New York: Do you eat soy products daily? Do not exclude them from your diet, especially if you are a woman, for a healthy heart. The key, however, is to begin eating soy early in life.
According to new research, lifelong soy consumption, similar to the diet of women in Asia, produces the least atherosclerosis (hardening and narrowing of the arteries).
Switching to a Western diet after menopause, similar to Asian migrants to North America, leads to just as much atherosclerosis as a lifelong Western diet.
"While switching to soy from a Western diet after menopause helps only if there is not much atherosclerosis already," researchers stressed.
Researchers from Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, did a study on female monkeys before and after surgical menopause.
They fed pre-menopausal monkeys a diet with protein derived mainly from animal sources or a diet with protein from soybeans.
After having their ovaries removed, mimicking human menopause, one group of monkeys continued to eat a soy diet, another switched from animal protein to soy, a third group stuck with animal protein, and a fourth switched from animal protein to soy.
After 34 months, cholesterol levels were good in the monkeys who ate soy before and after menopause.
For those that switched to a soy protein diet after menopause, cholesterol levels did improve significantly.
But when it came to how much plaque progressed in the arteries, there were not any statistically significant differences, despite trends favouring a lifelong soy diet and the switch to soy after menopause.
"But monkeys eating a lifelong soy diet showed a much lower proportion of complicated plaque in the arteries than other monkeys," researchers added.
"This study underscores how important it is for women to get into the best cardiovascular shape they can before menopause. The healthy habits they start then will carry them through the years to come," suggested Margery Gass, executive director of the journal of the North American Menopause Society (NAMS), that published the research.