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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 infant formula.
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.51
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.53
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 manturation.60
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 tragic developments.
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 well."
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.