The internet is talking a lot about Soya. A good amount of the data calls it one of the best foods ever, particularly for being a plant-based complete protein. There is also a considerable debate on the potential health risks of soy foods like tofu. Unfortunately, some of these debated health risks involve the tendency of soya to cause cancer, particularly breast cancer. This hype has made many women too afraid to try soy foods like tofu. In this article, we try to uncover the reality of these claims with reference to research evidence.
How real are the debated “Health Risks of Tofu”?
Tofu And Cancer Risk
While soy is being considered the cancer culprit somewhere, there is actually some research evidence suggesting that whole soy foods like tofu and soybeans (edamame), may actually decrease the risk of cancer.
The reason for the cancer causing debate was that, soy contains estrogen-like compounds, the isoflavones. Isoflavones are phytoestrogens, that can mimic the effects of estrogen in the body. This may give soy a tendency to raise the risk of hormone-related cancers. However, research evidence so far has shown that this is actually not true. According to the reports of American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), soy foods including tofu are actually one of the top cancer-preventing foods. If you happen to be a breast cancer survivor, there’s no reason to avoid soy. There’s even some evidence that suggests that it may decrease the risk of recurrence. However, more and larger studies are needed to recommend purposeful soy consumption to lower the cancer risk.
Health Risks of Tofu in Fertility
There is a complex and multifaceted connection between tofu and fertility. There are research studies to provide both potential advantages and potential risks. The amount of soy consumption and a person’s overall health status seem to play a major role in deciding how the soy products like tofu influence fertility.
Tofu and Female Fertility
The phytoestrogens, in the form of isoflavones, behave similarly to the predominant female sex hormone, estrogen. They can attach themselves to the estrogen receptors. The hormonal impact of soy has sparked attention to its potential effects on female fertility.
Estrogen plays multiple roles in regulating the menstrual cycles. It stimulates the growth of uterine lining and prepares the body for pregnancy. Some studies show that consuming soy and the phytoestrogens, could actually help increase fertility, particularly among women who were undergoing fertility treatment. A 2017 study published in the journal “Human Reproduction” found that the females who ate more soy were found to have higher chances of having a successful pregnancy with in vitro fertilization.
There is also some but lesser research pointing towards phytoestrogens potentially disrupting the normal endocrine function. A regular intake of soy products in high amounts could interfere with hormonal balance. This can further affect the timing of the menstrual cycle and can hinder ovarian function in some cases. The results of these studies are highly variable. This makes it very difficult to establish a definite link between soy intake and disruption of female fertility.
With the research so far, it is safe to say that a moderate consumption of tofu has been linked to better fertility outcomes, potentially due to the presence of isoflavones. The research suggests that women who moderately consume soy foods may have a decreased risk of endometriosis and may have more regulated menstrual cycles. Both of these factors can positively affect fertility.
Tofu and Male Fertility
In case of male fertility, the primary point of concern is whether phytoestrogens could affect the testosterone levels, which play a major part in sperm production. A 2010 review from “Fertility and Sterility” found little evidence to suggest that a typical dietary consumption of soy including tofu could have a harmful effect on the production of sperm or other aspects of male reproductive health.
On the contrary, some studies have indicated that a high intake of soy foods including tofu may affect sperm concentration. The results of these studies can be considered less significant because these studies involved a very high level of soy intake which surpasses the average dietary consumption. This gives a clear indication that a moderate consumption does not impact male fertility, whereas, a very high intake could potentially cause harm.
Majority of soybeans are grown as a GMO (genetically modified) crop. There are also some brands and organic brands of tofu which give the Non-GMO Project verified seal on their package. Although GMOs so far, have been found to be safe, the presence of GMOs in the U.S. food system is a topic of hot debate. Many people choose to avoid GMO for being an unnatural form of food.
Soy products like Tofu are also known to cause allergic reactions in some individuals. A soy allergy causes the immune system to overreact to the soy proteins. The allergy may involve symptoms like stomach problems, cough, and itching. A severe though rare soy allergy may cause anaphylaxis. An allergist diagnoses a soy allergy through tests. Treatment of soy allergy includes medications and avoiding products that contain soy.
Despite these potential risks, tofu can provide valuable nutrients and be a significant part of a balanced diet. As with any food, consuming it in moderation and alongside a variety of other foods can help maintain overall health.
Interference with Thyroid Medication
Soy foods like tofu may interfere with the absorption of thyroid medication, though the research evidence is still far from conclusive. Experts still advise to have a 4 hours gap between the intake of soy and medicine.
The research so far hasn’t given any concrete, conclusive evidence about whether there are any “Health Risks of Tofu“. Also, the evidence suggests that the normal intake amounts of tofu do not present risks. However, research is still inconclusive about the regular consumption of soy in excess. Until further substantial and decisive research is carried out, it is wise to consume soy products, including tofu, in normal, moderate amounts.