LA Times: Soy Losing Its Luster

According to The Los Angeles Times soybeans are no longer being perceived as the wonder food they were once touted to be. It appears many researchers and scientists are losing faith in the bean. Hilary E. MacGregor reports:

Some are worried about reproductive problems. Last year, researchers at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) found that mice given genistein right after birth developed irregular reproductive cycles and problems with ovulation and fertility. This year, they reported that genistein disrupted the development of ovaries.

"Whether these things cause problems in humans, we just don't know," says Wendy Jefferson, an NIEHS scientist and the paper's lead researcher. "But so many babies are on soy formulas. If these things are going to be a problem it is a problem that would only manifest later, when a woman was trying to get pregnant, or having reproductive-cycle problems."

The research led an independent panel of 14 scientists to meet in March and decide whether soy formula is hazardous to human development or reproduction.

The panel concluded that soy formula was safe but one pediatrician on the panel expressed concerns, saying exposure to soy formula occurs during a critical time in infancy and might possibly affect development of the brain and reproductive system.

In a previous post Dr. Fuhrman discusses some of the issues surrounding soy and how to incorporate it into a healthy diet. Here's an excerpt:

The evidence is not sufficient to warrant being fearful of consuming soybeans as part of a healthful diet. However, this brings to mind my basic theme of nutritional biodiversity—eat a variety of plant foods, and do not eat a soy-based diet.

Most of the processed soy products can be tasty additions to a plant-based diet, but they are generally high in salt and are not nutrient-dense foods, so use them sparingly. In conclusion, the soybean is a superior food, containing the difficult-to-find omega-3 fats. Beans in general are superior foods that fight against cancer and heart disease, which is why you will benefit from using a variety of beans in your diet.

Rather than vilifying soybeans, the wiser approach seems to be not centering a diet on one particular food (in this case soybeans), but rather incorporate soybeans into a nutrient-dense plant-based diet. Instead of gobbling up everything that has soy in it.

Back to the LA Times article, Dr. Gregory Burke makes a strong case for continuing consumption of soy:

"If a drug company came up and said 'We are going to develop a product that reduces the risk of heart disease, reduces the rate of prostate cancer, that alleviates hot flashes and does good things for bone, and that doesn't have any side effects,' they would be laughed out of the room," says Dr. Gregory Burke, a professor in the department of Health Sciences at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

But just because soy is not a magic cure for hot flashes and breast cancer does not mean it isn't a good food.

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Kirsten - June 13, 2006 10:46 AM

I find Dr. Fuhrman's suggestion to focus on a diverse diet to be very reasonable advice. When I first heard about soy concerns, it certainly made me rethink how much soy was in my diet (we were eating more processed foods then, overall).

However, I find the hysterical focus on the dangers of soy pretty amusing when contrasted with the extrogen-mimicking powers of many of the artificial chemicals in our food, our homes, our yards (pesticides, pthalates, PCBE's and on and on). I can't imagine the dangers of soy really rival all these other hormone disruptors and cancer agents!

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