Plant estrogens and menopause symptoms

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The North American Menopause Society estimates that 16-20% of women who have gone through natural menopause take hormones to reduce symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, and vaginal dryness. Side effects include bloating, headaches, resumption of menstrual bleeding, and concern over an increased risk for breast cancer. A few people are claiming that dietary approaches can achieve the same benefits of hormone replacement therapy without the adverse effects named above. The answer, they say, lies in soy. The experience of Asian women provides the basis for their assertions. It is said that only 20% of women in China report hot flashes while 75% of European and North American women do so. (A counter argument is that Asian women are significantly different genetically which also explains their lower incidence of breast cancer, a disease that is related to hormone activity.) Proponents of the soy idea say that when a woman's estrogen is high, the phytoestrogens in soy act as anti-estrogens blocking adverse effects, but when a woman's estrogen is low, they relieve the symptoms of menopause without causing changes in breast or uterine tissue that are seen with hormone replacement therapy. As far as the increased risk of osteoporosis and heart disease seen in post menopausal women, there is no evidence that soy will be a benefit. The UCB Wellness Letter (Sept, 1998) cautions readers to beware of marketers who are eager to claim immediate health benefits from their products, but who do not mention possible adverse side effects. The August issue of Environmental Nutrition provides information on how much soy is needed to reduce symptoms, several herbs that MAY help (including kava which is offered without warning--see "Watch out for kava," May-June, 1998 NCAHF Newsletter), and herbs that are "more hype than help: Dong quai (the main ingredient in Rejuvex), ginseng, licorice root, and wild yam.

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