Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Soy's estrogenic effects on females and endometriosis?

Dear Monique, Back in December, I made a very unexpected visit to the emergency room while having my period due to excruciating, absolutely debilitating "cramps." I couldn't walk or even drive myself home when I finally asked for an ambulance to be called. After a very rough pelvic exam, catheterization and blood work, I was determined to be "fine." The doctor who did my pelvic told me that the pain was most likely caused by the bursting of a "chocolate" cyst, or a cyst filled with oxidized blood, which is usually a symptom of endometriosis.

Needless to say, I did my homework and read quite a bit on endometriosis. According to several natural-healing sources, veganism is strongly recommended for people who have this mysterious disorder, which entails growth of excess uterine tissue outside of the uterus. I have been vegetarian for about six months now and have cut back on dairy with no real problem. I was strictly vegan for a month, then I lapsed.

My concern is that if I go completely vegan, a good deal of my diet will include soy foods in one form or another. I love soy! However, I'm worried that the soy I ingest will raise my estrogen levels and adversely affect my endometriosis, which, according to some, is caused by excess estrogen in the body. Does soy really raise estrogen levels, or is it a myth? How can I still enjoy my tofu and soymilk and not be preoccupied with endometriosis?

Thanks for any help or advice you have! ~ Angela from New Mexico.

Answer: Dear Angela, I am so sorry to hear about your painful experience. You are right that a vegan diet can help with endometriosis. However, I would like to clear up the confusion you have about soy's estrogenic effects.

From what I understand, soy's isoflavones can have a protective effect in a woman's body. Soy contains high levels of isoflavones, which are weak forms of plant estrogen (also called phytoestrogen). Soy's isoflavones resemble human estrogen in chemical structure yet are weaker. While they are only one-hundredth to one-thousandth as potent as human estrogen, by mimicking estrogen at certain sites in the body, isoflavones provide many health benefits that help you avoid disease.

Studies conducted at the Cancer Research Center of Hawaii found increased intakes of soy in the diet may reduce the risk of endometrial cancer (cancer of the uterus). Researchers found that the women who ate the highest amounts of phytoestrogen rich foods, like legumes, tofu and other soy-based products, had a 54 percent reduction in endometrial cancer risk, compared with those who consumed the least amounts. When isoflavones attach to the estrogen receptors on tumor cells, they prevent the body's far more potent natural estrogen from doing so, thereby producing a protective effect against hormone-related cancers.

For women who suffer from endometriosis, Dr. Andrew Weil recommends "minimizing your intake of estrogen from outside sources, such as commercially raised animal foods. Eat soy foods such as tofu, tempeh, and miso, which are rich in plant estrogens and seem to block more harmful forms of estrogen. Reduce the fat in your diet. Limit your alcohol intake. Make sure you get nourishing food and eat lots of fiber. Exercise regularly. Also, cut dairy foods from your diet." Dr. Weil maintains that regular aerobic exercise reduces circulating estrogen levels in the body.
Natural Health, Natural Medicine: The Complete Guide to Wellness and Self-Care for Optimum Health (2004) by Andrew T. Weil

Dr. Christiane Northrup suggests in her book
"Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom" (1998) taking a daily multivitamin, along with B complex (about 50 milligrams of each of the B vitamins) and 400 to 800 milligrams of magnesium. Additionally, she says to eat a low-fat, high-fiber diet. Dr. Monica Stokes (a San Francisco gynecologist) also emphasizes the need to include a high amount of fiber in your diet to help eliminate estrogen from your body.

I hope this helps, Monique

For more information about endometriosis and alternative treatments, visit:

(1) Endometriosis at

(2) The Endometriosis Association's website

(3) The National Institutes of Health's
"Facts About Endometriosis"

(4) Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

You may also want to read my book
Virtues of Soy: A Practical Health Guide and Cookbook and visit the Virtues of Soy website.

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Monique N. Gilbert, BSc. has offered guidance in health, nutrition, fitness and stress management since 1989. Through her writings, Monique motivates and teaches how to improve your well-being, vitality and longevity with balanced nutrition, physical activity and healthy stress-free living.

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