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Soy: Risks and Benefits

Written by Wellness Club on April 9, 2008 – 1:39 pm -

Like most things in nature, the humble soy bean (Glycine max) can be healthful in moderation, harmful in excess. Because soy and soy products (tofu, miso, soy flour) are currently gaining a lot of media attention and popularity, it is important to understand the risks and benefits of this food and supplement.Soy contains substances called protease inhibitors. In small to moderate amounts, these substances help prevent cancer and are also useful in controlling cancer. Soy has estrogenic effects, though much weaker than the human estrogen equivalent. For this reason, soy can increase the estrogen effect in someone who is deficient, or decrease the estrogen effect in one who has an excess. (Because it competes for the same receptors as the stronger mammalian estrogens, giving then less available places to bind). Soy may also improve cholesterol levels when eaten with some regularity. Believe me, you’ll be reading and hearing a lot more about this food in the months ahead, but please exercise moderation. Much of what you hear is “hype,” some is valuable medical advice.

Soy is a “goitrogen,” capable of inhibiting thyroid function when consumed in large amounts. In fact, I have seen some particularly sensitive people experience thyroid suppression when eating soy even in modest doses.

Further, soy is a type of protein that many people do not digest and tolerate well. It is especially likely to aggravate irritable bowel symptoms, causing gas and diarrhea, in those who are sensitive to it.

SO, who should eat soy? It appears to be a healthy and even helpful food for many people, 3 to 4 servings per week is my recommendation. If you experience bowel discomfort from eating soy, then this food is not for you. If you elect to eat larger amounts per week than this, consider having your thyroid function tested when you first add more soy to your diet, then again in 3 months to see if it has adversely affected your thyroid hormones levels.

For those who wish to obtain the benefits of soy (such as women desiring alternative to convention hormone replacement, or those with hormone-related cancers under their holistic physician’s guidance), soy supplements can be taken. These contain the isolated active ingredients of soy, primarily genistein and diadzein, without the gut-disturbing proteins that bother many.

I consider soy a useful protein source with positive health benefits when consumed in moderation. Just don’t fall for the plethora of media and soy-growers of America “over-hype” and fall prey to excess. “All things in moderation, including moderation”!

Learn more about soy

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Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. No information on this website is intended as personal medical advice and should not take the place of a doctor's care.