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Q: Should I Eat Soy? Part 6
A: There are a number of medical professionals and others who are still confused about the difference between phytoestrogens and estrogens. These are the people who are telling folks not to use soy foods because their ‘estrogenic’ qualities may increase the risk of various hormone-related conditions including cancer.
Phytoestrogens are plant-derived compounds that are structurally similar to human estrogens. This structural similarity causes them to bind to the receptor sites in cells in the breast tissue, effectively blocking the more potent activity of endogenous estrogen.
There is more and more evidence that not only are phytoestrogens effective at preventing certain forms of breast cancer but that they, in combination with lignan precursors found in flax, are effective in preventing cardiovascular disease.
Phytoestrogens have been shown to lower LDL cholesterol, reduce menopausal symptoms and enhance vascular function. And, phytoestrogens found in whole foods like soy and red clover do this without any of the side effects of Hormone Replacement Therapy, which has been recommended for the same purpose by the traditional medical community.
Researchers have found a significant dose dependent improvement in arterial compliance in menopausal women ingesting phytoestrogen rich foods. (New England Journal of Medicine)
A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 1998 involved examining the long-term effects of soy protein on blood lipids in 68 hypercholestrolemic menopausal women. Following a 2-week, low cholesterol and low fat diet, the women were assigned to one of three diets containing either casein and nonfat milk (control), soy protein with moderate isoflavone content (56 mg per day) or soy protein with high isoflavone content (90 mg per day) as the protein source.
Relative to the control group, women in both soy groups had significantly lower levels of LDL cholesterol and increased HDL cholesterol. HDL cholesterol significantly decreased in the casein group relative to pre-trial levels.
Isoflavones are antioxidants by nature and inhibit the oxidation of LDL cholesterol. Genistein, an isoflavone, has been shown to increase the activity of antioxidant enzymes catalase, superoxide dismutase, glutathione peroxidase and glutathione reductase. Isoflavones in general augment the body’s endogenous antioxidants in fighting lipid peroxidation.
These are some of the reasons why I stand by my recommendation to use soy as a plant source of protein daily in the diet.