Insights Gained From 20 Years of Soy Research
The following was published online in the Journal of Nutrition (2010 October 27) from the Department of Nutrition, School of Public Health, Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, CA 92350,
Soyfoods have long been recognized for their high-protein and low-saturated fat content, but over the past 20 years an impressive amount of soy-related research has evaluated the role of these foods in reducing chronic disease risk. Much of this research has been undertaken because the soybean is essentially a unique dietary source of isoflavones, a group of chemicals classified as phytoestrogens. The estrogen-like properties of isoflavones have also raised concern, however, that soyfoods might exert adverse effects in some individuals. There is intriguing animal and epidemiologic evidence indicating that modest amounts of soy consumed during childhood and/or adolescence reduces breast cancer risk. Evidence also suggests that soy reduces prostate cancer risk and inhibits prostate tumor metastasis, but additional clinical support for the chemopreventive effects of soyfoods is needed. Soy protein is modestly hypocholesterolemic and there is suggestive epidemiologic evidence that soyfoods lower risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) independent of effects on cholesterol. In clinical studies, soy favorably affects multiple CHD risk factors; however, with the exception of improved endothelial function, the data are too limited and/or inconsistent to allow definitive conclusions to be made. In regard to bone health, although recent clinical data have not supported the skeletal benefits of isoflavones, 2 large prospective epidemiologic studies found soy intake is associated with marked reductions in fracture risk. Soybean isoflavones also modestly alleviate hot flashes in menopausal women. Finally, other than allergic reactions, there is almost no credible evidence to suggest traditional soyfoods exert clinically relevant adverse effects in healthy individuals when consumed in amounts consistent with Asian intake.