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Soy may not be the superfood we thought


Soy beans, soya milk, tofu - there are lots of food items that many of us now buy because we think they are healthy rather than because we simply prefer the flavour. However, nothing seems straightforward these days and now there appears growing concern that soy can actually be damaging to our health; or certainly contain risks that may outweigh the benefits.

The latest is that scientists have found that soy in a diet can speed up the rate at which breast cancer cells spread.

The research was led by Dr Jacquelin Bromberg, a medical oncologist at New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre and involved tests on tumour tissues on a group of women suffering from breast cancer, half of which had been taking soy protein powder and the other half taking a placebo.

The data showed that soy protein can accelerate the progression of breast cancer. This follows on from earlier animal studies done elsewhere that indicated that soy isoflavones can stimulate the proliferation and activity of cells in the breasts. The researchers will be continuing with their work, especially to see if this reaction can be reversed; but it does add to the fact that soy is a very controversial food.

Soy has been hailed as a superfood but it also opposed by people who consider it causes damaging and poisonous disruption to our natural hormones.

Many of us have been told that regularly eating soy-based foods can lower cholesterol, calm hot flushes in women and help to prevent breast and prostate cancers. Some of these benefits have been attributed to its high concentrations of isoflavones which are a type of plant-made estrogen. We have learned from the respected Harvard School of Public Health, however, that some of the claims made for soy were based on what is termed “preliminary” evidence and solid studies does since then have tempered the findings.

The Harvard School states that early controlled clinical trials showed that eating around 50 grams of soy protein a day in place of animal protein reduced harmful LDL cholesterol by nearly 13 per cent. However, the school comments that if these reductions had been sustained over time, they would have meant a 20 per cent reduction in the risk of heart attack, stroke and other heart diseases, yet later research from the American Heart Association showed that eating 50 grams of soy a day lowers LDL cholesterol by only around 3 percent. When you realise that 50 grams means you would have to drink 8 large glasses of soy milk a day, the benefits of soy appear greatly reduced.

Another report from the Harvard School adds controversy to the idea that soy can help as a treatment for hot flushes and other problems from the menopause in women. The theory was that soy beans are rich in isoflavones and so would give woman an estrogen type boost when their own levels were diminishing.

Again research from the American Heart Association has shown this is not necessarily the case. Clinical studies have indicated that it is unlikely that the soy from isoflavones would have enough estrogenic activity to have any real impact.

Then there are other more positive reports. Reports from the Shanghai Women’s Health Study say that women with high soy protein intakes throughout their teenage years and early adulthood had a nearly 60 per cent lower risk of pre-menopausal breast cancer than women with lower intakes. How this relates to older age groups is still under investigation.

There is a lot of information on the web about soy; some of course are from the sellers of soy products and therefore are clearly biased in favour. But without doubt the initial idea that soy is a superfood is now being tempered by a growing number of negative reports.

From another aspect, reports from Mother Nature Network and other sites mention that the soybean crop is one of the most genetically modified and this causes concern to some people.

The more we seem to know, the more complicated it all seems to get. As with statins, Laterlife will be watching the latest research and investigations into the benefits and problems of soy.

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The above article is part of the features section of called laterlife interest. laterlife interest contains a variety of articles of interest for visitors to written by a number of experienced and new journalists.

It includes both one off articles and also associated regular columns of a more specialist nature such as Healthwise, Gardener's Diary, our regular IT question and answer section called YoucandoIT and there's also 'It could be you' by Maggi Stamp laterlife's counsellor on human relationships. 

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