Women May Enjoy Boost Of Heart Health With Soy

Armen Hareyan's picture
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Encompassing both heart attacks and strokes, cardiovascular disease (CVD) causes nearly 2,400 deaths each day in the United States, an average of one death every 37 seconds. With women of the baby boomer generation comprising 25 percent of the total U.S. female population, there's more reason than ever to increase CVD prevention efforts to keep women's hearts strong as part of healthy aging. Meanwhile, soy attracts attention from the research community for this very reason.

Circulation, a journal of the American Heart Association, published a recent study from the Japan Public Health Center that found the intake of soybeans and soy isoflavones decreased risk of heart attack and stroke among women. Isoflavones, often referred to as phytoestrogens, are naturally occurring compounds in soy that share some properties in common with the hormone estrogen. The benefits for post-menopausal women were especially pronounced.

The research team at the Japanese Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry conducted its research over the course of 13 years, on more than 40,000 Japanese individuals aged 40 to 59. The study, which began in 1990, first estimated the intake of isoflavones based on a participant's consumption of soybeans and miso soup -- separating the subjects into five sub-groups according the amount of isoflavones they consumed.

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With the five groups segmented, the team found that women in the group who consumed the most soy isoflavones were 39 percent less likely to report having a stroke or heart attack compared to women consuming the least amount of isoflavones. A similar comparison among postmenopausal women found that risk of stroke and heart attack was reduced by 75 percent.

"With a study of this length, women can really see the long term benefits of incorporating more soyfoods into their diets," said Dr. Mark Messina, adjunct professor at Loma Linda University. "Furthermore, the amount of soy that was associated with protective effects in this study was only about one serving per day."

In 2008, the American Heart Association estimates that 770,000 Americans will have a new coronary attack, and about 430,000 will have a recurrent attack. CVD remains the largest single cause of mortality among women, accounting for 38 percent of all deaths among females.

Soy offers other potential benefits for the female baby boomer crowd, as well. In November 2007, a study published in the European menopause journal, Maturitas, found soy isoflavones quite effective in reducing hot flashes in menopausal women. Other research suggests that soyfoods, because they contain isoflavones, may promote bone health.

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