Almanac Articles

Soy

Soy

INTRODUCTION

I have dealt with hormonal and digestive issues for a long time, and discovered a possible common culprit for my problems. But before we get into that, let’s go on a scavenger hunt. Comb through your pantry, along with your beauty and hygiene products: how long does it take to find five ingredients with soy in them? These can be listed as soy, soybean oil, soy lecithin, hydrolyzed soy protein, and soy flour. How many did you find? While these ingredients are the more obvious and common ones, soy can be called by other names (1).

 

PERSONAL HISTORY

In my early twenties, I was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (or PCOS). It came with hormone imbalance, hirsutism (hair growth in unexpected areas), and amenorrhea (absence of menstruation or missed periods, which causes infertility). Since my teens, I have also struggled with digestive issues that have worsened with age. 

This has collectively fueled my quest for better personal health. I researched and learned about what could affect my issues — food, chemicals, beauty products, and household products — and eliminated them. I read books such as Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler. I developed a comprehensive nutrition and supplement plan to support my hormones. I was invited to a PCOS food challenge and support group by Kym Campbell (www.smartfertilitychoices.com). I listened to my body, paying attention to how certain foods affected me. Along the way, I learned soy could be one cause of my issues. I was taken aback by how many products contain soy! It can be hard to control your intake of anything when it is hidden in everyday products, including the feed of the animals helping to create the products you consume. Even eggs are at risk as chicken feed is soy-based! 

 

HISTORY OF SOY

The soybean or soya bean is a species of legume native to East Asia, first domesticated by Chinese farmers around 1100 B.C. It was brought to the United States around 1760, and in 1851 soybean seeds were distributed to farmers in the Corn Belt states. By the 1870s, soybean growth increased in popularity for farmers, and it started being used as feed for livestock (beef, pork, and chicken). Ford started making and using soybean plastic around 1935. By the 1950s, soybean meal became the preferred choice for livestock feed. In the 1990s, it was genetically modified to withstand herbicides and became a large monocrop.  

 

SOYBEAN PRODUCTION

Thirty-one U.S. states have production industries in soybean, the top producers being Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and Minnesota (2). The government spent nearly $45 billion on soybean subsidies from 1995 to 2020 (3). Soy is traded globally, and the uses are countless, from livestock, fish food, and human consumption to fuel, inks, plastics, and industrial uses (4).

 

CONCERNS 

While soy has many uses — and some great benefits — it is not suitable for everyone. 

  • It may be linked to allergies. Soy is estimated to be one of the eight most common food allergens (5). Soy allergy symptoms can include itchy skin, swelling lips and tongue, wheezing, shortness of breath, hoarseness, tightness in the throat, nausea, vomiting, colic, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. Soy intolerance can also include gas, bloating, runny nose, cough, and fatigue (6). 
  • It may affect your hormones. Outside of allergies and intolerances, soy is an endocrine disruptor, which is any chemical compound that interferes with the normal function of the endocrine system. This is our body's messenger system that controls our hormones, containing nearly all processes in the body. This disruption can affect heart rate, appetite, metabolic function, sleep, mood, anxiety, depression, thyroid function, digestive function, sexual and reproductive function.
  • It may lead to unwanted exposure. While soy has been consumed for centuries by many cultures, glyphosate was not used, and it went through a fermentation process that helped neutralize some effects. However, large-scale agriculture pushed this plant into being genetically modified and the use of glyphosate is high. As a result, soy is a leading food source of glyphosate exposure. Glyphosate has been linked to cancer, liver damage, endocrine disruption, and reproductive and developmental issues (7). 

 

Properties of soy

  • Goitrogenic foods like soy can interfere with the normal function of the thyroid, causing goiters or swelling, and also interfere with iodine absorption. Without this, the thyroid can not produce hormones like T3 and T4. The thyroid is responsible for metabolism, certain brain functions, digestion, and energy. 
  • Phytoestrogens are foods that mimic human estrogen. This can disrupt sex hormone levels, including estrogen, testosterone, and the ovulation cycle. These changes can alter sexual behavior, aggression, and anxiety-related behaviors (8).
  • Lectins are carbohydrate-binding proteins that can damage cellular communication. As a result, they cause immune responses, mental and physical health issues. Lectins also bind to nerve endings, causing blood cells to clump and attach to viruses and bacteria. 

 

What to do

Could soy be a reason for health issues? It’s possible. Start reading the labels of your food and beauty products. Try an elimination diet and see if and how your body changes.

 

Common places soy hides include:

  • Baked goods
  • Canned broths or soups
  • Canned meats like tuna
  • Cereal, cookies, and crackers
  • Protein powders, energy bars, and snacks
  • Infant formulas
  • Peanut butter
  • Pet food
  • Processed meats
  • Sauces
  • Soaps and moisturizer

 

CONCLUSION

Every individual is different, and there are some benefits of soy as it contains good nutrients and protein. It isn’t all bad. But if someone is struggling with food sensitivities, allergies, hormone imbalance, or digestive issues, it might be worth looking into things commonly found in our everyday lives, such as soy. Eliminating allergies, intolerances, endocrine disruptors, and glyphosate sources could also help. Getting to the root of our problems may take some digging, but it’s worth the research and time if it can help us live happier and healthier lives. 

References

  1. https://www.kidswithfoodallergies.org/media/Soy-Allergy-Avoidance-List-Hidden-Names.pdf
  2. https://ncsoy.org/media-resources/history-of-soybeans/
  3. https://farm.ewg.org/progdetail.php?fips=00000&progcode=soybean
  4. https://www.usda.gov/sites/default/files/documents/coexistence-soybeans-factsheet.pdf
  5. https://farrp.unl.edu/informallbig8
  6. http://research.bmh.manchester.ac.uk/informall/allergenic-food/?FoodId=50
  7. https://ehjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12940-016-0117-0#Abs1
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3074428/

Wisdom in the Margins: Coconut aminos make an excellent substitute for soy sauce.

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1 comment

Ute Waterman

Ute Waterman

What about organic soy?

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