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  • Jane Wheeler

Soy - friend or foe?

I wrote an article back in 2003 when I was managing a Health Food Store on Soy and I would like to highlight a bit of it here if you would let me.

Soy is one of the top 5 cash crops of the USA, it is big business.

Corn, wheat, soybeans, cotton, and hay account for 90% of harvested acreage in the United States.* (

I read an article in Holistic Magazine (company is now called AOR) and it horrified me to the point of calling them to see if the article was correct. Six months later I saw an expose on a Larry King show saying roughly the same thing. Alive magazine, April 2003 also did an article on the dangers of soy. Then finally I talked with a Canadian nursing student who also had been given warnings on soy in her nutrition class.

What is the problem?

Soy being a highly rated cash crop is turning up in a lot of our foods, cosmetics and body products (why does your hand cream have to have soy in it?) Turns out we are not only eating it but slathering ourselves in it.

Soybeans contain phytoestrogens, chemically isoflavones: genistein, daidzein and glycitin. These phytoestrogens are “similar” to the estrogens made in a woman’s body.

Here is the study that horrified me:

According to 2 studies done in 1965-67 and 1971-74 by the National Institute on Aging, researchers on over 8,000 Japanese men, no small study by any means, that by eating more soy in their diet, these men had an increase of 85% of getting late in life cognitive impairment (dementia) and brain atrophy. The only dietary factor that was associated with this was a higher midlife consumption of tofu (soy).* Wow!

Then there is the baby formula studies to the point where Australia, Great Britain and Puerto Rico have banned soy based infant formula, unless it is given by a prescribing Doctor. My nursing student here in Canada was also told babies should not be given a soy based formula. Why?

Think about it, we give soy to menopausal women to help regulate their hormones, because phytoestrogens have an effect on a person’s hormones. A baby getting only soy formula for a diet can have phytoestrogens 208X more than breast fed babies. This is 5-11 times more than we give women to change their menstrual cycles. What is it doing to our babies?

Studies in Puerto Rico showed that between 1978 – 1998 premature puberty (breast development, girls and boys before the age of 2 and it was noted that boys had smaller testes) “tripled and the cause was consumption of soy infant formula.” In animal studies in sheep, cheetahs and rats the sexual development problems caused warnings to be issued to pregnant women.

There is also a strong link to Thyroid Disease and soy products are reported to have “negative effects on thyroid health and decreased thyroid function.”

And then there is the thymus issue where studies done on mice show a correlation between immune, allergies and asthma and soy.

Now you might say: well Japanese people have been eating soy for hundreds of years and they appear to have no problems. But the amount of soy in a traditional Japanese diet is roughly 7-25 mg of phytoestrogens per day not our North American 50-80 mg per day. We are getting soy hidden in many of our foods, start reading the labels. To top it off we have it in our shampoo, hand cream and cosmetics.

So what do we do? As with everything, moderation is key. Soy has some amazing health benefits, it can a nutritious food.

Start reading your food labels, crackers, breads, snack bars and see how much soy has been put into the product, find out where you are in taking soy from and how much.

I think there is enough alarm bells out there to agree with my nursing student and the countries that banned soy formula, that babies should NOT be given soy formula without a Doctor's approval. Children should stay away from soy and nursing mothers should abstain from soy products while breastfeeding and post menopausal women should probably avoid soy.

The research scientist I talked to at AOR back in 2003, when I had called regarding the 2 studies from the National Aging Institute said that the article they wrote was only moderately alarming, in his words, the problem was way scarier and he said: “I personally won’t touch the stuff.”

The choice my fine readers is of course yours.

*The Holistic Lifestyle, 2003 page 12 AOR: Advanced Orthomolecular Research, Calgary, Alberta

* The National Aging Institute, Original Research: Brain Aging and Midlife Tofu Consumption, Lon. R. White M.D. MPH, Helen Petrovitch, MD., G. WEbster Ross, MD, Kamal Masaki, MD., John Hardman, MD, James Nelson, MD, Daron Davis, MD and William Markesbery, MD Hawaii Center for Health Research. Contract #NIS N01-AG-4 2149.

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