In the last few months we’ve explored the notion of food sensitivity and its impact on your health. With the variety of foods out there to choose from, this exploration could take some time. Today we wanted to take a closer look at soy and soy allergies, building on a post we did a few weeks ago.
Over the last few years soy has found its way into many different products, becoming the go to alternative for those avoiding dairy. The downside is that now we have what you might call Soy Overkill, somewhat like what we see with Coconut. The market likes it and so suddenly you can find it used in many products. Where this is problematic with soy, is that now I see more people developing sensitivities to soy.
Soybeans are a complex food and our discussion today of the reactions that people have to soybeans is complex. Interestingly, the reactions that human beings can have to soybeans are much more complex than the immune and inflammatory reactions that people have to cereal grains or to the proteins in cow dairy. One thing shared with these other food sensitivities to grains and dairy is that so far no reliable lab test exists to tell you if you have a food sensitivity to soybeans. If you suspect a problem with soybeans, you need to remove it from your diet 100% and measure how you respond. I’ve seen too many people spend hundreds of dollars on testing only for the testing to say they had no reaction to soybeans. Yet when they eliminated soybeans from their diet they saw their health improve dramatically.
I say this frequently, but here it is once more with feeling. Often the best test you can do in regards to food sensitivities is to eliminate the suspected food for a period of time and see how you feel. I’ve seen this work so many times and it will save you money and confusion. Your body is wise if you give it a chance to tell you what’s going on and show you what happens when you change.
Eliminating soybeans from your diet is not an easy task. Soybeans and products extracted from soybeans are present in many processed foods. Fortunately, allergies to soybeans are so common that food manufacturers now clearly label their products to let you know that soy is or is not present.
Some of the soy allergy symptoms people have are similar to things discussed in earlier articles on the sensitivities that people have to things like wheat and cow’s milk. The proteins in the soy can cause inflammation in the gut, and the inflammation can effect more distant tissues like your brain, your muscles and your joints. Legumes like soybeans are a relatively new addition to the human diet and many of us are simply not able to process them without problems.
Soybeans contain compounds that act as hormones in the human body. These ‘phytoestrogens’ can be useful for some women if they have a deficiency of estrogen. However, they can also be disruptive, causing problems with fertility, problems with a woman’s menstrual cycle, problems for men with enlarged prostate glands, and potential problems for people with tumors that are sensitive to estrogen. These hormonal effects caused by soybeans are not true food sensitivities, but they can be quite problematic.
There is one final problem seen with soybeans that is relatively new. Doctors like myself, curious about food sensitivities, notice that reactions to soybeans and soy products became dramatically more common in the last 20 years. One theory to explain this increased problem with soy is that most of the soybeans grown in this country are genetically modified organisms (GMO).
The safety, or lack of safety, of GMO foods is a matter of debate. The modifications made to foods like soybeans are done to allow the use of herbicides, specifically glyphosate, which is better known by its brand name of Roundup. Genetic changes are made to the soybeans so that they are not killed by glyphosate. Glyphosate (Roundup) is applied heavily to GMO soybeans. As a result there are significant residues of glyphosate in the soybeans after they are harvested. Glyphosate makes it into our bodies and these residues can be detected and measured in human beings who eat GMO soybeans and other GMO foods.
If someone tells you that there are no problems with glyphosate do some research of your own. Simply go to Pubmed (link: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed) or Google Scholar (link: scholar.google.com) and search for “glyphosate AND human”. You will find hundreds of scientific articles that document the worrisome levels of glyphosate found in human beings and the many ways that glyphosate disrupts our cellular chemistry and our health. The damaging effects of glyphosate on human health are no longer open to debate.
Unfortunately in the United States, the food industry has so far blocked labeling that would tell you that a food contains GMO ingredients. Fortunately, the rules governing organic foods do not allow the inclusion of GMO ingredients. Foods labeled as 100% organic should not contain GMO ingredients. If you eat products with soy, confirm that they come from organic sources whenever possible. Your cellular chemistry will rejoice at your wise choices.
A question that frequently comes up from my patients regarding soy focuses on the use of the many fermented soy based foods, such as miso or tempeh. You may do better with fermented soy foods, but this is something you need to determine through experimentation and trial and error. Because of the issues with glyphosate, it is still important that even fermented soy foods be organic. As with anything, moderation with any food is going to be the best bet. As you experiment work to find the levels that best fit you and your body.
Soybeans are a complex food. They are a major choice as a source of protein for many people who are vegetarian or vegan. If through your own experiments eliminating soybeans and adding them back in you find that soybeans are a problem for you, it is important that you eliminate them from your diet. We have an article coming very soon discussing other sources of plant-based protein that are safer and better tolerated, so watch for that.
Let us know about your experiences with soy foods and please let us know what other food topics you would like us to cover. Soon we want to talk about eggs, shellfish and some other foods that become issues for people. So stay tuned for sure.
As always, to your health.
Image courtesy of © Can Stock Photo Inc. / igordutina