LOS ANGELES (October 28, 1999) - Scientists at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center are seeking women who experience "hot flushes" and other symptoms associated with the onset of menopause.
The medical center's Center for Women's Health is one of about 17 sites nationwide conducting a clinical study of the ability of soy-based "phytoestrogens" to moderate the unpleasant symptoms many women experience as their menstrual cycles become less regular.
Phytoestrogens, compounds that exist in many plants that are used for food, mimic the effects of the hormone estrogen. As women near menopause, production of their natural estrogen declines, resulting in a variety of symptoms, including insomnia, vaginal dryness, mood swings, night sweats and hot flushes - a sense of warmth that begins on the face and radiates to the neck and chest.
These symptoms often are treated with estrogen replacement therapy but increased levels of estrogen can result in an overgrowth of the cells of the endometrium - the lining of the uterus - and this condition is a known risk factor for the later development of endometrial cancer. The effects of estrogen are sometimes controlled by the addition of progestin, another hormone. But progestin can bring about other unpleasant side effects, such as menstrual-like bleeding.
It appears that phytoestrogens may be helpful in the treatment of menopausal symptoms without these side effects, although the amount of benefit has varied in previous clinical trials. Soybeans, chickpeas, lentils, clovers and certain other plants have high concentrations of a specific type of phytoestrogen called isoflavones. The soy-based phytoestrogen being tested is already on the market as an over-the-counter supplement but two new dosage levels are now being studied.
Elaine S. Revis, a research scientist at the Center for Women's Health who has a doctoral degree in clinical psychology, said the study will provide general evaluations of "quality of life issues" - such as mood, sexual functioning, and outlook - although the focus is on "vasomotor symptoms," or hot flushes, which are often referred to as hot flashes.
"Hot 'flashes' is clearly the term that most people are comfortable with, although 'flushes' is more technically correct," she said. "It is what actually happens. Women get a vasomotor flush, a dilation of blood vessels. The result is a hot sensation and a red flush in skin color."
Scientists have in recent years begun to evaluate the role of phytoestrogens in the diet. It has been noted, for example, that the prevalence of menopausal symptoms seems to be lower in some parts of the world in which the diet is high in phytoestrogens.
"We know that estrogen levels get very unstable as women approach menopause," said Dr. Revis. "As they go up and down, hot flushes and other symptoms occur. The supplementation of soy-based phytoestrogens is intended to help stabilize those hormonal levels."
Women interested in participating in the four-month study may contact Dr. Revis at 310-423-0526 for details.
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