Soy does not lower cholesterol, does not prevent heart disease and does not deserve an FDA-approved soy heart health claim. This amazing announcement comes from none other than the American Heart Association (AHA) published in the January 17, 2006 issue of its journal Circulation.
Athletes At Risk
Not long before, University of Colorado researchers reported in the January issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation that soy worsens cardiomyopathy, a form of heart disease that is very much on the rise, afflicting one in 500 Americans. Cardiomyopathy, defined as a weakening of the heart muscle or change in structure of the heart, is the leading cause of death among young athletes, a group that may consume a lot of soy in the form of protein powders and energy bars.
Women At Risk
Now investigators have found more damning evidence against soy. High levels of soy isoflavones—plant estrogens found in products like soy milk and soy nuts as well as many menopausal supplements—put women at risk for cardiovascular disease. The study—reported in the May, 2007 issue of Journal of Women’s Health—began when Carl J. Pepine, MD, chief of cardiology at the University of Florida College of Medicine in Gainesville, along with ten other researchers from his own and five other medical institutions, aimed to find out whether women who have high concentrations of isoflavones in their blood had better vascular health. Subjects were participants in the Women’s Ischemia Syndrome Evaluation (WISE) who had reported chest pain and were thus suspected to suffer from myocardial ischemia (defined as pathological loss of or reduction in blood flow—ischemia—to a part of the muscular tissue of the heart—myocardium).
More than 900 women have participated in the WISE project, which was founded a decade ago by the National Institutes of Health to study whether heart disease develops differently in women than in men. Because heart disease is more likely to occur after menopause, scientists have blamed waning estrogen levels. Dr. Pepine and his colleagues had expected that women with high levels of genistein (the primary isoflavone found in soybeans) would show improved vascular health, but found the opposite to be true. Speaking to a reporter for Science News, Dr. Pepine said: “There are a lot of women taking these things (isoflavone-rich products), without any direct evidence that they’re beneficial.” He warned that there is a “small but growing body of research suggesting there could be a down side to overindulging in them.”
Industry response to mounting evidence for soy’s lack of benefit has been entirely predictable: endless references to soy being both low in saturated fat and free of cholesterol (twin evils that “everyone knows” cause heart disease) combined with chipper reports of hot, new evidence “proving” that soy is the best thing for the heart since love. Although some of this hype has made it into the news—particularly in magazines where soy foods and soy milk are heavily advertised—a shift has definitely taken place. Health magazines are increasingly leaving soy off lists of healthy foods. These days they aren’t yet reporting risks from soy, but they aren’t singing its praises either.
Soy Book Ban
The July/August issue of Energy Times featured an “Omnivore versus Vegan” debate designed to help readers decide whether Mother Nature designed us as to eat animal products or whether we should consider veganism “our next big evolutionary leap.” Speaking for the vegans was Hope Ferdowsian, MD, of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Representing the omnivores was WAPF board member Kaayla T. Daniel, PhD, who was invited to participate only on the grounds that she not speak out about soy. Apparently the advertisers were so nervous about the subject that they didn’t even permit her to be credited as author of The Whole Soy Story: The Dark Side of America’s Favorite Health Food. Whereas health magazines have often chosen to eliminate the book’s informative subtitle, Energy Times excised all mention of the book. In addition to the usual array of soy advertisements, the back inside cover of the magazine featured an advertisement in the guise of a footnoted article. Its title? “The Good News About Soy Continues.” Among other claims: soy is very heart healthy.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Fall 2007.