Soy supplements rich in plant estrogen compounds called isoflavones do not appear to boost bone mass in young women, according to the findings of a small American study.
This suggests the bone benefits that have been linked to isoflavones in some studies of older women do not extend to young women. They speculate that the high levels of natural estrogen young menstruating women produce overshadow any effect soy isoflavones might have on bone.
Isoflavones are believed to mimic the effects of the natural female hormone, one of which is to help preserve bone mass. Estrogen loss after menopause leaves women more vulnerable to osteoporosis, and some studies have suggested soy-rich diets and soy supplements can help slow down postmenopausal bone loss. Recently, two studies have found isoflavone-enriched soy supplements to boost women's spinal bone density after or during menopause.
The new study looked at whether a similar supplement could do the same in young women and found that it made no difference in participants' bone density over one year.
Researchers at the University of North Carolina studied 28 women between the ages of 21 and 25 took either an isoflavone-enriched soy beverage or a soy-protein product without isoflavones. Both products provided calcium. After 1 year, the team found no bone density gains in women taking either supplement-suggesting that soy isoflavones are "unlikely" to have such benefits in young healthy women with normal menstrual cycles.
To reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis, experts recommend that throughout their lives, women get enough calcium and vitamin D, exercise regularly and avoid smoking.
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