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Does Soy Prevent Cancer or Make Tumors Grow?

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Cancer related image Photo: Getty Images

When you are concerned about maintaining your health it is natural to do everything you can to avoid getting sick. That means eating lots of fruits and vegetables, exercising regularly and getting plenty of sleep.

When it comes to nutrition, the amount of conflicting consumer information can be dizzying at times. Choosing healthy foods can feel like running a nutritional gauntlet.

This is especially true for thousands of men and women who have survived cancer. That’s because some plants we eat can mimic the female hormone estrogen, such as seeds and nuts, beans, grains, and some fruits and vegetables. The tricky part is estrogen is also implicated in certain types of cancer, including breast, uterine and ovarian in women and prostate cancer in men.

To this end, one of the most controversial foods is soy.

Soybean products are touted for their protective properties in breast, prostate, colon and lung cancers. These protective benefits are thought to be due to isoflavones, called phytoestrogens, that weakly mimic estrogen produced in humans and animals. Soy is consumed in large quantities in Asia, which may account for why Asian women have lower breast cancer rates.

So is soy healthy or not?

As a protein source, soybean products are promoted here and abroad as a healthier alternative to meat and as a suitable aid for weight loss. Soy protein in a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol is also promoted as a method to help reduce the risk of heart disease, according to the American Cancer Society.

Soy products are also used to lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and to relieve disruptive symptoms of menopause and osteoporosis.

For breast cancer survivors, the benefits aren’t as clear-cut. Studies measuring the effect of soy on breast cancer recurrence and mortality have been conflicting, with some showing soy reducing risk, while others demonstrating elevated risk among frequent soy eaters.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.