Soy Products; Should They Form Part of a Healthy Diet For Men and Women?

Soy products and other phytoestrogen or plant-estrogen rich foods have compounds derived from plants that mimic estrogen due to their similar structure.

There have been many false assumptions that men consuming phytoestrogens may have lowered sperm count, concentration, motility, and increased rate of testicular cancers. But a 2010 meta-analysis of fifteen placebo-controlled studies concluded that “neither soy foods nor isoflavone supplements alter measures of bioavailable testosterone concentrations in men.”[1] Studies also noted that isoflavone supplementation had no effect on sperm concentration, count, or motility, and had no impact on testicular or ejaculate volume. [2, 3]

These false assumptions have led to much confusion on whether phytoestrogens are healthy for consumption or not. But actually a variety of beneficial effects of phytoestrogens on many body systems has been shown, as well as the reduction of risk for specific cancers.

While Phytoestrogens behave like the hormones our bodies naturally produce, they’re not the same as human hormones and behave unlike other natural estrogens.

We now know that we have two types of estrogen receptors in the body, alpha, and beta receptors. And, unlike actual estrogen which binds and activates the alpha receptor, phytoestrogens from foods, preferentially bind to and activate the beta receptor. 

These two types of receptors have different, and most often opposite functions. Beta activation from foods rich in phytoestrogens (see list below) have an anti-estrogenic effect, inhibiting the growth-promoting effects of actual estrogen. Research has proven this since 2003. 

Therefore, these phytoestrogens actually have an anti-proliferative impact on some cancer cells, even in low concentrations that are achieved by eating even one serving of these foods a day. 

 

Here are some health benefits of consuming phytoestrogens for both men and women:

1. Improved Bone Health 

Bone health is a concern for growing children, athletes, and women during menopause. Phytoestrogens work with vitamin D to support bone health and, according to a study on phytoestrogens and Vitamin D for bone health in menopausal transition, phytoestrogens and Vitamin D in postmenopausal women helped prevent bone loss thereby reducing the incidence of fractures. [4]

2. Helps Prevent Specific Types of Cancer 

Phytoestrogens are often considered as possible alternatives to hormone replacement therapy and have been studied extensively in the role they play in reversing the symptoms of breast and ovarian cancers. It’s been found that certain hormone-related cancers can be treated by adjusting the hormone levels through eating foods that contain phytoestrogens (see list below). 

Phytoestrogens have also been studied to have antioxidant activity, protein synthesis activity, and they influence intracellular enzymes. This makes them natural cancer-protective compounds. 

According to a study by Dr. van Die MD from the Department of General Practice, University of Melbourne, soy isoflavones and other phytoestrogens may reduce the risk of prostate cancer in men.  [5] 

3. Relieves Menopausal Symptoms 

Many women in menopause or transitioning to menopause use hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to alleviate the symptoms that typically come with menopause including hot flashes, mood swings, depression, and osteoporosis. However, many of these synthetic hormones used for HRT come with side effects. As a result, more women are resorting to phytoestrogens which are a natural remedy that relieves symptoms without the side effects. Furthermore, the risk of atherosclerosis, whereby plaque made up of fat, cholesterol, and calcium builds up on the arteries, and other cardiovascular diseases are significantly increased after menopause due to the decrease in estrogen levels, and phytoestrogens…

4. Improves Heart Health 

According to a study led by IA Sobenin from the Department of Cardiovascular Pathology, Russian Cardiology Research and Production Complex in Moscow, clinical and epidemiologic data indicate that phytoestrogens possess anti-atherosclerotic effects. They may be used to prevent and treat cardiovascular diseases for their ability to retard the progression atherosclerosis. [6]

Foods rich in phytoestrogens include:

        Soybeans and soy products

        Flaxseeds

        Sesame seeds

        Fenugreek

        Oats

        Barley

        Wheat berries

        Rice

        Legumes (beans and lentils)

        Alfalfa and Mung beans

        Apples

        Carrots

        Pomegranates

        Yams

        Coffee

        Licorice root

        Ginseng

        Hops

        Bourbon whiskey

        Beer

        Fennel

        Anise

        Red clover 

I hope this dissipated some false assumptions of consuming soy products.
Feel free to comment below and let me know what you liked best about this article.

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References: 

[1] Hamilton-Reeves JM, Vazquez G, Duval SJ, Phipps WR, Kurzer MS, Messina MJ (Aug 2010). “Clinical studies show no effects of soy protein or isoflavones on reproductive hormones in men: results of a meta-analysis”. Fertility and Sterility. 94 (3): 997–1007. doi:10.1016/j.fertnstert.2009.04.038. PMID 19524224.

[2] Dabrowski WM (2004). Toxins in Food. CRC Press Inc. p. 95. ISBN 978-0-8493-1904-4.

[3] Mitchell JH, Cawood E, Kinniburgh D, Provan A, Collins AR, Irvine DS (Jun 2001). “Effect of a phytoestrogen food supplement on reproductive health in normal males”. Clinical Science. 100 (6): 613–8. doi:10.1042/CS20000212. PMID 11352776.

[4] Patisaul HB, Jefferson W (2010). “The pros and cons of phytoestrogens”. Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology. 31 (4): 400–19. doi:10.1016/j.yfrne.2010.03.003. PMC 3074428?pastedGraphic.png. PMID 20347861.

[5]  Cederroth CR, Auger J, Zimmermann C, Eustache F, Nef S (2010). “Soy, phyto-oestrogens and male reproductive function: a review”. International Journal of Andrology. 33 (2): 304–16. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2605.2009.01011.x. PMID 19919579.

[6] Malinova M. Phytoestrogens and Vitamin D For Bone Health In Menopausal Transition. 2015;54(4):60-4.

[7] BJU Int. 2014 May;113(5b):E119-30. doi: 10.1111/bju.12435

[8] Sobenin IA, Myasoedova VA, Orekhov AN. Phytoestrogen-Rich Dietary Supplements in Anti-Atherosclerotic Therapy in Postmenopausal Women. 2016;22(2):152-63.

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