Soy beans might be great for women trying to avoid osteoporosis, according to the results of a preliminary study presented at the Society for Endocrinology annual conference in Edinburgh.

In women, osteoporosis is the biggest concern in the years immediately after menopause. Post-menopausal women produce less of the sex hormone oestrogen, which protects against bone loss, leaving them vulnerable to the condition. Osteoporosis is a common condition where bones become fragile and brittle thanks to tissue loss, leaving 9 million to deal with fracture every year.

Soybeans actually contain chemicals similar in structure to oestrogen, called isoflavones. Theoretically, these chemicalscould protect women against osteoperosis by mimicking the action of the natural hormone that left them.

In this particular study, researchers from the University of Hull gave 200 women in early menopause one daily supplement containing either soy protein with 66 mg of isoflavones or a soy supplement alone. The women took their respective supplements for six months, and researchers measured changes in their bone activity through certain proteins (BCTX and P1NP) in their blood.

The results showed that the women on the diet with isoflavones had significantly lower levels of BCTX than the women on soy alone, suggesting that their rate of bone loss was slower, and their risk of developing osteoperosis was lowering. The group taking soy protein with isoflavones also had a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease than the women taking soy alone.

“We found that soy protein and isoflavones are a safe and effective option for improving bone health in women during early menopause,” said Thozhukat Sathyapalan, lead study author, in a statement. “The actions of soy appear to mimic that of conventional osteoporosis drugs.”

“Sathyapalan said that the 66 mg of isoflavone that they used in the study was equal to eating an oriental diey, which is normally rich in soy foods. An average western diet, however, only supplies about 2-16 mg of isoflavone.

“Supplementing our food with isoflavones could lead to a significant decrease in the number of women being diagnosed with osteoporosis,” he said.

The researchers hope to investigate the long-term health effects of using soy protein and isoflavones supplements, and whether it may benefit other areas of health besides bones.

Source: Sathyapalan T, et al. Soybean foods may protect menopausal women against osteoporosis. Society for Endocrinology. 2015.