Every once in a while I’ll have a topic come up, seemingly randomly, from 3 or 4 individuals, all within a week or two. Most recently the subject of soy has been popping up in several conversations I’ve had both in and out of the office.
A whole lot of people are under the impression that soy is a health food. It’s one of those things that has worked its way into the realm of “common knowledge”. Unfortunately, a lot of “common knowledge”, especially when it comes to diet and nutrition, comes about as the result of small groups of people effectively promoting their interests by using strategic advertising and promotion. It’s natural for advertisers to accentuate the positive effects of a product while de-emphasizing the negative aspects–a lot of times that’s just good business. But when that product has the potential to seriously impact the health of millions of people, good business can easily cross the line into funny-business and people can get hurt. Soy-based food products are one example of just this type of funny-business.
So what’s the problem with soy?
For the sake of brevity, I’m going to make a list here.
- High levels of phytic acid in soy reduce assimilation of calcium, magnesium, copper, iron, and zinc. Phytic acid in soy is not neutralized by ordinary preparation methods such as soaking, sprouting and long, slow
cooking, but only with long fermentation. High-phytate diets have caused growth problems in children.
- Trypsin inhibitors in soy interfere with protein digestion and may cause pancreatic disorders. In test animals, soy containing trypsin inhibitors caused stunted growth.
- High levels of oxalic acid in soy can cause kidney stones, or stones anywhere in the body.
- Soy phytoestroggens disrupt endocrine function and have the potential to cause infertility and to promote breast cancer in adult women.
- Soy phytoestrogens are potent antithryoid agents that cause hypothyroidism and may cause thyroid cancer. In infants, consumption of soy formula has been linked to autoimmune thyroid disease.
- Vitamin B12 analogs in soy are not absorbed and actually increase the body’s requirement for B12.
- Soy foods increase the body’s requirement for Vitamin D. Toxic synthetic vitamin D2 is added to soy milk.
- Fragile proteins are over-denatured during high temperature processing to make soy protein isolate and textured vegetable protein. This makes the protein less available.
- Processing of soy protein results in the formation of toxic lysinoalanine and highly carcinogenic nitrosamines.
- Free glutamic acid or MSG, a potent neurotoxin, is formed during soy food processing, and is present even if not labeled.
- Soy formula contains high levels of aluminum, which is toxic to the nervous system and the kidneys.
- Babies fed soy-based formula have 13,000 to 22,000 times more estrogen compounds in their blood than babies fed milk-based formula. Infants exclusively fed soy formula receive the estrogenic equivalent of at least four birth control pills per day.
- 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, baby boys are programmed to express male characteristics after puberty, not only in the development of their sexual organs and other masculine physical traits, but also in setting patterns in the brain characteristic of male behavior.
- In animals, studies indicate that phytoestrogens in soy are powerful endocrine disrupters. Eating soy products–which floods the bloodstream with female hormones that inhibit testosterone–cannot be ignored as a possible cause of disrupted development patterns in boys, including learning disabilities and attention deficit disorder. Male children exposed to DES, a synthetic estrogen, has testes smaller than normal on maturation and infant marmoset monkeys fed soy isoflavones had a reduction in testosterone levels up to 70% percent compared to milk-fed controls.
- Premature development of girls is linked to the use of soy formula and exposure to environmental estrogen-mimickers such as PCBs and DDE.
- Intake of phytoestrogens even at moderate levels during pregnancy can have adverse affects on the developing fetus and the timing of puberty later in life.
There are a lot of problems with soy.
The subject always reminds me of an older male patient of mine. He was in his mid-70’s and was in excellent shape because he worked really hard on staying health his entire life. At 74 years old he was still working at a school teaching physical education. He walked into the adjusting room one day holding his chest with both hands and started explaining something to me so fast that I couldn’t understand most of what he said until he finished by exclaiming, “and then he told me I had double gynecomastia!” Gynecomastia is a condition where males develop abnormally enlarged breast tissue, and he went on to explain that after some investigation, his medical doctor said it was likely due to the large amount of soy products that were a part of his diet for so many years. Like a lot of people, he was under the impression that soy was a safe, healthy food, but over time it caused a significant imbalance in his hormone levels.
There are a lot of claims about the benefits of eating soy products. Most of those claims are unfounded and overblown, but some are legitimate. It really comes down to a cost/benefit analysis, and when it comes to soy products, the harm that they can cause far outweighs any benefits you might gain from consuming them.
I think Dr. Kaayla Daniel, author of The Whole Soy Story sums up the soy situation well: “Sadly big business and big government have usurped their impossible dream [for soy]. Old fashioned whole soy foods that contribute to health if eaten in moderation have given way to [inferior quality] products that lead inevitably to malnutrition and disease.”