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Potentially edible!
Food woo
Fabulous food!
Delectable diets!
Bodacious bods!

Ah, the humble soybean (Glycine max). The primary source of proteins and fats for over a billion of the world's population. In addition to being directly eaten (including its bean sprouts), it's used to make tofu, vegetable oil, miso, soy sauce, soy milk, MSG, livestock feed, and a wide variety of minor food ingredients.

And if you believe everything you hear about it, it also prevents cancer, causes cancer, destroys your thyroid, and makes you stark raving gay.

Soybean allergies[edit]

An allergic reaction to chemicals in soybeans is among the top 8 food allergies in North America.[1] Most of those who are allergic to soy are allergic to one or more of the proteins in the bean, but there have been a few cases of people who are instead allergic to components of soybean oil.

But remember that, at most, 5% of the adult population actually has some form of food allergy, but about 25% of the adult population thinks it has a food allergy. If you're not experiencing definite symptoms, chances are you're not allergic.


Isoflavone numbering: genistein (5-OH, 7-OH, 4'-OH) or daidzein (7-OH, 4'-OH)

Soybeans contain rather high concentrations of chemicals called isoflavones. The isoflavones prevalent in soybeans are:

  • genistein,
  • daidzein, and
  • glycitein.

These isofavones are present only in the soy protein. They are absent from the soybean oil.[2] If you're eating vegetable oil, or soy lecithin (which is made from soy oil), you're not getting isoflavones.

You're also not getting isoflavones if you eat soy sauce. Although soy sauce is made with soy protein, it's fermented, and the fermentation process denatures the proteins.

Soy isoflavones, which are phytoestrogens, are used as a dietary supplement to treat menopausal symptoms. A meta-analysis of phytoestrogens in treating menopausal symptoms found that phytoestrogens are effective in reducing hot flushes and do not have serious side-effects at recommended doses.[3]

Cancer risk, cancer preventative, or neither?[edit]

Some isoflavones have been found to be toxic to normal cells in vitro in high doses. They can deteriorate DNA in blood stem cells, which may lead to leukemia. They've been implicated in increasing the risk of leukemia in infants. Both genistein and daidzein have been shown to accelerate the growth of breast tumors. Soy isoflavones may even activate gene expression that contributes to breast cancer.[4]

Isoflavones, among other flavonoids, have been found to act as topoisomerase inhibitors, similarly to some chemotherapy drugs. They act as angiogenesis inhibitors, which can prevent metastatic tumors from growing bigger than a pinhead. They act as tyrosine kinase inhibitors, shutting down one of the major molecules involved in cell proliferation signal cascades. They even act as antioxidants.

Goitrogenic properties[edit]

Certain isoflavones have been shown to interfere with thyroid peroxidase in laboratory rats.[5] This means soy protein may be lightly goitrogenic, that is, capable of causing hypothyroidism and/or goiter. Cue the fearmongering.[6]

Since Hashimoto's thyroiditis — the most common cause of hypothyroidism in the developed world — involves autoimmune attacks on thyroid peroxidase, one line of thinking is that therefore consuming goitrogenic foods, like soybeans or raw cauliflower, would just make the condition worse. A 2006 review by the American Thyroid Association concluded: "some evidence suggests that soy foods, by inhibiting absorption, may increase the dose of thyroid hormone required by hypothyroid patients. However, hypothyroid adults need not avoid soy foods."[7] Other evidence suggests that adequate iodine intake ameliorates the goitrogenic characteristics of genistein and other isoflavones, and that thyroid function in lab rats was normal even when thyroid peroxidase was partially interfered with by isoflavones.[8]

Soy is making you gay![edit]

It'll give you teh gay! Oh noes!

All three of the major isoflavones in soy protein are phytoestrogens. This means they are structurally similar to, but not identical to, the actual estrogens produced inside the human body. Current evidence suggests that these isoflavones activate some estrogen receptors (like real estrogen does), but block other estrogen receptors. However, a study from 2001 found that when daily isoflavone supplements were given to healthy males over a 2 month period, they had "no observable effect on endocrine measurements, testicular volume or semen parameters over the study period."[9] A 2008 meta-analysis in Fertility and Sterility says that soy-based phytoestrogens do not increase the estrogen level in men, or decrease testosterone levels.[10] Studies done on laboratory mice indicate that the soy isoflavones are only weakly estrogenic, much less so than actual estrogen.[11]

This has not, however, prevented some people from claiming that soy products make you gay or some other stuff.[12][13]

Their thinking probably goes like this:

  • Soy contains phytoestrogens, chemicals similar to estrogen.
  • Estrogen is a girly hormone.
  • Therefore, men who consume phytoestrogens will become girly themselves.
  • Since women by and large tend to be attracted to men, men who become girly will also be attracted to men.
  • Besides, soy is what tofu is made out of (along with blackboard chalk), and tofu is practically synonymous with vegetarianism.
  • Vegetarians are hippies.
  • We were saying that eating red meat is manlier than vegetarianism all along. This proves it!

On the flip side, soy protein isolate[14] is a fairly popular source of protein for bodybuilders.

Genetic modification[edit]

As of 2010, 93% of all soybeans grown in the United States were genetically modified food[15]. Specifically, these soybeans have the Roundup Ready (herbicide tolerance) trait grafted into their genome. This allows farmers to kill the weeds in their soybean fields by spraying the entire field with glyphosate, without worrying about killing their crop in the process. It does reduce yields slightly, but as it uses much less energy than other methods of weed control and ironically, less chemicals, it's still a win for the environment.

Needless to say, some folks have gotten themselves twisted into a knot over this. This article, for example, claims that genetically-modified soy "contains high concentrations of plant toxicants," which they claim represents literally thousands of plant biochemicals, "many of which have been shown to have toxic effects on animals." Similarly, Irina Ermakova did a poorly-controlled trial on rats and now claims that genetically-modified soy causes all sorts of reproductive problems.

See also[edit]


  1. Allergenic Foods and their Allergens, with links to Informall: The Big-8 Food Allergy Research and Resource Program, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
  2. http://extension.agron.iastate.edu/soybean/uses_isoflavones.htm
  3. Efficacy of phytoestrogens for menopausal symptoms: a meta-analysis and systematic review by M. N. Chen et al. Climacteric. 2015 Apr;18(2):260-9. doi: 10.3109/13697137.2014.966241. Epub 2014 Dec 1.
  4. Shike et al., The Effects of Soy Supplementation on Gene Expression in Breast Cancer: A Randomized Placebo-Controlled Study, Journal of the National Cancer Institute, vol. 106 no. 9 (September 2014)
  5. Doerge DR, Sheehan DM (June 2002). "Goitrogenic and estrogenic activity of soy isoflavones". Environ. Health Perspect. 110 Suppl 3: 349–53. PMC 1241182. PMID 12060828. http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?tool=pmcentrez&artid=1241182. 
  6. Why Soy Can Harm the Thyroid and Contribute to Weight Gain, by The Naughty Nutritionist. Her video claims that there is "70 years of evidence" that soy causes hypothyroidism, but fails to provide any of said evidence.
  7. Messina and Redmond, Effects of soy protein and soybean isoflavones on thyroid function in healthy adults and hypothyroid patients: a review of the relevant literature, Thyroid, vol. 16 no. 3 (March 2006), pp. 249-58
  8. Doerge DR, Sheehan DM (June 2002). "Goitrogenic and estrogenic activity of soy isoflavones". Environ. Health Perspect. 110 Suppl 3: 349–53. PMC 1241182. PMID 12060828. http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?tool=pmcentrez&artid=1241182. 
  9. Mitchell JH, Cawood E, Kinniburgh D, Provan A, Collins AR, Irvine DS (2001). "Effect of a phytoestrogen food supplement on reproductive health in normal males". Clin Sci (Lond) 100 (6): 613–8. PMID 11352776. 
  10. Hamilton-Reeves et al., Clinical studies show no effects of soy protein or isoflavones on reproductive hormones in men: results of a meta-analysis, Fertility and Sterility, Volume 94, Issue 3, Pages 997-1007
  11. Song TT, Hendrich S, Murphy PA (1999). "Estrogenic activity of glycitein, a soy isoflavone". J. Agric. Food Chem. 47 (4): 1607–1610. PMID 10564025. 
  12. "SOY IS MAKING FROGS KIDS 'GAY'", according to WND, 2006.
  13. http://www.menshealth.com/nutrition/soys-negative-effects
  14. Translation: the left over junk from making vegetable oil
  15. http://usda.mannlib.cornell.edu/usda/nass/Acre/2010s/2010/Acre-06-30-2010.pdf , page 25