Newest Research On Why You Should Avoid Soy
by Sally Fallon email:SAFallon@aol.com & Mary G.
Enig, PhD email: MGEnig@aol.com
From Nexus magazine, Volume 7, Number 3 (April-May 2000).
About the Authors:
Sally Fallon is the author of Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that
Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats (1999, 2nd
edition, New Trends Publishing, 1-877-707-1776 or 1-219-268 2601) and President
of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Washington, DC (www.WestonAPrice.org).
Dr.Mary Enig, P.H.D is the one of the world's leading researchers and
authorities on oils. Her work is widely known.
Each year, research on the health effects of soy
and soybean components seems to increase exponentially. Furthermore, research is
not just expanding in the primary areas under investigation, such as cancer,
heart disease and osteoporosis; new findings suggest that soy has potential
benefits that may be more extensive than previously thought.
So writes Mark Messina, PhD, General Chairperson
of the Third International Soy Symposium, held in Washington, DC, in November
1999. (1) For four days, well-funded scientists gathered in Washington made
presentations to an admiring press and to their sponsors - United Soybean Board,
American Soybean Association, Monsanto, Protein Technologies International,
Central Soya, Cargill Foods, Personal Products Company, SoyLife,
Whitehall-Robins Healthcare and the soybean councils of Illinois, Indiana,
Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio and South Dakota.
The symposium marked the apogee of a decade-long
marketing campaign to gain consumer acceptance of tofu, soy milk, soy ice cream,
soy cheese, soy sausage and soy derivatives, particularly soy isoflavones like
genistein and diadzen, the oestrogen-like compounds found in soybeans. It
coincided with a US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decision, announced on
October 25, 1999, to allow a health claim for products "low in saturated
fat and cholesterol" that contain 6.25 grams of soy protein per serving.
Breakfast cereals, baked goods, convenience food, smoothie mixes and meat
substitutes could now be sold with labels touting benefits to cardiovascular
health, as long as these products contained one heaping teaspoon of soy protein
per 100-gram serving.
Marketing The Perfect Food
"Just imagine you could grow the perfect food. This food not only would
provide affordable nutrition, but also would be delicious and easy to prepare in
a variety of ways. It would be a healthful food, with no saturated fat. In fact,
you would be growing a virtual fountain of youth on your back forty." The
author is Dean Houghton, writing for The Furrow, (2) a magazine published in 12
languages by John Deere. "This ideal food would help prevent, and perhaps
reverse, some of the world's most dreaded diseases. You could grow this miracle
crop in a variety of soils and climates. Its cultivation would build up, not
deplete, the land...this miracle food already exists... It's called soy."
Just imagine. Farmers have been imagining - and
planting more soy. What was once a minor crop, listed in the 1913 US Department
of Agriculture (USDA) handbook not as a food but as an industrial product, now
covers 72 million acres of American farmland. Much of this harvest will be used
to feed chickens, turkeys, pigs, cows and salmon. Another large fraction will be
squeezed to produce oil for margarine, shortenings and salad dressings.
Advances in technology make it possible to
produce isolated soy protein from what was once considered a waste product - the
defatted, high-protein soy chips - and then transform something that looks and
smells terrible into products that can be consumed by human beings. Flavorings,
preservatives, sweeteners, emulsifiers and synthetic nutrients have turned soy
protein isolate, the food processors' ugly duckling, into a New Age Cinderella.
The new fairy-tale food has been marketed not so
much for her beauty but for her virtues. Early on, products based on soy protein
isolate were sold as extenders and meat substitutes - a strategy that failed to
produce the requisite consumer demand. The industry changed its approach.
"The quickest way to gain product acceptability in the less affluent
society," said an industry spokesman, "is to have the product consumed
on its own merit in a more affluent society." (3) So soy is now sold to the
upscale consumer, not as a cheap, poverty food but as a miracle substance that
will prevent heart disease and cancer, whisk away hot flushes, build strong
bones and keep us forever young. The competition - meat, milk, cheese, butter
and eggs - has been duly demonised by the appropriate government bodies. Soy
serves as meat and milk for a new generation of virtuous vegetarians.
Marketing costs money, especially when it needs
to be bolstered with "research", but there's plenty of funds
available. All soybean producers pay a mandatory assessment of one-half to one
per cent of the net market price of soybeans. The total - something like US$80
million annually (4) - supports United Soybean's program to "strengthen the
position of soybeans in the marketplace and maintain and expand domestic and
foreign markets for uses for soybeans and soybean products". State soybean
councils from Maryland, Nebraska, Delaware, Arkansas, Virginia, North Dakota and
Michigan provide another $2.5 million for "research". (5) Private
companies like Archer Daniels Midland also contribute their share. ADM spent
$4.7 million for advertising on Meet the Press and $4.3 million on Face the
Nation during the course of a year. (6) Public relations firms help convert
research projects into newspaper articles and advertising copy, and law firms
lobby for favorable government regulations. IMF money funds soy processing
plants in foreign countries, and free trade policies keep soybean abundance
flowing to overseas destinations.
The push for more soy has been relentless and
global in its reach. Soy protein is now found in most supermarket breads. It is
being used to transform "the humble tortilla, Mexico's corn-based staple
food, into a protein-fortified 'super-tortilla' that would give a nutritional
boost to the nearly 20 million Mexicans who live in extreme poverty".(7)
Advertising for a new soy-enriched loaf from Allied Bakeries in Britain targets
menopausal women seeking relief from hot flushes. Sales are running at a quarter
of a million loaves per week. (8)
The soy industry hired Norman Robert Associates,
a public relations firm, to "get more soy products onto school menus".
(9) The USDA responded with a proposal to scrap the 30 per cent limit for soy in
school lunches. The NuMenu program would allow unlimited use of soy in student
meals. With soy added to hamburgers, tacos and lasagna, dieticians can get the
total fat content below 30 per cent of calories, thereby conforming to
government dictates. "With the soy-enhanced food items, students are
receiving better servings of nutrients and less cholesterol and fat."
Soy milk has posted the biggest gains, soaring
from $2 million in 1980 to $300 million in the US last year. (10) Recent
advances in processing have transformed the gray, thin, bitter, beany-tasting
Asian beverage into a product that Western consumers will accept - one that
tastes like a milkshake, but without the guilt.
Processing miracles, good packaging, massive
advertising and a marketing strategy that stresses the products' possible health
benefits account for increasing sales to all age groups. For example, reports
that soy helps prevent prostate cancer have made soy milk acceptable to
middle-aged men. "You don't have to twist the arm of a 55- to 60-year-old
guy to get him to try soy milk," says Mark Messina. Michael Milken, former
junk bond financier, has helped the industry shed its hippie image with
well-publicized efforts to consume 40 grams of soy protein daily.
America today, tomorrow the world. Soy milk sales
are rising in Canada, even though soy milk there costs twice as much as cow's
milk. Soybean milk processing plants are sprouting up in places like Kenya.(11)
Even China, where soy really is a poverty food and whose people want more meat,
not tofu, has opted to build Western-style soy factories rather than develop
western grasslands for grazing animals. (12)
Cinderella's Dark Side
The propaganda that has created the soy sales miracle is all the more remarkable
because, only a few decades ago, the soybean was considered unfit to eat - even
in Asia. During the Chou Dynasty (1134-246 BC) the soybean was designated one of
the five sacred grains, along with barley, wheat, millet and rice. However, the
pictograph for the soybean, which dates from earlier times, indicates that it
was not first used as a food; for whereas the pictographs for the other four
grains show the seed and stem structure of the plant, the pictograph for the
soybean emphasizes the root structure. Agricultural literature of the period
speaks frequently of the soybean and its use in crop rotation. Apparently the
soy plant was initially used as a method of fixing nitrogen. (13)
The soybean did not serve as a food until the
discovery of fermentation techniques, some time during the Chou Dynasty. The
first soy foods were fermented products like tempeh, natto, miso and soy sauce.
At a later date, possibly in the 2nd century BC, Chinese scientists discovered
that a puree of cooked soybeans could be precipitated with calcium sulfate or
magnesium sulfate (plaster of Paris or Epsom salts) to make a smooth, pale curd
- tofu or bean curd. The use of fermented and precipitated soy products soon
spread to other parts of the Orient, notably Japan and Indonesia.
The Chinese did not eat unfermented soybeans as they did other legumes such as
lentils because the soybean contains large quantities of natural toxins or
"antinutrients". First among them are potent enzyme inhibitors that
block the action of trypsin and other enzymes needed for protein digestion.
These inhibitors are large, tightly folded proteins that are not completely
deactivated during ordinary cooking. They can produce serious gastric distress,
reduced protein digestion and chronic deficiencies in amino acid uptake. In test
animals, diets high in trypsin inhibitors cause enlargement and pathological
conditions of the pancreas, including cancer. (14)
Soybeans also contain haemagglutinin, a
clot-promoting substance that causes red blood cells to clump together.
Trypsin inhibitors and haemagglutinin are growth
inhibitors. Weanling rats fed soy containing these antinutrients fail to grow
normally. Growth-depressant compounds are deactivated during the process of
fermentation, so once the Chinese discovered how to ferment the soybean, they
began to incorporate soy foods into their diets. In precipitated products,
enzyme inhibitors concentrate in the soaking liquid rather than in the curd.
Thus, in tofu and bean curd, growth depressants are reduced in quantity but not
Soy also contains goitrogens - substances that
depress thyroid function.
Soybeans are high in phytic acid, present in the
bran or hulls of all seeds. It's a substance that can block the uptake of
essential minerals - calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and especially zinc - in
the intestinal tract. Although not a household word, phytic acid has been
extensively studied; there are literally hundreds of articles on the effects of
phytic acid in the current scientific literature. Scientists are in general
agreement that grain- and legume-based diets high in phytates contribute to
widespread mineral deficiencies in third world countries. (15) Analysis shows
that calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc are present in the plant foods eaten in
these areas, but the high phytate content of soy- and grain-based diets prevents
The soybean has one of the highest phytate levels
of any grain or legume that has been studied, (16) and the phytates in soy are
highly resistant to normal phytate-reducing techniques such as long, slow
cooking.(17) Only a long period of fermentation will significantly reduce the
phytate content of soybeans. When precipitated soy products like tofu are
consumed with meat, the mineral-blocking effects of the phytates are reduced.
(18) The Japanese traditionally eat a small amount of tofu or miso as part of a
mineral-rich fish broth, followed by a serving of meat or fish.
Vegetarians who consume tofu and bean curd as a
substitute for meat and dairy products risk severe mineral deficiencies. The
results of calcium, magnesium and iron deficiency are well known; those of zinc
are less so.
Zinc is called the intelligence mineral because
it is needed for optimal development and functioning of the brain and nervous
system. It plays a role in protein synthesis and collagen formation; it is
involved in the blood-sugar control mechanism and thus protects against
diabetes; it is needed for a healthy reproductive system. Zinc is a key
component in numerous vital enzymes and plays a role in the immune system.
Phytates found in soy products interfere with zinc absorption more completely
than with other minerals. (19) Zinc deficiency can cause a "spacey"
feeling that some vegetarians may mistake for the "high" of spiritual
Milk drinking is given as the reason why
second-generation Japanese in America grow taller than their native ancestors.
Some investigators postulate that the reduced phytate content of the American
diet - whatever may be its other deficiencies - is the true explanation,
pointing out that both Asian and Western children who do not get enough meat and
fish products to counteract the effects of a high phytate diet, frequently
suffer rickets, stunting and other growth problems. (20)
Soy Protein Isolate: Not So Friendly
Soy processors have worked hard to get these antinutrients out of the finished
product, particularly soy protein isolate (SPI) which is the key ingredient in
most soy foods that imitate meat and dairy products, including baby formulas and
some brands of soy milk.
SPI is not something you can make in your own
kitchen. Production takes place in industrial factories where a slurry of soy
beans is first mixed with an alkaline solution to remove fiber, then
precipitated and separated using an acid wash and, finally, neutralized in an
alkaline solution. Acid washing in aluminum tanks leaches high levels of
aluminum into the final product. The resultant curds are spray- dried at high
temperatures to produce a high-protein powder. A final indignity to the original
soybean is high-temperature, high-pressure extrusion processing of soy protein
isolate to produce textured vegetable protein (TVP).
Much of the trypsin inhibitor content can be
removed through high-temperature processing, but not all. Trypsin inhibitor
content of soy protein isolate can vary as much as fivefold. (21) (In rats, even
low-level trypsin inhibitor SPI feeding results in reduced weight gain compared
to controls. (22) But high-temperature processing has the unfortunate
side-effect of so denaturing the other proteins in soy that they are rendered
largely ineffective. (23) That's why animals on soy feed need lysine supplements
for normal growth.
Nitrites, which are potent carcinogens, are
formed during spray-drying, and a toxin called lysinoalanine is formed during
alkaline processing. (24) Numerous artificial flavorings, particularly MSG, are
added to soy protein isolate and textured vegetable protein products to mask
their strong "beany" taste and to impart the flavor of meat. (25)
In feeding experiments, the use of SPI increased
requirements for vitamins E, K, D and B12 and created deficiency symptoms of
calcium, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, copper, iron and zinc. (26) Phytic
acid remaining in these soy products greatly inhibits zinc and iron absorption;
test animals fed SPI develop enlarged organs, particularly the pancreas and
thyroid gland, and increased deposition of fatty acids in the liver. (27)
Yet soy protein isolate and textured vegetable
protein are used extensively in school lunch programs, commercial baked goods,
diet beverages and fast food products. They are heavily promoted in third world
countries and form the basis of many food giveaway programs.
In spite of poor results in animal feeding trials, the soy industry has
sponsored a number of studies designed to show that soy protein products can be
used in human diets as a replacement for traditional foods. An example is
"Nutritional Quality of Soy Bean Protein Isolates: Studies in Children of
Preschool Age", sponsored by the Ralston Purina Company. (28) A group of
Central American children suffering from malnutrition was first stabilized and
brought into better health by feeding them native foods, including meat and
dairy products. Then, for a two-week period, these traditional foods were
replaced by a drink made of soy protein isolate and sugar. All nitrogen taken in
and all nitrogen excreted was measured in truly Orwellian fashion: the children
were weighed naked every morning, nd all excrement and vomit gathered up for
analysis. The researchers found that the children retained nitrogen and that
their growth was "adequate", so the experiment was declared a success.
Whether the children were actually healthy on
such a diet, or could remain so over a long period, is another matter. The
researchers noted that the children vomited "occasionally", usually
after finishing a meal; that over half suffered from periods of moderate
diarrhoea; that some had upper respiratory infections; and that others suffered
from rash and fever.
It should be noted that the researchers did not
dare to use soy products to help the children recover from malnutrition, and
were obliged to supplement the soy-sugar mixture with nutrients largely absent
in soy products - notably, vitamins A, D and B12, iron, iodine and zinc.
FDA Health Claim Challenged
The best marketing strategy for a product that is inherently unhealthy is, of
course, a health claim.
"The road to FDA approval," writes a soy apologist, "was long and
demanding, consisting of a detailed review of human clinical data collected from
more than 40 scientific studies conducted over the last 20 years. Soy protein
was found to be one of the rare foods that had sufficient scientific evidence
not only to qualify for an FDA health claim proposal but to ultimately pass the
rigorous approval process. (29)
The "long and demanding" road to FDA
approval actually took a few unexpected turns. The original petition, submitted
by Protein Technology International, requested a health claim for isoflavones,
the estrogen-like compounds found plentifully in soybeans, based on assertions
that "only soy protein that has been processed in a manner in which
isoflavones are retained will result in cholesterol lowering". In 1998, the
FDA made the unprecedented move of rewriting PTI's petition, removing any
reference to the phyto-estrogens and substituting a claim for soy protein - a
move that was in direct contradiction to the agency's regulations. The FDA is
authorized to make rulings only on substances presented by petition.
The abrupt change in direction was no doubt due
to the fact that a number of researchers, including scientists employed by the
US Government, submitted documents indicating that isoflavones are toxic.
The FDA had also received, early in 1998, the
final British Government report on phytoestrogens, which failed to find much
evidence of benefit and warned against potential adverse effects. (30)
Even with the change to soy protein isolate, FDA bureaucrats engaged in the
"rigorous approval process" were forced to deal nimbly with concerns
about mineral blocking effects, enzyme inhibitors, goitrogenicity, endocrine
disruption, reproductive problems and increased allergic reactions from
consumption of soy products. (31)
One of the strongest letters of protest came from
Dr Dan Sheehan and Dr Daniel Doerge, government researchers at the National
Center for Toxicological Research. (32) Their pleas for warning labels were
dismissed as unwarranted.
"Sufficient scientific evidence" of
soy's cholesterol-lowering properties is drawn largely from a 1995 meta-analysis
by Dr James Anderson, sponsored by Protein Technologies International and
published in the New England Journal of Medicine. (33)
A meta-analysis is a review and summary of the
results of many clinical studies on the same subject. Use of meta-analyses to
draw general conclusions has come under sharp criticism by members of the
scientific community. "Researchers substituting meta-analysis for more
rigorous trials risk making faulty assumptions and indulging in creative
accounting," says Sir John Scott, President of the Royal Society of New
Zealand. "Like is not being lumped with like. Little lumps and big lumps of
data are being gathered together by various groups. (34)
There is the added temptation for researchers,
particularly researchers funded by a company like Protein Technologies
International, to leave out studies that would prevent the desired conclusions.
Dr Anderson discarded eight studies for various reasons, leaving a remainder of
twenty-nine. The published report suggested that individuals with cholesterol
levels over 250 mg/dl would experience a "significant" reduction of 7
to 20 per cent in levels of serum cholesterol if they substituted soy protein
for animal protein. Cholesterol reduction was insignificant for individuals
whose cholesterol was lower than 250 mg/dl.
In other words, for most of us, giving up steak
and eating vegieburgers instead will not bring down blood cholesterol levels.
The health claim that the FDA approved "after detailed review of human
clinical data" fails to inform the consumer about these important details.
Research that ties soy to positive effects on
cholesterol levels is "incredibly immature", said Ronald M. Krauss,
MD, head of the Molecular Medical Research Program and Lawrence Berkeley
National Laboratory. (35) He might have added that studies in which cholesterol
levels were lowered through either diet or drugs have consistently resulted in a
greater number of deaths in the treatment groups than in controls - deaths from
stroke, cancer, intestinal disorders, accident and suicide. (36)
Cholesterol-lowering measures in the US have fuelled a $60 billion per year
cholesterol-lowering industry, but have not saved us from the ravages of heart
Soy And Cancer
The new FDA ruling does not allow any claims about cancer prevention on food
packages, but that has not restrained the industry and its marketers from making
them in their promotional literature.
"In addition to protecting the heart," says a vitamin company
brochure, "soy has demonstrated powerful anticancer benefits...the
Japanese, who eat 30 times as much soy as North Americans, have a lower
incidence of cancers of the breast, uterus and prostate. (37)
Indeed they do. But the Japanese, and Asians in
general, have much higher rates of other types of cancer, particularly cancer of
the esophagus, stomach, pancreas and liver. (38) Asians throughout the world
also have high rates of thyroid cancer. (39) The logic that links low rates of
reproductive cancers to soy consumption requires attribution of high rates of
thyroid and digestive cancers to the same foods, particularly as soy causes
these types of cancers in laboratory rats.
Just how much soy do Asians eat? A 1998 survey
found that the average daily amount of soy protein consumed in Japan was about
eight grams for men and seven for women - less than two teaspoons. (40) The
famous Cornell China Study, conducted by Colin T. Campbell, found that legume
consumption in China varied from 0 to 58 grams per day, with a mean of about
twelve. (41) Assuming that two-thirds of legume consumption is soy, then the
maximum consumption is about 40 grams, or less than three tablespoons per day,
with an average consumption of about nine grams, or less than two teaspoons. A
survey conducted in the 1930s found that soy foods accounted for only 1.5 per
cent of calories in the Chinese diet, compared with 65 per cent of calories from
pork. (42) (Asians traditionally cooked with lard, not vegetable oil!)
Traditionally fermented soy products make a
delicious, natural seasoning that may supply important nutritional factors in
the Asian diet. But except in times of famine, Asians consume soy products only
in small amounts, as condiments, and not as a replacement for animal foods -
with one exception. Celibate monks living in monasteries and leading a
vegetarian lifestyle find soy foods quite helpful because they dampen libido.
It was a 1994 meta-analysis by Mark Messina,
published in Nutrition and Cancer, that fuelled speculation on soy's
anticarcinogenic properties (43) Messina noted that in 26 animal studies, 65 per
cent reported protective effects from soy. He conveniently neglected to include
at least one study in which soy feeding caused pancreatic cancer - the 1985
study by Rackis. (44) In the human studies he listed, the results were mixed. A
few showed some protective effect, but most showed no correlation at all between
soy consumption and cancer rates. He concluded that "the data in this
review cannot be used as a basis for claiming that soy intake decreases cancer
risk". Yet in his subsequent book, The Simple Soybean and Your Health,
Messina makes just such a claim, recommending one cup or 230 grams of soy
products per day in his "optimal" diet as a way to prevent cancer.
Thousands of women are now consuming soy in the
belief that it protects them against breast cancer. Yet, in 1996, researchers
found that women consuming soy protein isolate had an increased incidence of
epithelial hyperplasia, a condition that presages malignancies. (45) A year
later, dietary genistein was found to stimulate breast cells to enter the cell
cycle - a discovery that led the study authors to conclude that women should not
consume soy products to prevent breast cancer. (46)
Phytoestrogens: Panacea Or Poison?
The male species of tropical birds carries the drab plumage of the female at
birth and 'colors up' at maturity, somewhere between nine and 24 months.
In 1991, Richard and Valerie James, bird breeders
in Whangerai, New Zealand, purchased a new kind of feed for their birds - one
based largely on soy protein. (47) When soy-based feed was used, their birds
'colored up' after just a few months. In fact, one bird-food manufacturer
claimed that this early development was an advantage imparted by the feed. A
1992 ad for Roudybush feed formula showed a picture of the male crimson rosella,
an Australian parrot that acquires beautiful red plumage at 18 to 24 months,
already brightly colored at 11 weeks old.
Unfortunately, in the ensuing years, there was
decreased fertility in the birds, with precocious maturation, deformed, stunted
and stillborn babies, and premature deaths, especially among females, with the
result that the total population in the aviaries went into steady decline. The
birds suffered beak and bone deformities, goiter, immune system disorders and
pathological, aggressive behavior. Autopsy revealed digestive organs in a state
of disintegration. The list of problems corresponded with many of the problems
the Jameses had encountered in their two children, who had been fed soy-based
Startled, aghast, angry, the Jameses hired
toxicologist Mike Fitzpatrick. PhD, to investigate further. Dr Fitzpatrick's
literature review uncovered evidence that soy consumption has been linked to
numerous disorders, including infertility, increased cancer and infantile
leukemia; and, in studies dating back to the 1950s, (48) that genistein in soy
causes endocrine disruption in animals. Dr Fitzpatrick also analyzed the bird
feed and found that it contained high levels of phytoestrogens, especially
genistein. When the Jameses discontinued using soy-based feed, the flock
gradually returned to normal breeding habits and behavior.
The Jameses embarked on a private crusade to warn
the public and government officials about toxins in soy foods, particularly the
endocrine-disrupting isoflavones, genistein and diadzen. Protein Technology
International received their material in 1994.
In 1991, Japanese researchers reported that
consumption of as little as 30 grams or two tablespoons of soybeans per day for
only one month resulted in a significant increase in thyroid-stimulating
hormone. (49) Diffuse goiter and hypothyroidism appeared in some of the subjects
and many complained of constipation, fatigue and lethargy, even though their
intake of iodine was adequate. In 1997, researchers from the FDA's National
Center for Toxicological Research made the embarrassing discovery that the
goitrogenic components of soy were the very same isoflavones. (50)
Twenty-five grams of soy protein isolate, the minimum amount PTI claimed to have
cholesterol-lowering effects, contains from 50 to 70 mg of isoflavones. It took
only 45 mg of isoflavones in premenopausal women to exert significant biological
effects, including a reduction in hormones needed for adequate thyroid function.
These effects lingered for three months after soy consumption was discontinued.
One hundred grams of soy protein - the maximum
suggested cholesterol-lowering dose, and the amount recommended by Protein
Technologies International - can contain almost 600 mg of isoflavones, (52) an
amount that is undeniably toxic. In 1992, the Swiss health service estimated
that 100 grams of soy protein provided the estrogenic equivalent of the Pill.
In vitro studies suggest that isoflavones inhibit
synthesis of estradiol and other steroid hormones. (54) Reproductive problems,
infertility, thyroid disease and liver disease due to dietary intake of
isoflavones have been observed for several species of animals including mice,
cheetah, quail, pigs, rats, sturgeon and sheep. (55)
It is the isoflavones in soy that are said to
have a favorable effect on postmenopausal symptoms, including hot flushes, and
protection from osteoporosis. Quantification of discomfort from hot flushes is
extremely subjective, and most studies show that control subjects report
reduction in discomfort in amounts equal to subjects given soy. (56) The claim
that soy prevents osteoporosis is extraordinary, given that soy foods block
calcium and cause vitamin D deficiencies. If Asians indeed have lower rates of
osteoporosis than Westerners, it is because their diet provides plenty of
vitamin D from shrimp, lard and seafood, and plenty of calcium from bone broths.
The reason that Westerners have such high rates of osteoporosis is because they
have substituted soy oil for butter, which is a traditional source of vitamin D
and other fat-soluble activators needed for calcium absorption.
Birth Control Pills For Babies
But it was the isoflavones in infant formula that gave the Jameses the most
cause for concern. In 1998, investigators reported that the daily exposure of
infants to isoflavones in soy infant formula is 6 to11 times higher on a
body-weight basis than the dose that has hormonal effects in adults consuming
soy foods. Circulating concentrations of isoflavones in infants fed soy-based
formula were 13,000 to 22,000 times higher than plasma estradiol concentrations
in infants on cow's milk formula. (57)
Approximately 25 per cent of bottle-fed children
in the US receive soy-based formula - a much higher percentage than in other
parts of the Western world. Fitzpatrick estimated that an infant exclusively fed
soy formula receives the estrogenic equivalent (based on body weight) of at
least five birth control pills per day.58 By contrast, almost no phytoestrogens
have been detected in dairy-based infant formula or in human milk, even when the
mother consumes soy products.
Scientists have known for years that soy-based
formula can cause thyroid problems in babies. But what are the effects of soy
products on the hormonal development of the infant, both male and female?
Male infants undergo a "testosterone
surge" during the first few months of life, when testosterone levels may be
as high as those of an adult male. During this period, the infant is programmed
to express male characteristics after puberty, not only in the development of
his sexual organs and other masculine physical traits, but also in setting
patterns in the brain characteristic of male behavior. In monkeys, deficiency of
male hormones impairs the development of spatial perception (which, in humans,
is normally more acute in men than in women), of learning ability and of visual
discrimination tasks (such as would be required for reading). (59) It goes
without saying that future patterns of sexual orientation may also be influenced
by the early hormonal environment. Male children exposed during gestation to
diethylstilbestrol (DES), a synthetic estrogen that has effects on animals
similar to those of phytoestrogens from soy, had testes smaller than normal on
Learning disabilities, especially in male
children, have reached epidemic proportions. Soy infant feeding - which began in
earnest in the early 1970s - cannot be ignored as a probable cause for these
As for girls, an alarming number are entering
puberty much earlier than normal, according to a recent study reported in the
journal Pediatrics. (61) Investigators found that one per cent of all girls now
show signs of puberty, such as breast development or pubic hair, before the age
of three; by age eight, 14.7 per cent of white girls and almost 50 per cent of
African-American girls have one or both of these characteristics.
New data indicate that environmental estrogens
such as PCBs and DDE (a breakdown product of DDT) may cause early sexual
development in girls. (62) In the 1986 Puerto Rico Premature Thelarche study,
the most significant dietary association with premature sexual development was
not chicken - as reported in the press - but soy infant formula (63)
The consequences of this truncated childhood are
tragic. Young girls with mature bodies must cope with feelings and urges that
most children are not well-equipped to handle. And early maturation in girls is
frequently a harbinger for problems with the reproductive system later in life,
including failure to menstruate, infertility and breast cancer.
Parents who have contacted the Jameses recount
other problems associated with children of both sexes who were fed soy-based
formula, including extreme emotional behavior, asthma, immune system problems,
pituitary insufficiency, thyroid disorders and irritable bowel syndrome - the
same endocrine and digestive havoc that afflicted the Jameses' parrots.
Dissension In The Ranks
Organizers of the Third International Soy Symposium would be hard-pressed to
call the conference an unqualified success. On the second day of the symposium,
the London-based Food Commission and the Weston A. Price Foundation of
Washington, DC, held a joint press conference, in the same hotel as the
symposium, to present concerns about soy infant formula. Industry
representatives sat stony-faced through the recitation of potential dangers and
a plea from concerned scientists and parents to pull soy-based infant formula
from the market. Under pressure from the Jameses, the New Zealand Government had
issued a health warning about soy infant formula in 1998; it was time for the
American government to do the same.
On the last day of the symposium, presentations
on new findings related to toxicity sent a well-oxygenated chill through the
giddy helium hype. Dr Lon White reported on a study of Japanese Americans living
in Hawaii, that showed a significant statistical relationship between two or
more servings of tofu a week and "accelerated brain aging". (64) Those
participants who consumed tofu in mid-life had lower cognitive function in late
life and a greater incidence of Alzheimer's disease and dementia. "What's
more," said Dr White, "those who ate a lot of tofu, by the time they
were 75 or 80 looked five years older".65 White and his colleagues blamed
the negative effects on isoflavones - a finding that supports an earlier study
in which postmenopausal women with higher levels of circulating estrogen
experienced greater cognitive decline. (66)
Scientists Daniel Sheehan and Daniel Doerge, from
the National Center for Toxicological Research, ruined PTI's day by presenting
findings from rat feeding studies, indicating that genistein in soy foods causes
irreversible damage to enzymes that synthesise thyroid hormones. (67) "The
association between soybean consumption and goiter in animals and humans has a
long history," wrote Dr Doerge. "Current evidence for the beneficial
effects of soy requires a full understanding of potential adverse effects as
Dr Claude Hughes reported that rats born to
mothers that were fed genistein had decreased birth weights compared to
controls, and onset of puberty occurred earlier in male offspring. (68) His
research suggested that the effects observed in rats "...will be at least
somewhat predictive of what occurs in humans. There is no reason to assume that
there will be gross malformations of fetuses but there may be subtle changes,
such as neurobehavioral attributes, immune function and sex hormone
levels." The results, he said, "could be nothing or could be something
of great concern...if mom is eating something that can act like sex hormones, it
is logical to wonder if that could change the baby's development. (69)
A study of babies born to vegetarian mothers,
published in January 2000, indicated just what those changes in baby's
development might be. Mothers who ate a vegetarian diet during pregnancy had a
fivefold greater risk of delivering a boy with hypospadias, a birth defect of
the penis. (70) The authors of the study suggested that the cause was greater
exposure to phytoestrogens in soy foods popular with vegetarians. Problems with
female offspring of vegetarian mothers are more likely to show up later in life.
While soy's estrogenic effect is less than that of diethylstilbestrol (DES), the
dose is likely to be higher because it's consumed as a food, not taken as a
drug. Daughters of women who took DES during pregnancy suffered from infertility
and cancer when they reached their twenties.
Question Marks Over Gras Status
Lurking in the background of industry hype for soy is the nagging question of
whether it's even legal to add soy protein isolate to food. All food additives
not in common use prior to 1958, including casein protein from milk, must have
GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) status. In 1972, the Nixon administration
directed a re-examination of substances believed to be GRAS, in the light of any
scientific information then available. This re-examination included casein
protein that became codified as GRAS in 1978. In 1974, the FDA obtained a
literature review of soy protein because, as soy protein had not been used in
food until 1959 and was not even in common use in the early 1970s, it was not
eligible to have its GRAS status grandfathered under the provisions of the Food,
Drug and Cosmetic Act. (71)
The scientific literature up to 1974 recognized
many antinutrients in factory-made soy protein, including trypsin inhibitors,
phytic acid and genistein. But the FDA literature review dismissed discussion of
adverse impacts, with the statement that it was important for "adequate
processing" to remove them. Genistein could be removed with an alcohol
wash, but it was an expensive procedure that processors avoided. Later studies
determined that trypsin inhibitor content could be removed only with long
periods of heat and pressure, but the FDA has imposed no requirements for
manufacturers to do so.
The FDA was more concerned with toxins formed
during processing, specifically nitrites and lysinoalanine.(72) Even at low
levels of consumption - averaging one-third of a gram per day at the time - the
presence of these carcinogens was considered too great a threat to public health
to allow GRAS status.
Soy protein did have approval for use as a binder
in cardboard boxes, and this approval was allowed to continue, as researchers
considered that migration of nitrites from the box into the food contents would
be too small to constitute a cancer risk. FDA officials called for safety
specifications and monitoring procedures before granting of GRAS status for
food. These were never performed. To this day, use of soy protein is codified as
GRAS only for this limited industrial use as a cardboard binder. This means that
soy protein must be subject to premarket approval procedures each time
manufacturers intend to use it as a food or add it to a food.
Soy protein was introduced into infant formula in
the early 1960s. It was a new product with no history of any use at all. As soy
protein did not have GRAS status, premarket approval was required. This was not
and still has not been granted. The key ingredient of soy infant formula is not
recognized as safe.
The Next Asbestos?
"Against the backdrop of widespread praise...there is growing suspicion
that soy - despite its undisputed benefits - may pose some health hazards,"
writes Marian Burros, a leading food writer for the New York Times. More than
any other writer, Ms Burros's endorsement of a low-fat, largely vegetarian diet
has herded Americans into supermarket aisles featuring soy foods. In her January
26, 2000 article, "Doubts Cloud Rosy News on Soy", contains the
following alarming statement: "Not one of the 18 scientists interviewed for
this column was willing to say that taking isoflavones was risk free." Ms
Burros did not enumerate the risks, nor did she mention that the recommended 25
daily grams of soy protein contain enough isoflavones to cause problems in
sensitive individuals, but it was evident that the industry had recognized the
need to cover itself.
Because the industry is extremely
exposed...contingency lawyers will soon discover that the number of potential
plaintiffs can be counted in the millions and the pockets are very, very deep.
Juries will hear something like the following: "The industry has known for
years that soy contains many toxins. At first they told the public that the
toxins were removed by processing. When it became apparent that processing could
not get rid of them, they claimed that these substances were beneficial. Your
government granted a health claim to a substance that is poisonous, and the
industry lied to the public to sell more soy."
The "industry" includes merchants,
manufacturers, scientists, publicists, bureaucrats, former bond financiers, food
writers, vitamin companies and retail stores. Farmers will probably escape
because they were duped like the rest of us. But they need to find something
else to grow before the soy bubble bursts and the market collapses: grass-fed
livestock, designer vegetables...or hemp to make paper for thousands and
thousands of legal briefs.
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