This is an insanely geeky but awesome post .....you have been warned
SOY? Over the past 10 years, the tiny little soybean, has gotten some bad press in the real food / Paleo world but, when used correctly, soy can be an AMAZING tool to help women with irregular cycles or absent ovulation conceive or regain their ovulatory cycles again.
In many real food communities (paleo/ whole 30/ keto) , soy is labelled as a food that should be avoided or outright banned from our kitchens.
Why? This is partially due to the predominance of GMO, non organic farming practices but it's also due to it's high phytate content, status as a thyroid blocker and potent phytoestrogen content. Phytoestrogens, when consumed regularly can wreak havoc on the hormonal system and for some women, can even cause infertility when consumed in high levels daily.
Briefly, phytoestrogens are a variety of estrogen found in plants. Other foods that contain phytoestrogens besides soy include flax, and in lesser quantities chickpeas, hops and even olive oil. Unfortunately, phytoestrogens do not exactly resemble the body’s natural estrogen. Soy can preferentially bind to and transactivate estrogen receptor-β (ER-β) — rather than ER-α — mimicking the effects of estrogen in some tissues and antagonizing (blocking) the effects of estrogen in others. This makes the effect they have on health complicated and very unique. Phytoestrogens can disrupt the natural estrogen balance in the body causing or worsening a pre-existing hormonal imbalance OR enhancing or re-balancing a system that is out of whack. If you think you may have a hormonal imbalance, consider working with a practitioner skilled in this area or send me a message. This is what I do :) Hormone imbalance is A HUGE topic and worthy of it's own post (or three).
Let's get back to using soy for FERTILITY....
Snapshot from a healthy cycle At the beginning of your cycle (day 1), you naturally have low levels of estradiol (E2) and progesterone. These low hormone levels keep GnRH (the hormone that signals your body to produce LH and FSH) pulses from your hypothalamus to a minimum. This small amount of GnRH results in low FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) production by the pituitary and follicles in a resting state. As the cycle continues day by day, E2 declines further. It is this sharp decrease that triggers the removal of the “negative feedback” control that E2 has been exerting on the hypothalamus and pituitary, and the FSH levels now rise. The increase in FSH starts the process of dominant follicle selection, and the journey to ovulation.
Women don't ovulate for a variety of reasons. PCOS, obesity, low body fat, Hypothalamic Amenorrhea, stress or travel can all cause a disruption of the hormonal cascade that leads to ovulation. When you think about it, ovulation every month really is somewhat of a miracle! It can also be used as an important barometer for health and wellness in a woman.
An Ovulation Jump Start
Frequently prescribed oral medications like Clomid or Femera (Letrozole in Canada) essentially mimic the decrease in E2 that normally occurs and work to block the estrogen receptor sites. Your hypothalamus then senses a reduction in E2, which increases the GnRH pulses, leading to a rise in FSH and the start of follicular growth. Soy isoflavones, act much like Clomid by binding to the E2 receptor in your hypothalamus, preventing natural E2 from binding. Remember from above, when FSH is high, follicles grow, mature and start producing their own estrogen which then rises and helps to trigger ovulation. Booya!
Who should and should not try Soy Isoflavones?
Talk to your care provider first before doing anything that may affect your hormone balance. If you cycle regularly and ovulate regularly then DO NOT TAKE SOY ISOFLAVONES. You may actually cause an imbalance in your body that never existed in the first place.
If you have PCOS and don't ovulate, this may be a good option for you, talk to your care provider first. If you are recovering from Hypothalamic Amenorrhea you have to have done some work already (eating more, putting on body fat, resting and re-activating your hypothalamus). For this to work, you need a functioning hypothalamus. If you are coming off birth control and have irregular ovulation, this may also be a good option.
How to use soy isoflavones
- Buy organic/ non-gmo soy isoflavones in 40-50mg tablets
- Wait for day 3 of your cycle (that's 3 days after you start bleeding). Don't count days you spot before your period....really wait for an awesome flow.
- Take 100-200mg of the isoflavones in the morning from days 3-7, just like you would take Clomid
- Get ready to roll! Starting on day 10 of your cycle, watch for an LH surge using OPK , taking your temps and watching for fertile cervical mucus change. Many women find they ovulate sooner after taking soy. Eg, normal ovulation on day 18 but day 14 on a soy cycle.
- Do not take Soy with other common fertility boosting herbs like VITEX or MACA. The can actually counteract each other negating the benefits of both.
- During this time, REST, NOURISH and RELAX. Practice some gentle loving kindness with your body and give it the message that it is safe to bring a baby into the world. Eat well and take some folate or a prenatal vitamin, if you aren't already. Try to encourage your body with some daily meditation. I am in love with this new app called Expectful
- Have a LOT of sex (giddy up), especially around the time you get your surge and the days following. Most women ovulate within 24-48hrs after a positive OPK
- Support your natural progesterone levels with diet, supplements and lifestyle changes. If you need help with this, send me a message or wait for another post on that soon.
Does it work?
It's next to impossible to find any studies that have looked directly at SI use for ovulation induction. There are several studies that discuss its effect on ovarian hormones when taken in high doses as a part of the diet as well as its use in treating bone loss and hot flashes in older women. If you know of any studies that may be relivant, please share!
While formalized studies may be lacking, anecdotal evidence is very strong. If you google "soy isoflavones for fertility", you will come across HUNDREDS, maybe thousands of women who have successfully conceived after using them. Take home message, it's totally up to you if you want to try soy. For some, if used correctly, it could be the golden ticket to parenthood and save you thousands in expensive fertility medications and treatments.