Black Soybeans—An Infertility Treatment?

Healthnotes Newswire (April 13, 2006)—A supplement made from powdered black soybeans appears to stimulate ovulation in women who have infertility due to menstrual cycles with no ovulation (anovulatory cycles), according to a preliminary report in the Journal of Medicinal Food (2005;8:550–1).

During a normal menstrual cycle, a series of changes in levels of reproductive hormones triggers the release of an egg from one of the ovaries, and if the egg is not fertilized, another series of hormonal changes triggers menstrual flow. A disruption in the cycle of changing hormone levels, actions, or interactions can result in anovulation and irregular menstrual cycles.

Anovulation is a major factor causing infertility in women. Conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome, pituitary tumors, tumors of the ovaries, and endometriosis are among the more likely causes of anovulation and infertility. Infertility is frequently treated with a medicine that stimulates the ovaries to release eggs. The use of this medicine is linked to several negative side effects, including some that are severe and potentially life-threatening.

The quest for safer treatments for anovulation and infertility has led researchers to explore the use of phytoestrogens—plant chemicals that have some estrogen-like effects in the body. In traditional herbal medicine, plants that are rich in phytoestrogens are used to treat disorders related to hormone balance such as premenstrual syndrome, menopausal symptoms, and infertility. Soybeans are well-known for their high phytoestrogen content, and some studies have found that eating lots of soy foods can improve the symptoms of menopause.

The current report describes the experiences of 36 women with infertility due to anovulation or amenorrhea (lack of menstrual cycles) who had gone six or more consecutive months without ovulation or menstrual periods. They were treated with 6 grams of black soybean powder per day for six months. At the end of the study, 3 women were having menstrual cycles without ovulation, 12 women were having regular ovulatory menstrual cycles, and 4 women had become pregnant. These findings were compared to observations from 34 women with anovulation and amenorrhea who had not received treatment with black soybeans. In this group, two women had begun having anovulatory menstrual cycles and two women had begun having menstrual cycles with ovulation during a similar six-month period.

This report suggests that black soybeans might have a positive effect on hormone activity in women with infertility due to anovulation. Most soy foods in the United States are made with green soybeans, and although black and green soybeans are similar in chemical and nutritional content, they are not identical. For this reason, another study using supplements made from green soybeans would be helpful in developing recommendations regarding dietary soy for women with anovulation.

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