Menopause is defined as the permanent loss of menstruation after a period of over one year. Menopause starts between 40 and 55 years of age with 50 years of age being the mean age of initiation. During and around the time of menopause, levels of the hormones oestrogen and progesterone decrease. Vasomotor symptoms, such as hot flushes and night sweats, are very common during the menopausal transition (on average lasting 1-2 years). These symptoms can begin before menstrual periods stop and persist for years afterward. In addition, loss of oestrogen increases the risk of chronic diseases such as osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease.
Vasomotor symptoms, such as hot flushes and night sweats, are very common during the menopausal transition with 73% of postmenopausal women in Europe reporting hot flushes and almost half (45%) suffering from sleep disturbances. Severe hot flushes are the main reason why women seek medical treatment for the menopause. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) remains the most effective treatment for all menopausal symptoms. However, for women not wishing to use HRT to relieve vasomotor symptoms, substantial evidence exists that soya isoflavones may help alleviate symptoms.
A meta-analysis of 17 studies involving 1,300 women evaluated the effects of isoflavones on the frequency and severity of hot flushes compared to placebo. The daily intake of approximately 40 to 50 mg isoflavones (equivalent to 500ml of soya drink) reduced the frequency and severity of hot flashes by 20.6% and 26.2%, respectively, above and beyond the reduction that occurred in the placebo group. Reducing uncomfortable vasomotor symptoms can greatly improve the quality of life for menopausal women. Women can consider including soya foods into their diet as part of a healthy lifestyle to help manage these symptoms.
|Hot flush symptoms||No of studies in meta-analysis (No of women involved in studies|
IF = Isoflavone group @ median 54mg isoflavones / day)
|Effect of isoflavones beyond the placebo effect|
|Severity||9 (538 IF vs 450 Placebo) (538 IF vs 450 Placebo)||- 26.2 % (95% CI: -42.23 to -10.15, P=0.001)|
|Frequency||13 (602 IF vs 594 Placebo)||- 20.6 % (95% CI, -28.38 to -12.86; P<0.00001)|
Source: Taku K, Melby MK, Kronenberg F et al. Extracted or synthesized soybean isoflavones reduce menopausal hot flash frequency and severity: systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Menopause. 2012;19(7):776-90.
For common UK soya foods and isoflavone content click here.
The loss of oestrogen during the menopause is also associated with increased serum cholesterol levels and a consequent increased risk of cardiovascular events as well as osteoporosis.
Plant-based eating has been associated with better heart health outcomes with regard to its healthier fat profile (higher in unsaturated fats and low in saturated fats) whilst providing more fibre and being lower in energy density. For more on the correlation on heart health and plant-based eating click here.
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Taku K, Melby MK, Kronenberg F, Kurzer MS, Messina M. Extracted or synthesized soybean isoflavones reduce menopausal hot flush frequency and severity: systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Menopause 2012;19:776-90.
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