The Dangers of Soy

February 6, 2009

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As the industrial food supply swells into a seemingly unruly beast, a number of food products have come under sustained fire: high fructose corn syrup, milk powder, wheat gluten, to name a few.  These raw materials have been joined by agro-industrial meat and all manner of processed foods as emblematic symptoms of a global diet intent on killing us. For me, one of the more exciting aspects of scrutinizing this unsavory world is that every now an then the unexpected study or random tip-off from a concened consumer manages to, yet again, challenge one of my more sacred assumptions, taking me far beyond the obvious dangers into new and unknown territory. For some reason, I enjoy this.

This time the tip came from a housewife in Illinois who’d seen an article I wrote last year on heavy metals in fertilizer. The product she was placing under the microscope of castigation was the very product that, as a relatively new and hardly militant vegetarian, I’ve come to rely on: soy.  The housewife will go unnanmed (for now), but the unpublished paper she generously passed on is supported by everyone from prestigious scientists at Johns Hopkins to the diabetics whom she has, through her obsessive campaign against soy, helped heal.  Soy! In one form or another, it’s in 60 percent of everything sold in the grocery store, and this woman is arguing it’s at the basis of our health problems. 

I’m not ready to go that far. A house wife from Illinois, after all, is hardly a “legitimate” authority on the dangers of soy. But it did not take more than a few hours with “the google” to find enough valid medical support for the gist of her claim. In brief, and to simplify, soy contains extremely high levels of phytic acid (phytates). These acids bind to important minerals that the body needs and makes them unavailable. As a result, the body experiences mineral deficiencies with decreasing levels of iron, zinc, calcium, and magnesium, among others. 

The loss of zinc is of special concern. Zinc is essential to the body’s detoxification system. When we hear “detox” we might think “hippie.” But the detox system is a system of the body like the circulatory system or the respiratory system. One role zinc plays in it–perhaps the most essential–is to power a protein called metallothionein. This protein, which lines the intestinal tract, regulates physiological metals in order to prevent metal toxicity. Take away matallothionein and concentrations of copper, lead, nickel, and aluminum rise to dangerous levels. 

Copper is what especially concerns many scientists and nutritionists. Chronic copper accumulation–something that medical experts are only beginning to learn about– can have a deleterious impact on nearly every aspect of a body’s proper functioning.  It’s been clinically linked to anxiety and stress, migraine headaches, epilepsy, irritable bowel syndrome, a host of kidney problems, and arthritis.

The housewife who turned me on to these studies became interested in copper accumulation when her dogs started to become sick, and many of them died, after she put them on a diet rich in soy-fed beef. When she altered their diet to eliminate soy, zinc levels rose, and the dogs recovered almost immediately. She now consults with a dog food company to produce healthy food for dogs. Plus, many diabetics seek her advice on dietary changes to improve their conditions. Many have been able to go off their medications as a direct result. 

I’m just onto this story, so stay tuned. But for now, I’m staying away from the tofu.


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