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Understanding the Pros and Cons of Soy


Do you eat a lot of soy based foods? Menopausal women, vegetarians, and people just trying to eat healthier often eat foods like soy burgers and soy-based cereals, sports bars and protein shakes. Some women also take soy-based supplements for hot flashes.

Both soy foods and supplements have some health benefits, but there are things you should know about soy in order to use it safely and effectively.

Soy contains phytoestrogens — plant compounds that act like mild estrogen. (For instance, the isoflavones found in soy-based menopause supplements are phytoestrogens). In pre-menopausal women, phytoestrogens can have an anti-estrogenic effect, since they displace a woman’s normal, stronger estrogen. They may help to prevent estrogen-related cancers like breast or endometrial cancer.

In post-menopausal women, however, phytoestrogens have a weak pro-estrogen effect, which is why they are useful for reducing hot flashes and maintaining bone density, but also why they have the potential to promote breast or endometrial cancer.

In men, phytoestrogens are also mildly estrogenic, which is why soy foods may help protect against prostate cancer. They block some of the effects of testosterone.

Most experts agree it’s fine to eat whole soy foods in moderation–that is, a serving or two a day. As for isoflavone supplements, they definitely relieve hot flashes and may slow post-menopausal bone loss. Most women can take them safely. But if you’re had breast cancer or proliferative breast tissue changes, or endometrial cancer or hyperplasia, talk with your doctor first. Ditto for any kind of thyroid problem, since soy can inhibit the production of thyroid hormones.

The Anti-Aging Bottom Line: Studies show that soy can have a positive impact on your health as you age. Include one to two servings of whole soy foods in your diet. Minimally processed, traditional foods like edamame, tofu, tempeh and miso are best. For additional relief from menopause symptoms take a supplement that contains soy isoflavones.

QUICK TIP: Jean Carper recommends that you eat soy, but only in moderation. Learn More

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