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Why Soybeans May Be Good for HIV

HIV and soybeans

Soybeans are associated with many things, ranging from tofu to biofuel and soy milk to livestock feed. Now you might add HIV to the list, as new research suggests the beans have an ingredient that may be important in HIV treatment.

What is the soybean secret?

Soybeans contain genistein, a plant compound classified in several ways: as an isoflavone, which has antioxidant properties; a phytoestrogen, which means it has estrogen-like traits; and as a tyrosine kinase inhibitor. It is this latter category we are concerned with here.

A tyrosine kinase is an enzyme that performs many on-and-off functions (like a switch) for various cellular activities, including cell communication and energy. Genistein is an inhibitor, which means it can block those functions.

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In addition to soybeans, which is a rich source of genistein, the plant compound can be found in other legumes, such as chickpeas, in small amounts.
As a drug class, tyrosine kinase inhibitors interfere with cell growth and communication activities. Some tyrosine kinase inhibitors are being studied to treat different types of cancer, including prostate cancer and breast cancer, as well as inflammatory and metabolic conditions.

In the current study, Yuntao Wu, a professor at George Mason-based National Center for Biodefense and Infectious Diseases and the Department of Molecular and Microbiology, and his team tested the activity of genistein in the laboratory as well as its safety in monkeys. Here’s what they found.

  • “Genistein interferes with the cellular processes that are necessary for the virus [HIV] to infect cells,” noted Wu. That is, it stops HIV from getting into cells, specifically CD4 T cells and macrophages.
  • Current HIV treatment includes the use of antiretroviral drugs, which target the virus. Genistein, however, takes a different approach and focuses on the process by which the virus infects cells.
  • The potential for genistein to attack HIV in a new way is just one advantage of this approach. Another is that it is plant-based, which means it may avoid the toxic side effects associated with drug treatment.
  • In addition, people with HIV need to take medications every day to inhibit the virus. Such chronic use is associated with drug toxicity and eventual drug resistance as the virus mutates.

What the study means to HIV patients
Should people with HIV stock up on tofu and soybean nuts? Wu pointed out that experts do not yet know how much genistein people would need to consume to inhibit HIV, or even if the soybean ingredient will be proven effective clinically.

Currently Wu and his team are exploring how much genistein people may need to consume to inhibit HIV. Until then, people with HIV may want to brush up on their tofu and soybean-based recipes and stay abreast of the latest research, which they should discuss with their healthcare providers.

Guo J et al. Genistein interferes with SDF-1- and HIV-mediated actin dynamics and inhibits HIV infection of resting CD4 T cells. Retrovirology 2013; 10(1): 62
Nagaraju GP et al. Pleiotropic effects of genistein in metabolic, inflammatory, and malignant diseases. Nutrition Review 2013 Aug; 71(8): 562-72