Why soy foods may be the key to heart health for many people

Feb 22 2017 - 4:00pm
Soy Benefits

Researchers say a micronutrient which is found in soy may have a significant heart protective benefit.

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There has been a growing awareness of the connection between diet and the health of the heart. It appears foods with soy may benefit heart health.

A micronutrient which is derived from digestion of soy may offer some people a benefit for heart health

The University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences reports that a micronutrient which is derived from digestion of soy may offer some people a benefit for heart health when they eat soy foods. Soy foods are very popular among the Japanese.

There are lower levels of heart disease risk in Japanese men who are able to produce equol from soy

It has been observed there are lower levels of heart disease risk in Japanese men who are able to produce equol from soy. This substance is made from some kinds of “good” bacteria in the gut when they metabolize isoflavones. Isoflavones are micronutrients which are found in dietary soy.

Isoflavones have also been observed to be associated with lower rates of heart disease

Senior author Akira Sekikawa, M.D., Ph.D., who is an associate professor of epidemiology at Pitt Public Health, has said it has been known for awhile that isoflavones protect against the buildup of plaque in the arteries, or what is known as atherosclerosis, in monkeys. Isoflavones have also been observed to be associated with lower rates of heart disease in Asia.

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Only about 20 to 30 percent of people in Western countries can produce equol

It was initially surprising when there were no beneficial effects in a large trial with isoflavones in the United States among people with atherosclerosis. Now it appears equol production explains this. Monkeys can all produce equol and about 50 to 60 percent of people in Asia produce this. However, only about 20 to 30 percent of people in Western countries can produce equol.

Sekikawa and his colleagues, who included researchers in Japan, studied 272 Japanese men between the ages off 40 and 49 and did blood tests to determine if they were producing equol. It was observed that there was a 90 percent lower chance of coronary artery calcification, which is a good predictor of heart disease, in producers of equol.

Isoflavones are found in traditional soy foods such as soymilk, miso and tofu

Dietary isoflavones are found in traditional soy foods such as soymilk, miso and tofu. The average daily intake of dietary isoflavones is 25 to 50 milligrams in China and Japan, but less than 2 milligrams in Western countries. Equol can be purchased as a supplement, which therefore bypasses the need for it to be produced by gut bacteria.

However there have not been any clinical trials done to determine a safe dosage of equol for heart protective effects, or if it even offers this protection. Sekikawa does not recommend that people begin taking equol to improve their heart health or for any other reasons unless they are advised to do so by their doctor. A great deal more study of equol is necessary.

This study has been published in the British Journal of Nutrition. Equol, which is a metabolite of dietary isoflavone, is produced by the action of gut bacteria in some people who are termed as equol-producers. Research has suggested that equol may be a primary factor for atheroprotective properties of isoflavones seen in Japanese men.

We are aware that isoflavones may also be associated with protection from many other medical conditions, including dementia, osteoporosis, menopausal hot flashes, and prostate and breast cancers. There may be an even stronger
effect on these diseases with equol. Overall therefore soy foods may have a great deal to offer for the health of many people.

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