The Healing Power of Soy's Isoflavones
By Monique N. Gilbert
indicate that, because soy is high in isoflavones, it can prevent illness and
promote good health. Isoflavones are a class of phytochemicals, which are compounds
found only in plants (phyto means plant). They are also a type of phytoestrogen,
or plant hormone, that resembles human estrogen in chemical structure yet are
weaker. By mimicking human estrogen at certain sites in the body, isoflavones
provide many health benefits that help you to avoid disease. Isoflavones are found
in soybeans, chick peas and other legumes. However, soybeans are unique because
they have the highest concentration of these powerful compounds. Soy contains
many individual isoflavones, but the most beneficial are genistein and daidzein.
Isoflavones show tremendous potential to fight disease on several fronts.
They have been shown to help prevent the buildup of arterial plaque, which reduces
the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke. Isoflavones may help reduce breast
cancer by blocking the cancer-causing effects of human estrogen. They may also
prevent prostate cancer by hindering cell growth. Isoflavones can fight osteoporosis
by stimulating bone formation and inhibiting bone resorption. They may even relieve
some menopausal symptoms as well.
Soy isoflavones have antioxidant properties
which protect the cardiovascular system from oxidation of LDL (the bad) cholesterol.
Oxidized LDL cholesterol accumulates in the arteries as patches of fatty buildup
which blocks the flow of blood, resulting in atherosclerosis. Genistein inhibits
the growth of cells that form this artery clogging plaque. Arteries damaged by
atherosclerosis usually form blood clots. This can lead to a heart attack if the
clot goes to the heart, or a stroke if it goes to the brain.
Being a weak
form of estrogen, isoflavones can compete at estrogen receptor sites, blocking
the stronger version naturally produced by the body from exerting its full effect.
Since high blood levels of estrogen are an established risk factor for breast
cancer; weaker forms of estrogen may provide protection against this disease.
Genistein has been found to hinder breast cancer as well as prostate cancer. Results
from a new University of California study show that genistein slowed prostate
cancer growth and caused prostate cancer cells to die. It acts against cancer
cells in a way similar to many common cancer-treating drugs.
also play an important role in protecting and maintaining strong and healthy bones.
Evidence shows that genistein and daidzein prevent bones from breaking down. Independent
studies conducted at the University of Illinois and the University of Hong Kong
concluded that consuming soy isoflavones can increase bone mineral content and
bone density. Another study at the University of Texas suggested that isoflavones
may also stimulate bone formation. By preserving bone health, increasing bone
mass and inducing bone turnover, researchers noted the potential role of soy isoflavones
in preventing, and possibly even reversing, the effects of osteoporosis.
North American Menopause Society suggests that soy isoflavones can also be a natural
alternative to estrogen replacement therapy for relief of mild menopausal symptoms.
It may help offset the drop in estrogen and regulate its fluctuations that occur
at menopause. Many women have reported a reduction in their hot flashes and night
sweats when they regularly consume soy foods, like tempeh or tofu.
these findings suggest eating soy foods, natural sources of isoflavones, can protect
and enhance your overall health. Isoflavones work together with soy protein in
fighting disease. Studies show that isoflavones account for approximately three-fourths
of soy's protection, while its protein is responsible for about one-fourth. The
best way to consume isoflavones is in food form, so that you can benefit from
all of soy's nutrients and beneficial compounds. The highest amounts of isoflavones
and soy protein are found in tempeh, whole soybeans (like edamame), textured soy
protein, soynuts, tofu and soymilk. Researchers recommend consuming at least one
to two servings a day. A serving is equal to 1 ounce of soynuts; 4 ounces of tempeh,
textured soy protein (cooked), or edamame; or 8 ounces of soymilk.
those new to soy, I recommend slowly adding it to your diet, until you develop
a taste for it. In spaghetti sauces, replace ground beef with textured soy protein.
Use tofu instead of ricotta cheese in lasagna, or make herb dips with it in a
food processor. Use soymilk to cream soups or make smoothies. People on the run
can always eat soynuts. Tempeh is one of the easiest soy foods prepare. To make
a grilled tempeh sandwich, just cut it into slices, sprinkle on some soy sauce,
saute with sliced onions and pile it on some bread. Remember, you will only continue
to eat healthy foods if they taste good. So, experiment and have fun trying out
new ways to enjoy soy.
For more information about soy, visit the Virtues
of Soy website.
Monique N. Gilbert is a Health Advocate, Recipe
Developer, Soy Food Connoisseur and the author of "Virtues
of Soy: A Practical Health Guide and Cookbook" (Universal Publishers, $19.95,
available at most online booksellers).
Monique N. Gilbert has a Bachelor of Science degree, is a Certified
Personal Trainer/Fitness Counselor and health advocate. She began a low-fat, whole
grain, vegetable-rich diet in the mid-1970's. This introduced her to a healthier
way of eating and became the foundation of her dietary choices as an adult. She
became a full-fledged vegetarian on Earth Day 1990. Over the years she has increased
her knowledge and understanding about health and fitness, and the important role
diet plays in a person's strength, vitality and longevity. Monique has a Q&A
column at Veggies Unite
where she gives advice about health, fitness and vegetarian/vegan diets.
Monique feels it is her mission to educate and enlighten everyone about the benefits
of healthy eating and living.
more about soy from another source:
Whole Soy Story: The Dark Side of America's Favorite Health Food by Kaayla T. Daniel, May/June 2004 (in Mothering magazine)
Info from FWHC
Feminist Women's Health Center