It seems that every diet and health food being put on the market recently heavily relies on soy protein as a main ingredient. Research has shown that in normal quantities soy protein can be a safe and even beneficial alternative to protein sources that are meat-based. However, as more and more people rely more heavily on soy as a main staple in their diets, some possible dangers and complications have begun to emerge. One such danger involves the amount of estrogen that can be included if higher amounts of soy are consumed. So, are there health risks involved in consuming too much soy? What can this elevated intake of estrogen do to you?
Where Does the Estrogen Come From?
Soy foods contain relatively high levels of compounds known as isoflavones. The chemical structure of isoflavones is similar to that of estrogen and as a result, they can bind to estrogen receptor cells and have an effect on a bio-chemical level. So, there is evidence that soy can have some effect on the body by introducing hormone compounds that can mimic estrogen, causing the amount of estrogen present to increase over time.
What Are the Implications?
Scientists have differed on the potential implications of the increase of isoflavones in the body. In men, some would lead you to believe that an increase in isoflavones would have a feminizing effect on the male because estrogen is a hormone found more abundantly in females. However, this is most likely not the case. Some doctors have pointed out that since isoflavones do bind estrogen receptor cells instead of normal estrogen compounds, that the overall effect could minimize the amount of estrogen present in males instead of increasing it. For females, the isoflavones can limit estrogen production as well for those who are hormonally imbalanced to begin with. Also, increases in estrogen levels that are not the direct result of pregnancy can lead to an increased risk in developing kidney and ovarian cancer over time. This becomes more likely after the age of 35.
Benefits Versus Risks
So, there are some risks to increasing your overall intake of estrogen by consuming soy-based products. Isoflavones do have some effect of estrogen levels, but it is not yet clear to what extent these compounds affect the regulation of that hormone. So, do these risks outweigh the benefits inherent to increasing your intake of soy protein? This more-or-less depends on your situation. Soy products can be major boons for those who are at a higher risk for heart-related problems. Since they offer a low-fat and low-cholesterol alternative to meat-based protein sources, those who are at a higher risk for heart disease would probably be better served to sticking with soy instead of returning to a reliance on meat-based protein. You should also keep in mind that in many countries in Asia, the daily intake of isoflavones is 5-10 times higher than in the West and yet there is a lower incidence rate of heart disease and cancer.
In the end, you must keep in mind that moderation is always the key. Too much of any one thing will always come with risks. So, with soy as with everything else, consume in moderation.