Should I be Drinking Soy Milk?

by Ilissa Palmer in Ilissa's Blog
February 16, 2018

There is an ongoing debate raging about the health benefits vs. dangers of soy and soy products, and the research findings are widely varied and conflicting. Although non-dairy milks such as almond milk are a great alternative to dairy milk, consuming soy milk on a regular basis may pose some health risks.

Many people have an allergy or intolerance to soy, and are not able to digest it very well. Stomach upset and digestive difficulties such as constipation and diarrhea are common side effects that follow eating or drinking soy.

Soy contains phytoestrogens which are chemicals that act like the female hormone estrogen. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, these phytoestrogens are very complex and can both strengthen or reduce the effects of estrogen in the body. Studies have raised concern that soy consumption may stimulate the growth of breast cancer cells. Because of the potential estrogenic properties it may be safest to avoid it, especially if there are any risk factors for breast, uterine, or prostate cancers. Women who have already suffered through breast cancer are advised to avoid soy as well. Occasionally soy products may be recommended to help manage menopausal hot flashes, but black beans actually contain the same phytoestrogens. There are other foods that can help to manage the symptoms as well.

What about men? Are the phytoestrogens from soy too much for them? Well, a high consumption has been linked to decreased fertility in animal studies. Researchers in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health reported in 2008, that consuming soy foods lowered sperm concentration.

The same phytoestrogens in soy milk that may effect the development of reproductive cancers may lower the amount of iodine in the body, which can lead to an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism). If you are already taking thyroid medication, drinking soy milk may interfere with your body’s ability to properly absorb it. People with kidney disease should also consider the risks before consuming soy milk as well because of its high levels of phosphorous and potassium.

Let me say that I do believe there is a difference between a whole soy food such as edamame (which has not been genetically modified) vs. a processed soy product like tofu or soy milk. Unfortunately, the 90 percent of soy grown in this country is genetically modified, which poses a risk set all of its own. The use of pesticides is heavy with soy crops as well.

Something else to consider with soy milk is carageenan; an additive that is added to give the milk and creamy soy products such as ice-cream or yogurt, a thicker texture. Carageenan causes a great deal of inflammation, problems in the stomach and digestive tract, glucose intolerance and impaired insulin action, both of which can lead to diabetes.

Studies report that unless a person has grown up in a culture where soy was a regular part of the diet from a young age, adding soy during the later years of life does not seem to have a very significant positive impact on health. Some health professionals even believe that soy is linked to conditions including malnutrition, immune system suppression, cognitive decline, reproductive disorders, cancer, heart disease, and more; however, there is further research to be done and conclusive answers have not yet been made.

If you want to snack on non-GMO organic soybeans (edamame) with a dash of tamari or soy sauce now and again, chances are there isn’t too much harm in that, but if you are living off of tofu and soy milk, you may want to reconsider your intake. As Dr. Walter Willet of Harvard School of Public Health stated, “Where there is uncertainty, moderation is a good policy.”