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Soy compounds may improve health.

Iowa State University researchers (Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, Ames, IA 50011) are investigating components in soybeans that may be helpful in preventing cancer, lowering cholesterol and decreasing bone loss in women. The health benefits of soybean-based foods received a boost recently with a decision by the U.S. FDA to allow food companies to make health claims on foods containing soy protein. ISU scientists have researched the health benefits of soybeans for several years. Scientists are now focusing their efforts on specific components found in soybeans and other plants. The term "phytochemicals" is used to describe the potential healthy components that aren't classical nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals. The challenge facing scientists involves isolating the phytochemicals in order to study their effects when consumed by humans. Investigators are still in the midst of gathering data. They are sorting out various components.

One family of components, called isoflavones, is found mainly in soybeans. They are similar in molecular structure to estrogen and can act as inhibitors in cancer prevention. There is no evidence that isoflavones are effective in treating cancer, but there is evidence that isoflavones can prevent it from happening, we're told. Researchers also have found that eating soy foods lowers cholesterol. Further research is needed because studies have shown that soy foods with and without the isoflavones reduce blood cholesterol levels.

Isoflavones also may be beneficial in decreasing bone loss for women during menopause. A study measuring bone density has shown some positive results. For 24 weeks, 69 women in an age group experiencing menopause were provided muffins and supplements with or without soy protein containing isoflavones. Scientists found that the isoflavone-rich soy decreased bone loss in the lumbar region of the spine for these women. Researchers are applying for a National Institutes of Health grant to extend this work and collaborate with researchers in other states.

Further information. Suzanne Hendrich; phone: 515-294-0859; fax: 515-294-6193.
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Publication:Emerging Food R&D Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2000
Words:320
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