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The Shadow of Soy or,
What about Asia?
So, while Asians were using limited to moderate
amounts of painstakingly prepared soy foods - the alleged benefits of
which are still controversial - Americans, especially vegetarians, are
consuming more soy products and isoflavones than any culture in human
history, and as one researcher put it, "entering a great unknown."
Oddly, nowhere in industry promotion does anyone differentiate between traditional, painstakingly prepared "Asian" soy foods and the modern, processed items that Fallon calls "imitation food." And therein lies the rub. Modern soy protein foods in no way resemble the traditional Asian soy foods, and may contain carcinogens like nitrates, lysinoalanine, as well as a number of anti-nutrients which are only significantly degraded by fermentation or other traditional processing.
"People need to realise that when they're eating these soy foods - and I'm not talking about miso or tofu - but soy "burgers," soy "cheese," soy "ice cream," and all of this stuff, that they are not the real thing. They may look like the real thing and they may taste like the real thing, but they do not have the life-supporting qualities of real foods," Fallon says.
There's No Business like Soy Business
According to Enig, female pigs can only ingest it in amounts approximating 1% during their gestational phase and a few percent greater during their lactation diet, or else face reproduction damage and developmental problems in the piglets. "It can be used for chickens, but it really has limitations. So, if you can't feed it to animals, than you find gullible human beings, and you develop a health claim, and you feed it to them."
In a co-written article, Enig and Fallon state that soybean producers pay a mandatory assessment of ½ to 1 percent of the net market price of soybeans to help fund programs to "strengthen the position of soybeans in the marketplace and maintain and expand foreign markets for uses for soybeans and soy products." They also cite advertising figures - multi-million dollar figures - that soy-oriented companies like Archer Daniels Midland or ADM spend for spots on national television. Money is also used to fund PR campaigns, favourable articles, and lobbying interests. A relaxation of USDA rules has lead to an increase in soy use in school lunches. Far from being the "humble" or "simple" soybean, soy is now big business - very big business. This is not your father's soybean.
There's been such a rush to market isoflavones that the before-mentioned multinational corporation, ADM, in 1998, petitioned the FDA for GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status for soy isoflavones. For those who don't know GRAS, the designation is used for foods, and in some case, food additives, that have been used safely for many years by humans. For those who didn't know - like a number of protesting scientists - that soy isoflavones had been widely used by generations of Americans before the late 1950s, it was a revelation indeed. Ahem.
Dr. Sheehan, in his 1998 letter to the FDA referenced
earlier, states "that soy protein foods are GRAS is in conflict
with the recent return by CFSAN to Archer Daniels Midland of a petition
for GRAS status for soy protein because of deficiencies in reporting the
adverse effects in the petition. Thus GRAS status has not been granted."
And what about those safety issues?
Requiem for a Thyroid
In the current issue of the Whole Earth Review, herbalist Susan Weed tells the story of Michael Moore - no, not that Michael Moore, but the founder of the Southwest School of Herbal Medicine. In an e-mail to Weed, Moore declares that "soy did me in." Weed describes how Moore, in his own experiment, ate a large amount of manufactured soy products - protein powders, "power" bars, and soy drinks, over a period of three weeks. Weed writes that Moore ended up in a cardiac care unit because the action on his thyroid had been so pronounced.
Harvard-trained medical doctor Richard Shames, MD, a thyroid specialist who has had a long time practice in Marin, says that "genistein is the most difficult for the metabolic processes of people with low thyroid, so when you have that present in high enough concentrations, the result is an antagonism to the function of thyroid hormone." Far from being an isolated problem, Shames says that recent data tags twenty million Americans being treated for thyroid problems, another thirteen million who ought to be treated if they would get a TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) test, and another thirteen million who would show up normal on a TSH test but would test positive on another, more specific test. All in all, Shames believes that low thyroid conditions - many due to exposure to oestrogen-mimicking chemicals like PCBs and DDT in environment - are the mother of most modern health epidemics.
That's a lot of thyroid problems. Some estimate the number to be as high as one in ten. Shames says that 8 of 10 thyroid sufferers are women - often older women - like Dr. Gillespie. The same demographic the soy industry has set its targets on. "If you're a normal person, and one in ten are not normal, the effect [of 50mg of soy isoflavones] may be fairly insignificant, but even a normal person can have problems at levels greater than that," says Shames.
Dr. Gillespie says the daily amount to cause
thyroid problems may be as low as 30mg, or less than a serving of soymilk.
A number of soy proponents say the thyroid concerns are exaggerated and
that if dietary iodine is sufficient, problems won't likely happen. Not
so, says Shames: "Iodine is a double-edged sword for people with
thyroid problems, and for those people, more is going to increase their
chance for an autoimmune reaction... throwing iodine at it is not going
to be the protective solution." Shames recommends limiting soy
foods to a few times a week, preferably fermented or well cooked.
Birth Control Pills for Babies?
Fitzpatrick was quoted - and misquoted - worldwide
a few years ago when he suggested that the isoflavones in soy formula
were the equivalent of birth control pills. "When I first did
my review, I did compare the estrogenic equivalents of the contraceptive
pill with how much soy infants and adults would be consuming,"
he says. "It's at least the equivalent of one or two oestrogen
pills a day, on an oestrogenic basis. I've been criticised that it's not
the same form of oestrogen, but in terms of oestrogenicity, it's a crude
but valid and alarming statistic."
The typical response by industry experts has been to downplay the uniqueness of soy isoflavones, stating - accurately - that isoflavones of various kinds are prevalent in most fruits, vegetables, and legumes.
Is it time to toss out the apple sauce?
But credible for whom? Says Fitzpatrick: "We're not talking about little studies here but long-term effects on infants and adults, and that's what concerns me. It's very trite. They (the industry) give half-baked answers. What you really need is long-term studies." Likewise, "no credible evidence" is not good enough for Dr. Naomi Baumslag, professor of paediatrics at Georgetown University Medical School. She joined a host of others in criticizing a recent article in JAMA that was purported to be the definitive study on soy formula safety. "It was not an acceptable epidemiological study - you can take it to any decent epidemiologist and hear what they think about it, and they use it to say that soy is safe," says Baumslag. "It's totally unsubstantiated."
With all the potential problems with soy formula,
Baumslag notes that formula is also missing key immunological factors
only found in mother's milk, the lack of which could give a child a life
sentence of chronic health problems. She links soy-pushing to corporate
profits and the PR campaigns that they fund. "There's been so
much PR in regards to soy formula and I think you also have to ask yourself
why it's so much cheaper for them to make, which means there's more profit.
How come only 1% in the UK are on formula, where it's closer to 30% in
the United States? I don't know why it's so important for them to push
soy, they should push breast-feeding." Perhaps it's because breast
milk for babies isn't as lucrative as milking the soybean for profits.
It's well known that the Japanese also eat a
very large amount of omega 3 fatty acids from fish each day - substances
which have been clearly shown to have anti-cancer and anti-heart disease
effects. So, is it the soy or is it the fish? As the industry spends millions
and millions of dollars to find something that isoflavones are good for,
some health claim to justify their unprecedented presence in the American
diet, I have to ask: why are they trying so hard? Why is there such a
push to push soy?
Soy isoflavones are clearly biologically active
- they affect change in your body. It's no longer acceptable for the industry
to see no bad, hear no bad, and speak no bad. Legitimate concerns need
to be studied - and not studies funded by the industry, conducted by soy
scientists. In the meantime, I've located a wonderful, old miso company
on the north coast. They age their miso for three years in wood barrels
and sell it in glass jars. It's rich, earthy, and real. I enjoy a teaspoon
in a glass of hot water a few times a week after dinner. It tastes lively
and feels good. I no longer get the "urge" to eat soy
"dogs" or soy "burgers," though I now
suspect that urge didn't come from my own instinct, but from the lofty
dictates of the soy experts. But why wait years, while ignorant armies
clash over this and that isoflavone and studies that say one thing or
another? Perhaps the safest way to use soy, if you choose to use soy,
is the way it's been used by Asians for thousands of years: fermented,
in moderation, as a condiment. In short, colour me cautious.
CTM Comment; It is important to distinguish
between fermented soy, such as soy sauce, miso and tempeh, and the soy
additives and 'soy protein' found in so many foods. The fermentation process
removes most of the potentially harmful compounds that are found in more
modern types of soy additives and non-fermented soy products. For a more
direct examination of soy, see our article entitled 'Soy Story' which
appeared in Eclub
December 15th 2001.