Menopause is a difficult time for many women. Not only do women undergoing “the change” experience the effects of estrogen withdrawal, such as hot flashes and mood swings, they’re also forced to deal with the frustrations of weight gain. So stubborn is the weight gain for some women that even exercise and diet fail to take care of the problem. Can eating soy reduce the weight gain so many women experience during this transitional period? According to a new study presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior, a soy-rich diet could help women reduce the weight gain that’s so common during the menopausal years.
Can Eating Soy Reduce Weight Gain After Menopause?
Researchers at the Monell Chemical Senses Center recently discovered that rats that ate a soy-rich diet during menopause, in addition to their regular food, lost more weight than rats eating a similar diet without soy. This is certainly good news, but would the same effects hold true in post-menopausal women?
Even in humans, preliminary research looks encouraging. Several small human studies suggest that soy-rich diets and diets high in genistein, a soy isoflavone, reduces weight gain and waist size in women going through menopause.
Why would Eating Soy Reduce Post-Menopausal Weight Gain?
As women go through menopause, their estrogen levels drop. This can trigger weight gain and re-distribution of body weight so that more stubborn fat is deposited in the abdominal region. Women who previously enjoyed a relatively flat stomach, are unhappy to find they have an additional layer of fat and a thicker waistline – thanks to the loss of estrogen.
Soy products, like tofu, soy milk, miso, and tempeh, are a good source of phytoestrogens – compounds that mimic the effects of estrogen – only weaker. Because of this weak estrogen-like effect, studies have focused on the effects of eating soy on menopausal hot flashes – with mixed results. All in all, soy may offer some potential for reducing the unpleasant effects of menopause – including weight gain. For most women, it’s a better alternative than going on hormone replacement therapy, which raises the risk of breast cancer.
Are There Risks to Eating Soy During Menopause?
Soy has been the subject of controversy because of its ability to mimic estrogen. Some experts worry that its ability to behave like estrogen increases the woman’s risk of breast cancer. On the other hand, most studies show that dietary soy is safe and may reduce the risk of breast cancer by blocking the effects of natural estrogen, which is still produced in small amounts even after menopause.
Eating Soy to Reduce Weight Gain During Menopause: Is It Smart?
For the average woman, it’s probably safe to eat soy as a part of a healthy diet. It’s low in calories and fat – and a good alternative to meat. Fermented soy such as miso and tempeh is healthier than the processed soy found in many veggie burgers and hot dogs. On the other hand, taking soy supplements in pill form is probably not a good idea.
Women at high risk for breast cancer or with a history of breast cancer should talk to their doctor before eating soy – as should women with thyroid disease. There’s some concern that the isoflavones in soy can alter thyroid function.
All in all, eating soy in moderate amounts is likely safe – and could help to reduce weight gain after menopause. Enjoy it in moderation – but don’t neglect a regular exercise program. It’s one of the very best ways to reduce post-menopausal weight gain.
Menopause 2003; 10:427-432.
BMC Nutrition Journal 2003; 2:14-20.
Medical News Today. “New Research Finds That Chemicals In Soy Reduce Weight Gain In A Rat Model Of Menopause”