Is Soy Bad for You?

It’s been more than 10 years since I sounded a warning that soy products containing high levels of isoflavones could be causing weight gain for menopausal women and damaging our health, so I thought you might like to read this article from the New York Daily News in 2002. Sadly, things have not changed.

New York Daily News – http://www.nydailynews.com/
Is soy bad for you?

By JUDY D’MELLO
Monday, August 19th, 2002

There isn’t a health-minded individual in America who is a stranger to soy. We’ve all heard about this near-perfect food’s miraculous benefits: It reverses osteoporosis, eases the symptoms of menopause, reduces the risk of heart disease, lowers cholesterol and even balances the mood swings associated with PMS. As beef turned into a four-letter word culminating in the mad cow scare, and dairy products were charged with creating allergies, soy became the protein of choice — the healthy alternative to red meat, chicken and milk. It’s no wonder food manufacturers and chefs all over the country figured out ways to turn the traditionally watery bean curd into delicious soy ice cream, yogurt,cheese, pasta, burgers and buns.

You may want to hold off before reaching for your next soy wiener, though.

“As little as a 5- to 8-ounce serving of soy milk a day has been proven to suppress thyroid function,” says soy researcher and nutritionist Michael Fitzpatrick. Drs. Daniel Sheehan and Daniel Doerge, former senior researchers at the Food and Drug Administration, have strongly opposed the soy industry’s proclamation that this humble bean is king. In a 1999 letter, the two scientists stated that rather than tout its health benefits, the FDA should attach a warning label to soy products. “The possibility that widely consumed soy products may cause harm in the human population via either or both estrogenic and [thyroid] activity is of concern,” said Sheehan in a recently published study.

Approximately 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid dysfunction — and women are 10 times more likely to suffer from an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) than men. The most common symptoms of a hypothyroid patient are lethargy, weight gain, depression, inability to tolerate cold, dry skin, coarse hair and mental “fogginess.”

The disorder usually occurs in women following childbirth and at the onset of menopause. By age 75, one in five women has a sluggish thyroid. Yet signs such as weight gain and lack of mental acuity are often chalked up to natural symptoms of the aging process.

The culprit in a high soy diet lies in the isoflavones found in the bean, in particular, genistein. Interestingly, this is the very same ingredient that’s been enthusiastically promoted as the remedy for everything from heart disease to mood swings. New research shows otherwise. “The isoflavones in soy act like a hormone in the body,” said Dr. Larrian Gillespie, a retired urologist and urogynecologist and author of “The Menopause Diet.” “In many women, especially those who eat large amounts of soy concentrates or take isoflavone supplements, this disturbs the body’s hormonal balance, triggering or worsening thyroid problems.”

Hundreds of new products

Gillespie speaks from firsthand experience. She first tried soy supplements at the recommended dose of 40 milligrams. “I went into full-blown hypothyroidism within 72 hours,” she said. Next she experimented with tofu. “Same results as before, but this time it took me five days to get there.”

Gillespie is troubled by the government’s recent announcement about the potential risks associated with hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which is followed by 6 million mostly menopausal women in the U.S. Drugs such as Prempro, Premarin and Climara were found to increase the rate of breast cancer and strokes. As a result, Gillespie is bracing for a “new push” for soy products by the industry that promise women a “more natural, risk-free” remedy for hot flashes and bone loss.

Soy is already a big business in the U.S. About 140 billion pounds of soy are produced annually here, making the U.S. one of the world’s largest producers and exporters of the bean. Hundreds of soy-based products are introduced each year. According to Sally Fallon, president of the Westin A. Price Foundation (http://www.westinaprice.org/), “Up to 1% of revenue for every soybean sold in America goes toward promoting the benefits of soybeans in the marketplace and maintaining and expanding foreign markets.” In short, the soy industry has clout.

Risk of thyroid cancer

A disturbing example of the industry’s heft is the marketing of soy-based infant formulas. While considered a life-saver for the roughly 3% to 4% of infants who are lactose-intolerant, this “healthy” alternative is so vigorously advertised that it claims a whopping 25% share of total infant formula sales. “It’s criminal that soy formulas are being sold in the marketplace,” says Fallon. “Infants who are exclusively fed soy formula get 10 times the dose of phytoestrogens found in a healthy Asian diet. Such excess can be harmful.”

Fallon also points out that the soy industry has known since the 1950s that soy formulas contain thyroid-suppressing agents. Though many have lobbied to have isoflavones removed from soy formulas, the high cost of doing so has prevented it from happening. For infants, any amount of soy is too much, according to the Soy Online Service (http://www.soyonlineservice.co.nz/). Unborn children exposed to high levels of antithyroid agents, the Web site says, are at high risk for prematurity and reproductive problems. Fitzpatrick, who heads the online service, also believes that long term feeding of soy formulas can raise the risk of thyroid cancer.

Following the money trail might show why more information is not available about these issues in the U.S. Experts believe the regulatory agencies are cowed by the strength of the agricultural companies that dominate the U.S. soy market. Other countries, where there is less economic pressure, have led the way in alerting the public to the potential hazards of soy. In 1996, the British Department of Health issued a warning that the phytoestrogens found in soy formulas could adversely affect infant health. In Switzerland, Australia and New Zealand, health officials recommend a medically monitored diet of soy products for infants and pregnant women.

A tub of tofu

Proponents of soy have long used the Asian diet as their war cry for pushing high intakes of soy isoflavones. “I went to China,” said Gillespie, “and saw how little soy is used in their daily diet. We in America think we must consume an entire tub of tofu in a meal, whereas in Asia a quarter tub [30 milligrams] is considered a lot for a day.”

Moreover, the Asian diet is dramatically different from its American counterpart, containing more fish, fresh fruits and vegetables, and less red meat, chemicals and processed foods. Soy is consumed not only in small quantities by Asians, but often in a fermented state such as tempeh (soybean cake), miso (a paste used in soups) and natto (sticky, boiled soybeans) that are high in Vitamin K. “Look,” says Gillespie, “if soy is the answer, then why is the typical image of an old Japanese woman shrunken and bent over?”

In the mid-’90s I fell hard for the hype surrounding the soybean. Believing the experts’ claims and looking for a low-fat protein, I became an avid consumer of tofu and a daily 12-ounce soy milk shake. I honestly liked the taste. Even after I was diagnosed with hypothroidism three years ago, I followed my “healthy” eating regimen. No one cautioned me of a possible correlation between my thyroid problem and soy consumption. I was 37 and suffered none of the classic symptoms.

Yet my thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) levels clearly indicated an
underactive thyroid. It was only after my son was born, a year after my diagnosis, that I removed soy from my diet. (As an infant, he suffered from gastric distress, and since I was nursing, a friend suggested I go soy-free to eliminate the bean’s hard-to-digest properties from my system.) Six months later, I was checked again and my TSH levels were normal. Now, I eat only small amounts of soy, occasionally. I still get checked twice a year, and my levels are still normal.

How much is too much?

While deep-pocketed soy marketers cook up even more ways to ingest the bean, there is, unfortunately, little data as what constitutes an appropriate level of soy intake. Soy Online Service cautions that even 30 milligrams of soy isoflavones a day can wreak havoc on the body’s hormonal balance. It advises anyone with a predisposition to thyroid dysfunction to be particularly careful. If, indeed, the Asian diet is one to be emulated, then why not use soy the way they have for thousands of years: in moderation.

Thirty milligrams of soy isoflavones can be found in:

  • 7 ounces of soybeans
  • 4 ounces of tofu
  • 8 ounces of soy milk
  • 1.6 ounces of miso
  • 2.8 ounces of soybean sprouts

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Good Carbs Lead to Weight Loss

You read that correctly. Consuming good carbs can lead to sustained weight loss, according to a study in The American Journal of Epidemiology. People who ate more refined grains, starchy vegetables, white flour and similar carbohydrates were significantly heavier than people who ate foods with “good carbohydrates” such as whole grains, non-starchy vegetables, nuts and seeds. It wasn’t the total amount of carbohydrates that made the difference, it was the type of carbohydrates eaten that tipped the scales. “There are many factors involved in obesity, but our study found a clear association with eating certain carbohydrates and body weight,” said Yunsheng Ma, MD, PhD, assistant professor of medicine at UMMS, and lead author of the study.
Dr. Ma’s team analyzed data collected from 572 people in Worcester County from 1994 to 1998, as part of a National Institutes of Heath-funded blood cholesterol study conducted by Ira S. Ockene, MD, the David J. and Barbara D. Milliken Professor of Preventive Cardiology and professor of medicine at UMMS. Each subject was followed for one year, with his or her eating patterns charted at five different times during that year. Ma’s team also examined the physical activity of the subjects to control for the variables of exercise and energy consumption, thereby focusing the analysis solely on the connection between eating various food containing carbohydrates and body weight.

The carbohydrates were classified based on their glycemic index (GI) which is a measure of how much and how fast a food raises a person’s blood sugar level. Foods with a high GI value rapidly spike blood sugar, while foods with a low GI value can help control blood sugar levels. Several other studies have shown that blood sugar levels are related to fat deposition in tissues because, when blood sugar spikes, insulin is elevated and that prompts the body’s fat and muscle cells to absorb the sugar in the blood and store it as fat.

Carbohydrates are the foods that most severely affect the GI of a person’s diet. Items like potatoes, refined grains, pasta, overly processed breads, starchy vegetables and ingredients such as refined sugars and flour, have the highest GI values. For example, a baked potato has a GI of 85 and an ear of corn’s GI is 60. Other carbohydrates such as whole grains, nuts, many fruits and most vegetables, have lower GI values. A cup of broccoli, for example, has a GI of 0.

Based on the population in Dr. Ma’s study, people weighed 9.6 pounds less for every 10-point reduction in the combined glycemic index of their diet. In other words, a person with a GI of 95 typically weighed nearly 10 pounds more than someone in the study with a GI of 85, all other factors being equal. “Nearly 10 pounds is a clinically significant difference,” said Barbara Olendzki, RD, MPH, an instructor in medicine at UMMS and a co-author of the study. “One of the takeaway messages of these findings is that if people can lower the GI of their diet by choosing the best carbohydrates to eat, they should be able to lose some weight. Those lower GI foods can also be helpful for appetite control.”

Recent national studies have shown that the number of Americans who are obese has jumped 61% since 1991. Today, some two-thirds of Americans are overweight (BMI of 25 to 30), with nearly 30 percent of the country’s adult population now considered obese. The rise in obesity is believed to be a key factor in the dramatic increase in type 2 diabetes in the United States. During the same time frame, several studies have documented a significant drop in the overall fat content of the American diet. That data, coupled with the findings published this month from Dr. Ma’s study, suggest that it is the type of carbohydrate in a person’s diet, along with proper exercise and overall caloric intake, that is most relevant in affecting body weight. “We must continue to examine all the factors that play a role in obesity. In the meantime I hope these findings will help people make better choices in their diet and help those who are motivated, to lose weight and improve their quality of life,” Dr. Ma said.

So, don’t think you need to avoid eating carbs in your life. Just make wise choices and your waistline will thank you.

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Does Medication Really Expire?

Does the expiration date on a bottle of a medication mean anything? If a bottle of Tylenol, for example, says something like “Do not use after June 2006,” and it is August 2009, should you take the Tylenol? Should you discard it? Can you get hurt if you take it? Will it simply have lost its potency and do you no good?

In other words, are drug manufacturers being honest with us when they put an expiration date on their medications, or is the practice of dating just another drug industry scam, to get us to buy new medications when the old ones that purportedly have “expired” are still perfectly good?

Here are the simple facts:

First, the expiration date, required by law in the United States, beginning in 1979, specifies only the date the manufacturer guarantees the full potency and safety of the drug — it does not mean how long the drug is actually “good” or safe to use.

Second, medical authorities uniformly say it is safe to take drugs past their expiration date — no matter how “expired” the drugs purportedly are. Except for possibly the rarest of exceptions, you won’t get hurt and you certainly won’t get killed. A contested example of a rare exception is a case of renal tubular damage purportedly caused by expired tetracycline (reported by G. W. Frimpter and colleagues in JAMA, 1963;184:111). This outcome (disputed by other scientists) was supposedly caused by a chemical transformation of the active ingredient.

Third, studies show that expired drugs may lose some of their potency over time, from as little as 5% or less to 50% or more (though usually much less than the latter). Even 10 years after the “expiration date,” most drugs have a good deal of their original potency. So wisdom dictates that if your life does depend on an expired drug, and you must have 100% or so of its original strength, you should probably toss it and get a refill, in accordance with the cliché, “better safe than sorry.” If your life does not depend on an expired drug — such as that for headache, hay fever, or menstrual cramps — take it and see what happens.

One of the largest studies ever conducted that supports the above points about “expired drug” labeling was done by the US military 15 years ago, according to a feature story in the Wall Street Journal (March 29, 2000), reported by Laurie P. Cohen. The military was sitting on a $1 billion stockpile of drugs and facing the daunting process of destroying and replacing its supply every 2 to 3 years, so it began a testing program to see if it could extend the life of its inventory. The testing, conducted by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), ultimately covered more than 100 drugs, prescription and over-the-counter. The results showed that about 90% of them were safe and effective as far as 15 years past their original expiration date.

In light of these results, a former director of the testing program, Francis Flaherty, said he concluded that expiration dates put on by manufacturers typically have no bearing on whether a drug is usable for longer. Mr. Flaherty noted that a drug maker is required to prove only that a drug is still good on whatever expiration date the company chooses to set. The expiration date doesn’t mean, or even suggest, that the drug will stop being effective after that, nor that it will become harmful. “Manufacturers put expiration dates on for marketing, rather than scientific, reasons,” said Mr. Flaherty, a pharmacist at the FDA until his retirement in 1999. “It’s not profitable for them to have products on a shelf for 10 years. They want turnover.”

The FDA cautioned there isn’t enough evidence from the program, which is weighted toward drugs used during combat, to conclude most drugs in consumers’ medicine cabinets are potent beyond the expiration date. Joel Davis, however, a former FDA expiration-date compliance chief, said that with a handful of exceptions — notably nitroglycerin, insulin, and some liquid antibiotics — most drugs are probably as durable as those the agency has tested for the military. “Most drugs degrade very slowly,” he said. “In all likelihood, you can take a product you have at home and keep it for many years, especially if it’s in the refrigerator.” Consider aspirin. Bayer AG puts 2-year or 3-year dates on aspirin and says that it should be discarded after that. However, Chris Allen, a vice president at the Bayer unit that makes aspirin, said the dating is “pretty conservative”; when Bayer has tested 4-year-old aspirin, it remained 100% effective, he said. So why doesn’t Bayer set a 4-year expiration date? Because the company often changes packaging, and it undertakes “continuous improvement programs,” Mr. Allen said. Each change triggers a need for more expiration-date testing, and testing each time for a 4-year life would be impractical. Bayer has never tested aspirin beyond 4 years, Mr. Allen said. But Jens Carstensen has. Dr. Carstensen, professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin’s pharmacy school, who wrote what is considered the main text on drug stability, said, “I did a study of different aspirins, and after 5 years, Bayer was still excellent. Aspirin, if made correctly, is very stable.”

Here is my advice: if you have anything in capsule form, discard it after its expiration date as capsules are not airtight and oxygen is the key factor in rendering drugs unusable. If you have tablet forms, keep the drugs as they are compressed and no oxygen damage can be done other than a very slow natural degredation. Your savings could be significant, and you won’t have to make an ER visit for that prescription you know always treats your condition.


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