Frightening information about foods that contain soy

Formula For Disaster

“I feel betrayed. But it’s my own fault.”

That comment comes from a colleague of mine named Lou who sent me an e-mail with some enlightening (and frightening) information about foods that contain soy.

Lou writes: “When my son was born about 13 years ago my wife wasn’t able to breast feed (long story), so we looked at the various formulas available and decided on one that had a soy base. Back then we were convinced that soy was healthy. Looking back now I want to kick myself. I dumbly accepted the soy-is-healthfood sales pitch without ever really questioning it.

“I’ve attached some items about a study that was a real eye opener for me and my wife. Maybe your readers will find this info useful and avoid our mistake.”

Minimized consumption

According to an article in Mothering magazine (one of several articles Lou sent), researchers with the Israeli Health Ministry spent about a year assessing a wide variety of soy studies. The research team included more than a dozen nutritionists, pediatricians and oncologists. They announced their findings last summer.

The primary conclusions:

  • Estrogen-like plant hormones (isoflavones) in soy may increase the risk of health problems, including breast cancer and reduced fertility in men
  • Evidence that soy reduces symptoms of menopause is inconsistent
  • Soy may slightly reduce cholesterol levels, but no clear link to a reduced risk of heart disease was found
  • Researchers “strongly urged” minimized consumption of soy foods until further studies are able to demonstrate soy’s safety. In addition, the Israeli team recommended that soy baby formula should be used only as a last resort in cases where infants can’t be breastfed and cow’s milk can’t be given.

Another article Lou sent referred to a study that especially concerned him. It was an animal study in which newborn male monkeys were fed a soy formula. Researchers concluded that soy impeded the normal testosterone production that occurs in the first months of life.

Heart & soy

This week I returned Lou’s favor when I sent him some additional information about soy.

The first item is an oldie that appeared in the March 1999 issue of Natural Health. In that article, author Sally Euclaire Osborne cited a New Zealand study that examined the isoflavone levels in soy formula for babies. The recommended daily intake of the formula was found to be FOUR TIMES the amount capable of changing the reproductive hormones in women.

The second item brings us up to date with new information just released by the American Heart Association (AHA).

In 2000, the AHA recommended soy consumption based on studies that indicated soy had a cholesterol-lowering effect. But when further research began to contradict those findings, the AHA launched a review of more than 20 soy studies. Results showed that soy protein has no effect on HDL cholesterol, and a very small effect on LDL cholesterol. In addition, researchers concluded that soy does not reduce hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms, nor does it prevent prostate, breast or uterine cancer.

In an Associated Press (AP) article that covered the AHA study, several pro-soy doctors and experts weighed in, minimizing the results of these new findings. One clinical nutrition professor told the AP that even though soy isn’t a “magic bullet” it can still be “a valuable contributor to a heart-healthy diet.”

Stop It Already! Soy is not health food!

Normally I’d be bucking the mainstream and endorsing an alternative food product that enhanced health. But soy is not on the alternative fringe. Anything but! Thanks to the aggressive marketing efforts of soybean producers such as Monsanto and Archer Daniels Midland, soy has won a mainstream reputation as a nutritional medicine of sorts, even though evidence to the contrary has been steadily mounting for years.

If you like soy, try to limit your intake to soy products developed from fermented soy. (HSI Panelist Allan Spreen, M.D., explains the importance of soy fermentation in the e-Alert “Adult Swim” 4/16/03.)

Personally I’m afraid of a plant that can be processed into a substitute for everything from tuna fish to chocolate pudding.

“Israeli Health Ministry Issues Soy Warning” Mothering, August 2005,
“Is Soy Good for You” Robert Jay Rowen, M.D., Second Opinion Health Alerts,
“Study Casts Doubt on Soy’s Heart Benefits” The Associated Press, 1/23/06,