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Is Soy Healthy? John Robbins Responds

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  • Robert Cohen
    John Robbins was born into the lap of dairy luxury, with a silver Tiffany spoon feeding Baskin-Robbins into his unappreciative mouth. The heir to the famed ice
    Message 1 of 1 , May 1, 2004
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      John Robbins was born into the lap of dairy luxury,
      with a silver Tiffany spoon feeding Baskin-Robbins
      into his unappreciative mouth. The heir to the famed
      ice cream empire abandoned his heritage and provided
      inspirational support for thousands of Americans to
      adopt a plant-based dairy-free diet. Robbins authored
      Diet for a New America, and became a leading guru of
      America's food revolution. John was recently asked by
      a reader:

      "My wife and I practically live on Soy and Tofu.
      We have tofu at least three times a week, and
      drink soy milk every day. Lately at least five
      friends have said to me that there seems to be
      evidence that soy products can contribute to
      dementia. Since I have minor memory problems,
      and my wife seems to be having them too (though
      breastfeeding a two-year-old most of the night can
      definitely contribute!) we began to wonder if there
      is any truth to these rumors. I am sure you have
      looked into them and can give me your opinion, or
      tell me where to get to find out more. Would much
      appreciate it."

      John Robbins responded:

      "The health benefits of soy products have been well
      established. But your friends, and now you, have felt
      the reverberations from a surprising study that was
      published in April 2000, in the Journal of the American
      College of Nutrition.

      The study, conducted in Hawaii by Lon White, M.D., and his
      associates, was part of the Honolulu Heart Study. Looking at
      the diets and the risk of dementia of Japanese men residing
      in Hawaii, the study found that men who ate the most tofu
      during their mid-40s to mid-60s were more likely to have
      dementia and Alzheimer's as they grew older.

      The correlation between tofu and cognitive decline was
      strong, and could not be explained by confounding factors
      like age, education, and obesity. In this study, men who
      had eaten two or more servings of tofu per week in midlife
      were 2.4 times as likely as men who rarely or never ate
      tofu to become senile or forgetful by old age. Even the
      wives of men who ate tofu showed more signs of dementia.
      White and the other researchers said the brains of the
      tofu-eaters seemed to have aged more rapidly. By the time
      the men reached their 80s and 90s, the tofu-eater's brains
      seemed to be the equivalent of non-tofu eater's brains that
      were five years older.

      Scary stuff for soy eaters. And if that's all you knew, it
      would look pretty bad for people like you (and me) who have
      been eating lots of soy for some time.

      But that's not all we know. We know, for example, that dementia
      rates are lower in Asian countries (where soy intake is high)
      than in western countries. We know that the Japanese lifestyle
      (with its high soy intake) has long been associated with
      longer life span and better cognition in old age. And we
      know that Seventh Day Adventists, many of whom consume soyfoods
      their whole lives, have less dementia in old age than the general

      The Honolulu Heart Study is far indeed from conclusive. It
      measured intake of only 27 foods, and there are many lifestyle
      factors for which it did not control. Researchers acknowledged
      that tofu consumption might be a marker for some other factor
      that affects cognitive function. And this would make tofu an
      innocent bystander. Results of other studies, say soy
      researchers Mark and Virginia Messina, "would suggest this is true."

      A number of clinical studies have shown that soy and
      isoflavones from soy are actually beneficial for cognition.
      In one study, published in the journal Psychopharmacology
      in 2001, young adult men and women who ate a high-soy diet
      experienced substantial improvements in short-term and long-term
      memory and in mental flexibility. Other studies have found that
      isoflavone supplements from soy improve cognitive function in
      postmenopausal women.

      It is important to bear in mind that the Honolulu Heart Study
      is the only study that has suggested a link between tofu
      consumption and dementia in old age. Having studied the
      literature, soy researchers Mark and Virginia Messina conclude
      that "there is no reason to believe that eating soyfoods is
      harmful to brain aging."

      I agree, which is why members of my household happily eat
      tofu two or three times a week, soy milk daily, and tempeh
      once or twice a week..."

      Thanks, John!

      For more of John Robbins:


      Robert Cohen
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