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Is Soy a Cancer Fighter or Enabler?

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We’ve all hear the adage, “You are what you eat,” but when it comes to soy, is that good or bad?

The true role soy foods play in cancer prevention or triggering malignant cell growth is difficult to discern from current research studies. The bottom line is no one knows for certain.

The confusion over soy is pervasive among women. A recent study of women in a cancer risk assessment program showed that 45 percent of women who ate soy on a regular basis did so to lower their cancer risk. Yet 7 percent of women in the same study said they avoided soy foods because it might increase their risk of breast cancer.

Many studies over the last 15 years have shown soy to be beneficial in lowering the risk for some types of cancers. For instance, Asian women who consume high amounts of soy during their lifetimes have lower risk of breast cancer. The caveat is that these same women also eat less fat and their diets high are in fiber, so soy’s role in reducing their cancer risk is likely just one part of the equation.

Soy beans have been called a “Superfood” because it has been found in laboratory studies to lower the risk or effects of everything from menopause, prostate cancer cell growth, COPD in smokers’ lungs, to weight loss and diarrhea in infants. However, some experts say soybeans can mimic hormones in the body. A high level of estrogens, the main female hormone, has been linked to increased breast cancer risk.

The lab studies analyzing soy’s estrogen-like phytochemicals, called isoflavones, have been all over the map. Soy’s isoflavones can bind to estrogen receptors. This activity can possibly block estrogen’s breast cancer-promoting effects naturally by lowering estrogen in the body. But in theory, in women with breast cancer or a history of breast cancer, isoflavones may actually act as weak estrogens, increasing the risk of the cancer growing or coming back.

A new study published in June 2009 Nutrition Journal concluded that soy isoflavones’ estrogen-like effects are probably too weak to have any significant consequence on breast tissue in healthy women — or possibly breast cancer survivors.

Add a Comment7 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

Ok. I'm confused, is soy safe to take? I just started taking Non GMO Soy Isoflavones(soy germ isoflavones concentrate) 750 Mg daily to try to help some of the symptoms I'm having (Very Bad peri menopause). I don't want to go on estrogen if I can help my body naturaly

June 18, 2011 - 3:14pm
EmpowHER Guest

The point is that current research does not show any link between soya and cancer - positive or negative, so forget it - eat soya or don't as you wish!

April 25, 2010 - 10:05am
HERWriter Guide

I eat some dairy (mostly cheese but sometimes yogurt) but do eat quite a lot of soy due to being a lacto vegetarian (limited dairy, no eggs) and I also worry about the possible cancer link with soy, too.

I read some studies that say it lowers the risk, others that say it can increase the risks due to the estrogen-like qualities in soy. I don't overdo the soy but eat it at least every other day.

It's difficult when studies contradict each other. It reminds me of the expression "statistics show that statistics show nothing!"

September 14, 2009 - 12:26pm

That is an interesting comment. Thanks for posting. I'll have to look into the dairy-breast cancer angle. It's true that a low fat diet would eliminate creams, butter and most hard cheeses from the dairy category, but there are a wide variety of non-fat dairy products on the market which are a good source of calcium. Of course, since you are lactose-intolerant, soy seems a healthy alternative. I think until more is known about soy, I would stick to the guidelines as a good rule of thumb. Personally I use, and enjoy, dairy and soy products, but I try to stick to the "everything in moderation" rule.

September 14, 2009 - 8:05am

Soy is an essential part of my diet since I'm lactose-intolerant. I used to have a large latte with soy every morning but not much else in the soy line. I have very few menopause symptoms (unlike my non-Soy-drinker sister). That aside, I am very thankful that there is such a good alternative to dairy. I wonder if a study has been done for the link with dairy to breast cancer? Afterall, a low-fat diet eliminates a lot of cheese and such, doesn't it?

September 13, 2009 - 6:32am

Soy isoflavones, estrogen therapy, and breast cancer risk: analysis and commentary
Mark J Messina, Charles E Wood
Nutrition Journal 2008, 7:17 (3 June 2008)

September 8, 2009 - 2:03pm
EmpowHER Guest

sources please?

September 8, 2009 - 12:13pm
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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.