Journal of the European Society for Gynaecological Endoscopy


Soy consumption during menopause

S. Bolca1, M. Brack2, H. Depypere3

Laboratory for Bioinformatics and Computational Genomics (Biobix), Faculty of Bioscience Engineering, Ghent University, Coupure links 653, B-9000 Ghent, Belgium.

Laboratory for Experimental Cancer Research, Department of Radiotherapy and Experimental Cancer Research, Ghent University Hospital, De Pintelaan 185, B-9000 Ghent, Belgium.

Menopause Clinic and Breast Clinic, Ghent University Hospital, De Pintelaan 185, B-9000 Ghent, Belgium.


Bone resorption, estrogens, isoflavones, lipid profile, menopause, phytoestrogens, soy

Published online: Mar 26 2012


In developed countries, the life expectancy of women is currently extending more than 30 years beyond the age of menopause. The menopausal transition is often associated with complaints. The conflicting results on the effectivity of phytoestrogens to alleviate menopausal symptoms. This discrepancy in treatment effect may be due to the large interindividual variation in isoflavone bioavailability in general and equol production in particular. Equol, a microbial metabolite of daidzein, has been hypothesized as a clue to the effectiveness of soy and its isoflavones, but only about 30-50% of the population harbor an intestinal microbial ecosystem supporting the conversion of daidzein into equol.

There is much concern on breast cancer, since this incidence of this disease increases with age. There is indication that soy phytoestrogens may decrease this breast cancer incidence. In order to evaluate the estrogenic potential of these exposure levels, we studied the isoflavone-derived E 2 α- and E 2 β-equivalents (i.e. 17β-estradiol (E 2 )-equivalents towards ERα and ERβ, respectively) in human breast tissue. Total isoflavones showed a breast adipose/glandular tissue distribution of 40/60 and their derived E 2 β-equivalents exceeded on average 21 ± 4 and 40 ± 10 times the endogenous E 2 concentrations in corresponding adipose and glandular biopsies, respectively, whereas the E 2 α/E 2 ratios were 0.4 ± 0.1 and 0.8 ± 0.2 in adipose and glandular breast tissue, respectively. These calculations suggest that, at least in this case, soy consumption could elicit partial ERβ agonistic effects in human breast tissue. We are currently characterizing the differential activation of estrogen-responsive genes between dietary isoflavones, the chemopreventive selective ER modulators tamoxifen and raloxifene and exogenous estrogens in a controlled dietary intervention trial that integrates data on the exposure to estrogenically active compounds, expression of isoflavone and estrogen target genes, and epigenetic events.

During the menopause, there is a close relation between the drop in serum estrogen and negative metabolic changes such as the increase in bone resorption and negative change in the serum lipid profile. Randomized controlled trials measuring bone turnover markers in menopausal women revealed that soy isoflavone supplements significantly but moderately decrease the bone resorption marker urinary deoxypyridinoline without significant effects on the bone formation markers serum bone alkaline phosphatase and osteocalcin.