Is soy bad for one’s health? 

Monday January 18 2021
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By Dr Paul Kasenene

Please help me understand why I have been advised to avoid taking soy or soy products. Linda 

Soy is a legume that has high estrogenic activity in the body. Because many health problems such as fibroids, breast cancer and other reproductive issues are linked to too much estrogen, many people have shunned soy or been told to avoid it because it is high in phytoestrogens.

However, the estrogen effect of soy is not like the estrogen effect of other estrogens from animals or artificial xenoestrogens found in many chemicals. In fact, it has an opposite effect of reducing and not increasing the risk for cancer and hormonal issues. This is because the impact of estrogen depends on whether the estrogen stimulates a beta or alpha receptor. Soy stimulates beta receptors that induce a protective effect while other estrogens stimulate alpha receptors that produce a pro cancerous effect.

Plant-based estrogens generally have a protective effect. Just because soy has estrogen effects does not make it bad. Instead, studies have shown that increased soy consumption in adolescent girls has long term beneficial effects.
That said, there are reasons why it may be prudent to consume less soy.  First, soy is one of the most genetically modified foods. Once modified, soy is no longer as healthy as the original non-modified type. Unfortunately, a lot of the soy available is altered, and so for that reason, you may want to consider eating less of it.

Also, a lot of the soy consumed is from foods that contain a lot of processed soy that often has lots of additives or is from soy isolates and not the whole soy. Such soy is not as healthy as the natural, unprocessed type.
Lastly, soy in some people can have some untoward effects. Some people are sensitive to soy and get digestive problems after consumption. And in people who have iodine deficiency, soy could stimulate a goitre growth of the thyroid gland.

So, while soy is a relatively healthy food and generally has favourable hormonal effects, we should understand the potential drawbacks from consuming some types of soy and in certain groups of people.