MIAMI — Marcia Vidal hoped that by taking part in a University of Miami study on the use of soy tablets to prevent menopausal symptoms she could be on the cutting edge of a safe and simple new treatment.
After all, Asian women who typically consume a soy-rich diet fare better than their American counterparts in terms of stronger bones and a lower prevalence of osteoporotic fractures, breast cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Western women, like Vidal, 57, a Kendall grandmother, generally don’t have a diet as rich in soy, but many women here are turning to tablets fortified with isoflavones extracted from soy protein to combat symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes, vaginal dryness, bone loss, insomnia and mood swings.
“All the good stuff that comes with this (aging,)” Vidal said Monday, laughing.
On Monday, the University of Miami released the results of a five-year clinical study of 248 women, ages 45 to 60 within five years of menopause, who received daily soy isoflavone tablets or a placebo. The study, led by Dr. Silvina Levis, the director of the Osteoporosis Center at the UM Miller School of Medicine, wanted to determine whether soy isoflavones could be a viable alternative to hormone therapy and whether the pills could reduce bone loss and other symptoms of menopause. The study was conducted on South Florida women, 60 percent Latino to reflect the population in Miami, from July 2004 to March 2009.
The result? After two years, there were no significant differences between participants receiving soy tablets and those who received placebos. The 200-milligram tables, administered daily, did not prevent bone loss or menopausal symptoms.
“It was disappointing in the sense we would have liked to tell women about a product that is healthy and inexpensive and would provide benefits and no risks but it was not surprising,” said Levis. The phytoestrogens in the pills simply weren’t sufficient to have an effect on menopausal symptoms, she said.
“Soy tablets didn’t benefit them at all. On the contrary, there seemed to be more hot flashes,” she said.
For women going through menopause, a period when the reproductive process ends, 50 percent to 80 percent will experience hot flashes and night sweats. About 20 percent of these women will experience enough discomfort to seek treatment. Women lose bone mass at an accelerated rate of about 2 percent per year during menopause. The resulting bone loss increases the risk of osteoporosis and fractures.
Or, as Vidal joked with some of the younger participants in the UM study: “I told the young ones, it’s a good thing you have to grow old so you can enjoy all these extra features,” she said.
The clinical trial didn’t alleviate Vidal’s symptoms. “My husband kept saying, ‘They are not working. You’re still moody.’ I’d feel fine one minute and then the next I’d be screaming like a maniac or crying like someone died.”
Estrogen treatments reduce the frequency of hot flashes by about 60 percent to 95 percent and reduce menopause-associated bone loss. But hormone treatment can also boost the risk of stroke and cardiovascular events, Levis said.