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The Miracle of Soy

by Earl Mendell

Excerpted from his book, Earl Mindell's Soy Miracle

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In February 1994, 250 scientists, nutritionists and health-care professionals gathered in Mesa, Arizona to hear the latest findings on the prevention and treatment of cancer and heart disease. The group included researchers from the Hirosaki University School of Medicine in Japan, the University of Helsinki in Finland, and the University of Milan in Italy. They were joined by colleagues from major U.S. research organizations, including the National Cancer Institute and the Harvard School of Public Health.

Heart specialists reported on a groundbreaking treatment for lowering cholesterol that is as effective as medication, but without any unpleasant or dangerous side effects. Cancer researchers talked about special compounds that can inhibit enzymes that stimulate tumor growth, deactivate potent hormones that can promote cancer and normalize cancer cells.

What made this conference unique is that these scientists were not talking about some rare chemical. They were talking about a foodstuff that is harvested in vast amounts in the United States, and that is inexpensive and readily available at supermarkets and natural foods stores. They were talking about soybeans and soybean products.

In recent years, scientists have isolated compounds in plant foods (called phytochemicals) that may protect against disease in a variety of ways. Some can lower cholesterol levels, thus reducing the risk of heart disease. Others are antioxidants that protect cells from free radicals--unstable oxygen molecules that can damage normal cells. Still others can deactivate carcinogens (cancer-causing substances) or boost the immune system, enhancing the body's ability to ward off infection. Scientists have dubbed these plant chemicals nutriceuticals because of their potential health benefits.

It's not surprising that plants would be such a rich source of healthful compounds. Centuries before the age of antibiotics, natural healers and herbalists used plants to treat a wide variety of illnesses. In fact, nearly half of all the thousands of drugs that are commonly used and prescribed today are either derived from a plant source or are chemical imitations of a plant compound.

Soybeans in particular are abundant in many different types of phytochemicals, some of which are unique to this food. They include:

*Isoflavones - Compounds similar to natural estrogen but with one important difference: these plant estrogens may help prevent hormone-dependent cancers. (Some scientists believe that they may even prevent hot flashes in menopausal women.)

*Genistein - A compound that may stop the spread of some forms of cancer at its earliest stages, and may even help to prevent heart disease. Researchers are investigating genistein as a treatment for prostate cancer.

*Protease Inhibitors - Described by one researcher as a "universal anti-carcinogen," these compounds may block the action of cancer-causing enzymes.

*Phytic Acids - Compounds that have been shown to inhibit the growth of tumors in laboratory animals.

Although much more research needs to be done, and much about soy still needs to be learned, many leading scientists agree that there is strong evidence that soy may protect against cancer and other diseases that are virtual epidemics in the West. The Japanese consume an average of 2--3 ounces of soy food daily, and have the longest life span of any nationality. The Japanese also have much lower rates of heart disease, and colon and breast cancer than Americans.

By incorporating two ounces of soy into your daily diet, you may help your body to fight breast and prostate cancer, battle coronary artery disease, ease menopause symptoms, lower your cholesterol, and give a boost to your immune system. Soy's possible role as a cancer fighter has attracted the attention of the National Cancer Institute, which has given top priority to investigating the role of soy as a potential protector against many forms of cancer.

Dr. Mindell is the author of 
Earl Mindell's Herb Bible, Earl Mindell's Anti-Aging Bible and many other best-selling nutrition books, available at your local bookstore.


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