Nutrition's Effect on Menopause

Today, more than a third of the contemporary woman's life is in menopausal and post-menopausal phases. Not surprisingly, more functional foods are addressing major needs of women.

By Kantha Shelke, Ph.D. and Mark Messina, Ph.D.

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Although conclusions about skeletal benefits must be based on controlled clinical research, about 20 such trials have been conducted. Results have been mixed but are generally encouraging.

No definitive conclusions can be made until the findings from several large, long-term clinical trials currently under way are known. However, postmenopausal women concerned about bone health would be wise to incorporate soy into their diet. Both the protein and the isoflavones in soy may be beneficial. Women who drink soy milk should be certain to choose a type that is calcium-fortified.

Other Soy Benefits

Results from clinical trials on soy's ability to alleviate hot flashes have been inconsistent, but most trials show at least some benefit. Efficacy may vary according to how individual women metabolize the soybean isoflavones. Also, some evidence indicates women with frequent hot flashes have a better chance of benefiting from soy. Of all the soy isoflavones, genistein is the most likely to be effective.

Soy protein itself modestly lowers blood cholesterol levels. The isoflavones may also directly benefit the arteries, although this is still speculative. Worth noting are the findings from a large study in China involving 65,000 women. The researchers found consumers of high amounts of soy were nearly 90 percent less likely to suffer a heart attack.

Both the protein and isoflavones in soy foods may play an important role in a heart-healthy diet. Moreover, soy products are low in saturated fat, high in polyunsaturated fat and a source of omega-3 fatty acids.

Making Soy Work for You

How soy is consumed matters. Epidemiological findings that Asian women have only one-third to one-half of the breast cancer risk of their western counterparts, suggesting the protective effect of whole soy in foods.

"Springfield Creamery has long recognized some consumers seek nondairy alternatives to yogurt without compromising calcium intake," says Sheryl Thompson, co-owner of the company which makes Nancy's Organic Cultured Soy fortified with calcium. "This is especially true with women in the 40-plus age range. Nancy's Organic Cultured Soy is uniquely tailored for this demographic, being fortified with calcium, live beneficial bacteria, the powerful antioxidants vitamins C and E and soy Isoflavones."

Recent findings of the strong association between soy isoflavones and the growth of cancer cells in women support the inference that soy in its natural form is not as risky as concentrated isolates. This is important news for manufacturers. Soy flour and soy beans (edamame) are inexpensive, easy to incorporate into formulations and provide a number of health benefits to fortify the nutritional panel and the marketing message.

Still, no foods are magic bullets and savvy companies like Odwalla (, Half Moon Bay, Calif., for example, are careful about the health messages on soy milk. Such companies find success through relying on consumers to select their product for its taste and overall health virtues.

Wellness Foods - Bone Health article - French Meadow Bakery Women's Bread
French Meadow Bakery offers Women's Bread, with significant amounts of soy isoflavones and Omega-3, -6 and-9 fatty acids.

While most soy foods naturally contain isoflavones, manufacturers must use concentrated forms for the physiological effects and FDA-permitted health claims. Soy isoflavones must also be bioavailable to be effective in preventing health issues.

To deliver functionality, it is critical to recognize food types and understand the factors that alter their bioavailability, according to Laurent Leduc, president of the North American Health Division at Acatris Inc., Minneapolis ( Acatris' SoyLife, a soy germ isoflavone, is ideal for inclusion in a wide variety of foods and beverages.

The Whole Bean

St. Louis-based Solae Co. has done a remarkable job educating consumers, especially women, to look for Solae-branded soy for superior health benefits in beverages and foods. Solae's "Protein in unexpected places" campaign can help processors capitalize on soy's nutritional reputation and the growing new better-for-you trend in the food business.

Cargill's AdvantaSoy - a line of high-concentration soy isoflavones for beverages, yogurt, shakes and bars - is a GRAS (generally regarded as safe) certified ingredient. Seattle-based Indena SpA, has a patented isoflavone called SoySelect. It contains highly bioavailable and bioactive genistein and daidzein for both bone health and reducing the severity of hot flashes.

Soy beans and soy flour are easy for manufacturers to add to foods. Specialty baker Lynn Gordon of Minneapolis-based French Meadow Bakery introduced Women's Bread with ingredients believed to naturally alleviate some of the symptoms of menopause, while promoting bone strength and heart health.

In the long run, soy foods represent excellent sources of protein, phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals. Evidence suggests two to three servings of soy foods per day is sufficient to provide benefits.

Several other naturally occurring phytonutrients play an important role in helping women prevent bone disintegration. For example, higher ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids is associated with lower bone mass density at the hip. This implies the value of adding omega-3s from fish oil, tree nuts or flax seed in helping to prevent osteoporosis.

The host of beneficial nutritional compounds science is bringing to the forefront to maximize a woman's health and her hormones throughout her life is impressive. Manufacturers stand to gain long-term loyalty by helping female customers take charge of their health in every decade of their lives, and particularly from helping women enjoy optimal health in their senior years.


Trading on the oft-cited predilection the fairer gender has for all things chocolate, some companies are enhancing the treat with nutrients specifically targeting women's health issues.

Wellness Foods - Bone Health article - Adora chocolatesThompson Brand Inc., Meriden, Conn., recently introduced Adora chocolates (pictured at right). Marketed as a "calcium supplement," Adora combines premium, all-natural chocolate in milk or dark flavors with 500mg of a unique, elemental calcium formulation. It's suitable for vegetarians. The chocolates yield only 30 calories per disk and also contain vitamins D and K. As with vitamin D, vitamin K plays an important role in the body's ability to absorb and utilize calcium.

Wellness Foods - Bone Health article - Ecco Bella chocolateMeanwhile, Ecco Bella, Montclair, N.J., rolled out its Beautiful Bones Bar (shown at right). Certified organic and Fair Trade, Beautiful Bones Bars start with a base of Swiss dark chocolate laced with orange essence, then add calcium derived from sea algae (a source of other important trace minerals) and vitamins K, D2 and D3.


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