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Phytoestrogens and soy isoflavones.

Before discussing Phytoestrogens we need to discuss the menopause. The menopause is often seen as a worrying time for women. Some suffer from unpleasant symptoms such as “hot flushes”, headaches, joint pain, and insomnia. Others see it as a disquieting reminder that they’re growing older.

What's different in Asia?

But not everyone in the world feels that way. In Asia, for example, women traditionally don’t seem to have suffered from problems at menopause to the same extent that we have in the ‘West’.

In fact, the incidence of menopausal symptoms remains lower in Asia than in most Western populations, and when women there do have symptoms, they seem to last for a shorter time, and be less severe.

Why do menopausal women in Asia suffer less?

Interestingly, when Asian women move to the West, they begin to suffer from similar menopausal problems and health conditions as Westerners.

So the difference can’t completely be a result of ‘in-built’ biology inherited from previous generations. If it’s not all biology, that means it must be at least partly a result of culture.

But what cultural variation could cause such a difference in the rates of menopausal problems? Step forward, the Asian diet.

As Asians have historically eaten from a menu that’s far removed from the kind of typical Western foods we eat, many scientists think that could account for the difference.

Food and menopause in Asia

The Asian diet traditionally contains far greater amounts of whole foods, vegetables, omega oils and other nutrients, often cooked by steaming or baking, rather than frying.

Scientists have shown time and again that this kind of food helps the body fight disease, which might explain why Asians have also had a much lower incidence of degenerative conditions such as cardiovascular disease, osteoporisis, and colon, uterus and breast cancer.

Asians secret weapon against menopause; Phytoestrogens

But Asians have one secret weapon in particular, and it’s creating a lot of interest in health care and nutrition science.

Experts hope it might prove to be the wonder drug for a whole host of hormone-related diseases and results of clinical trials are turning up some positive results. And the name of this future miracle product? It’s none other than the humble soy bean.

Soy and oestrogen

Soy is a staple food in most parts of Asia and the reason scientists think it could be responsible for the low rates of menopausal problems and disease, is because of its phytoestrogen content.

Phytoestrogens are substances found in plants which mimic the effects of human oestrogen, but in a more subtle way.

This means that when pytoestrogens are eaten by women, or taken as a supplement, they can help the body regulate hormone activity, particularly at menopause (experiments show they can reduce hot flushes and other symptoms).

Isoflavones are one class of phytoestrogens which scientists particularly like. By mimicking oestrogen in certain parts of the body, it seems isoflavones may offer a multitude of health benefits.

The three main kinds of isoflavone are genistein, daidzein and glycitein, and these are commonly found in foods such as soybeans, chick peas and other legumes.

Soybeans are the superheroes of this set, because they have the highest concentration of powerful isoflavone compounds, and especially of daidzein and genistein.

A healthy dose of these can help improve your bone density and the levels of “good” and “bad” cholesterol.

Natural antioxidants

Isoflavones and other phytoestrogens also act as superb antioxidants, helping the body to remove impurities such as free radicals, the damaging substances ingested by the body in the form of pollutants, and produced by the body as a by-product of normal metabolism.

Because plants get their energy from photosynthesis (which converts carbon dioxide into oxygen and vice versa) they have to cope with a great deal of oxidisation.

As a result, they produce phytoestrogens in relatively large quantities, which is why it can easily be harvested for human use.

As a group of compounds the antioxidant phytoestrogens also seem to have anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties, and they may even reduce the effects of viruses.

Some studies have shown that for women after the menopause, they can assist the brain and improve memory (especially verbal recall).

Where can I get phytoestrogens?

You can increase your phytoestrogen level by eating more legumes and soy, or you can raise it more easily by taking a supplement.

To rely on food intake alone would involve eating huge amounts of peas and beans, so it’s fortunate that high quality supplements are readily available.

What other natural substances are helpful for menopausal women?

While you’re considering taking an oestrogen supplement, you might also like to think about combining it with one or more other natural substances that have been helpful for menopausal women in the past.

Black cohosh is one example of a medicinal product used for hundreds of years by wise native Americans, for general malaise, aches, rheumatism, and gynaecological problems.

Across Europe and America, Black cohosh is still used today, to ease menopausal symptoms.

Licorice root is also an old remedy, but this time in Greek, Egyptian, Chinese and Hindu folk medicine. It’s used to treat various illnesses including menopausal symptoms, ulcers and hepatitis. It’s anti-inflammatory, anti-carcinogenic and anti-viral.

In addition to these, chasteberry is effective against cyclical breast discomfort and dong quai has been used for thousands of years by the Chinese to ease hormonal problems.

Luckily, making use of these natural sources of relief from menopausal problems is now easier than ever before. To benefit fully, simply take a high quality nutritional supplement combining one or more of these ingredients… with compliments from Mother Nature.

Medical references 229,230,231,232,233,234,235,236,237,238,239

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