Risk of Breast Cancer with my Lifestyle – What do I need to know about soy?

A quick google on the association between diet, exercise and the risk of breast cancer yields enormous results. Abundant information mixed with advertisements from every “work-out guru” and “diet-of-the-month” creates an environment which makes it impossible to carve out helpful information.

Let’s say that you are an avid scholar and researcher, and you decide to use Pubmed (The National Library of Medicine’s center for Biotechnology information) to garner your information. Even then, a simple search of the relation between diet and breast cancer returns over 4500 publications. A search for the relation between exercise and breast cancer risk yields another 4100 publications. How is anyone supposed to muster through this amount of material

The Plan

So, for the next few months, we at the Female Health Collective are going to take you through a few topics related to diet and exercise and how they affect one’s personal risk of developing breast cancer. It will range from the basic to the esoteric, from sugar substitutes (Oh my, does that have an effect? Should I switch to sugar-in-the-raw?) to weight lifting, to tofu (listen up, plant-based eaters). We’ll begin that journey today talking about soy products and their effect on your risk of breast cancer.

How It Started – Soy Products

Increased estrogen levels in the body is a known risk factor for breast cancer. In fact, many (but not all) breast cancers grow in direct response to estrogen. Isoflavones, which are molecules in soy, are plant estrogens. So, the original thought was that consuming excess soy would mean that a person was consuming excess estrogen. That excess estrogen was thought to increase the risk of breast cancer. However, isoflavones are not exact replicas of human estrogen. And, in contrast to the original thoughts, some studies actually showed that populations where soy consumption was high had lower rates of breast cancer, potentially suggesting a protective effect, rather than harmful one.

The Real Deal – Soy Products

Multiple long-term studies done to identify whether soy products in fact lead to higher rates of breast cancer fail to show a consistent threat. There are many other lifestyle-based activities which have a greater effect on your breast cancer risk (to be covered in future posts! Stay tuned!).

So What Should I Do? – Soy Products

In general, natural soy products are preferred over high processed food or those rich with isoflavone extracts. Consuming natural soy will likely not increase your risk of breast cancer, but supplements may contain several hundred times higher levels of isoflavones than natural products.

And remember to reach out to your doctor if you have any questions regarding your personal soy intake and risk of breast cancer.

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