Soy isoflavones are vegetable compounds found in soybeans and soy products. Soy isoflavones are currently the subject of much scientific research because countries where citizens consume high soy diets happen to also experience many positive health benefits, particularly lower instances of cancer and less volatile menopausal transition experiences, not evidenced in countries where soy consumption is low. Scientists are evaluating the impact of a high soy diet, trying to isolate the impact of soy isoflavones from the other cultural and dietary factors involved.
Isoflavones Moderate Estrogen Balance
Thus far, soy isoflavones have been determined to act much like a weak dose of estrogen. Interestingly enough, at times the isoflavones appear to act like an extra shot of estrogen, and at other times they appear to work like an estrogen suppressant. For example, menopausal women may find a diet high in soy will help alleviate symptoms related to low and erratic estrogen production (hot flashes, memory loss, mood swings) by stimulating the beta-receptors wired to receive estrogen. However, when estrogen levels are high (such as in adolescent girls), isoflavones protect the alpha-receptors, decreasing the effect of estrogen.
Possible Cancer Inhibition?
Much research is going into investigating the impact of isoflavones on hormonally-related cancer, such as breast cancer, ovarian cancer and uterine cancer. Some studies show soy supplement consumption correlated with an increase in the uterine lining, which is a precursor to uterine cancer, but other research shows isoflavone consumption correlated with decreases in breast and ovarian cancer. The jury is still out on this topic, but this subject is one of great interest to oncologists, especially after one study that demonstrated that isoflavones might stop the growth of particular cancer cells.
Isoflavones Act Like Antioxidants
Isoflavones also act like antioxidants, destroying free radicals and limiting damage done on a cellular level.
When one visits the grocery store, especially the health food section, there seems, in the last few years, to be a soy explosion. One can find anything now, which was once made of anything but soy, made of soy.