Soy (Glycine max (L.) Merr) is native to northern and central China from where it spread throughout Southeast Asia. Their existence has been referenced for more than 5,000 years
Soy (Glycine max (L.) Merr) is native to northern and central China from where it spread throughout Southeast Asia. Its existence has been referenced for more than 5,000 years and its use as food has been documented since 2,800 BC.
Soybeans have constituted the main protein contribution in the countries of origin. In fact, it is known by the nickname of “meat from the fields” since it has been used as a substitute for meat. In America it was introduced through the United States in 1765, although its great expansion began in 1840. Its diffusion in the Western world occurred at the beginning of the 20th century.
The soybean plant and its history
Soy is an annual plant of the legume or papilionaceae family to which other legumes such as chickpeas, peas and beans also belong. It grows up to 1.5 m tall. It has erect hairy stems, with a brownish appearance and the leaves are alternate with three oval leaflets and short peduncles. The color of the flowers can vary from white to purple and are grouped in clusters. The fruits are legumes, which can be up to 7 cm long and whose pods contain one to four seeds (soy beans) inside.
Soy and its cultivation appear in the oldest Japanese and Chinese legends. The Japanese tradition includes in its mythology that the islands were created after a long war between gods and in this same story the “five sacred grains” given by the gods are cited: soy, barley, rice, millet and oats, which constitute from the past its staple food. According to an old Japanese saying, those who grow soybeans have meat, milk, cheese, bread and oil. That soy has a high nutrient value is corroborated by scientific research since it is a food that contains proteins, carbohydrates and fats , vitamins and minerals. Also Chinese mythology relates that soybeans are the great gift of the god of agriculture who gave them this valuable legume to ensure their survival. The first known writing on soy appears in China in 2383 BC in the famous medical book: “Peng Tsao Gong Mu”, during the reign of Emperor Sheng Ming.
Soy, the great ally of women
Soy, in addition to the nutrients described above, contains in its protein substances called isoflavones (genistein, daidzein, glycetein) which have a chemical structure similar to that of female estrogens and which are very useful to alleviate the symptoms of menopause such as suffocations, promote cardiovascular health by helping to control cholesterol and that can be a good complementary treatment for the prevention of osteoporosis. The action of isoflavones was studied after finding that women in Asian countries such as Japan and China, where the consumption of soy foods is an important part of their daily diet, have a lower incidence of disorders related to menopause. The fact that race or geographical situation were not the determining factors was verified in a study, carried out in the United States, among women from the Asian population, where it was found that those who preserved their original eating habits continued to present a lower incidence of disorders in menopause, while those who had adapted to the American diet had the same incidence as the rest of American women.
Another useful component of soy is lecithin , which is useful as a complement to treatments to lower cholesterol levels . Lecithin is found in the fatty part of soybeans and not in the protein, as is the case with isoflavones.
How to take it
Soy isoflavones can be integrated into the body through food. Soy protein-based products, such as legumes , milk, or tofu, can provide significant amounts of isoflavones. Other legumes such as chickpeas, peas and beans also provide isoflavones, although in lesser amounts. However, Western women to obtain an amount of isoflavones equivalent to Asian women through their diet would have to completely change the way they eat, which would not be useful either, since, for example, the Mediterranean diet constitutes a very healthy diet that promotes health globally. However, it can be healthy to incorporate certain products derived from soy into the usual Mediterranean diet, although it is difficult to calculate the amount of isoflavones that can be provided daily in this way and a minimum is needed to obtain their benefits.
When it comes to preventing or alleviating the symptoms of menopause, it is more useful to administer it in the form of capsules of standardized extracts in isoflavones, since in this way a constant and homogeneous consumption of the amounts necessary to be effective is ensured. Effective doses are estimated to be 40 to 80 mg isoflavones daily .
Isoflavones and bacterial flora
For isoflavones to be effective, whether they are obtained through the diet or from standardized extracts, they must be transformed into active substances through the bacterial flora , for this reason women with poor bacterial flora are “poor metabolizers” and in them the products with isoflavones are not very effective. This, however, can be reversed by taking symbiotics, that is, products with probiotics and prebiotics that help restore bacterial flora. The contribution of fiber also has a beneficial action on the bacterial flora, so a diet rich in fiber is recommended .
It is recommended to take isoflavone-based products with a meal, to promote your metabolism.
Contraindications and interactions
Because its chemical structure is similar to that of estrogens, in menopause products based on extracts rich in isoflavones should not be taken together with Hormone Replacement Treatment . Nor should they be taken in the case of treatment with hormonal cancer treatment drugs (such as breast or uterine cancer).
Although some studies suggest that isoflavones can protect against certain cancers, in the absence of more specific studies, their use is not recommended in women with a history of cancers or hormonal tumors.
Unwanted effects and recommendations
In general, isoflavone-based preparations are usually very well tolerated , although in some people they can cause mild gastrointestinal disorders (gas, diarrhea).
It should be used with caution in people with bleeding disorders and thyroid function as they can modify the effect of the medications used for their treatment, so in these cases it is recommended that you consult your doctor.
In case of doubt or if chronic medication is taken, the doctor or pharmacist should be consulted.
- Soy is very helpful in relieving the symptoms of menopause.
- Incorporating soy products into the Mediterranean diet could be healthy, but it is more useful to administer it in the form of capsules of standardized isoflavone extracts.
- The chemical structure is similar to that of estrogens, so in menopause, products rich in isoflavones should not be taken together with Hormone Replacement Treatment.