Soy & Dong Quai for hot flashes: Latest studies

Two popular alternative remedies for the hot flashes associated with menopause have been studied and found wanting. One study involved dong quai, a powdered dried root, used in traditional Chinese medicine for over 2,000 years. Seventy-one women who suffered night sweats and hot flashes were randomly assigned to take either a placebo or dong quai in capsules three times a day for 24 weeks. At the end of the study, which was conducted at Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program of Northern California, there were no significant differences in symptoms between the two groups.

The investigators acknowledged that their study does not close the door on dong quai as a remedy for menopausal symptoms because it assessed the merits of this root alone, whereas Chinese practitioners always prescribe dong quai with several herbs. A study assessing the merits of a combination of 10 Chinese herbs as a remedy for hot flashes is underway at New Yorks Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Soy products are also recommended to many women as a means of alleviating hot flashes, but studies have produced contradictory findings about their efficacy. The latest one, published in last months Obstetrics & Gynecology, found only a small benefit. Over 100 women with hot flashes were randomly assigned to take daily supplements of soy protein (60 mg) or a non-soy protein for 12 weeks. The soy-takers experienced a 45% decrease in hot flashes, compared with a 30% decrease among those taking the non-soy protein. This translates to only 1.6% fewer hot flashes daily due to soy.

There is currently a lot of research interest in soy because it is a plant estrogen (phytoestrogen). These weak estrogens do not have the same actions as estrogen produced by the body. Japanese women report hot flashes at a far lower rate than American women, and a possible explanation could be that they consume about 200 mg of phytoestrogens daily, primarily from soy. Soybean consumption is also associated with reduced rates of heart disease, osteoporosis, and cancers of the breast, prostate, and colon. Diet studies present problems for researchers.It is easier to conduct studies in which participants take what is perceived to be the foods active ingredient in capsule form. But people do not eat isolated active ingredients. For example, other ingredients in soy, or in the other foods commonly eaten with soy, may also account for the health effects shown in people consuming a traditional Asian diet.

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By Maryann Napoli

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