We are constantly exhorted to use commercial plant menopause/ andropause antiaging hormone alternatives like soy and black cohosh. The fight for a share of this billion-dollar patent market continues around bewildered aging men, women, healthcare professionals, and purveyors of supplements.

But -owing to the increasing shortage of fish, the overabundance of corn and decreasing grazing space, and the profit imperative – our western diet is now so stuffed with inflammatory omega6 (eg GLA gammalinoleic acid) that the average western diet omega6:omega3 ratio has risen from 6:1 to 20:1 – chickens are no longer fed fish-meal nor livestock on grass as they were when we were children; they are now fed on maize. And fast foods for gullible humans are now loaded with cornstarch.
so we should discourage any omega6 supplements ie plant oils except as salad dressing; but we all need at least 2g if not 4g fishoil a day.

West of Aden, we are not marketing to, caring for, long-lived small slim fish-and brown-rice eating Asians who till the fields all day- quite the opposite. So it is very relevant.
One sees few small Asian women in practice at the southern tip of Africa or north and west, as opposed to East or the Pacific rim. .

Most oil-bearing plants contain some plant estrogens. a patient brought this to my attention angrily after discovering that even flaxseed oil has them, they apparently grew her fibroid. Flax seed is better- only 40% oil, and balanced by the huge benefit of the fibre, lignans.

Soy is most certainly a major source of non-marine omega: per 100g soy – Linoleic Acid (LA-omega6) 9%. Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA Omega3) 1.6% ALA is not the marine eicosapentanoic acid EPA+DHA docosahexanoic acid required by human brains and membranes- in infants and sick/ aging humans, our conversion of omega6 GLA – and even ALA – to EPA+DHA -ie marine oil- is far too little for our needs.
So soy provides the opposite of the needed fish oil omega3 (which is 30% in good fish oil).

There is no apparent problem about soya (or eg pueraria) as part of a balanced diet – especially in small women who are largely vegetarians, and especially Asians. And soy is not the ideal fibre source!!!

We surely do not need plant oil extracts as a supplementary panacea when fish oil alone does far better, almost halves all disease and deaths without any adverse effects, and when appropriate HRT, metformin/galega officinalis, and appropriate combined other micronutrients, each reduce all disease and deaths by about 1/3.

Our audience and target is largely postmenopausal Afro/White women in a hugely polluted and stressed ie estrogenic -high cortisol-fat environment.

The problem is vigorous POSTMENOPAUSAL soy/other plant oil supplements- which provide excess phytoestrogens AND omega6 in overweight “westerners”- afro/hispanic/white.

The evidence is worrying that environmental estrogenics (including soya) long term in the West increase the problems of cancer let alone fattening.

It’s the usual story- as with black cohosh, for any commendation of a product,
1. there must be both evidence of benefit (which there is for soy, but not BC),
2. and evidence of need ie there must not be far cheaper safer products that do the job better;
3. and no evidence of harm.

So if there is no evidence of benefit, why recommend :
black cohosh – like red clover, it has no proven medicinal menopause benefit, but it (like kava) can unpredictably albeit rarely kill- black box warnings have been issued by most first world authorities,
soy or any plantoil supplement when these may stimulate breast , endometrial and prostate cancer, and aggravate omega6- mediated inflammation, and there is far better specific therapy in appropriate balanced HRT and fish oil? (palm oil MCT and sunflower oil supplement maybe better than soy, if not as good as fish oil.);
aspartamate when there are natural plant-derived insulin-sensitizing intense sweeteners like stevia ,
and when aspartamate is a slowly accumulating neuro-excitotoxin, carcinogen and cardiotoxin?

Surprisingly, search under Randomized Controlled Trials RCTs on Medline finds only 3 references for “Menopause symptom relief “, and 1 on “menopause herbs”- these favour estradiol plus androgen or lowdose estradiol + progestin over estrogen or placebo alone; .and estrogen over herbs including black cohosh. Under search for RCTs of black cohosh for menopause symptoms, the great majority of patients show no benefit of BC over placebo at any BC dose . We are all well aware that only drug companies can afford to pay for major drug trials- but only modern designer drugs are patentable, and only blockbuster patents are profitable- so drug companies (and therefore researchers that do research – clinicians, universities etc)- cannot afford to fund independent trials of natural alternatives, and especially not allow comparison of modern synthetics against obviously beneficial but unpatentable natural supplements.

The European, Uk , Canadian, Australian, New Zealand , Japan and Singapore authorities and now the US Pharmacopoeia- have all issued warnings against black cohosh BC. RSA remains the only (?ex-) “1st world” country where “authorities ” – MCC, HPCSA and Health24 – still ignore the issue of potential fatality. The University of Cape Town Medicines Information Centre issued a solitary warning in September 2006. The Health Products Association of South Africa still (January 2008) refuses to withdraw its Endorsement of black cohosh on it’s website, despite the evidence against it.

So why promote BC or soya concentrates for any menopause therapy? Since the greatest common voluntary killers- sugar, alcohol, tobacco, motorcars, weapons, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs- are freely available to adults, there is no reason to restrict sales of lesser potential hazards like xenohormones. But it is immoral to promote them (sugar, cigarettes, black cohosh, horse hormones, soya supplements), when there is no good evidence of need let alone benefit, and there is evidence of potential lethal harm in conventional usage.

The Wikipedia Menopause review puts it in perspective:
Treatment of symptoms (Appropriate conservative ) “hormone therapy provides the best relief.” While the prognosis from advanced memory or vascular deterioration or hip fracture is poor, appropriate physiological “hormone therapy from menopause is amongst the best prevention/ treatment for osteoporosis”; vascular disease; insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes; depression and memory loss.
“GABA” and 5HTP and their patent derivatives are ” second only to HRT in relief of menopause symptoms.”
“Complementary and alternative therapies Medical non-hormone treatments provide less than complete relief, and each has side effects. There are claims that soy isoflavones are beneficial concerning menopause. Other remedies that have proven no better than a placebo at treating hot flashes and other menopause symptoms include red clover isoflavone extracts and black cohosh. Black cohosh has potentially serious side-effects such as the stimulation of breast cancer, therefore prolonged administration is not recommended in any case.” debunks many of the claimed benefits of soy supplements.

The 2007 Review of the world expert menopause body, the International Menopause Society, says it all on ALTERNATIVE TREATMENTS: at
“The efficacy and safety of complementary alternative medicines have not been demonstrated and further studies are required.”
Bodies promoting alternative therapies are not qualified to judge, let alone endorse products for treatment of symptoms that affect most older women, when well-proven remedies without any significant risks are well established. ”
“There are no medical or scientific reasons to recommend unregistered bio-identical hormones.” The only proven and approved safe long-term treatment post menopause is appropriate registered HRT; and as alternative, GABApentin for hot flash relief.
Intensive post-menopause experience with appropriate HRT (even horse hormone HT) for almost 60 yrs has shown only benefit – and trials for up to 10 years (WHI; Oulu) the same.

The SAMS Review of Menopause therapy notes: No therapy for menopausal symptoms should be initiated without proper clinical assessment including breast and pelvic examination;
and condemns black cohosh:

Thus, given the risks in middle-aged women, it is quite clear that no-one except a registered appropriately trained health professional may recommend therapy for menopause symptoms – which affect the majority of women at the most critical time of their lives, when they should if anything be starting (after appropriate clinical examination ) on appropriate HRT (for which there are rarely absolute permanent contra-indications), and when any menopause therapy requires that they be assessed clinically before any such therapy, and then regularly on it. Hot flashes are not always due to hormone imbalance- which is why placebo has such strong effect, and Gabapentin/5HTP more so..

Insulin resistance, overweight and obesity have become the greatest midlife risks in the affluent. So it is worth noting that while appropriate HRT, fish oil and hundreds of other natural supplements lower insulin resistance, fish oil is apparently better than olive oil, which is in turn better than sunflower and soy oils as regards insulin sensitization.

Finally, Professor Fred Naftolin of the IMS comments January 31, 2008 as follows
” This is an immensely complex area and cannot be disposed of with a few platitudes.
All agents that interact with ERs estrogen receptors – like phytoestrogens – are SERMS. This means that in isolation they have a specific profile of agonistic action, but have an antagonistic profile in the presence of other SERMS. Further, this may both tissue and subject-specific.
In short, the patient is on her own when she begins to experiment with these agents. This is true when using pharmaceutical compounds, but at least they will have been more widely tested using standardized paradigms.”

(Professor Fred Naftolin retired a few years ago from Chairmanship of Obs & Gyne at Yale, was then Prof of Biology there for a few years then “retired” to his present research position at New York University with the Nachtigalls.
He is a chairman of the scientific committee of the International Menopause Society. He has 444 citations on Pubmed since 1966, 55 papers as first author, and 10 books to his name.. He is a very modest man, arguably one of the greatest living authorities on women’s health, reproduction and biology, a born teacher, and a supreme diplomat in the chair under fire – as when colleagues raged around him over the Women’s Health Initiative debacle at the Vienna workshop in December 2003. Thus, to paraphrase Kipling, he could keep his head when all around us, the self-styled Regulators of Europe, UK and USA were losing theirs and damning gold-standard appropriate HRT.)


This April 2008 fulltext report in the latest MJAustralia is the latest published case of specific-type fatal iiver failure attributable solely to BC:

Black cohosh: a cause of abnormal postmenopausal liver function tests The health scares restricting the use of hormone replacement therapy have made women tend to opt for ‘natural’ remedies that are generally perceived as safe. Unfortunately, there is lack of definite opinion on the safety of herbal remedies. Black cohosh is commonly used for postmenopausal symptoms. We present two cases of liver toxicity related to this and recommend close monitoring of women on this herbal preparation. D. Joy ea, UK. Climacteric, 2008:11: 84 – 88

Can the combination of flaxseed and its lignans with soy and its isoflavones reduce the growth stimulatory effect of soy and its isoflavones on established breast cancer? Consumption of phytoestrogen (PE)-rich foods (i. e., soy and flaxseed (FS)) is increasing because of their suggested health benefits. However, recent studies raise concern over the safety of soy and its isoflavones, particularly genistein (GEN), for postmenopausal breast cancer (BC), due to their potential stimulatory effects on human breast tissue and on the growth of existing tumors in rodents.(Power KA, Thompson LU. University of Toronto, Canada.Mol Nutr Food Res. 2007 J51:845-56. )

Endometrial effects of long-term treatment with phytoestrogens: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Long-term treatment (up to 5 years) with soy phytoestrogens was associated with an increased occurrence of endometrial hyperplasia. These findings call into question the long-term safety of phytoestrogens with regard to the endometrium. Unfer V et al, Obstetrics and Gynecology Centre, Rome, Italy. Fertil Steril. 2004;82:145-8,

Clinical characteristics and pharmacokinetics of purified soy isoflavones: multiple-dose administration to men with prostate neoplasia..In men with prostate cancer, relatively minor side effects of chronic soy isoflavone treatment were observed including some estrogenic effects (breast changes, increased frequency of hot flashes). Serum dehydroepiandrosterone was decreased by 31.7%. (Fischer L et al University of North Carolina Nutr Cancer. 2004;48:160-70)

Exposure to soy-based formula in infancy and endocrinological and reproductive outcomes in young adulthood.
women fed soy formula as infants reported slightly longer duration of menstrual bleeding with no difference in severity of menstrual flow. They also reported greater discomfort with menstruation. Infant exposure to soy formula does not appear to lead to different general health or reproductive outcomes than exposure to cow milk formula. (Strom BL et al University of Pennsylvania, JAMA. 2001;286:807-14).

Evaluation of soy phytoestrogens for the treatment of hot flashes in breast cancer survivors: A North Central Cancer Treatment. Group Trial. Although it has been shown that estrogen or progesterone replacement therapy can alleviate this problem, there are continued safety concerns regarding the use of hormonal therapies in these women. The soy product did not alleviate hot flashes in breast cancer survivors. Quella SK, et al: Mayo Clinic Rochester, USA. J Clin Oncol. 2000 ;18:1068-74.)

.Effect of the interaction between the fatty acid binding protein 2 gene Ala54Thr polymorphism and dietary fatty acids on peripheral insulin sensitivity: a cross-sectional study.Morcillo S, Rojo-Martínez G,ea, Hospital Universitario Carlos Haya , Málaga, Spain. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Oct;86(4):1232-7 : Anthropometric measurements were obtained for 1226 persons aged 18-65 y selected randomly from the municipal census of Pizarra, Spain. An oral-glucose-tolerance test was given to 1020 of these persons. Samples of the cooking oil being used were taken from the kitchens of a random subset of 538 persons. RESULTS: Persons who consumed sunflower oil and who also had the Thr54 variant had higher insulin resistance than did those who consumed olive oil (P = 0.01).

Soybean oil treatment impairs glucose-stimulated insulin secretion and changes fatty acid composition of normal and diabetic islets.Nunes E, ea . Institute of Physiology, Coimbra, Portugal. Acta Diabetol. 2007 ;44:121-30. We observed that soybean-treated Wistar rats present insulin resistance and defective islet insulin secretion when compared with untreated Wistar rats. The decrease in insulin secretion occurred at all concentrations of glucose and arginine tested. Concerning diabetic animals, we observed that soybean-treated diabetic rats, when compared with untreated GK rats, present an increase in plasma non-fasting free fatty acids, an exacerbation of islet insulin secretion impairment in all conditions tested and a significant decrease in the monounsaturated palmitoleic acid. Altogether our results show that SO treatment results in a decrease of insulin secretion and alterations on fatty acid composition in normal and diabetic islets. Furthermore, the impairment of insulin secretion, islet erucic acid and fasting plasma insulin levels are similar in treated normal and untreated diabetic rats, suggesting that SO could have a deleterious effect on beta-cell function and insulin sensitivity.

Oleic acid from cooking oils is associated with lower insulin resistance in the general population (Pizarra study).
Soriguer F, ea Hospital Universitario Carlos Haya, Malaga, Spain.
Eur J Endocrinol. 2004;150:33-9.
AIM: To evaluate the relation between type of dietary fatty acid and degree of insulin resistance. Anthropometrical data were measured in 538 subjects, aged 18-65 Years, selected randomly from the municipal census of Pizarra (Spain). An oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) was given to all subjects and measurements were made of glycemia, insulinemia and the proportion of fatty acids in plasma phospholipids Samples of cooking oil being used were obtained from the kitchens. RESULTS: Insulin resistance was significantly less in people who used olive oil compared with those who used sunflower oil or a mixture. Statistical significance remained in the group of people with normal OGTT after adjusting for obesity. In the whole sample, IR correlated negatively with the concentration of oleic acid (r=-0.11; P=0.02) and positively with that of linoleic acid (r=0.10; P=0.02) from the cooking oil. In subjects with normal OGTT, IR correlated negatively with oleic acid from cooking oil (r=-0.17; P=0.004) and from plasma phospholipids (r=-0.11; P=0.01) and positively with the concentration of linoleic acid in cooking oil (r=0.18; P=0.004) and plasma phospholipids (r=0.12; P=0.005). The risk (OR) of having raised IR was significantly lower in people who consumed olive oil, either alone (OR=0.50) or mixed (OR=0.52) compared with those who consumed only sunflower oil.


2 responses to “REVIEW: MENOPAUSE SYMPTOM CONTROL and the HRT Sex Hormone Replacement vs PLANT REMEDIES DEBATE:

  1. Dear nutritional experts,

    Clearly the debate is more extensive than I realized with my initial sortie into the subject.

    I tried for ages to find info on the web on harmful effects of soy and found nothing.
    What is your response to expeller pressed safflower oil, or grape seed oil, or peanut or canola as compared to flaxseed ( 1:1) and sunflower.

    Most of the advice to people to take only omega 3 or flax seed assumes that people are eating large quantities of omega 6 vegetable oils. However, in today’s diet conscious population (I include large numbers of Americans, Australians and Europeans in this) they may eat some nuts and seeds but isn’t it possible they do not have sufficient omega 6 (and 9) to establish the right ratio of 6 to 1. They do not eat fried food or crisps and use mainly olive oil sparingly to cook with.

    Children’s supplements are made with only omega 3 ( e.g. BOOTS of London.).
    What are the problems or dangers of having a ratio too high in omega 3 ?

    It’s also of interest that Trader Joes, a hugely popular health food store in the USA, has placed warnings on their walls that ALL fish stocked in their stores, EVEN WILD OCEAN CAUGHT AND SMALL, have traces of mercury. That suggests that all omega 3 supplements have traces of mercury too.

    Final comment, whatever we think of natural or organic soy, I have no doubt as to the evidence that GM soy is dangerous to health.

    Ruth Rabinowitz ( MB BCh)

    Hi Ruth,
    thanks for the important comments. Prof Naftolin provided no data, just the few lines of endorsement against phytoestrogen. see

    One sources refs by painstaking search of Medline, Google and textbooks. The difficulty is to decide what to believe. Anyone is liable to bias, spin even if they are not heavily paid by Industry.. Non-human trials are a guide, but the gold standard remains the longterm RCT, the longterm big observational study- and the long-term observational experience of big reputable clinics like from Boston. .

    reading suggests that all plant oil sources have the same problem (except perhaps palm oil – MCT) – contain
    no fish omega3 oil, and contain estrogenics.

    everything today is contaminated- especially our crops by GM viruses from Montsano, and our water, and local food chain. In life, surely everything has a minute trace of everything else. It’s the level of that trace that matters.
    the only assurance we have is that our importer pharmacists import from reputable factories whose Quality Control is dependable- eg that toxins like heavy metals are way below risk thresholds. the massive source of contamination anyway is our dental fillings, and water supplies, and entire food and drug chain. Metals are water (not fat) soluble, so it’s apparently the fish body that’s the metal risk, not the oil.

    Provided meat and fruit are only a small part of our diet, with plenty of unrefined unprocessed grains & vegs, my understanding is that we are getting buckets of omega oils other than marine omega3. fish oil is only at best 30% marine omega3- what do you think the remaining 70% oil is? we are not arguing that people get or must take only 4gm oil a dy.

    Its surely those who eat only white bread, coke, marge & meat who have the global omega deficiency, & benefit even from omega6 supplement.

    Peanut is not a nut- it is misnamed. nice, bad fat! See – “It’s fatty acids are palmitic acid, oleic acid, and linoleic acid, and some 6–8% (total) of arachidic acid, arachidonic acid, behenic acid, lignoceric acid and other fatty acids.”

    pressed safflower oil, grape seed oil, canola are all good sources of especially ALA – linolenic acid- the med diet that is so much better than the poor stodge diet. But they supply no marine omega3.

    Diet is verra uninteresting if we eat no pasta, salad etc , and no plant oil with it! and fish oil is not recommended as a cuisine supplement! so, no, its unlikely that sensible freeliving people are short of omega6? o il (+- fat) should make up ?15-30 % of ideal diet (not 50% as in the fast food death diet), and its unlikely that anyone but esquimeaux and polar bears eat that much!
    there are no reports that ancient coastal/ man ie fishermen’s kids had health problems from the predominant fish diet- and no doubt they leavened it with marine and coastal plant foods. The only imaginable overdose effect from excess fish oil could be steatorrhoea, and hypervitaminosis A and D from highly fortified commercial processed brands- which are not recommended. Average diet seems to guarantee that we get more than enough plant omega oils..

    Remember, I havent tried to refute the data in favour of eg soy (or black cohosh or statin etc).
    I simply share scientific concern that we should not promote supplements or drugs with proven or potential future risks. Especially when their (black cohosh, soy, yam, sulphonylyreas, glitazones, biphosphonate, statins) benefits for the intended problem eg menopause, diabetes, vascular or osteoporosis risks are limited, and when there are well-proven safe lowcost multisystemic natural remedies like appropriate supplements – long-proven HRT, fish oil, metformin. etc.

    As Prof Naftolin says, a women experiments on herself at her peril. That is the individual’s right – but cancer, dementia , hip fracture is an awesome price to pay. And since people rarely can afford to pay for their expensive tretment, it is others – the State, family or medical scheme- that has to pay for (her) mistakes.

    No-one else has the right to advise such experimentation UNLESS it is in a planned controlled trial and where there is no firmly established better remedy. This damns most modern designer chronic drugs (and the FDA, EMA that allows them to be marketed after trivial “trials” ) – when there are already cheap long-proven gold standard remedies.

    like Wiki, we need and welcome evidence-based corrections and new information. Quoting Lesley Kenton’s, Oprah’s, the FDA’s, NAMS, the EMA’s or the Million-Women Study’s views and personal experience – as some do – is not scientific evidence.

  2. Just wondered if you’ve read about the soy controversy?

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