapies like soy supplements, hormone therapy, specifically estrogen, is arguably the most effective treatment for relieving menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats and vaginal dryness. The preferred recommendation is to take the lowest dose of estrogen that still provides relief for the shortest period of time.
To ensure the right dose, health care providers, such as gynecologists certified in menopausal care, tailor hormone therapy to needs of each patient. Studies are underway to evaluate the efficacy of alternative therapies like antidepressant and blood pressure medications in providing menopausal symptom relief for women who are unable to take estrogen due to other health conditions like breast cancer and blood clots.
In addition, the North American Menopause Society recommends that women make lifestyle changes to help manage menopausal symptoms. Weight loss may lessen the severity of hot flashes in women who are considered overweight while not smoking, eating a low-fat diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, and exercise provide an array of health benefits, including a reduction in bone thinning (osteoporosis) that often accompanies menopause.
Have an open and honest discussion with your provider about your specific menopausal symptoms, over-the-counter supplements you may be taking, and any existing health conditions so you can create a safe and effective plan that fits your health needs and lifestyle.