FRIDAY, Oct. 8, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- A diet high in soy could be beneficial to the bones and hearts of premenopausal women, according to research by Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center scientists.
The findings of two studies with monkeys suggest these benefits may be the result of the natural plant estrogens in soy in conjunction with estrogen in the women's bodies. That's why this combination would be especially effective in women who haven't yet reached menopause, the researchers said.
The first study found that monkeys that were fed a soy-based diet had improved cholesterol levels compared to monkeys that ate a milk and animal protein diet. This improvement in cholesterol was most obvious in monkeys with the greatest risk for heart disease.
"Studies have shown that heart vessel disease, or atherosclerosis, begins in the 30s and 40s in women," study author Joy Kaplan said in a prepared statement.
"From our work in monkeys, we believe that the time to prevent cardiovascular disease in women is before menopause, not after. Soy seems to provide a potent protection in monkeys, in terms of cholesterol levels, which is a good marker for general cardiovascular risk. We presume the benefit would apply to premenopausal women as well," Kaplan said.
The second study found that monkeys on a soy diet increased bone mass slightly more than monkeys that didn't consume soy. The finding raises the question of whether consuming soy before menopause may help women maintain bone mass after menopause.
Both studies were presented Oct. 8 at the North American Menopause Society meeting in Washington, D.C.
The U.S. National Institute on Aging has more about menopause.