Soy milk seems to be quite the controversial topic eh? Everyone seems to be saying something different. In fact, I have had this conversation with my mother so many times, and she always tells me to avoid having too much tofu, soymilk, soybeans, and other soy products, because apparently too much increases the risk of breast cancer.
Okay, so from my milk post, I told you guys that Soy Milk is actually good for maintaining a strong and healthy heart. It is a good alternative to Cow’s Milk because its virtually cholesterol free, and doesn’t contain saturated fats like cow’s milk does; rather it is rich in monosaturated and polysaturated fatty acids. These “good fats” will actually reduce triglycerides – the stuff that clogs up our arteries – and reduce LDL – the bad cholesterol. In fact, it increases HDL (the good cholestrol), which will benefit you by keeping you stroke and heart attack free. Soy is also a complete protein, so it has all essential amino acids. Sounds pretty amazing eh?
Now, before I go on, I want to introduce Isoflavones to you. Isoflavones are chemical compounds derived from plants and they are believed to function as antioxidants. When consumed, isoflavones turn into phytoestrogen. Phytoestrogen is just like the steroid hormone ESTROGEN in humans – just a lot weaker.
Phytoestrogen is what either reduces the risk or increases the risk of breast cancer. This is where the controversy begins:
Phytoestrogen is often used in menopausal and post-menopausal women to reduce the nasty symptoms (like hot flashes and mood swings) and balance hormones. Since menopause means the body isn’t producing enough estrogen, women are stuck with health problems like increased blood pressure, cholesterol; and the risk of osteoporosis increases, along with diabetes, obesity, depression, insomnia, mood swings – AYYY-YAHH, I am NOT looking forward to all this. Many menopausal women will actually take phytoestrogens to balance their hormones.
Women not going through menopause, most probably will not be negatively or positively affected, depending on how much they are consuming. Perhaps it may even be beneficial for women with hormone imbalances – and may even help with acne or irregular menstrual cycles.
Now, a lot of studies state that women who already have breast cancer or have had breast cancer, should avoid consuming soy products because the phytoestrogen can actually interfere with cancer chemotherapy and other medications being taken. I mean there really is no SOLID evidence, but physician’s advice breast cancer patients to be cautious – it’s always better to be safe than sorry right?
Okay, so that’s what phytoestrogen does to women who already HAVE or have HAD breast cancer.
For all other women, studies show that the weak estrogen like compounds when consumed, actually replace the strong estrogen bonds in cells, and perhaps that is what protects us from cancers because the cancer cells would rather attack the stronger estrogen while the weak estrogen does the strong estrogens job (confusing. I know. You don’t need to understand the science behind it). But it gets more complicated than that and this is when it gets really fluffy. If the isoflavones give a weak signal to the estrogen receptors then it will actually decrease estrogen dependent breast cell growth, but if they give a strong signal then it becomes a problem. Do I know which happens? No, I am not a chemist or an endocrinologist. But based on “statistics” (I put those in quotations cause stats can also be super fluffy too. So much other stuff can affect statistics), Japanese women and East Asian women actually have lower breast cancer rates than women of North America. Here is a map from Time Magazine, showing countries with the highest incident rates.
Notice how Japan isn’t on the higher side of the spectrum like us North Americans are. This to me indicates that perhaps soy products are not as bad as people debate it to be. Japanese women eat ten times more soy products than we do and they don’t have as many breast cancer incidents as we do. Hmm… then the more I ponder this thought, the more I think about how Asian women consume less animal protein which is injected with growth hormones and antibiotics; how Asian women are more physically active than us North Americans and are closer to their ideal weight than us obese North Americans; and how they also consume less alcohol and eat more fresh vegetables.
Anyway, I suppose it is best to just avoid eating too much soy product, just to be on the safe side.
If you are lactose intolerant, or don’t like cow’s milk, then mix it up. One week get soy milk; the next week get almond milk; the next week get rice milk; the next week get coconut milk. There are so many options and they’re all beneficial in their own way. Almond milk is great for weight control and it contains Vitamin D while Coconut Milk contains medium chain triglycerides that are also good for weight control. They all contain Vitamin D and all have good nutrients. If you are vegetarian and do not know where else to get your protein from; eat lots of beans and rice – this combination magically creates complete proteins.
So, moral of the story?
Soy can positively help postmenopausal women with hormone therapy; however, it can negatively affect breast cancer hormonal therapy, because hormones will be competing with the phytoestrogen to get the same estrogen receptors. But, it can prevent the risk of breast cancer is women who have never had cancer. BOOM!
It is better to be safe than sorry. You can have soy products everyday if you like, but don’t get dependent on them as your primary source of protein or milk source.
Oki doki, I am going to leave you with this song. I was totally obsessed with it when I first heard it, but I think I listened to it too much and kinda killed it. I ALWAYS do that. If I like a song, I put it on repeat for days until I can’t handle it anymore. haha Enjoy 🙂