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How soy changes genes to fight colon cancer

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Soy changes genes to help fight colon cancer.

Researchers have shown soy can change our genes to help thwart colon cancer. Genistein in soy was found to change the expression of three genes that can help prevent colon cancer that claimed 50,830 lives in the United States in 2013, according to the National Cancer Institute.

There has been much talk about GMO soy products that may have steered consumers away from the known health benefits of eating a plant based diet with soy protein added. But there are several sources of non-GMO soy that consumers can focus on that can be located at the non-GMO project website.

The finding that soy can help keep colon cancer from developing is good news for anyone with a family history of the disease. A typical Western diet that consists of red meat and processed foods, grilled and fried foods, physical inactivity and being overweight or obese are all factors that increase the likelihood of developing colorectal cancer.

The study that comes from University of Illinois scientists found soy can help prevent colon cancer because it changes “…the expression of three genes that control an important signaling pathway," said Hong Chen, a U of I professor of food science and human nutrition in a press release.

Soy disrupts an important signaling pathway that spurs tumor growth and malignancy during colon cancer development. involving the Sfrp2, Sfrp5 and Wnt5a genes.

Yukun Zhang, a doctoral student in Chen's laboratory says it is the genistein in soy that was found to reduce the number of cancerous lesions in rat studies.

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Colon cancer develops from polyps in the lining of the intestine that are called pre-cancerous.

Chen said exposure to soy reduced the number of pre-cancerous polyps by 40 percent in rats that were exposed to a cancer causing agent.

For their study, they fed pregnant rats and their offspring a diet that contained soy protein isolate and a diet that contained genistein compound.

At 7-weeks of age the researchers exposed the rat pups to a carcinogen. The rats continued to eat either a soy protein or genistein based diet until they were 13-weeks old.

When the scientists inspected the rat’s colons they found even those given the carcinogen has normal cells that were the same as the rodents not given the carcinogen.

Chen says the finding shows colon cancer is a disease whose risk can be modified through epigenetics. What we eat can switch genes on or off to affect our disease risk.

There has also been research suggesting soy can help keep prostate cancer from returning in addition to preventing heart disease.

“The genetic information you inherit from your parents is not the whole story. Our dietary choices, our exposure to environmental toxins, even our stress levels, affect the expression of those genes," Chen said.