Soy concerns mounting

Anxiety about the safety of soy as infant formulas and as ingredients in complementary foods continues to be expressed in the scientific literature. Recent theoretical evidence by the Kyoto University of Medicine1 indicates increased potential for childhood leukemia, adding new fuel to the mounting concerns.

Since 1995, those expressing alarm about the use of soy as infant foods have advocated that these products not be available for self-selection but only on medical need. Dr. Daniel Sheenan2 of the National Center for Toxicological Research of the USFDA, has stated:

The use of soy formulas as a large, uncontrolled, and basically un-monitored human infant experiment continues unabated.

In support of these mounting concerns, INFACT Canada, the Canadian Health Coalition and the National Federation of Nurses Unions held a joint press conference on Parliament Hill to draw public attention to the potential dangers of soy products in infant feeding.

The June 7 press conference drew unprecedented attention from both the media and the public. All three organizations fielded hundreds of calls for further information.

After INFACT Canada's press conference, Minister of Health, Allan Rock, repeated the party line, the same one that is used in the industry literature -- "soy-based infant formulas have been sold for more than 30 years, and they continue to play an important role in meeting the nutritional needs of infants in this county". Then treading more cautiously, he continues, "Nevertheless, Health Canada is aware of the potential toxicity of certain soy isoflavones and monitors the scientific literature for evidence of health related concerns associated with soy-based formulas and its constituents".



Phytoestrogens, or isoflavones, are naturally occurring hormones found in soy. The daily exposure3 of infants fed soy formula to isoflavones is 6 to 11 fold higher on a body weight basis than the dose known to cause menstrual changes in premenopausal women. Plasma levels in infants fed soy formulas were 13000 to 22000 times higher than normal plasma levels of estrogen. The contribution of isoflavones from breastmilk is negligible. Soy formula consumption has been linked with:

  • increased occurrence of premature thelarche. In Puerto Rico a positive association was found between premature sexual development and soy formula feeding. In the US early onset of puberty is noted to be increasing concurrent with increased sales of soy formulas but no studies have been done to investigate a possible link.
  • increased occurrence of thyroid dysfunction. The development
    of goitre and autoim-mune thyroid disease has been linked to soy formula feeding.

G.M. soy

Genetic modification of the US soy crops has now reached 40 per cent of crops planted. Without adequate labelling of food products, knowledge about increasing penetration of foodstuffs with genetically modified ingredients is preventing consumers from exercising their right to information and to choice. Although in the European Union product labelling is mandatory, no such requirement exists for the US or Canada. Research in the UK showed rats fed genetically modified potatoes to have damaged immune systems. Similarly other scientists have reported adverse effects from possible cancers, to increased incidence of allergies. Environmentalists are stating that genetic pollution across plant and animal kingdoms can have grave results.

Also the Minister indicated that Canada would conduct a study to determine the concentration of isoflavones of formula sold in Canada (is this is a waste of money as there is sufficient information from other sources about levels in formulas?) The health risk will then be considered in conjunction with a toxicological evaluation and only then will additional measures be taken to protect the health of Canadian infants. The mass uncontrolled, unmonitored, human experiment continues….

Meanwhile in New Zealand, the Ministry of Health has recommended that soy formula be used only in very limited instances and always under the advice of a health professional. Infants with hypothyroidism should not be fed soy formulas and the only rationale for soy feeding is in the case of galactosemia.

Also in the UK, the government has requested that the industry reduce the levels of phytoestrogens in baby milks. Although the technology exists for this, to date the industry has resisted removal of estrogens. The UK Food Advisory Committee has again urged the industry to find ways to reduce the levels, however, the companies questioned the need to do this.

1. Abe, T. Infantile leukemia and soy beans -- a hypothesis Leukemia 13:317-320,1999 BACK

2. Sheenan, D.M. Isoflavone Content of Breast Milk and Soy Formulas: Benefits and Risks [Letter] Clinical Chemistry 43:850,1997 BACK

3. Irvine, C.H.G. et al. Phytoestrogens in soy-based infant foods: Concentrations, daily intake and possible biological effects. Proc Soc Exp Biol Med 217:247-253,1998 BACK


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