Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Evils of Soy

By Cy Willson
A little over a year ago, soy protein was the talk of the town. It was invited to all the parties, and it was even rumored to be having a little romantic fling with Jennifer Aniston from Friends (before she married Brad Pitt).
Likewise, the general media was touting it to be the best thing since sliced bread, or was that 100% stone ground wheat bread? Oh well. Anyhow, since the government gave soy a "thumbs up" to the public, stating that, "25 grams of soy protein per day, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease," people began to think that it was indeed the best protein around. After all, it was relatively high in quality, cheap, and healthy! What else could you want?
And to boot, a few studies arose from the muck to indicate that this protein may enhance anabolic hormone levels and may increase thyroid hormone levels while dieting. Sounds soooo good. Right? Well, after a good amount of both scientific and "real world" evidence has surfaced, it turns out that soy may not be so good after all. Especially for the male bodybuilder.
Sounds all too familiar to me. Reminds me of the evil-painted women that I and other hapless men have encountered in the past. Sure, she's beautiful, classy, smart, loaded, and best of all, horny! Nothing could be better in life. That is, until you start to discover that your wallet's missing 200 bucks and it now burns when you take a pee.
Ouch! Sounds pretty harsh, eh? Well, even so, this still isn't even close to what soy has done to us. I'll let you in on all of the evil and destructive things that soy can do to you, should you decide to consume it. Sadly though, we must be careful, as many companies are still adding this vile crud into protein formulas, bars, and meal replacements. Hopefully, after you hear what I have to say, you realize that soy shouldn't be consumed by male bodybuilders. Not even your worst enemy deserves the horrid effects that soy is capable of producing. Okay, enough rambling, let's get to it.
First though, before we begin, I just want to go over some quick review material, just to make sure we're all on the same page. The reason why soy is so bad basically boils down to the isoflavones that it contains. Two of these isoflavones, genistein and daidzein, are what cause the majority of negative effects seen with soy protein use.
These two villains bind readily to Estrogen Receptors. One such receptor is the Alpha receptor and the other, of course, is the Beta receptor. The Alpha receptor is the one generally associated with breast tumors, increased body fat, water retention, etc. The Beta receptor really isn't something to worry about. Anyhow, genistein and daidzein can bind rather well to the Alpha receptor.
No big deal right? Well, it might actually be somewhat beneficial if they didn't activate transcription to any significant degree, as this would be what's considered an anti-estrogenic action. In other words, it would be good if the compound binded to the site and didn't cause any growth, while preventing any naturally-produced estrogen from binding (the estrogen "parking spots" would already be filled). However, genistein does activate transcription to a significant degree after binding to the Alpha receptor and therefore will cause growth of tissues.

Two of America's Most Wanted
Unfortunately, the two soy isoflavones that I mentioned previously can have numerous adverse effects on everything ranging from Testosterone production, thyroid production, muscle growth, and even health.
Let's consider soy's affects on T production first. The ability of soy protein to decrease Testosterone levels has been well demonstrated. One study displayed a 76% reduction of Testosterone production in men, after ingestion of soy protein over a brief period of time. In yet another study, an inverse association was found between soy protein intake and Testosterone levels in Japanese men.
Finally, in yet another study, using healthy adult males, a diet containing soy was compared to a diet that consisted of meat protein in terms of sex hormone concentrations. Well, after evaluation, Testosterone levels were significantly lower in the soy diet. Not only this, but the estimated amount of free Testosterone was 7% lower after the soy diet as well.
Hey, mice didn't fare much better. Testosterone and LH were also lowered in mice consuming only the isoflavone genistein.
The evidence seems pretty conclusive. There may, of course, be other factors, but it's enough to give one pause when considering whether or not he should add some soy to his next protein drink.

IGF, Thyroid, and the Girly Hormones
It's fairly clear that soy protein lowers testosterone levels. How does it affect estrogen and progesterone levels? You'd figure that genistein would at least reduce the activity of estrogen to some extent, since it binds at the same receptor site, right? Well, apparently not. It turns out that genistein does not inhibit the effects of estradiol and in fact has been demonstrated to exert an additive effect when combined with estradiol.
This means that they don't interfere with one another and can both exert the same negative effects at the same time, thus, packing a double punch. Furthermore, genistein may potentially increase estradiol levels as well. It's thought that this may occur because genistein may deconjugate estrone in the gut and allow for it to reabsorb into the bloostream and convert to estradiol.
It's possible that it may also exert some progestational activity. Even worse is that the estrogenic activity of these phytoestrogens may have been underestimated in the past, as there is evidence that they may be much more potent in vivo as opposed to in vitro [test tube] studies. Oh, and while we're still on the topic or hormones, soy protein has also been shown to decrease IGF-1 concentrations in male rats. Oh, and I'd feel bad if I forgot to mention that it can lower T4 levels, too.

Protecting Our Future
While planting a seed definitely isn't an immediate goal of mine, I'm sure there are plenty of guys out there who wish to pass on their superior genes. So, for these men, I urge you to not let your child or pregnant wife consume any products that contain soy. While there isn't concrete evidence as of yet, there's still enough to warrant some caution.
For instance, when female rats were fed genistein while pregnant, their pups weighed significantly less than the groups that weren't fed genistein. Also, when young rats were given genistein, spermatogenesis decreased, as did body weight, testicle size, and possibly the urge to mate. Another study found similar results.
Oh, and before I forget, genistein has been shown to cause testicular cells to die, in vitro at least.

Healthy? I Think Not
The main reason why the government decided to "sponsor" soy protein was because it can supposedly reduce the risk of heart disease. However, the funny, or scary, thing is that soy has actually been shown to decrease HDL cholesterol. HDL cholesterol is the good kind.
Furthermore, it's possible that the isoflavones can induce growth and malignancy of the prostate. This is because the ER Alpha is thought to be at least partially responsible for the induction of growth. So, in theory, since genistein can agonize the ER Alpha in much the same way as estradiol, then it could cause growth of the prostate.

Okay, So What About my Muscles?
Okay, now let's move on to the important stuff. How good is soy protein in terms of increasing muscle growth? Well, when compared to casein, it was beaten in terms of both protein synthesis and breakdown. So, we know that it can't match proteins like casein or whey. What else? Well, even though this might make you cringe, I feel obligated to tell you. Get this, genistein was shown to inhibit myoblast proliferation and fusion in a dose-dependent manner!
It decreased protein synthesis and inhibited protein accretion as a result. These results occurred even at the lowest dose. The authors concluded that if animals consume enough soy, those concentrations of genistein could potentially affect normal muscle growth and development.
Now that's some frightening stuff! Okay, so things couldn't get any worse for soy, right? Well not only may it interfere with muscle growth, but it may screw with your pro-hormone usage. Why is that? Well, genistein may interfere with the conversion of 4-androstenediol to Testosterone, thus, reducing the effectiveness of your favorite supplement to a good degree! This happens because it interferes with the enzyme 3 Beta-HSD.

The End?
Boy, I wish it were the end, but the fact is that many companies, with the encouragement of the government, will continue to add soy protein to their products. However, like many of us fringe-element weight lifters have for so many years, we'll stand by and endure while the rest of the world makes a big mistake.
The next thing you know, there will be a big story about how truly harmful this stuff is to the male. Hopefully it won't be too late. But hey, maybe I'm being a bit hypercritical here. I mean, who knows, this may actually be a good supplement for the average woman. They seem to think they need more estrogen and less muscle, so more power to 'em.
For those female athletes, however, stay away from it! Especially while pregnant. Anyhow, my advice for you would be to read every food and supplement label that you have to make sure that there isn't any soy within the product. I mean, hey, you'll be checking the macronutrient profile anyhow, so just skim on down to the ingredients from now on. Be careful, you'd be surprised by how many items have been tainted. For now, good luck and keep your eyes peeled.

Bad Protein

A consumer report

In 1949, the US government released clouds of bacteria over San Francisco to literally see what would happen. No one, other than the government, knew about it. Luckily, only one person died, but 11 others were admitted to hospitals.
In 1952, the government released clouds of zinc cadmium sulfide into an elementary school population to see what would happen. No one died, at least until years later, when these same children, then adults, succumbed to "higher than would be expected" rates of cancer.
These same types of bacterial/chemical experiments continued until 1969.
The government is fond of conducting other such experiments, too. Back in 1932, 400 black Americans were injected with syphilis to see what would happen. Despite the availability of a cure for the disease, they were left untreated. The experiment ended in 1972. Similarly, 18 patients were unknowingly injected with plutonium in the '40s to, again, see what would happen. The list of atrocities is a little too long to document completely, but suffice it to say, US citizens have been used as unwitting guinea pigs too many times.
You'd think, too, that after World War II and the medical horrors unearthed at places like Auschwitz such things would never again happen. In fact, the lessons learned from the German concentration camps prompted the free world to adopt something called "the Nuremberg code" which, in essence, decreed that you need the victim's written consent before you can conduct experiments on him or her.

So much for the Nuremberg code.
Of course, most of us would probably categorize all of those events as ancient history and reason that now that it's the year 2000, such things could never happen again. Well, in my mind, something akin to those barbaric experiments is taking shape right now, although, at least on the surface, it seems a whole lot more innocuous than exposing a population to a cloud of pathogens.
The following blurbs from a big-city newspaper (San Diego Union, December 8, 1999) raised my hackles:
Certain soy products can now sport a heart-healthy label from the US Food and Drug Administration. The new claim will say "25 grams of soy protein a day, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease."
Further down in the same article came this ominous note:
In a study by Roper Starch Worldwide, 50% of adults say the new claim will lead them to eat more soy foods or to try them for the first time. The Roper poll found that consumers are most inclined to try soy burgers, soy flour, and soy protein bars.
Then, a couple of weeks later (San Diego Union, December 24, 1999), I read the following news items:
The US Department of Agriculture is proposing dropping its restrictions on how much soy can be used in meals. Under current rules, soy can only be a food additive and only in amounts less than 30%.
Other facts jumped out at me:
School officials are more likely to use it to increase the amount of soy that they blend into their standard fare, like burgers, tacos, etc.
Market research sponsored by the United Soybean Board indicated that 26 million children who participate in school lunch programs would accept soy products.
Nutritionists in the San Diego Unified School District, which serves meals to more than 100,000 children daily, already use soy to make hamburger patties, says Jane Boehrer, food services director.
In essence, soy is about to become very hot, so much so that you might have trouble avoiding it. Soy has also experienced a resurgence in the bodybuilding market. More and more products are touting soy's benefits, which include a superior PDCAAS (protein digestibility corrected amino acid score), the above-mentioned beneficial effects on cholesterol, improved thyroid function, and enhanced immune function.
I won't argue any of that. And, I'll go as far as to say that supplementing your diet with soy is a good idea...if you're either a female or a eunuch.
So do I really think that the government is conducting a mass experiment with the entire US population as its cadre of lab rats? And, more importantly, what did I mean by that last crack about females and eunuchs?
The answer to the first question is no in that I don't think that they're intentionally out to sabotage the endocrine status of males. I do, however, think that they're either ignoring the underlying problems associated with soy in the assumption that improved cardiovascular profiles are more important than maintaining a healthy hormonal profile.
Let me explain.
As many of you know, soy contains "healthy" amounts of compounds known as phytoestrogens, which are simply plant chemicals that mimic the action of animal estrogen. (For the purposes of this article, the term "estrogen" is intended as a generic term for any substance that exerts biological effects characteristic of estrogenic hormones such as estradiol.)
Now, phytoestrogens can affect mammalian cells in two ways that I know of?they can either bind to high-affinity, highly specific receptors in the cell nucleus which, in turn, attach to DNA regions of genes that lead to protein transcription, in effect acting as a real estrogen, or they can simply bind to these receptor sites and sit there, preventing real estrogen from getting its parking space and initiating transcription.
The first possible effect is highly undesirable if you're a male because estrogen, in addition to being the primary "female" hormone and responsible for a host of "feminizing" effects, also, in greatly simplified terms, makes it harder to put on muscle.
Now, it could be argued that yes, these phytoestrogens act as estrogen, but very weak estrogen. So if they prevent a "strong" estrogen from setting up shop on the receptor, you're ahead of the game. That's a good point, unless you have a low level of estrogen in the first place, which would mean that the weak activity of the weak estrogen itself can exceed whatever estrogen activity is being blocked, leading to a net increase.
The second possible effect can be a good one. If an inert substance, like a "friendly" phytochemical, prevents estrogen from binding to a receptor site and initiating protein transcription, you miss out on all of the negative effects of estrogen (possible increases in bodyfat, gynecomastia, and maybe even benign prostatic hypertrophy, or BPH).
Unfortunately, soy protein contains two rather significant "unfriendly" phytoestrogens, both of which appear to have estrogenic activity. They are called genistein and diadzein.
I maintain that male physique athletes?or, for that matter, virtually all males?should avoid taking in large amounts of soy protein on a regular basis. This holds true for school-age kids, too.
Obviously, the government has made it a lot more likely that the US population, including prepubescent and adolescent males, is going to be eating fairly significant amounts of soy protein. What will be the results of this "soy mania?"
I can't be sure?any more than the Y2K experts were sure of what would happen on January 1?but it could be increased feminization of our school-age children, increased feminization of our male adults and all the baggage that carries, and possibly even increased rates of infertility and an even more universal increase in BPH.
Am I a Chicken Little, or is there genuine cause for concern? The studies seem to back me up. Some point to the hint of estrogenic activity, while others point to more serious problems.
One in particular, using mice, found genistein (2.5 mg/kg of bodyweight for nine days) to result in reduced testicular and serum testosterone concentrations, in addition to a reduced amount of luteinizing hormone in the pituitary.(1) They concluded that genistein, when given to adult males, "induced typical estrogenic effects in doses comparable to those present in soy-based diets."
Another found that a soy and alfalfa-free diet with a 0.1% concentration of genistein decreased the rate of bodyweight gain in Sprague-Dawley rats and a marginal decrease in prostate weight(Although avoiding prostate hypertrophy is a good thing in adults, a decrease in prostate weight is indicative of feminizing effects.)
The scientists concluded that scientists who do endocrine toxicology studies should use phytoestrogen-free diets, lest the phytoestrogens interact with manmade chemicals and screw up the results.
Others found more serious problems. One cited "significant testicular cell death" when genistein was administered. They noted that while sodium azide, a highly toxic chemical that's a potent vasodilator, killed testicular cells by inducing necrotic death, genistein killed them by inducing apoptoic death (in essence, fragmentation of the cells)?a small distinction, in my book. This sperm death may be a result of their inability to repair themselves.
Much of the research is geared toward reproductive disorders in wild animals, captive animals, and the animal known as man. One study suggests that developmental and reproductive disorders in wild animals have been associated with a high exposure to environmental chemicals that also have estrogenic activity. He conducted experiments in which he exposed rat endometrial cells to various compounds, including genistein and diadzein, and found them to indeed affect a certain protein that affected fertility.
Although Hopert's study pegged females, part of the reproductive problems might very well stem from the affects of phytoestrogens on the male, as the above studies suggest.
Similarly, a study of cheetahs in captive breeding programs, most of which ingest a commercial diet that includes hefty amounts of soy, suffered from infertility and a high incidence of liver disease. The incidence of liver disease is, perhaps, the topic of another article.
There's been documented decline in human male sperm count in the last 50 years, and various theories have been bandied about as to its cause. Many scientists believe that it coincides with an increase in exposure to estrogen-like compounds. Although soy hasn't typically been a major component of diets in the western world, that may be about to change.
It's true that the Japanese and Chinese have long ingested soy and soy products and, quite obviously, they don't appear to suffer from infertility. Of course, they're probably not exposed to the incredible variety of environmental estrogens prevalent in the western world. All of the chemicals that we face each day, combined with the added burden of phytoestrogens from soy, might be enough to push us over the edge.
However, if I can get "unscientific" for a moment, practically everyone would agree that it's rare to see a particularly muscular Asian. Could the blame be ascribed to genetic factors, a difference in training methodologies, a difference in cultural priorities or, at least partly, a diet based on soy protein? I certainly don't know.
I don't know what the repercussions of the government's newly found love of soy will be, either. Will it lead to increased infertility? A society of young men who are more female than male? A lack of vigor that's indicative of reduced levels of testosterone?
Furthermore, I don't know the repercussions of the fitness industry's newfound love of soy. Will using soy proteins make it harder to put on muscle?
Again, I don't know. I certainly think that more research needs to be done before soy, like another evil of Pandora's nutritional box, is set loose upon the world.
I do know that I won't use soy protein powders or eat any soy products other than an occasional bowl of Miso soup. Furthermore, I know that I won't give my dog any dog foods that contain soy and, if I had children, I'd pack their lunch.