Phytoestrogens: Friend or Foe

For some women, the onset of menopause can be fraught with unpleasant symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats and vaginal dryness. If a woman wishes to avoid or is not a candidate for hormone replacement therapy, lifestyle and dietary modifications may provide some relief. Last week, an article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association analyzed the results of over 62 studies which examined the use and effectiveness of plant-based therapies on menopausal symptom relief [1]. The authors found that use of phytoestrogen-containing foods and dietary supplements may reduce hot flashes and vaginal dryness but not night sweats.

Phytoestrogens are naturally-occurring compounds found in plants which have a similar chemical structure to the hormone estrogen. When ingested, phytoestrogens can mimic, albeit to a lesser extent, the actions of estrogen since they “look alike” to our bodies. Phytoestrogens can be found in various fruits, vegetables, and even wine. Soybeans, in particular, have a high phytoestrogen content. For some individuals, there is increasing evidence that consuming soy-based products may provide relief from menopausal symptoms [1,2].

 Because phytoestrogens have estrogen-like properties, it was thought that consuming food which contained high amounts of phytoestrogens, such as soy, could increase your risk for breast cancer. However, there is no concrete evidence which suggests that this is true. So if you are looking for a natural approach to curb your menopause symptoms, increasing phytoestrogen-rich foods in your diet may be a safe and healthy alternative.

 

Sources:

  1. Franco et al., JAMA. 2016; 315(23):2554-2563.
  2. Patisaul and Jefferson, Front Neruoendcrinol. 2010; 31(4):400-419. 

Is There a Link Between Talcum Powder and Ovarian Cancer?

Recently, the use of talcum powder has become a controversial issue as growing evidence suggests that its use may be related to an increased risk of ovarian cancer. Talcum powder, also known as talc, is a mineral composed of the elements magnesium, silicon, and oxygen. As a common household product, talcum powder can be used as an antiperspirant or in the application of cosmetics. Because of its ability to absorb moisture it may be applied to sensitive areas of the body, such as the genitals, to prevent chaffing.

A new study published in the journal Epidemiology, analyzed the use of talcum powder in over 4,000 women with and without ovarian cancer. The authors found that use of talcum powder in the genital region may increase a woman’s risk for ovarian cancer by 33%, especially in instances where the powder was used daily.

More research is necessary to determine how talcum powder causes cancer. In the meantime, the American Cancer Society suggests that it may be prudent to avoid or limit use of products containing talc, if you are concerned about developing ovarian cancer.  

Although the overall lifetime risk of developing ovarian cancer is low, it is one of the most deadly gynecological cancers. Therefore it is important to recognize some of the major signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer for early detection and diagnosis.

Signs and Symptoms

  • Lower abdominal pain or pressure
  • Weight gain or weight loss
  • Abnormal periods
  • Gas, nausea, or vomiting
  • Trouble eating or feeling “full” after eating

While these symptoms may be associated with other benign conditions, it is always important to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your doctor.

 

Sources:
Cramer et al., Epidemiology. 2016;27: 334–346.1
American Cancer Society
National Library of Medicine

 1Two authors of the study have received compensation related to ongoing litigation regarding ovarian cancer. 

Smoking Leads to More than Just Lung Cancer

We are well aware that cigarette smoking has a direct link to lung cancer.  Did you know that the latest Surgeon General's report identified 21 other diseases that have a causal relationship to cigarettes?

The list included 12 types of cancer, 6 categories of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and some pneumonias.  But a new report put  out by the American Heart Association, the National Cancer Institute and several major medical centers that pooled data on millions of subjects of both sexes and age 55 years and older found other concerns for smokers. In this study,  mortality was followed from 2000 to 2011.

There were 181,377 deaths overall---19% in smokers and 14% in non smokers. The study reconfirmed the increase morality due to smoking in the conditions listed above. However, 17% of the smokers with increased mortality helped identify new conditions impacted by smoking:   renal failure, intestinal ischemia, hypertensive heart disease, infections, various respiratory conditions, breast cancer and prostate cancer---conditions not part of the earlier "21".

While the study provides a more complete lists of conditions increased due to smoking, it also reinforces the fact that the rate of death from almost any cause was two to three time higher in current smokers when compared to non smokers.  While more study is needed to rule our other behaviours and determine how smoking effects treatment, the study demonstrates how important it is to reduce smoking espeically in young people.   Smoking also impacts one's  quality of life and will often cause mortality due to chronic conditions a decade earlier in smokers.  It sure makes sense to put those cigarettes away.