Could This Popular Health Food be
Secretly Poisoning Your Diet?
August 28th, 2013 by Holly Cornish
There’s a lot of controversy over whether eating soy is outright dangerous, especially for males. For one thing, it’s rich in phytoestrogens, which are plant estrogens that are similar to but not identical to human estrogens. Estrogens are female hormones. Generally speaking, you don’t want to eat them if you’re a male.
As to whether phytoestrogens are good for you, the answer you get depends on who you ask. [Grammarians: Please don’t write to tell me I should have said “whom”.] It’s very confusing and hard to figure out whether soy is healthy or toxic. We made up our minds to find out what’s what, and my research staff came up with some answers that are going to surprise you. . .
Why Most Health Foods are a Waste of Money
By Lee Euler
You can take vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants by the handful and still suffer poor health. Now we know why. Our diets lack a vital food — a type of nutrient that even alternative doctors don’t know about. Thanks to this supplement, a mother’s lifelong migraines disappeared, and a man with “terminal” kidney cancer was alive 15 years later. He’s just one of thousands of cancer patients who have taken this supplement and seen remarkable results.
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Some authorities believe soy plays no role in cancer, and particularly hormone-related cancers (like estrogen-receptor positive breast cancer, uterine cancer, or ovarian cancer). Others point to animal studies suggesting that genistein, a main isoflavone in soy, actually promoted breast cancer growth.
Then along came further research showing that rats and mice metabolize phytoestrogens like genistein differently than humans, so the whole question is up in the air again.
Scientists in the past have said eating soy actually protects you from diseases like cancer, but most of those studies have been observational. In other words, researchers collect diet information from individuals and follow them for several years to see who develops cancer and who doesn’t.
But as with any observational study, it could be that the connection between lower cancer risk and soy is due to an overlooked factor related to eating soy, particularly since people who eat soy might be more likely to exercise and eat more vegetables. The exercise and all the other healthy foods that soy eaters eat might offset the bad effects (if any) of eating soy.
Observational studies are prone to error because they don’t get at cause and effect. All they can do is point out that “people who have characteristic X also tend to have characteristic Y.” A classic example occurred decades ago when a big observational study seemed to indicate that people who drink coffee are more likely to get cancer and heart disease. It turned out it wasn’t the coffee. Heavy coffee drinkers were more likely to smoke, and it was smoking that brought on the diseases.
One study says don’t, others say do…
We all know prostate cancer is serious business, particularly in the U.S. where one in six men will develop the disease during his lifetime. Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in American men, eclipsed only by lung cancer.
For years, men with prostate cancer or even the likelihood of developing prostate cancer have been told to eat soy products. Part of that thinking comes from laboratory studies that show soy contains substances with anti-cancer properties, including isoflavones.
Another part of the pro-soy logic stems from what’s been observed in Asia, where soy is a constant in the diet starting at birth. Prostate cancer rates there are much lower than in the U.S., though it does raise the question of whether soy consumption early in life plays a role or whether it’s possible to begin a healthy soy regimen at a later age. It also raises the same questions as any observational study: Asians do a lot of things differently than Americans. How do we know it’s soy that causes them to enjoy lower prostate cancer rates?
The thing is, there’s no hard evidence that soy keeps prostate cancer at bay. And now there’s a new study that throws even more cold water on the idea. According to Dr. Maarten Bosland, professor of pathology at the University of Illinois at Chicago and lead researcher in a recent soy study, daily consumption of soy after surgery for prostate cancer “does not reduce the risk of recurrence.”
The study led by Bosland and published in the July 10 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, included over 150 men with an increased risk of prostate cancer. Each had undergone a radical prostatectomy, which didn’t remove all the cancer cells.
Each of the men was assigned to drink either a powdered soy protein drink or a placebo beverage every day for two years. At the end of the study, no significant difference between the two groups could be found in terms of cancer recurrence. Just over a quarter of the men in each group had prostate cancer recurrence within two years.
Dr. Bosland says soy is still safe to take and that it has no adverse side effects, but some studies say otherwise. According to other authoritative figures, like Dr. Anthony D’Amico, chief of radiation oncology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, soy supplementation brings no harm and may offer a benefit. Dr. D’Amico advises against using the recent study—which he says was quite small—as evidence that people should stop eating soy for health benefits.
The multiple hazards of soy consumption
Another unsolved puzzle is whether soy foods play a different role in the body than do soy supplements. Some say straight soy beats supplements any day, while others point to the shocking prevalence of GMO soy. And if you follow anything GMO-related, you know that it never leads to good news or healthy outcomes. Several reports say as much as 99 percent of soy has been genetically modified, and most soybean plants are treated with a high level of pesticides.
Does that mean organic soy is the way to go? Possibly, but here are some more soy-related facts that should give you pause.
- Soy is high in something called phytic acid, which blocks the absorption of minerals like calcium and magnesium. That’s one reason third-world countries with grain- and legume-based diets (and thus high phytic acid levels) tend to have widespread mineral deficiencies.
- Soybeans have toxins that are so powerful, they’re not destroyed during cooking. Many of the toxins are known as enzyme inhibitors, which complicate your ability to digest protein. In one study, animals that consumed enzyme inhibitors ended up developing pancreatic problems, including pancreatic cancer. Yikes!
- Soy products tend to have higher-than-normal levels of aluminum, which is known to have negative health effects. It comes from aluminum tanks where the beans are washed and heat-treated. I don’t think this is a major worry, but I toss it out there for your consideration.
This brings us back to the Asia question, and why Asian cultures have been safely consuming soy for thousands of years. One theory is that they only began soy consumption after they figured out how to ferment it; before that, they avoided soybeans because of the toxins.
Fermentation makes the nutrients in soy more available on a biological level while destroying their natural toxins. Fermented soy foods include natto, miso, and tempeh. But the downside to those foods is that they’re high in sodium. Again, I don’t feel this is a major worry, but if you think you’re salt sensitive, you need to know it.
The evidence I’ve seen for fermented soy is highly favorable. I see it as healthy food to eat, with benefits in treating and preventing a variety of diseases including cancer and heart disease. For more on this, check out our Issue #88.
When in doubt, don’t eat it
Other than fermented, soy is a minefield. I don’t eat it — in defiance of my integrative doctor, a smart man who continues to believe soy is a healthy food. It’s just about impossible to reach any definite conclusions about it. That’s enough reason to avoid it.
Lee Euler, Publisher