Isoflavones…good or bad?…

…Or maybe tits, testicles and tofu? We’ve been here before with sugar and saturated fats. Along with lack of exercise they have been linked to the “epidemic” levels of diabetes in the western world. Now it’s the turn of tofu to be in the metabolic spotlight. A study in Belfast has found that isoflavones may inhibit breast cancer development.
“In our study we used cell cultures to examine the effects of isoflavones on the invasion of breast cancer cells.
“The isoflavones exerted potent inhibitory effects on breast cancer cell invasion, even at concentrations similar to those found in south east-Asian populations.”
These findings seem to indicate eating products such as soy milk, soy drinks and desserts could have an important role in preventing the spread of cancer cells in the body, said Dr Magee of the University of Ulster. And there is the rub. Paracelsus taught us that the dose makes the poison. The beneficial effects of soy in the traditional south east-Asian diet, when increased out of all proportion could possibly be harmful.

Claims that soy could prevent baldness gave another clue in this puzzle. Writing in the journal Biology of Reproduction, Dr Kenneth Setchell, of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center said the finding could explain why Japanese men, who eat more soya, rarely have prostate cancer.
They said the molecule equol could be used as a treatment for cancer and baldness.
The team found that the molecule, “handcuffs” the male hormone DHT – a by-product of testosterone. Which is where the alarm bells start to ring. Oestrogen is the default reproductory hormone, while the male testosterone is an add on. Men with liver disease can develop secondary female characteristics such as breasts. Isoflavones are a type of phytoestrogen, that are considered by some nutritionists and physicians to be useful in the prevention of cancer and by others to be carcinogenic and disruptive to the endocrine system. Soy’s high levels of isoflavone phytoestrogens, being up to 3mg/g dry weight, are the subject of heated debate. They have also been blamed for some thyroid and reproductive health problems.

Isolated phytoestrogen-like isoflavones are still being researched. Genistein and daidzein (commonly found in dietary supplements and infant formulas) were found to produce thymic and immune system abnormalities and reduction in immune system activity in adult mice with their ovaries removed, according to a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The article suggests further research be done into the human phytoestrogen response.

Most of my own clinical experience was with diabetes and other metabolic disorders and cancer, in particular breast cancer. I have seen enough cases to realise the sensitivity of the human body to hormonal disturbance. Nutrition was also a key component of our training. It never ceases to amaze me how willing the human species is to conduct large scale dietary experiments that end up costing billions and leading to much misery, sickness and death. Tobacco, alcohol, sugar, saturated fats, wheat, cow’s milk and now soy are all on the list. So it does not surprise me that claims are made for a link between large quantities of unfermented soy products and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as developmental problems in puberty. Between 2001 and 2004 food manufacturers in the US introduced over 1600 new foods with soy as an ingredient, an average of 400 new products each year. In 1997 around 8% of all soybeans cultivated for the market in the United States were genetically modified. In 2006, the figure was 89%. 8% of children in the USA are allergic to soybean proteins. Plain common sense says this is a dietary experiment almost without precedent whose long term consequences are difficult to forsee.

On a lighter note the answer to the meme, by the way, is that I am not a vegan. I nearly am but I do like goat’s cheese. I cannot drink cow’s milk any more because of excess indulgence during childhood and later life. We live in a house full of vegetarians which is why I learnt something new today. Upon smelling fish I was puzzled as to its source. Were we about to have fish and chips for tea? Our electrician was, by coincidence, in the house at the time. The fish was connected to the washing machine. A wrongly wired plug was about to catch fire. So if you smell fish and are a vegan, check your electric wiring. It could save your life.

About Leighton Cooke

The Original Cookiemouse
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