Isoflavones and postmenopausal women: A critical review

William R. Phipps, Alison M. Duncan, Mindy S. Kurzer

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

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Isoflavonic phytoestrogens, or isoflavones, constitute a class of phytoestrogens that have properties similar to selective estrogen receptor modulators, and have attracted a substantial degree of attention in recent years, particularly as a possible alternative to the conventional hormone replacement therapy regimens used by postmenopausal women. Despite great promise, it is difficult to make many specific recommendations about their use at the current time, in light of the many outstanding questions that hopefully will be answered in the future by focused interventional studies involving humans. Studies to date indicate that the use of isoflavones to address vasomotor symptoms provides at most small benefits beyond a placebo effect, and no benefit for genital atrophy. As for postmenopausal women whose primary concern is cardiovascular disease, the recommendation of the American Heart Association to include soy protein foods as part of an otherwise healthy diet is well justified, and similarly the substitution of supplements containing soy protein for animal protein can also be recommended. The use of purified isoflavone supplements not containing soy protein may have some cardiovascular benefits, but these appear to be less substantial in degree than those provided by soy protein with isoflavones. In particular, more research is needed to assess the effects of isoflavones on osteoporosis, for which no recommendation regarding isoflavones can be made based on the current data. Also, isoflavones should not be taken by postmenopausal women for the specific purpose of decreasing their risk of breast or endometrial cancer, although, at least for those without pre-existing disease or at high risk, it seems quite unlikely that isoflavone use is harmful in this regard.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)293-311
Number of pages19
JournalTreatments in Endocrinology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Dec 1 2002


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