When Lynn Gordon found herself suffering from hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms after a hysterectomy, she turned to a popular alternative remedy thats said to help: soy. But she didnt just eat lots of tofu and leave it at that. As president of the French Meadow Bakery in Minneapolis, she decided to create a special bread that would help other women get more soy into their diets too.
"I wanted to target the women ... who eat normal food and go to McDonalds not just the preferred, lucky, health-conscious women," says Gordon. Another motivation, she says, was that her mother had died of ovarian cancer.
One of the important ingredients of French Meadows new "Womans Bread" is soy isoflavones, enzymes that occur naturally in soy products. Two slices a day provide 80 mg of the nutrients, twice the amount generally recommended to help prevent female-specific cancers, osteoporosis, heart disease and symptoms associated with menopause, including hot flashes and mood swings. It has also been suggested that isoflavones are a safer alternative to hormone replacement therapy for treating these symptoms.
With so many apparent benefits, soy is among the latest health trends, a sort of miracle legume for womens health. However, a recent study by Rochester, Minn.-based Mayo Clinic researchers shows that soy may not do all that its purported to do. The study shows soy pills did not reduce hot flashes in a group of roughly 180 breast cancer survivors. Soon after the findings appeared in the March 1 issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology, Mirabella magazine ran a story saying the benefits of soy had been debunked.
"There are people saying soy is wonderful and others are saying its snake oil," says Suzanna Zick, a researcher at University of Michigans Complementary and Alternative Medicine Research Center for Cardiovascular Diseases.
"Its sexy or exciting to say all of these things about soy. It sells products."
Zick says when considering such isolated studies, it is important to remember it will likely take much more research to determine anything definite in terms of how soy plays into such womens health issues as menopause.
"We dont understand what causes women to have hot flashes," she says. "There are a number of possibilities, including that its culturally based. Women in some other cultures dont have them."
Susan Quella, nurse coordinator for the North Central Cancer Treatment Group and the Mayo Clinic soy-debunking studys principal investigator, says Japanese women dont have hot flashes. Some researchers believe it is because they eat more soy than their Western counterparts. However, she adds, the phenomenon could also be attributed to their consumption of fish oils, which are also more prevalent in Japanese food than Western fare.
Quella stands by the results of her study, but she isnt down on soy. In fact, she says plenty of solid scientific studies indicate that soy could help prevent osteoporosis and heart disease.
Keep in mind, says Zick, that scientific evidence isnt available for most alternative remedies, but that doesnt mean they dont work. For instance, she says, there are no scientific studies on the use of red raspberry leaf tea to decrease the duration of labor for pregnant women, but women all over the globe have used the tea for that purpose for thousands of years.
In general, Zick says, "I think we can probably say that soy is a good food to be adding to your diet. Its low in fat and high in protein, and thats hard to knock."
Despite varied press surrounding soy, Womens Bread has quickly become one of French Meadows best-selling breads since it went on the market eight months ago. In addition to nongenetically modified soy and sprouted grains, it includes flax seed to combat the vaginal dryness associated with menopause, and cranberries for urinary tract health.
Gordon says shes eaten two slices of Womens Bread every day for roughly eight months, and that all of her symptoms have decreased, including the hot flashes.
"There are so many studies, for and against, sometimes its hard to know where to go," admits French Meadow bakery co-owner Steven Shapiro. "But the overall body of research shows that soy isoflavones, in the quantity youre getting them (from Womans Bread), are beneficial."
Although Womans Bread has been a big hit, some men were offended by the name. But now, nutritionists are refining the bakerys formula for Mens Bread, set to debut in September. Meanwhile, Shapiro says men can take advantage of the high protein content of Womans Bread. He says hes eaten it, and "so far, the beards still there."Jennifer Bagwell is a Detroit-area freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]