At the 2011 American Dietetic Association’s Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo, Andrea Carrothers, MS, RD, Nutrition Communications Manager at WhiteWave Foods (the maker of Silk) presented Soy Myths Busted. Currently a running module/webinar on soynutrition.com, Soy Myths Busted, “busts” commonly held soy and plant-based nutrition myths. This article contains three of the six common soy myths that Carrothers covered during her presentation.
The first myth mentioned was the most common myth concerning soy’s estrogenic effects in men. Carrothers explains that the media often times confuses the true benefits of soy as often the structure and function of isoflavones is misunderstood. Isoflavones are phytoestrogens which are structurally similar to estrogen, but physiologically different. Since they are not the same, consumption of soy by men will not cause the so-called “man boobs”. Carrothers notes that current clinical evidence of a meta-analysis of 32 studies shows no effect on hormone levels or fertility nor any impact on physical appearance of men with isoflavone and soy consumption. Thus, soy is a healthy protein-rich food option for men and has not shown to have an impact on the reproduction system. These concerns about feminization then are unwarranted.
The second myth Carrothers repudiated was the misconception that soy causes thyroid problems and that the isoflavones in soy may interfere with the body’s ability to make thyroid hormones. To date, soy has no ill effects on healthy thyroids. In fact, a large body of research shows that isoflavone consumption, whether from soy foods or supplements do not affect the thyroid of healthy people, even at high intakes. In addition, people already diagnosed with a thyroid condition like hypothryoidism and are prescribed synthetic hormones do not have to be concerned. As it is true like many other herbs, drugs, and foods, soy can interfere with the absorption of synthetic hormones like synthroid. To prevent absorption interference of medication absorption, physicians might recommend taking medications on an empty stomach and adjusting dosages to compensate for effects of food on synthetic hormones. Due to this information provided, soy does not have to be completely avoided for anyone with thyroid concerns.
A third common myth that many people are concerned about when it comes to the consumption is soy is its safety of use for breast cancer patients and survivors. It is a common area of confusion for patients and oncologists alike. The beliefs are that soy is not safe for breast cancer patients or survivors because soy can somehow increase the risk of breast cancer occurrence or reoccurrence. These beliefs stemmed from early animal and test tube studies which cannot be extrapolated to the effects of soy in humans. Current human clinical trials have not supported any negative findings from early animal studies. Hence, the reality, which Carrothers puts it, is that all evidence points to safety and that soy consumption poses no risk for breast cancer survivors. As a matter of fact, four very large epidemiological studies in humans suggested that people who regularly consume soy foods have an improved prognosis. Additionally, these studies are consistent with the position of the American Cancer Society that suggest up to three servings of soy foods are okay and a good option in plant-based diets, often recommended for cancer patients.
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