November 14/Deerfield, Ill./Prepared Foods E-dition -- In some respects, soybeans and their related products have garnered something of a bad reputation, particularly in their role in breast cancer. However, a researcher has reviewed seven epidemiologic studies and found “there was no evidence that soy is harmful for women with breast cancer” and observed that six of the seven studies demonstrated some type of benefit to the cancer sufferers. Bette Caan, Ph.D., a senior research scientist who specializes in nutritional epidemiology at the Division of Research at Kaiser Permanente Northern California in Oakland, did have one caveat: sufferers should avoid concentrated sources of soy, such as pills, powders or supplements containing high amounts of isoflavones, because data are lacking on the risks and benefits.

In fact, several studies do cite the versatility and healthfulness of soy protein. One new study finds soy protein may be more beneficial for the heart than animal protein. The research, published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found soy supplements were more effective in raising HDL and lowering LDL cholesterol levels. The randomized, controlled trial of 352 American adults with health cholesterol levels divided the participants into groups receiving one of three daily supplements for eight weeks: soy protein, dairy protein or complex carbohydrates. While acknowledging the differences were modest, the researchers did say such supplementation would result in a 6% drop in stroke deaths and a 4% decline in deaths from heart attacks.

A different researcher has found the benefits of soy may extend even into fighting cancer. According to the November 6 Philippine Star, Dr. Alfredo Galvez has discovered the anti-cancer properties of Lunasin, found in soy, during post-doctoral research at the University of California at Berkeley. “Lunasin is found in the nuclei of storage cells of developing soybean seeds. Lunasin is also an active ingredient in soy that reduces bad cholesterol,” he said. He currently is involved in research collaboration with the University of California Davis Center for Nutritional Genomics to determine if Lunasin can be a functional equivalent to a human tumor suppressor.

Soy’s benefits would appear to extend to cosmeceutical benefits, as well, according to Tokyo-based drug and supplement manufacturer Otsuka Pharmaceutical . It has conducted a small pilot study which found an experimental supplement derived from soy may help postmenopausal women smooth their “crow’s feet.” The supplement is known as SE5-OH and contains a compound called S-equol, which is made from fermented soy germ. The body can naturally produce S-equol (the byproduct of digesting soy isoflavones), which is believed to attach to estrogen receptors on body cells and may have weak estrogen-like effects. Skin cells have estrogen receptors, and the company’s researchers believe “women’s waning estrogen levels after menopause may contribute to skin aging.”

The researchers randomly assigned 101 postmenopausal Japanese women to one of three groups: one took a higher dose of the S-equol supplement (30mg) every day for 12 weeks; one took a lower dose (10mg); and one too placebo tablets containing only starch. In the end, as reported in the October 2011 issue of Menopause, women who used the supplement showed, on average, a modest improvement in their crow’s feet versus the placebo group, as judged by a researcher unfamiliar with which women had received supplements and which has taken the placebo.

Considering people vary in their ability to produce S-equol from eating soy (at least half of all people lack the necessary intestinal flora and are therefore “non-producers”), the team of researchers made sure all of the women involved in the study were tested and deemed to be non-producers. Unfortunately, the researchers also note the S-equol supplements could have some of the negative effects of estrogen, as well, including contributing to the risks of breast or uterine cancer. However, the Otsuka team found no effects on women’s breast or uterine tissue, which they gauged using mammograms and ultrasound, respectively, though they do note longer-term studies of the supplement’s safety are still needed.

Soy protein isolates also can result in improved emulsifying properties, according to research by Lin Chen, Jianshe Chen, Jiaoyan Ren and Mouming Zhao appearing in the July 2011 issue of Food Hydrocolloids. The group investigated the effects of combined extrusion pre-treatment and controlled enzymatic hydrolysis on the physico-chemical properties and emulsifying properties of soy protein isolates (SPI). They found the extrusion pre-treatment caused a marked improvement in the accessibility of SPI to enzymatic hydrolysis, resulting in changes in degree of hydrolysis (DH), protein solubility (PS), surface hydrophobicity (H0) and molecular weight distributions (MWD) for ESPIH (extrusion pre-treated SPI hydrolysates). They concluded, “This study demonstrated that modified soy protein could be an excellent emulsifying agent for food and other applications. It also demonstrated that combined extrusion pre-treatment and enzymatic hydrolysis could be a highly effective method for functionality modification of globular proteins.”

 From the November 14,2011, Prepared Foods' E-dition