The Health Dangers of Today's Soy
Food manufacturers are making many claims about the health benefits of soy. The magical properties of soy to supposedly alleviate symptoms of menopause, lower cholesterol, reduce cancer risk, and be "heart healthy" are plastered all over food products. Studies done are typically biased and conducted by the soy industry itself. The lack of any independent clinical studies to support these claims is typical of attempts by food manufacturers to skyrocket profits from the newest "miracle food" on the market. Even the American Heart Association has stated that soy does NOT lower cholesterol, nor does it prevent heart disease.
The image to the right is a picture of textured soy protein (what we call "soy meat") - the highly processed stuff found in most soy products and processed foods today, especially processed vegetarian and vegan foods.
American Heart Assoc.
Today's highly processed soy in thousands of food products in the supermarkets has been linked to very serious health concerns, especially thyroid disease, due to its naturally occurring isoflavones which can suppress thyroid function. How soy is processed affects its level of phytoestrogens. Traditional fermentation reduces the levels of isoflavones (a type of phytoestrogen) significantly, whereas modern processing does not.
Modern American soybeans are hybridized and genetically modified, and have a much higher level of isoflavones than Japanese or Chinese soybeans because they have been "designed" to be more resistant to insects.
Let's take a look at some of the health concerns of eating today's processed soy:
Not only can these isoflavones block the production of estrogen, testosterone, and other hormones, but they can disrupt the thyroid, reproductive system, and growth development in infants and children.
When animals were fed soy products, serious health repercussions were observed in a wide variety of animal species, including mice, rats, cheetah, quail, sheep, pigs, marmoset monkeys, and sturgeon. These health issues include infertility, thyroid disease, and liver disease (due to dietary intake of the plant estrogens).
A soy allergy can produce a wide range of reactions in the body, including anaphylactic shock. But a soy sensitivity often produces invisible symptoms that can lead to chronic health issues over the long term. People can and do develop sensitivity to a food that has had its protein content altered, such as with genetically modified foods.
For those with a dairy intolerance, simply drinking soy milk as a way to get calcium because of an intolerance to cow's milk does not help for 2 reasons:
- Drinking pasteurized cow's milk has never been an appropriate source of calcium to begin with. First, drinking pasteurized cow's milk does the exact opposite - it is an acidic food that causes the body to leach its own calcium from bones and teeth to neutralize this acidity. This is why westernized countries that drink the most pasteurized milk have the highest incidences of osteoporosis and other bone-related conditions. During the pasteurization, milk is heated in excess of 170°, which destroys the enzymes naturally present that help the body predigest the proteins in milk.
The raw dairy that our parents and grandparents drank (fresh from the farm with enzymes and goodness still fully-intact) was a very different product.
- The average commercial soy milk contains synthetic vitamins, emulsifiers, and refined sugars. Synthetic calcium and other nutrients added to soy milk are very different from their natural counterparts, and the body recognizes the difference. There are plenty of much healthier sources for calcium, such as nuts and leafy green vegetables, that are a far better and healthier alternative. Home-made bone broths are also an excellent source of calcium.
Male Fertility & Reduced Sperm Count
Harvard School for Public Health stated that men in infertile couples had 41 million less sperm/ml and that that these were men eating soy foods approximately twice per week.
Professor Richard Sharpe, head of the Medical Research Council's human reproductive sciences unit at Edinburgh University, studied the decline in male fertility in the past 50 years. His studies show that soy milk interferes with testosterone levels in young male monkeys.
Sharpe raised concerns that during the first 3 months after birth, the testes in baby boys are very active in hormone production. There is significant cell activity that will affect the developing prostate, and determine sperm count in adults. Introducing phytoestrogens in large amounts can alter these changes, perhaps predisposing male children to disease later in life.
Dangers of Soy Infant Formulas
Soy infant formulas are an American invention. They were never used in Asia, but rather were created by a pediatrician in Baltimore in 1909. Infants fed soy formula are at the highest risk of experiencing health issues. Kaaya Daniel, author of "The Whole Soy Story: The Dark Side of America's Favorite Health Food" states "It's the only thing they are eating, they are very small, and at a key stage developmentally." Daniel goes on to say that the estrogens in soy will affect the hormonal development of these children, and will affect their growing brains, reproductive systems, and thyroid development.
The timing of exposure to phytoestrogens such as during fetal development and childhood is extremely important and determines whether it can provide any benefit or cause damage.
Serious health concerns in soy formulas include:(1) & (2)
- The phytic acid in soy foods results in reduced absorption of iron and zinc, both of which are required for the health and development of the brain and nervous system.
- Soy contains trypsin inhibitors that inhibit protein digestion and affect pancreatic function. In test animals, diets high in trypsin inhibitors led to stunted growth and pancreatic disorders.
- Soy lacks cholesterol, essential for the development of the brain and nervous system.
- Soy can cause allergic reactions and digestive upsets when highly processed.
- Babies raised on soy milk receive a daily dosage of estrogen 10 times greater than levels found in Asian diets. Because it has not been fermented, it is much more difficult to digest, and also contains high levels of manganese, aluminum, and fluoride.
- The extremely high levels of manganese in soy formulas (50-80 times more than in normal formulas) are toxic at such levels and adversely affect the brain and nervous system. It has been linked to ADD (attention deficit disorder) and neurotoxicity in infants.
- The high doses of phytoestrogens in soy formulas have been implicated in the current trend toward increasingly premature sexual development in girls, and delayed or retarded sexual development in boys.
In Israel, soy is not recommended at all for infants, nor for those with thyroid or infertility problems except on a few occasions. It is recommended as a good old-fashioned whole food (whole soy beans) 1 time per day, and not more than 3 times/week up to age 18.
The Israeli Health Ministry warned that:
These recommendations were based on the conclusions reached by a committee of nutritionists, oncologists, pediatricians, and other specialists who spent more than one year examining the evidence. They concluded that the estrogen-like plant hormones in soy can cause adverse effects on the human body.(3)
Other foreign governments and agencies that have issued warnings against soy include:
- British Dietetic Association
Issued a warning to parents to avoid soy formulas.(4)
- British Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food
The committee found no merit to most of the soy health claims and stated that those who use soy as a primary source of protein are at risk for thyroid damage.
- French Agency for Food
- German Institute of Risk Assessment
- Australian & New Zealand Food Agency
Conversely, the FDA stated that soy "benefits babies in the womb." There are no independent long-term clinical studies to support this statement. But the FDA has a long history of failure when it comes to ensuring the safety of our food chain and that of our pets.
Genetically, a fetus is either a male or female. In males, testosterone is produced in the testes of the fetus during the 1st trimester. But estrogens, including soy isoflavones, can interfere with and depress the testosterone production in a baby boy, as can environmental estrogens other than soy. The male fetus is extremely vulnerable and reproductive issues are 8 times more likely to occur in a male fetus rather than a female. Vegan mothers may significantly affect the health of their unborn baby by drinking soy milk, and with high intakes of soy-based products. There is a current health epidemic of hypospadias, a birth defect in which the penis opening is not at the tip (an estrogenized baby). Other issues appear during puberty or adulthood, affecting sperm production.
At birth, baby boys experience a rush of testosterone. When soy estrogens are introduced as with soy formulas, they can affect this development. Doctors are noting that boys are experiencing a delay in physical maturation, reaching adulthood with underdeveloped gonads, undescended testicles, and a lower quality and quantity of sperm. There is substantial evidence for soy products being the culprit, hence the warnings from major agencies in other countries against soy infant formulas.
When girls receive too much estrogen from soy products, they can experience premature breast development and early puberty, and menstrual problems.(1) In fact, premature puberty is becoming an epidemic, not only due to soy formulas and products, but also environmental estrogens contained in household products. By age 8, statistics show that 14.7% of girls are now already starting to menstruate. Early breast development and puberty from soy may also increase the likelihood of estrogen-dependent cancers.
Because soy can both boost and block estrogen, it may help prevent estrogen-dependent cancers, but may also promote them. It also has the potential to promote hormone-sensitive cancers in some people. Independent experts on the scientific committee from the Royal Society produced a report on endocrine disrupting chemicals and concluded, "despite the suggested benefits of phytoestrogens in lowering the risk of developing breast cancer, there is also evidence that they may stimulate the progression of the disease".
Soy estrogens (isoflavones) are endocrine disruptors, which at levels of just 30 mg isoflavones/day (30g soy protein) can result in hypothyroidism with symptoms of lethargy, constipation, weight gain, and fatigue. Patients on any type of thyroid medication should seriously reconsider any thought of including soy in their diet.
In 1998, New Zealand toxicologist Dr. Mike Fitzpatrick conducted an exhaustive study on the effects of soya. "We discovered quickly that soya contains toxins and plant estrogens powerful enough to disrupt women's menstrual cycles in experiments. It also appears to be damaging to the thyroid."(5) The study was submitted to the FDA, but in what has now become a typical response from the agency, no action was taken.
Concern is also emerging that soy may increase certain types of heart disease such as cardiomyopathy, the leading cause of death in young athletes, and also heart arrhythmias.
The claim that soy can lower cholesterol is due to its ability to stimulate LDL receptor activity, which increases bile excretion and leads to losses of both fat-soluble thyroid and steroid hormones that the body needs. If cholesterol lowering does happen, it can come at a very steep price you do not want to pay.
Studies have been inconsistent and contradictory. Some claim that soy isoflavones can mimic the body's own estrogens, raising a woman's estrogen level which falls after menopause, and can help reduce hot flashes and other symptoms. Others show that isoflavones may also block the body's estrogens.
Perhaps the reason for such conflicts is because soy affects each person differently, and as soy appears to have an estrogen-boosting or estrogen-blocking effect depending on varying factors, this may be the reason for confusing study results.
Study on the Health Impact of Soy
When breeding exotic birds, Richard and Valerie James discovered that soybeans were killing their rare birds. They discovered that changing the chick's diet from their regular one to a soy-based feed produced shocking results. Some birds were infertile, while others died. Male birds also became sexually mature earlier. They consulted Dr. Mike Fitzpatrick, a consultant toxicologist in New Zealand. As a result of this discovery, Dr. Fitzpatrick carried out an exhaustive study of soybeans and their health effects. He discovered that the toxins and plant estrogens in soybeans were powerful enough to disrupt menstrual cycles in women, as well as appearing to damage the thyroid.(5)
His findings led to the British government's expert committee on the toxicity of food (CoT) concluding that, in general, the health benefits claimed for soya were NOT supported by clear evidence and judged that there could be health risks arising from high levels of soybean consumption for certain age groups.
In the US, soy-based feed is routinely fed to factory-farmed animals.
Genetically Modified Soy & the Environment
Most soybeans grown throughout the world are now genetically engineered, which alters their protein structure. GMOs also require very large amounts of toxic pesticides that not only contaminate the soybeans, but also contaminate the soil and creates toxic runoff.
- What are processed and refined foods
- The Dirty Dozen: What they are & why you should avoid them
- Additives & chemicals in our food
- Get off the diet merry-go-round
- Healthy food choices for children
- Healthy food choices for pets
- The FDA: Failure to protect our food on a mass scale
- Food pyramids & food politics
- (1) The Whole Soy Story: The Dark Side of Soy, by author Kaayla Daniel, PhD, CCN
- (2) National Association for Child Development
- (3) Health committee warns of potential dangers of soya. BMJ, 2005, July 30, 331, 7511, 254.
- (4) Pediatric group position statement on the use of soya protein for infants. J Fam Health Care, 2003, 13, 4, 93.
- (5) Soy Formulas and the Effect on the Thyroid, New Zealand Medical Journal, Feb 2000.
- (6) Weston: Price Soy Alert & The role of oxalates in autism & chronic disorders
- (7) Brain aging & mid-life tofu consumption. J Am Coll Nutr. 2000 Apr;19(2):242-55.
- (8) Journal of the American Geriatric Society (1998) 46:816-21