Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Soy and Boys (does Tofurkey give them man-boobs?)
Here is a question from a reader:
"I give my kid Boca frozen food products (specifically the fake chicken nuggets) probably once or twice a week. I know they are a soy product, and my mom brought to my attention the hormonal issue. Is this something I shouldn't be feeding them?
So soy is a great food, don't get me wrong. It has lots of protein and for the vegetarians out there, it is a great source of of the essential amino acids that are hard to come by in a meat-free diet. One thing that you should NEVER do with soy is try to make a chocolate mousse. I had some healthy eating friends in med school do this once and I almost broke off our friendship when they foisted off a tofu-based bastardization of the dessert on me. But I digress. The controversy with soy is the fact that it contains lots of natural estrogens. Let's talk about hormones.
There are many types of hormones in your body and also in plants. A hormone is simply a chemical messenger that goes to many cells throughout the body, telling them what to do. Think of a hormone as Miss J on America's Next Top Model. Miss J tells you how to walk, how to talk and how to carry yourself. He goes from model to model telling you to "be fierce" or "loosen up that face". The models are the cells and they respond to what Miss J tells them to do. Types of hormones are things like testosterone, progesterone, insulin, estradiol and growth hormone. Soybeans and soy products also contain plant based hormones, called phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens can mimic the estrogens produced in the human body and cause a weak effect on the body. What does this mean?
Well, we aren't entirely sure. There are a lot of contradicting studies out there, so many that I couldn't find a decent one to post a link to. Some say soy has no harmful effects on men, some say it is beneficial, some say it can slightly increase their estrogens and as a result decrease the testosterone effects on the body (lower sperm count, lower libido, etc.). Most people, even vegetarians, probably don't eat enough to make much of an impact. There are a few isolated situations with women in menopause with estrogen induced symptoms or people with estrogen sensitive tumors that should avoid extra estrogens. Otherwise, eating a few "chicken" nuggets a week probably ain't going to do much. Eating a pound of tofu a day (gag) could give you man boobs. But so could eating a lot of the hormone treated foods that we already probably eat and don't know about.
Hey, if I eat a lot of soy, could it reverse the effects that gravity is starting to have on "the girls"? Who needs a breast lift when you could eat all the SoyJoy bars and get the same effect. If only it were that easy. That's why underwire bras were invented!