Over the past 2 decades, soy foods have been the subject of a vast amount of research, primarily because they are uniquely rich sources of isoflavones. Isoflavones are classified as both phytoestrogens and selective estrogen receptor modulators. The phytoestrogenic effects of isoflavones have led some to view soy foods and isoflavone supplements as alternatives to conventional hormone therapy. However, clinical research shows that isoflavones and estrogen exert differing effects on a variety of health outcomes. Nevertheless, there is substantial evidence that soy foods have the potential to address several conditions and diseases associated with the menopausal transition. For example, data suggest that soy foods can potentially reduce ischemic heart disease through multiple mechanisms. Soy protein directly lowers blood low-density lipoprotein-cholesterol concentrations, and the soybean is low in saturated fat and a source of both essential fatty acids, the omega-6 fatty acid linoleic acid and the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid. In addition, soflavones improve endothelial function and possibly slow the progression of subclinical atherosclerosis. Isoflavone supplements also consistently alleviate menopausal hot flashes provided they contain sufficient amounts of the predominant soybean isoflavone genistein. In contrast, the evidence that isoflavones reduce bone loss in postmenopausal women is unimpressive. Whether adult soy food intake reduces breast cancer risk is unclear. Considerable evidence suggests that for soy to reduce risk, consumption during childhood and/or adolescence is required. Although concerns have been raised that soy food consumption may be harmful to breast cancer patients, an analysis in 9514 breast cancer survivors who were followed for 7.4 y found that higher postdiagnosis soy intake was associated with a significant 25% reduction in tumor recurrence. In summary, the clinical and epidemiologic data indicate that adding soy foods to the diet can contribute to the health of postmenopausal women.
© 2014 American Society for Nutrition.