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PCOSA Today Newsletter - Summer 2008 Issue

Soy: Is it Appropriate for Women with PCOS?

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Soy: Is it Appropriate for Women
with PCOS?

SushiOver the years, the benefits of soy have made their way to the forefront of healthy living campaigns in Western countries. The highlighted benefits of eating soy include aiding in the prevention of osteoporosis, fighting heart disease, helping with menopausal symptoms and hormone imbalances, among many other claims. The negative effects of soy are not as well-known and can include infertility, possible cancer, hypothyroidism, and an increase in the body's need for vitamin D, among others. Of these effects, two are of greatest concern for women with PCOS: cancer and infertility.

Soy is a low-cost, natural protein. Its popularity began in Asian populations where studies made a connection between its consumption and lower rates of stroke, heart disease, and cancer. (1) It's important to note that soy may not be the only factor in these lower rates. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends the daily intake of soy to not exceed 25 grams.

The key to anything is moderation and that is certainly the case with the consumption of soy. If you look at the statistics for cancer and hot flashes in Japanese women, you will find that their rates are far lower than that of Western women. While it is true that Japanese women include soy in their diet, there is no direct evidence that it is the soy that is decreasing their risk.

Additionally, the "over-consumption of soy products could be dangerous for women with or at risk of estrogen-sensitive cancers" as with women with PCOS. (2) Women with PCOS fall into this category because the condition can lengthen the menstrual cycle, which, in turn, also lengthens the exposure to estrogen. (3) When these high levels are combined with exceedingly high levels of estrogen through soy, the risk of cancer increases.

Soy and Fertility

Another area of concern is the adverse effect of soy on fertility rates. As cited in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, there have been studies that link the consumption of soy with a decrease in fertility. However, it should also be noted that the amount of soy consumed in a day would have to be as high as approximately 60 grams per day or the equivalent of three 12 ounce glasses of soy milk. (4)

Several studies have been conducted looking into the effects of soy on reproduction and the results have shown that a normal intake of soy is relatively harmless. It is when there is an over-abundance of soy added to the daily diet that negative results could occur.

Common sources of soy can be found in your local grocery or health food store. They include:

  • Soy milk
  • Soy cheese
  • Tofu
  • Soy nuts
  • Soybeans

Soy can also be found in a supplement, but consumption of the whole protein found in its natural form - as opposed to the chemically altered state of a supplement - will provide the maximum benefit.

As with any food source or supplement, there are definite advantages and disadvantages of including it in your daily diet. It is also important to remember that, even if you choose to consume soy on a regular basis, it should only be done so in moderation for the maximum health benefits.

- Jennifer Sexton

Jennifer Sexton

About the author

Jennifer Sexton is a professional editor and writer and owner of Sunrise Editing (www.freewebs.com/SunriseEditing). She received her Bachelor of Science degree in English with an emphasis on professional writing from Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania. She has worked as a freelance grant writer with the National MS Society, as well as a copywriter/proofreader with a leading continuing medical education company.

(1) Cesario, Karrie, PhD; Francene Steinberg, PhD; Sheri Zidenberg-cherr, PhD. University of California, Davis. Nutrition and Health Info-sheet, "Soy." June 2004
(2) Earth's Magic Inc. "How does soy affect fertility."
(3) Dunne, Nancy N.D., Neuropathic Physician; Bill Slater, Research Associate. PCOS Review Newsletter #4. Natural Health Solutions for PCOS. "Will Plant Estrogens Increase my Risk of Cancer?" September 24, 2002
(4) Reinagel, Monica, L.D.N., C.N.S. The ND Blog: Notes from the Nutritionista, "Soy: Superfood or Health Hype." March 3, 2008