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A Case of Soy too Much

by Hannah McDonald(more info)

listed in women's health, originally published in issue 129 - November 2006

Jane (not her real name), aged 47, came to my talk for women on Nutrition for Hormonal Balance, and approached me afterwards about coming for a consultation. She had been suffering with constant bleeding for a couple of months, as well as several months of peri-menopausal symptoms, such as hot flushes. Her doctor was suggesting HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy), a  progesterone coil or a surgical procedure, all of which she was anxious to avoid if possible. The results of a hysteroscopy performed at the hospital were all normal.

Jane had been anaemic for 20 years due to heavy periods, and found taking iron tablets difficult as they gave her diarrhoea. She had been diagnosed with IBS 18 months previously and had constant discomfort, bloating and flatulence. Her bowels tended towards diarrhoea, which had always been worse around the time of her period. PMS symptoms had been mild in the past, but getting increasingly worse, and she was finding herself more and more irritable, along with having tender breasts, headaches and increased tiredness just before her periods. She had problems with periodic general fatigue and anxiety and had a history of depression.

The constant bleeding that led her to my door had started a couple of months earlier, after she had initially had some breakthrough bleeding. Her periods hadn’t been regular for awhile, and her doctor had told her she was peri-menopausal and that this was normal, until she started to bleed and didn’t stop.

When I talked to Jane about her diet and current lifestyle, she was doing a lot of the things usually advised for women suffering with high or unchallenged levels of oestrogen, which she had suspected was the problem. She had read books about hormone imbalances over the years, and had become mostly vegetarian with lots of soya in the form of tofu and miso, and plenty of fibre from whole grains. She exercised regularly at the gym, and ate mostly organic produce where she could. She drank mostly Green Tea or herbal infusions with one cup of coffee a day, made sure she had two litres of water a day. She also had the occasional glass of red wine.

As she was also having digestive symptoms, I suspected she was suffering intolerances to one or more foods, and that she had an imbalance in her gut bacteria. It was also clear that the hormone imbalance was not responding to the current diet in a positive way, and that indicated another approach may be required.

Tests for food intolerances showed reactions to a variety of foods, including sunflower seeds, tomatoes, coffee, bananas and, most significantly, soya. When we looked at her diet again, with this in mind, it was obvious that Jane was consuming quite large quantities of foods that she was intolerant to on a meal by meal basis. She was having porridge made with soya milk for breakfast, lunch was often miso soup with rice cakes and tofu pate or hummus, and then her evening meal was varied, but often included a tomato-based sauce. She was also using a sunflower margarine, and snacked on the occasional banana. Further tests showed no significant digestive bacterial imbalance, but did indicate an increased permeability in the lower intestine.

The way forward for Jane was becoming clearer, so we worked on a diet plan that would exclude the foods to which she was intolerant, and include more salads for lunch with essential fats from nuts, seeds and oily fish. I also recommended a supplement programme that included a high strength B Complex to help her anxiety, depression and fatigue, along with a bio-available mineral complex with good levels of iron, chromium, zinc and magnesium for hormones, blood sugar balance and fatigue. Finally I recommended that Jane try taking Wild Yam, which has traditionally been used for treating menstrual disorders and can also have anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic properties for treating intestinal colic.

One month into her programme, I met with Jane, and to her admitted surprise, she was already feeling much better. The bleeding had stopped, and although she was feeling like her period was due, her pre-menstrual symptoms were much reduced and she was feeling like her hormones were more normal. She’d had diarrhoea only twice in the month, and the bloating and discomfort were much reduced with almost no flatulence despite eating a lot more pulses. She was also feeling more energetic than previously and more alert without her daily coffee. We continued with her programme, adding some glutamine for intestinal permeability.

Gradually, over the next few months, Jane’s periods returned to normal, and she ended up with a more balanced 28-day cycle with no pre-menstrual symptoms or breakthrough bleeding. She had no hot flushes and felt that she was much more positive and energetic. Her digestive symptoms had disappeared, and she was gradually able to re-introduce most foods with the exception of soya and tomatoes which remained a problem, and by the end of six months she was only taking a maintenance dose of her supplements.

Despite having ‘read all the books’ and having a healthy diet and lifestyle, Jane’s case just goes to show that sometimes what we read does not hold all the answers. While self-education is a vital part of achieving and maintaining optimum health, sometimes the obvious is part of the problem rather than the answer to all our prayers; sometimes a second pair of eyes is needed.

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About Hannah McDonald

Hannah McDonald has been working with Diet and Nutrition for over 11 years. She trained as a Nutritionist at the Institute for Optimum Nutrition and has a successful practice in Gloucestershire. She specializes in a multi-discipline approach, working closely with many other therapists, including Osteopaths, Chiropractors, Acupuncturists and Homeopaths, developing specialist protocols for chronic and acute illnesses. Hannah regularly gives talks on many aspects of Nutrition and Health, and has written articles for a variety of publications. She can be contacted via Tel: 0845 130 3248; hannah@absolutenutrition.org.uk

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