Soy! Friend, or Foe?

Via on Feb 9, 2012

Edamame courtesy of The Unseasoned Wok

By now we have all been sufficiently confused about the merits and dangers of soy.

Ancient writings from China suggest that the soybean was traditionally considered unfit for human consumption. The reason may be that the soybean is uniquely endowed with certain toxic anti-nutrients that are now being linked to breast cancer, thyroid disease, menstrual and fertility issues as well as severe allergies, compromised immunity and brain damage(1).

On the other side of the aisle there is compelling research that soy can offer formidable defense against cardiovascular disease, numerous forms of cancer, osteoporosis, and menopausal symptoms (2).

Join me as I delve into this very heated debate in search of some answers. I’ve done my best to include as much research from both sides as possible, before presenting my own professional view. Video and article below.

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What is an anti-nutrient?

Many plants are protected by toxic anti-nutrients to ward off insects and animals that might otherwise eat them. Beans in particular are famous for these anti-nutrients which, as many of us may know from experience, can make them a challenge to digest.

Unlike most beans, the anti-nutrients in soy don’t wash or cook off and according to the research by soy opponents, they present significant health risks.

Anti-nutrients come in a variety of forms. Below I’ve listed the main components of soy that, according to many experts, are a definite cause for concern.

Breaking it down: Soy’s troubling compounds—and the soy supporters’ rebuttal

•     The first troubling group of anti-nutrients is called the phytates. Phytates bind to minerals like zinc, calcium, magnesium, iron and copper, and may strip them from the body, resulting in mineral deficiencies. Along with enzyme inhibitors, phytates may block the absorption of nutrients from soy, so that any possible benefit is effectively negated (4). That said, soy protein has been used successfully in treating mild and moderate protein-energy malnutrition in some of the world’s sickest children, indicating that the nutrients in soy can be extremely available and nutritious (5).

•     Goitrogens are substances that inhibit thyroid function. When the thyroid is compromised, it may enlarge in an attempt to absorb necessary missing nutrients, resulting in a mass called a goiter. Soy inhibits the thyroid’s uptake of iodine, thus driving up the thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) in an attempt to boost thyroid function. In 1991, Japanese researchers reported that consumption of as little as 30 grams or 2 tablespoons of soybeans per day for only one month resulted in a significant increase in thyroid stimulating hormone(6)—a sign of impaired thyroid function. Soy supporters argue that in individuals with an otherwise healthy thyroid, no significant changes have been recorded (9).

•     Genestein and Diadzen, the isoflavone molecules in soy, inhibit an enzyme involved in thyroid hormone synthesis and may suppress thyroid function as well (7). These isoflavones have also been reported to disturb liver function, reproductive hormones, and fertility (8). Experts that recommend soy acknowledge this, but argue that in otherwise healthy individuals, studies show that soy products have no negative effects on thyroid function (9).

•     In vitro studies suggest that isoflavones inhibit synthesis of estradiol and other steroid hormones (10). In 1992, the Swiss health service estimated that 100 grams of soy protein, which equals about  4 protein shakes, provided the estrogenic equivalent of a birth control  pill (11). Soy supporters say that genistein is actually estrogenic in a positive way. According to this theory, it interacts directly with the notorious HER2 cancer-causing gene, inhibiting its activation by cellular machinery and preventing cancer promotion (12).

Today, soy manufacturers are acutely aware of the anti-nutrient issue and claim they are removed during processing (3). The only risk, according to them, is when one eats raw soy beans, which they say to avoid.

Fermentation:  The ancient solution

Miso Clouds by MoofbongIn China, the discovery that soy could be cultured or fermented brought with it a shift in soy’s reputation. While un-fermented soy was still avoided as a food, the fermentation process appeared to free soy from the toxic anti-nutrients and, moreover, actually released some amazing health benefits. During the Ming Dynasty, the fermented soy food natto actually found its way into Chinese Medicine’s Materia Medica, as a nutritional remedy for many health conditions.

Today, many experts believe that fermentation is the only way to neutralize the dangerous anti-nutrients in soy.

Perhaps soy may be best classified as a medicine (in its fermented state) rather than a food.

 The Ayurvedic Perspective

According to Ayurveda, soy is a very hard protein to digest and was not a traditional part of the Ayurvedic diet. In fact, some Ayurvedic doctors are strongly against soy and do not consider it a digestible food.  Perhaps the knowledge of its anti-nutrient content spurned caution in India as well.

Energetically, it was considered heavy and dulling for the mind. It was generally believed that soy acts more like a nut than a bean and is therefore pacifying for vata. Still, because of its difficulty to digest and somewhat rajasic, or stimulating, nature, soy was rarely used medicinally.

Interestingly, fermented foods are also not favored in Ayurveda, and fermented soy products were never a part of the Ayurvedic diet.  According to Ayurveda, fermented foods may aggravate vata and are considered tamasic, or dulling for the mind.  As a result, fermented foods were not used in Ayurveda and the medicinal nature of fermented soy foods such as natto was unknown.

In summary, soy is generally avoided in Ayurveda, while some Ayurvedic experts allow it in moderation. Soy should not be your main source of protein.

Soy in the West

In the west, soy products have become an industry. From soy milk to soy pills and soybean oil in just about every processed food, Americans are getting way too much soy. Even the promoters of soy encourage moderation and advise that soy not be the major source of protein in one’s diet.

It can also be very difficult to get non-genetically-modified—or non-GMO—soy in the west, which may in itself be enough of a reason to avoid it.

Natto – Ancient Chinese Medicine, Applied

As I’ve mentioned, traditionally fermented soy foods like miso, traditionally brewed soy sauce, tempeh and natto are proven safe on both sides of the aisle and have documented beneficial health properties.  Natto, in particular, has been documented and safely used for cardiovascular and circulatory support in the west for the past 20 years.

Natto is extremely high in vitamin K2, which is rich in fibrinolytic enzymes called NattoKinase.

A fibrinolytic enzyme is an enzyme which protects the body from clot formation. Blood clots, or thrombi, can block blood flow in the arteries of the heart and brain and cause angina, heart attack or stroke. Protective fibrinolytic enzymes are produced by the body but, as we age, production of these enzymes declines.

It has been determined that nattokinase actually has four times greater the fibrinolytic activity than plasmin, the body’s own endogenous fibrinolytic enzyme (13)*.

Conclusion: Well, is soy friend, or foe?

Now that we’ve taken a look at the research from both sides of the isle, glanced at soy’s history, and taken into consideration the perspectives of two ancient systems of medicine, what’s the verdict? Here’s my take on it:

•     Soy should not be your main source of protein.  Avoid soy pills. Avoid or reduce soy milk, soy cheese and other processed soy foods.

A note on tofu: in Japan, tofu is significantly more cultured with a much stronger taste than it is here in the states. American tofu should be eaten in moderation.

•     Enjoy traditionally fermented soy products such as miso, tempeh, natto, and traditionally brewed soy sauce. Still, make sure even these products are organic and non-GMO. Very important!

•     Consider including natto either as a food in your diet, or the enzyme nattokinase as a supplement, to maintain the optimal health of your arteries and protect them from atherosclerosis and blood clots.*

More Information about Natto and NattoKinase here.

 

References
1. Daniel, Kaayla. The Whole Soy Story
2. Tham DM, Gardner CD, Haskell WL. Clinical review 97: Potential health benefits of dietary phytoestrogens: a review of the clinical, epidemiological, and mechanistic evidence. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1998 Jul;83(7):2223-35.
3. Palacios MF, Easter RA, Soltwedel KT, et al. Effect of soybean variety and processing on growth performance of young chicks and pigs. J Anim Sci. 2004 Apr;82(4):1108-14.
4**.  Fallon S, Enig M. Soy Alert – Tragedy and Hype. Nexus Magazine. 2000 Apr-May;7(3).
5. Solomons NW, Torun B. Infantile malnutrition in the tropics. Pediatr Ann. 1982 Dec;11(12):991-1002
6. Y Ishizuki, et al, The effects on the thyroid gland of soybeans administered experimentally in healthy subjects, Nippon Naibunpi Gakkai Zasshi 1991 767: 622-629
7. (Divi RL, Doerge DR. Inhibition of thyroid peroxidase by dietary flavonoids. Chem Res Toxicol. 1996 Jan-Feb;9(1):16-23.
8**. K D R Setchell , et al, Dietary estrogens – a probable cause of infertility and liver disease in captive cheetahs, Gastroenterology 93: 225-233 (1987); A S Leopold, Phytoestrogens: Adverse effects on reproduction in California Quail, Science 1976 191: 98-100; Drane HM et al, Oestrogenic activity of soya-bean products, Food Cosmetics and Technology 1980 18: 425-427; S Kimura, et al. Development of malignant goiter by defatted soybean with iodine-free diet in rats, 1976, Gann 67: 763-765; C Pelissero, et al, Estrogenic effect of dietary soy bean meal on vitellogenesis in cultured Siberian Sturgeon Acipenser baeri, Gen Comp End 83: 447-457; Braden et al, The oestrogenic activity and metabolism of certain isoflavones in sheep, Australian Journal of Agricultural Research 1967 18:335-348.
9. Doerge DR, Sheehan DM. Goitrogenic and estrogenic activity of soy isoflavones. Environ Health Perspect. 2002 Jun;110 Suppl 3:349-53.
10**. W M Keung, Dietary estrogenic isoflavones are potent inhibitors of B-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase of P testosteronii, Biochemical and Biophysical Research Committee 1995 215:1137-1144; S I Makela, et al, Estrogen specific 12 B-hydroxysteroid oxidoreductase type 1 (E.C. 1.1.1.62) as a possible target for the action of phytoestrogens, PSEBM, 1995 208:51-59.
11**. Bulletin de L’Office Federal de la Sante Publique, No 28, July 20, 1992.
12.  Sakla MS, Shenouda NS, Ansell PJ, Macdonald RS, Lubahn DB. Genistein affects HER2 protein concentration, activation, and promoter regulation in BT-474 human breast cancer cells. Endocrine. 2007 Aug;32(1):69-78
13. Suzuki Y, Kondo K, Ichise H, Tsukamoto Y, Urano T, Umemura K. Dietary supplementation with fermented soybeans suppresses intimal thickening. Nutrition. 2003 Mar; 19 (3): 261-4

Sources:

**Tragedy and Hype: The Third International Soy Symposium – Part II. Sally Fallon and Mary G. Enig, PhD
Life Extension Magazine July 2010. Is Soy Safe?. Oscar Rodriguez

About Dr. John Douillard, DC

Dr. John Douillard, DC has been practicing and teaching Ayurveda since 1988. He is the founder, owner and practitioner at John Douillard's LifeSpa. He regularly lectures worldwide and is a faculty member at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. To sign up to receive his free, weekly video-newsletters right in your inbox, along with exclusive discounts on Lifespa's organic herbal supplements and skin care products, visit lifespa.com. John's book, The 3-Season Diet, discusses the very simple and profound Ayurvedic principle of eating more foods in their appropriate season. Ready to plan for a spring cleanse? Check out Dr. Douillard's Colorado Cleanse, a two week at-home detox plan designed to reset digestion, restore balance, and body/mind well being.

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27 Responses to “Soy! Friend, or Foe?”

  1. Lorin says:

    Very informative, thanks!

    Posted to Elephant Food on Facebook and Twitter.

    Lorin Arnold
    Blogger at The VeganAsana
    Associate Editor for Elephant Food
    Editor for Elephant Family

  2. WARNING TO ALL VIEWERS:

    FACT WATCH COMMISSION HAS DETECTED FALSE AND/OR MIS-INFORMATION BEING SPREAD ON THIS SITE.

    The fallacious information has been traced to the individual identified as: “Dr. John Douillard, DC”. The fallacious material has been identified as the false “Soy Hoax”. This is classified as health fraud and has been traced to a front-group called the “WAPF”.

    WAPF is listed on QUACKWATCH.ORG as a spreader of false medical information which may cause severe damage to your health, or to that of your child. Members linked to the WAPF (Weston A. Price Foundation) have been cited by U.S. FEDERAL AUTHORITIES for pushing false medical claims.

    This article by “Dr. John Douillard, DC” is determined to be entirely fallacious, scientifically wrong, and the so-called “sources” once again have been traced back to the WAPF. “Daniel, Kaayla T” listed as a reference for the information in this article is a Board Member of the WAPF. “Mary G Enig” listed as the reference for this article is on the board of the WAPF. “S Fallon” identified in the references stands for “Sally Fallon” (now Sally Fallon-Morell), yet another board member of this front group which is funded by the Meat Farmers & Livestock lobby. All of these claims have been scientifically disproven, and the goal of this front group is to make the public either be duped into fully believing their false material, or, to have just enough doubt that someone will say they’ll just better avoid it just to be safe. These are all instances of fraud, and the material in this article has been scientifically disproven. It is on many sites, spread by either concocted blogs by fake usernames, or actual users that have gotten severely duped by it. It has been classified as a confirmed hoax.

    Authorities have been notified about this supposed individual above and his activities, and if this site continues to disburse false articles such as this, this site shall be referred for further investigation.

    THE SOY ESTROGEN MYTH IS AN INTERNET HOAX

    CONFIRMATION

    ACTUAL SCIENTIFIC STUDY: “Clinical studies show no effects of soy protein or isoflavones on reproductive hormones in men”

    “32 reports involving 36 treatment groups and 15 placebo-controlled treatment groups with baseline and ending measures involving soy, isoflavones, genistein, phytoestrogens, red clover, androgens, testosterone, and SHBG, were analyzed. CONCLUSION: The results of this meta-analysis found that neither soy foods nore soy isoflavone supplements alter measures of bioavailable Testosterone concentrations in men. There was no effect.

    SOURCE – NIH: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19524224

    All of the other insinuations and supposed ‘dangers’ in this article, are either concocted exaggerations, or completely erroneous and medically fallacious. The author is discredited, and is going to be reported for further action.

    IF YOU SEE THIS SOY HOAX INFORMATION ELSEWHERE, THAT SITE AND ITS MATERIAL ARE EITHER UNWITTINGLY SPREADING IT, OR THEY ARE AWARE ITS FALSE AND ARE INTENTIONALLY ATTEMPTING TO DAMAGE THE HEALTH OF YOU OR POTENTIALLY YOUR CHILD.

    PLEASE BE AWARE OF IT.

  3. cag says:

    @ Fact Watch Review Commission, I am interested in the points you make but I can't find any information online about who the Fact Watch Commission or Fact Watch Review Commission are. Could you please provide some links to your organisation so I (and perhaps others) can find out more?

    • pranalisa says:

      that person above posting as the fact watch review commission appears to me to be a troll…prob. a soy grower and/or Monsanto…lol. I am a holistic nutrition consultant. The Weston Price Foundation is a terrific source for valuable nutrition information. You can look it up and decide for yourself. Also, Quackwatch has an agenda to be against ANY non-allopathic approach to health. usually, if Quackwatch says it's bad, it's probably just the opposite.

      • cag says:

        Thanks for your reply pranalisa! I was just calling whoever this is out. Clearly, it is not a legitimate organisation. :o)
        I too am a health professional – an integrative pharmacist with nutrition qualifications, and pretty familiar and down with most of the WAPF recommendations and research. Even so, I personally choose a pescatarian lifestyle – with lots of raw-milk, grass-fed butter and coconut oil – and include very little soy (actually, these days it's really just miso and a little tamari). I do not recommend soy products except fermented ones and agree wholeheartedly with Dr Douillard. Namaste.

  4. Mary says:

    Yeah, I was just thinking…I'm 47 years old and have been drinking soy milk, eating tofu and tempeh and using soy sauce for over 15 years. I have had no issues and actually have had only one or two mild hot flashes. I'd say this guy has it wrong.

  5. __MikeG__ says:

    You will have to pry my Trader Joe Cherry soy ice cream out of my cold dead hands.

  6. Guest says:

    Thanks for the article Dr. John! My husband I used to have so many health issues drinking soy milk all the time. Once we stopped it and went to regular cow's milk, we started feeling so much better. We no longer have the upset stomachs, major bloating and flatulence the soy was causing! It seems to be true about the fermented soy products too, we are perfectly fine with miso and soy sauce, it must be that the unfermented soy protein was just too hard for us to digest! I'll have to try natto next!
    Looks like the "fact watch commission" posting above must work for some Soy company…!

  7. Guest says:

    Hi Dr. John!
    Just want to thank you for your endless wisdom. Don't mind the "fact review commission", sounds a little sketchy to me.

    "Authorities have been notified about this supposed individual above and his activities, and if this site continues to disburse false articles such as this, this site shall be referred for further investigation."

    Good luck with that…..Dr. John Douillard has been writing articles and books for 25 years. He is highly respected as a source of health information and has helped thousands and thousands of people over the years to overcome health issues.

  8. Lisa says:

    I used to be vegan and started eating/drinking lots of soy products… a few years later my hormones started going out of whack, and my periods were weeks late, my breast would swell and my stress levels would rise. I went to the doctors and they could not find anything wrong with me.. I eventually decided to cut soy out of my diet to see if it would have an effect, an indeed it did, my periods became normal again… I am thus convinced that SOY DOES INFLUENCE YOUR OESTROGEN LEVELS.

  9. Sophia Grace says:

    We don't let our boychild have soy more than once every year or so… From the research I have read, soy does create a false estrogen, and we are doing everything we can to eliminate those from our daily life.

    I find the fact review commission comments interesting… what do they call that, when a company has people go out and troll for them? There's a word for it. I have to look it up now.

  10. matthewscottwallace says:

    thank you so much for this post. i have been looking for a coherent article/video that would address this issue without bias. I too agree with the traditional knowledge and I love the fact that the fermented products are still beneficial. As with any dietary post, you will surely receive opposition as food is such a personal subject. I appreciate your clarity and help. much love

  11. Jen says:

    I read something recently about fermented soy containing a toxic compound (unfortunately can't remember what it was called, but the study was well done). I believe controversial foods work ok for some people and not for others. Some studies are well performed and others aren't (rendering their conclusions inaccurate). This doesn't make the author of the article a 'quack' or his opinion a 'hoax'. See what works for you!

  12. Robin Turner says:

    I'm curious about the effects of sprouting.

  13. Brandi says:

    It seems to me, like with EVERYTHING, everyone's bodies handle and process things differently. If you are consuming soy products with no health issues, then your body is letting you know that it's okay for you to have those things. If it's not making you feel good, listen to your body, and stop consuming those products. I'm a vegetarian, and consume a bit of soy daily, and it's great for me. Completely digestible, and solves my intense cravings for protein. There are also alternatives to soy milk in particular, I prefer almond milk, and hemp milk is also great. I guess the point is that things are probably all okay in moderation, and listen to YOUR body! NOT what everyone else tells you to do.

  14. Nicole says:

    Organic Edamame friend or foe?

  15. jan says:

    what about braggs "liquid aminos" soy sauce?

  16. jan says:

    oh yes, related to robins t.'s question above, what about sprouted soy beans, commonly available in a product like 'ezekiels' bread?

  17. Denna says:

    Too bad natto smells/tastes like dog breath.

  18. [...] Tempeh. I make it my prerogative to stay away from soy. With all the bad hype and hoopla, I figure it’s best to just steer clear of the bean. But in my [...]

  19. [...] Soy! Friend, or Foe? (elephantjournal.com) [...]

  20. Precious Quakenbush says:

    McGriff99 how does it feel to be a hater? I bet that you were a Brown Shirt at Horowitz’s speech at Emory College. If you won’t have an open bedate and an accounting of public money to a private entity, then your must be a hater of freedom that our Constitution requires. It is a sad day when you would rather attack the messanger than the information in the story. Go back to your 1930s Germany and be happy with your fascism.

  21. [...] vegetable and fruits are bad. Organics might be bad too. Meat’s bad. Dairy’s bad. Soy’s bad. Grains—especially glutinous grains—are bad. Water is…also bad. Tap water is full of [...]

  22. [...] Awesome. I was doing something right; soy products weren’t only safe, they were beneficial! [...]

  23. Lidia Salinas says:

    For muscle grow I would suggest DAA. For increasing sex drive Tribulus and DAA.

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