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Keying in on consumer health.

As more of soy's health benefits are proven and publicized, consumers are keying in on soy to protect their health. Other, equally exciting applications show promise in the laboratory.

"There are several extremely active areas of research involving soy, such as cancer, osteoporosis, heart disease, menopausal symptom relief, cognitive function, renal function and diabetes," says Mark Messina, Ph.D., adjunct associate professor of nutrition, Loma Linda University, and president, Nutrition Matters Inc., Port Townsend, Wash. "Interest in soy is almost completely based on health benefits. Industry is responding quite effectively by producing a wide array of user-friendly soy products."

According to USB's soyfoods survey, most consumers perceived soy products as healthy, while those who rated soy as unhealthy decreased. Unaided, 29 percent reported that soy is good for the heart and 38 percent were aware consumption of 25 grams of soy protein per day reduces coronary heart disease risk. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officially recognized the cholesterol-lowering effects of soy protein in 1999, approving a health claim for foods with at least 6.25 grams of soy protein per serving.

About 26 percent of women surveyed reported awareness that soy might relieve menopause symptoms. Many menopausal and postmenopausal women chose soy over Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) in 2003 following clinical trials that found HRT may boost the risk of breast cancer, heart disease, stroke and pulmonary embolism.

Other health benefits for women are in a discovery stage. Paul Flakoll, Ph.D., is the director of the Center for Designing Foods to Improve Nutrition (CDFIN), Iowa State University. CDFIN conducts research by bringing together scientists from a variety of disciplines to link food production, processing and distribution to human nutritional needs and consumer food choices. He says researchers there are looking at the effects of soy isoflavones on lowering cardiovascular risk and protecting bone mineral density.

Messina also sees isoflavones as an important focus. "The most important area of research over the next three to five years is osteoporosis. Many clinical trials have shown continued on page 14 soy isoflavones reduce bone loss in early postmenopausal women," says Messina. "Two large, long-term studies are underway, which will produce some data within about 18 months. If successful, interest in isoflavones will rise to the next level. We need isoflavones to be viewed as important to reducing fracture risk as calcium."

Similarly, Messina predicts older men will flock to soy if more studies indicate a reduction in prostate cancer risk. "The prostate cancer data are very encouraging. A new study suggests soy may even be useful in treatment, not just prevention," he says. "Proving this link will be easier than proving the breast cancer link, but cancer in general is a difficult disease to study in comparison to heart disease and osteoporosis."

Nonetheless, Messina adds that the most exciting cancer hypothesis to date is that teenage soy intake may reduce adult risk of developing breast cancer. Research conducted in animals at the University of Alabama shows promise, and observational studies in humans have linked adolescent soy intake to a reduced risk of breast cancer.

"On the horizon, the effects of soy on cognitive function are most interesting," says Messina. "Animal research suggests that soy may be protective in the brain. Additional studies have found improved memory scores in people consuming soyfoods. Three clinical trials have shown benefit, but again we need longer and larger studies."

Other, ongoing work at Iowa State includes evaluating soy sphingolipids--fats found in soybeans that may be anti-cancer type agents--and studying soy sapanins, which are thought to be cholesterol-lowering tools for the GI tract. "Through both basic and applied research, we are looking at ways we can continue to improve health through nutrition," says CDFIN's Flakoll. "That is where the field of nutrition is going."

"In the health sciences and nutrition field, increasingly there is interest in matching a person's individual genetic makeup with specific dietary recommendations. But this is still years away from being practical," says Messina. "We need the kinds of clinical trials that make it into the New England Journal of Medicine and the Journal of the American Medical Association, which make physicians take notice. Thus far the studies have not approached this level, but the picture is definitely changing for the better."
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Title Annotation:soy benefits for protecting consumers health
Publication:Agri Marketing
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2004
Words:709
Previous Article:Health and nutrition opportunities appear endless: unleashing soyfoods' potential.
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