The controversial little beige bean – Soy

Menopause is a time of change, a time to really focus on our health and wellbeing and giving our bodies the best we can, and with scares and concerns over HRT, we are all trying to follow a more alternative path.

We are constantly bombarded with what is good and what is bad for us. The buzz words, super foods and trendy diets.

Native to East Asia this little bean, the soy bean, made a big entrance and we were told to drink it, eat it and take it in supplement form. Then studies were made and we were told the sometimes confusing information of the damaging effects and links with breast cancer. So is soy a fad? Is it cheap to make? Is it just business and why is it promoted as a health food?

‘Somehow, the ancient Chinese knew that soybeans still contain many toxins after cooking and thus avoiding eating it until they learned to neutralise those toxins through fermentation. In traditional Asian diets, soy is only used in small amounts as a condiment, with pork, seafood and other animals providing the bulk of the protein. Only very recently has soy been eaten the way we typically eat it, consuming large amounts in an unfermented and often highly processed form’


The Good

Soy is derived from the soya bean, a cholesterol free, high in protein legume that has been known to have many health benefits, controversially including the fight against breast and prostate cancer, menopausal symptoms, heart disease and osteoporosis. This little bean contains large amounts of polyunsaturated fat, fibre, vitamins and minerals, such as B vitamins and omega-3. It may help decrease unnecessary carbohydrates from empty calories. Soy at its best is found in tofu, tempeh and miso the traditional Asian soy product, rather than the synthetic or processed form. According to the Linus Pauling institute “diets rich in soy appear safe and potentially beneficial”. From that, maybe keep to the recommended daily amount (25 grams per day) or if concerned opt for alternative foods.

…….and the Bad

The researched risks of soy have actually been studies on the isoflavones, which seem to be causing the issue. These powerful phytoestrogen chemicals found in soy plants have been found to work like oestrogen in the human body and are most prevalent in soy foods than in any other foods. This could potentially be a risk to women during menopause as studies showed soy phytoestrogens have the oestrogenic effect of stimulating growth of breast cancer cells in tissue cultures. These studies revealed that soy protein isolates stimulate growth of normal breast cells much the way that natural oestrogens do. Being that progesterone is low and decreasing during menopause this could add to breast cancer risk.


The Conclusion

If high levels of soy’s phytoestrogens (isoflavones) found in predominately synthetic supplements, protein powders and processed foods are consumed, research shows that it may disrupt the endocrine system and could lead to a higher risk of breast cancer and other hormonal and vitamin imbalances. The findings have not established the efficacy and safety of soy isoflavones. The main concern is the fact that the chemical composition of isoflavones is similar

The old saying is ‘everything in moderation’ and if you’re consuming a healthy diet without eating or drinking large quantities of soy, then you lower your risk of an imbalance in mentioned health issues or disruption of hormone levels. Life is about balance, especially during menopause.


Coconut and almond milk are great if you have been drinking soymilk and want something different to avoid too much consumption

To still have that all important balance of protein on a daily basis, other foods are turkey, fish such as tuna, salmon and halibut, cottage cheese, pork loin, lean beef, eggs, natural yoghurt, nuts and seeds.


‘The richest sources of phytoestrogens in the human diet include soybeans, red clover, whole grains and flaxseed. Herbs with high concentrations of phytoestrogens include hops, thyme, liquorice and verbena, notes NYU Langone Medical Center. Some herbs often thought to have phytoestrogens that in fact do not include saw palmetto, wild yam, chasteberry, ginseng, black cohosh and dong quai. These herbs may, however, mimic the effects of estrogen in certain conditions’

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Premature menopause….help is out there.

Where to find help for premature menopause?

Premature menopause (also know as premature ovarian failure POF) usually occurs before the age of 40, where periods cease altogether. It can be a very emotionally trying time and women often need to grieve and adjust physically and mentally to the diagnosis. The issue does not mean the woman in question is ageing prematurely, it means the ovaries have –

  • Stopped releasing eggs or they are being released intermittently.
  • Oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone become intermittent or have stopped being produced.

Why does premature menopause occur?

Genetics – This could be due to abnormal chromosomes or abnormal individual genes. Chromosome abnormalities that can lead to primary ovarian insufficiency include:

  • Turner syndrome
  • Fragile X syndrome
  • Women who have a Y chromosome which is only found in men
  • Abnormal hormone function found genetically

Illness – cancer and also autoimmune disorders where the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s organs and tissue, can be possibilities and some viruses.

Medical Procedures or toxin – Chemotherapy and radiotherapy are the most common causes of toxin induced ovarian insufficiency.


Poor diet, smoking and obesity have also been linked to premature menopause


The symptoms will be the same as any woman in her menopause, although additional issues will be physical and emotional concerns. This is due to menopause signals the end of women’s fertility, therefore preventing pregnancy and other health concerns due to lack of oestrogen, such as osteoporosis.

Women undergoing a natural menopause will no doubt experience some of the symptoms below, which means premature menopause will involve the same, only with the added pressure of physcological effects.

  • Irregular, missed, heavier or lighter than normal periods
  • Hot flushes
  • Poor concentration
  • Memory loss
  • Increased facial hair
  • Hair loss/thinning
  • Skin changes
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Bladder irritability and worsening of loss of bladder control
  • Emotional changes and mood swings
  • Difficulty in sleeping
  • Loss of libido
  • Adrenal insufficiency which include weight loss, decrease appetite, abdominal pain, weakness, fatigue, salt craving, darkening of the skin
  • Hearing loss as ovarian deficiency can cause deafness

Along with the above symptoms, if you undergo any of the list below you should consult your doctor to determine whether you may be experiencing premature menopause:

  • Chemotherapy
  • You or a family member have had hypothyroidism, graves disease or lupus
  • You have unsuccessfully become pregnant after a year of trying
  • Mother or sister has experienced premature menopause

How can premature menopause be diagnosed?

  • Physical examination by your doctor.
  • Blood sample to rule out any other possible conditions such as pregnancy or thyroid.
  • A test may be done to measure oestradiol levels, this shows whether your ovaries are starting to fail and if they are below a certain level it may signal menopause.
  • The most important test is a blood test measuring follicle stimulating hormone (FSH). This stimulates your ovaries to produce oestrogen. When ovaries slow down your body produces more FSH to drive the ovaries harder and FSH levels increase. Once they are over a certain level it indicates menopause.
  • These tests however are not always reliable or conclusive.

Treatment and help

Stay healthy and take care of yourself with the right nutrition, exercise and enough sleep. This can help relieve menopausal symptoms and aim to make them easier to manage. Staying healthy will also prepare your body for various treatment options.

Speak to your healthcare provider if you wish to try and conceive. They will be able to diagnose the possibilities and offer you the best treatment for fertility.

Your healthcare provider will also be able to discuss ways to boost oestrogen, which is vital for the bones. Women require oestrogen to stay strong and resistant to osteoporosis, breaks and fractures. Some medical evidence has shown possibilities to higher risk of heart disease.

Best source of information

  • Your current healthcare provider for questions and concerns.
  • The Daisy Network is a registered charity for women who have experienced premature menopause. They provide a network service to support and help you at this time.