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The nutty health benefits of soy

Study: Daily serving might reduce hot flashes, blood pressure

By Debra Goldschmidt
CNN Medical Unit

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CHICAGO, Illinois (CNN) -- Daily consumption of soy nuts might lower blood pressure and reduce hot flashes in menopausal women, researchers announced Tuesday.

However, the lead researcher of the study, preventive cardiologist Dr. Francine Welty, cautioned that the findings must be confirmed in a larger number of women for a longer amount of time than the study involved.

Welty followed 61 menopausal women -- 12 with high blood pressure and 49 with normal blood pressure -- who served as their own control group by consuming no soy for eight weeks, then having a daily serving of a half-cup of dry-roasted, low-salt soy nuts for eight weeks.

The women were told to eat the soy nuts throughout the day -- some at breakfast, some at lunch, some at dinner and some before going to bed. The mean age of the participants was 53 for those with normal blood pressure and 58 for those with high blood pressure.

The hypertensive women experienced an average 10 percent drop in systolic blood pressure and a 7 percent drop in diastolic blood pressure after eight weeks of daily soy consumption. Women with normal blood pressure had a 5 percent decrease in systolic blood pressure and a 3 percent decrease in diastolic blood pressure.

Welty said the drop in systolic blood pressure was a surprise finding, and she said it seems that even women with normal blood pressure can benefit from a daily serving of soy nuts.

Welty said she believes eating the soy nuts throughout the day helped reduce hot flashes because the level of soy in the women's bodies was kept even. She said that might have helped lower blood pressure as well.

The findings were presented Tuesday at the annual Scientific Sessions of the American Heart Association.

Welty told CNN the women in the study also experienced an average 54 percent reduction in hot flashes. That drop is significant, she said, because "women absorb soy at different rates" -- so though some women had as little as a 20 percent reduction in hot flashes, others had as much as an 80 percent drop.

Study participants kept daily records and answered a list of 37 questions, which asked about sleep disturbances, sexual activity and mood swings, among other things. Welty said she suspects other improvements will be seen through further analysis.

First study of unprocessed soy

Welty said this is the first trial to use "native," or unprocessed, soy. Other studies on soy have all involved processed soy. Welty said she believes "something could be lost in the processing" that would account for the results seen in this study that were not seen in other studies.

Compliance by the women was not an issue, she said, because they were hoping to get relief of their symptoms, mainly hot flashes.

Welty said many of the women continued to eat soy nuts after the study ended, saying "they felt so much better," but she added that it is too early to recommend daily consumption of soy nuts without more research to confirm the findings. Research is also needed into whether men can experience similar benefits for their blood pressure.

When the study began, researchers looked at changes in lipids, blood pressure, bone markers and menopausal symptoms. They will keep looking for those changes as the study continues.

The National Institutes of Health funded the study, and Geni Soy donated the soy nuts.

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