Friday, January 23, 2015
The Soy Debate
Earlier this week I visited Costco to pick up some super-sized necessities. One of my favorite areas to browse in is the personal care section, where you can buy liter-sized bottles of shampoo, lotion and mouthwash, in addition to boxes containing 100 or more tampons and other menstruation supplies, which I no longer need. On occasion, you can find the odd gem among the shrink-wrapped bundles of toothpaste and razor blades. The other day, that gem for me was two four-ounce bottles of Aveeno face moisturizer, accompanied by a bonus tube of face scrub, for $19.99. Since I've been having issues with extremely dry skin and rosacea on my face, I grabbed one of the packages and placed it in my cart. When I got home, the realization hit me that Aveeno, a well-respected and oft-recommended brand for problem skin, uses soy in its facial products. I immediately felt like I did a bad thing by indulging in the bargain face lotion. A quick check of the ingredients showed that the products did contain glycine soja, or soybean seed extract. I proceeded to have a hot flash as I sat down to compose a post on Facebook, asking my friends if any of them avoided soy products for health reasons, in particular, estrogen positive breast cancer like I'd had.
The responses I got were mixed. My writer friend and fellow breast cancer sister (neither of us is fond of being called "survivor"), said that she doesn't go out of her way to avoid soy. Another breast cancer sister said she avoids soy products and red meat. She has been cancer-free for over 20 years. Another friend told me that I risk ingesting soy if I eat non-grass fed beef. It turns out, soy is almost as ubiquitous as high-fructose corn syrup, which we know lurks in just about everything in the supermarket.
Instead of ratcheting up my soy tizzy, I decided to e-mail my medical oncologist, since we never had a discussion about avoiding foods and personal care products that contain soy as part of the effort to prevent recurrence. In his response, he said that soy is a very controversial subject for both medical professionals and the public alike. He included abstracts from a few recent studies that were a mixed bag on the topic of soy supplements and foods, and whether or not they are beneficial for menopausal and post-menopausal women, along with women who have, or are at risk of developing breast cancer. Two of the studies concluded that soy was beneficial to Asian women, particularly in Japan. After reading this information, I am no more or less convinced that a small amount of sobean extract in a facial moisturizer is going to harm my health. In fact, I met my friend for lunch yesterday, and we had Thai food, which included - you guessed it - tofu.
Another interesting item that crossed my path this week was the documentary Cancerpants. I found it in my cable network's movie library and watched it. It was released in 2011 and followed a breast cancer victim in her late 30s who was diagnosed with a stage three tumor in one breast. She was physically active, ate healthily, and besides her grandmother, didn't have a history of breast cancer in her immediate family. Yet, despite her efforts to live a healthy lifestyle, she was stricken. That reinforces my belief that it's not just the foods we eat or the spare tire we carry around that are dangers to us; cancer is the bogeyman hiding under the bed that can strike despite our best efforts to avoid it.
I don't want to get overly political here, but the conclusions in the studies that looked at Asian women kind of bother me. Everyone knows that food is revered in many places outside the United States. The fruits, vegetables, legumes and grains grown abroad are not bombed with pesticides the way they are here. The animals slaughtered for food are not pumped full of steroids and and antibiotics to fatten them up. In fact, many of those substances are banned in certain countries. So, even if Asians and Europeans are indulgent in their eating habits, the food is likely better for them than what we're getting here. Personally, I blame Monsanto; after all, they've got a patented, genetically modified soybean seed that American farmers must use, or else the pesticide police will show up to confiscate their crops. God bless America.
I don't want to straddle the soapbox for the rest of the day, but I will reiterate that there are many things out there that cause cancer other than a family history. The reason why so many studies about what causes breast cancer are inconclusive is because the lifestyles we live vary wildly from place to place. Until we can find a way to level the playing field and truly live healthy, productive lives, we are at risk from almost everything.