The Impact of Menopause on Heart and Bone Health
Menopause is the period in a woman’s life marking the end of fertility, usually between the ages of 45 and 55. It is characterised by the levels of hormones, oestrogen and progesterone, in the body reducing. These reduced hormonal levels can be associated with symptoms such as hot flashes, irritability, mood swings and headaches.
Before menopause, women are protected against several diseases by oestrogens, such as heart disease and osteoporosis. However, as oestrogen levels in the body begin to deplete, the risk of heart disease and bone weakness increases in women. From a heart health point of view, as oestrogen drops, arteries stiffen, and plaque can build up more easily. From a bone health perspective, oestrogen dropping means calcium is pulled from the bones.
Hormone Replacement Therapy and Alternative Options
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is becoming increasingly popular to control these symptoms for many women, but some can’t take HRT due to other health problems, while others decide it is not for them. This is where nutrition can play a role in symptom alleviation pre and post-menopause.
The Role of Plant Oestrogens in Menopause Symptom Alleviation
Plant oestrogens are a group of substances found in plant foods such as soya. It has a similar structure to the hormone oestrogen in the body. There is a particular interest in the soya component, isoflavone. It is thought that if isoflavones are eaten regularly, they may have positive health benefits, including reducing hot flushes and reducing blood cholesterol levels.
A 2016 study showed that consuming soya isoflavones resulted in a reduction in the frequency and severity of hot flushes in women. This specifically showed an association between consuming 40 mg of isoflavones, which equates to 2 glasses of soya milk or 100g soya mince daily, in reducing the frequency of hot flushes by 21% and the severity by 26%.
How much soy would I need to consume to reduce hot flushes:
It is thought that 50mg of soy isoflavones may help to reduce hot flushes in some women. You can consume this amount in around two servings of soya products per day. This might look like any of the following;
– regular soya milk in drinks and cereals (1 cup contains 6mg)
– tofu as part of main dinners (approx 20mg)
– edamame beans or miso soup with tofu in it (approx 40mg)
While more research is needed before the benefits of taking these substances are proven, it may be helpful to include more plant-oestrogen-rich foods in your diet. These include calcium-enriched soya products like milk, yoghurts, tofu and dessert-type puddings.
Benefits & Tips For Including Soy Products & Soya Supplements Into Your Diet
- Soya is also a more sustainable protein source in terms of planetary health. The latest healthy eating guidelines recommend increasing the variety of plant proteins within your diet.
- An easy way to achieve this is to opt for plant-based proteins over animal proteins. An easy switch could be a tofu stir fry instead of a chicken stir fry once per week.
- When buying soya products, look out for fortified versions where possible. These will have added nutrients to match the nutritional profile of comparable products such as dairy milk. These are usually fortified with calcium and vitamins B12 and D.
Note: It should be noted that organic products are not fortified, so you may miss out on potential nutrients by choosing organic soya products.
Soya Products & Supplements – Take Home Messages
- Reading food ingredient labels ensures that the soya drinks and foods you buy are fortified with added vitamins and minerals.
- Tofu is an excellent high-protein food to add to meals as a substitute for meat. There are many ways to flavour it – check out my recipe for a tasty tofu stir fry (can you link the tofu recipe I have provided?).
- Consuming plant oestrogens regularly throughout the day is more effective compared to consuming all at one mealtime.
- Soya and linseeds, which contain plant oestrogens, are heart-friendly foods. It is worth consuming calcium-enriched soya foods like milk, soya yoghurts and linseed bread a few times a day before trialling supplements.
- National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (2015) Menopause: diagnosis and management (NG23), plus (2017) Menopause (QS143)
- National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (2019) Menopausal Symptoms and Complementary Health Practices [online] available from <https://nccih.nih.gov/health/menopause/menopausesymptoms>
- Franco OH et al (2016) Use of Plant-Based Therapies and Menopausal Symptoms: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA 315: 2554-2563Crawford AL et al (2013) The impact of dose, frequency of administration, and equol production on efficacy of isoflavones for menopausal hot flashes: a randomised pilot trial. Menopause 20: 911–921.